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If Fraternity Life Is For You, Stay the Night

Column by David V. Rodriguez
Arts Editor

The worst part of rush was not knowing what was going to happen. On the afternoon before rush began, I met with my Project Move Off Your Assumptions group, and after all the word games and other get-acquainted activities, my advisors asked if we had any questions about anything. Everyone had a question about rush, but they answered none of them. When given a question, they would pause, look at each other and try to think of the best way to give us the least information possible. They only told us how great rush was, and that we shouldn't worry. The last thing they told us were the emergency numbers and gave us each a plastic red whistle to blow if we got into trouble.

They were right about rush being fun. But there was no reason for us to be kept in the dark, and in fact, we probably would have been better off if we knew more. Rush moves quickly, and if you don't know what is going on, you're likely to make mistakes.

The goal of rush is for fraternities to find freshman who are good matches, and vice versa. The fraternities' strategy is to get as many freshman to their houses as possible, meet them, and then whittle their way down to a smaller, more promising group - better matches, not better freshmen.

Fraternity members will be eager to meet you, and when you arrive at one, a brother will talk to you and get to know you. They may want to get your name, so they can later talk about you with other brothers. They'll have meetings to decide which freshmen are good candidates.

It sounds like a heartless process, but it isn't. The fraternities need to be efficient; there are too many freshman for every brother to be able to hear every freshman's life story.

The down side is that it moves fast. Before they'll give someone a bid, they'll want to get to know the freshman well, and have the person meet everyone in the fraternity. This means they'll soon need to turn their focus from the larger group to a smaller pool.

If you're interested in a fraternity, you should make your presence known. At the end of the first night, a fraternity may invite you to spend the night. If there is any possibility of your living there, you shouldn't refuse. It's a chance for you to meet the brothers and a chance for the brothers to get to know you. And it's a sign that you are interested in that fraternity; they know you can have steak and lobster everywhere you go, but you can only sleep at one place.

During my rush, I made the mistake of going back to my dorm room. I was exhausted from meeting everyone and thought I'd start again the next morning. When I woke up, I gave another fraternity a phone call. The night before I had been given a card from them with a phone number I could call if I wanted to be picked up and taken to their house. On the phone, I talked to the rush chair, who said they were no longer really looking for new freshmen, that they had already found their pool of candidates. It was only noon on Saturday.

Realizing I was close to being shut out of rush, I ran over to one of the fraternities I saw the night before, the only one I thought I may want to pledge. I was just in time to catch a van going to the beach. In the van with me were a few brothers and two other freshmen I recognized from the night before. The other freshmen were still wearing the same clothes; I could tell I was the only one who hadn't spent the night.

The van ride was an hour long. I don't know if they chose the beach because it was someone's favorite beach, or because the brothers wanted to have an hour-long ride to get to know potential pledges, but it was more time for us to talk. I quickly saw the difference between me and the other freshmen - they had already met everyone, and were now telling each other high school stories while I was still at the stage of telling everyone that I was from California, played volleyball, and was considering Course VI. This was the same so-called conversation I had had with countless brothers at numerous fraternities the night before.

The long ride was useful. I got to know a handful of brothers, and while they were nice guys, I knew their fraternity wasn't the place for me. So I sat back, tired of repeating details about myself, and watched everyone else.

At the beach I saw a brother pull the two other freshmen aside individually and tell them that things were going well, and that they were probably going to get bids the next morning. He never pulled me aside, but I knew my silence and apparent disinterest had put me out of the running. When we got back to the house, the brothers were good hosts and offered me lunch, but I went back to my dorm, not wanting to distract them. I saw the two other freshmen a few weeks later; both wearing the fraternity's T-shirt.

Living at a fraternity is a good thing if you can find the right fraternity. A few years ago I saw a poll that asked MIT students how happy they were, and fraternity members on average were happier. Your goal during rush is to find a good match. The door closes quickly, so you need to be quick - see as many fraternities as possible, but know when to commit. If your rush is a string of hollow greetings, you're not doing it correctly.

The worst possible action is to walk around with a generic smile, not saying anything because you're afraid of making a mistake. And if you do make a mistake, just go next door to the next fraternity and start over.

Many of you will find that fraternity life isn't for you. Brotherhood is a big issue for fraternities, and this may put you off. At one fraternity I visited, a brother told me how great it was to have his brothers wandering through his room at all hours. If your value your privacy greatly, or your first priority is getting a single room, (or you can't imagine yourself wearing a baseball-style shirt with a cute nickname on back), then you should consider dorm life. In any case, you should enjoy rush. It only comes once, and there is nothing else like it.