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Hypocritical Fraternities Embarrass MIT

Column by Stacey E. Blau
Opinion Editor

Is it really true that frat life is about service, brotherhood, and friendships that last a lifetime? Or is about parties, drinking, and sorority chicks? The pre-rush booklets that freshmen get before they arrive at MIT for Residence and Orientation Week would have you think that frats are bastions of brotherhood and its concomitant wonders, but the longer I am at MIT, the more I am convinced that frat life is much more like the unseemly cliches that conventional wisdom and Animal House teaches us about them.

I've never been to a frat party. I've heard that frat parties differ depending on where you go - certainly you're going to find something at Sigma Phi Epsilon that you won't find at Tau Epsilon Pi. But it's probably not an intelligent conversation. More or less, the Sunday morning vomit trails tell the story: Frat parties are about alcohol. I've never heard of anyone going to a frat party without the intention of drinking. True, frat parties are also about socializing, but mostly the sort of socializing that alcohol promotes (that is, sex).

Without a doubt, the same things about drinking are true for dormitories. There can be no denying that drinking - and extremely excessive drinking - goes on in dormitories, too. But at least dormitories can boast some sort of personality. What is the fraternity equivalent of the murals in Senior House? Is it Delta Kappa Epsilon's rush week beer can display?

Honestly, the real difference is that fraternities make a pretty grand pretense of being societies of upstanding brotherhood when really they are more often than not places to party and drink and - let's face it - get laid. Is that what brotherhood is about? It sure looks like it. No dormitory - with whatever drinking and drugs and sex that go on there - makes the same hypocritical and silly claims about the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood and all the related tripe you read about in the rush booklets.

Interestingly, one doesn't have to go far to uncover frats' embarrassing hypocrisy. Look at their own celebrations - Greek Week is to a large extent a weekend-long drinking fest. One of its main events - progressive dinners - is commonly referred to as "progressive drunk." You can actually see a lot more for yourselves on some fraternities' World Wide Web pages. All of the pages boast somewhere or other about a strong brotherhood founded on a mutual esteem, etc., but they also contain rather interesting descriptions of their social programs:

Alpha Epsilon Pi ( activities/aepi/aepi.html): AEPi boasts that its "mixers give our brothers the opportunity to get to know women on a more personal level."

Delta Kappa Epsilon ( activities/dke/home.html): "Dekes are social animals!" this frat's page proclaims. The pages also features a picture of "Shandra, Amanda, and Jessica at the Christmas Formal" in low-cut dresses. On separate page, Deke assures us that "there is nothing that can break the bonds of brotherhood. Not even the Civil War."

Phi Kappa Theta ( activities/pkt/): PKT's social page makes promises of "uh lots of parties social hour every week as many mixers as possible getting more women involved in the house"

Pi Lambda Phi ( PLP - whose rush privileges were suspended several years ago for drug and alcohol violations - has a page that opens up with a Java applet producing the sound bite, "Go get drunk and play ping-pong!"

There's hazing, too. Every frat claims it doesn't do it, but many do. In fact, I was a witness (and, dare I say, a participant) in a hazing incident in late January, when many freshman fraternity members were going through initiation.

One evening when I was walking down the steps in the Student Center, two Zeta Psi freshmen asked me if I could sign my name on some part of their bodies. I was pretty shocked, and I asked them what the signing was for. They said, beamingly, that it was for their fraternity, Zeta Psi. I told them I thought it sounded like hazing, but they assured me it wasn't. But when I asked what would happen if I didn't sign, they told me that they would be in some kind of trouble if they didn't get enough girls to sign their bodies. So I signed each of their hands. Later, I saw other Zeta Psi brothers making similar explanations to other girls in the Student Center. I've also heard stories about a certain fraternity that makes its pledges scrub the house floor in the nude and then makes them streak in the streets.

Unbelievably, these are the same frats that MITrelies on for housing nearly half its male students; the same frats MIT pushes its freshmen to explore their first few days at MIT. What would it do if several hundred freshmen every year weren't willing to live in these places? It would be in big trouble, with an even bigger dormitory crowding problem than it already faces. But that's no excuse for MIT to be promoting these sort of living situations on a long-term basis.

I find it amazing that former Interfraternity Council President Jason D. Pride '97 can so stupidly comment that fraternity life is "based on alcohol" ["Frats Consider Dry R/O Week," Feb. 19, 1996], and MIT barely bats an eye. It is thoroughly embarrassing how administrators cave to IFC demands, virtually giving fraternities veto power over any potential changes to rush. An honest rush where fraternities can actually talk about each other? Nope. An R/O where dormitories can start rushing at the same time as frats? No way. Dry rush? Are you kidding?

Fraternities rule R/O, and it's because MIT doesn't have enough places for all its freshmen. It's no wonder MIT runs away from the idea of changing R/O. At the same time, it encourages idiotic programs like Leadershape - almost all of whose attendees are in fraternities or sororities - that promote the silly cliches like unity and activism, managing to convince attendees that their unique leadership is making the world a better place.

The fraternity system is one of MIT's most embarrassing sides. Last week's very disturbing accident - in which Lambda Chi Alpha's president, after drinking, fell four floors down an elevator shaft - seems to demonstrate that fraternities can barely control themselves. If they can't clean up their own act, then MIT should do it for them.