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Uninformed Blau Embarrasses MIT with Column

Column by Shawdee Eshghi
Staff Reporter

As an occasional contributor to this publication, I usually feel inclined to defend the works that grace its pages. However, I feel that the publication of the recent column by Stacey E. Blau '98 ["Hypocritical Fraternities Embarrass MIT," Feb. 25] is an embarrassment to The Tech and to MIT.

First of all, I would like to say that I am in a sorority and have attended the social functions of many different fraternities, dormitories, and student groups on campus, and whether or not that disclaimer leads to questions about whether or not I can produce a coherent piece of writing, I want to emphasize that these opinions are based on my own first-hand experiences.

The fundamental problem with Blau's piece is that she begins by stating that she has never actually been to a fraternity party, yet she feels qualified to comment on what actually happens at such parties, which in my mind, completely discredits everything she has to say. She's right in saying that productions such as Animal House do not paint pretty pictures of the Greek system. However, as a good journalist, Blau should know better than to rely on the media for her facts.

The first glaring inaccuracy comes when she basically says that members of fraternities are incapable of carrying on intelligent conversations. If her point is that people at fraternity parties are not going to spend a Friday night discussing a problem set, then Blau is more or less correct. I have had countless interesting conversations about MIT, college life and indeed the world at large at fraternity parties. Blau seems to forget that these men were admitted to MIT by the same Admissions Office that admitted her and the rest of student body.

To many people who have no contact with the Greek system, it is hard to imagine fraternity members as anything other than drunk. I have to admit that the MIT fraternity system is relatively unique in that it provides for the free, unregulated flow of alcohol. However, there are plenty of women - affiliated and not - who frequent fraternity parties with no intentions of getting drunk and getting laid but rather of having a good time with their friends. Of course there are many women, not all of whom are from MIT, incidentally, who do indeed intend to get drunk and get laid but that is certainly not unique to fraternities.

This kind of socializing happens in dorms and student groups all over MIT. Indeed, where would the world be without alcohol and sex? While she admits that dormitories are not untainted when it comes to the temptations of drugs, alcohol and sex, she says that "at least dormitories can boast some sort of personality." I would argue that the Greek institutions on this campus harbor more distinctive character and flair than any dorm for the simple reason that fraternities are much smaller and have control concerning the incoming freshman class. Again, as anyone who has friends in fraternities can tell you, while their parties may be similar, the character of each house is different.

I think that Blau's main problem is that she seems to think that having a strong brotherhood and knowing how to have a good time are mutually exclusive characteristics. Using the same logic, one could argue that although The Tech boasts that it is a fine publication committed to informing the MIT community, underneath it is really a close-knit group of friends who hang out and occasionally get drunk. While fraternity members will readily boast about their parties, I think most would agree that the main benefit of being affiliated was the friendships and memories they made, and that in the end, it was the brotherhood, not the social program, that meant more to them. What I will remember most fondly about my own sorority is the people who have touched my life and the sisterhood that we shared, not the parties, mixers, and fraternities we went to.

While she had everyone's attention, Blau throws in an unrelated point criticizing Leadershape: "Almost all of whose attendees are in fraternities and sororities," and its "silly cliches like unity and activism." As a member of the Leadershape class of 1996, I would like to point out that out of the 57 attendees last summer, less than half were affiliated with a Greek institution, and of those that were, a broad cross section of fraternities and all of the sororities were represented. And so what if many of the active people on campus are affiliated? Doesn't that only support the Greek system in recognizing that it is a great place to develop leadership and team building skills?

What upsets me most, perhaps, is that to too many people like Blau here at MIT unity and activism really are nothing more than "silly cliches." Leadershape does indeed support these goals, but aren't these two of the conspicuously lacking forces on the MIT campus? Leadershape was one of the best opportunities that MIT has offered me in my short time here, and perhaps MIT really would be a better place if everyone had the chance to attend.

Blau ends her harangue by saying that "the fraternity system is one of MIT's most embarrassing sides," and I couldn't disagree more. The fact is that the Greek system promotes the very leadership skills, social skills, and community awareness that the stereotypical MIT student consistently lacks. So if learning such necessary life skills is accompanied by some wild nights, then so be it. The Greek system, with its many problems, is in fact one of MIT's shining lights, and if anything, it is The Tech that embarrassed MIT by featuring a former editor in chief who did not have the integrity to learn the facts before making broad conclusions.