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Give frosh time to decide

When I was a freshman, I questioned the wisdom of our current residence selection system. But people told me that one way or another, I would wind up in a living arrangement that was right for me.

Residence/Orientation Week didn't leave me for dead. On the contrary, I accepted a bid from my first choice fraternity, and spent a term realizing the hard way that fraternity life didn't offer anything I could not find in an Institute house. At the same time I discovered how brutally random fraternity rush was, how imperfect and often flagrantly misleading the system was to freshman.

The brothers told me, a new pledge, how socially isolated I would be without the fraternity, how important it was that I avoid social contact with non-fraternity people and how close my pledge brothers and I were to being cast aside for our inability to remember songs, slogans and useless facts. I was right not to believe them.

When I decided to leave the fraternity for good, I learned that moving from a fraternity to the dormitory system is unbelievably easy, and that the housing office possessed information that could have made many of my difficult decisions much easier.

I harbor no bitterness towards the brothers. They honestly believed they were welcoming me into their club the best way they could. I do not scorn my former pledge brothers for not acting as I did, and I congratulate them on their initiation and hope they are happy.

I do, however, blame the Institute for not giving freshmen all the information they need. While I received a letter from the Institute during my pre-frosh summer urging me to consider independent living groups, MIT sent me nothing concerning the hazing others would try to inflict upon me, information that the housing office told me only after I had pledged. While fraternities bombarded me with pamphlets and full-color brochures, dormitory advertising was restricted to a one-time mass mailing after all the ILG material went out.

When I became an R/O counselor the following year, a maze of regulations I still don't understand prevented me from discussing the differences between ILGs and dormitories. I could only direct confused freshmen to another person, a housing office representative or a fraternity president, none of which could tell them the real story either.

The Institute had told counselors that freshman were stupid and easily misled, and that it was better to tell them nothing at all than risk swaying them with personal bias. Every counselor -- from the chief, through the veterans, down to the rookies like me -- was restricted by harassment regulations. In spite of these, we tried desperately to do whatever we could for the freshmen. I saw many freshmen wander off into rush that week unaware of what awaited them. I was a counselor, but I could not help them.

I, and many of the freshmen I tried to advise, eventually wound up living in the right place. The people who told me that first-week ILG rush works were correct; they just didn't tell me the whole story. That is the fatal flaw in the whole R/O system.

Whenever I questioned the residence selection system, I heard the same answer -- MIT was short on space, and need the ILGs to house students. If that led MIT to push ILGs excessively, tough. But if MIT builds a new dorm (as it is currently planning to do), this excuse for keeping R/O the way it is will end. We can then answer the nagging question -- R/O works well for many people, but is it the best, or even only way to go?

I don't think so. Freshman would have more time for a careful decision if ILG rush were delayed by one year, and if the R/O Counselor program were redesigned to meet their real needs. Freshman could still rush Institute housing and enter the housing lottery during R/O week, but the decision to join an ILG would be deferred to the following year, as it is at nearly every other college in the nation that still tolerates fraternities on campus. During their first year, all freshman would live with upperclassmen in the dormitories of their choice.

Fraternities may object to this plan because it would force them to absorb larger portions of the yearly rushees to maintain their numbers. They also fear that sophomores don't have time for pledging and that second-year rush would kill the indoctrination rituals on which many fraternities depend.

These shortcomings, though, do not justify dismissing this idea. Freshmen need a year to acclimate to MIT and investigate housing opportunities. Forcing them to choose a place to live in their first 36 hours at the Institute is cruel and dangerous. If students realize after their freshman year that they don't need ILG life, fine. If ILGs are strangled as a result, too bad. MIT cannot and should not be held responsible for keeping undesirable ILGs afloat.

Freshmen who could have benefited from dormitory time before they rushed are sure to advocate this new system. Under this system, freshmen who may not have wanted to rush in their first week at MIT could join fraternities later on, an option freshmen do not have now. The individuals that delayed rush would most affect, it seems, are those who are currently being roped, spooked and mislead into joining ILGs in which they do not belong.


Matthew H. Hersch, a sophomore in the Department of Physics, is an opinion editor of The Tech.