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Rush Needs More Honesty And Less Deceitful Pretense

Column by Frank Dabek
Associate News Editor

Fraternities at MIT have been recently enveloped in a controversy over whether they are an embarrassment to the Institute, a place for beer swilling, mindless troglodytes, or bastions of brotherhood, honor, trust, and the carriers of a great and noble tradition. Neither of these sweeping generalities is true. Fraternities, despite their burden of negative stereotypes and pretensions of brotherhood are really little different from other living groups on campus. It isn't even the merit of the Greek system that is the issue at hand. What should be addressed is a rush system - and the administration behind it - that allows and even promotes division, ignorance, and stereotypes among different living groups.

Just as MIT is right in giving students the option of living in Greek organizations, they are wrong not to allow men to avoid that choice by promulgating a rush system constructed explicitly to make fraternities seem preferable to on-campus housing. The short duration of rush, the preference given to fraternities through messaging systems like Clearinghouse (even if it was modified this year), and other activities like Thursday Night Dinners, Project Move Off Your Assumptions, and even pre-froshing show the administration's desire to prevent freshmen from making a truly informed decision and moving as many of them into frats as possible.

The idea that Thursday Night Dinners and other pre-rush activities are neutral is not borne out in examples like Sigma Phi Epsilon's punishment by the Interfraternity Council for the fraternity's pre-rush advertisement in The Tech: a monetary fine and the loss of the right to send members to Thursday Night Dinners next year.

But if Thursday Night Dinners blur the line marking the beginning of rush, current practices of pre-froshing make it all but a formality. A quick look at the list of visiting freshmen posted on the admissions reception office outside Lobby 10 shows the vast majority of visitors being housed in fraternities, some of whom place volunteers in the office for the specific purpose of bringing prospective freshmen into their fraternities. At the fraternity where I lived for the first term of my freshman year, a statistically improbable number of pledges had pre-froshed at the house the year before. That students - some of whom have not even been accepted at MIT - are being rushed signals a system that is out of control.

The repercussions of the current rush system extend far beyond Residence and Orientation Week, however. The chasm of understanding that exists between the Greek system and the rest of campus is a direct result of the current rush system that breeds deception of others and self. When I moved to East Campus from a fraternity, I was asked if I would live in a quad or a quint (I live in the only double on a hall in which freshmen had singles their first term) and whether the laundry machines cost one dollar or two (they are 75 cents). During rush I was told that the fraternity which I eventually pledged had the fastest net connection of any living group (my connection at East Campus is an order of magnitude faster).

If even trivialities like these seem ripe for the type of deception and ignorance that rush infuses, then more important misunderstandings will never be resolved. These misunderstandings perpetuate stereotypes on both sides of the issue like those exemplified by the fraternity member who told me that I didn't "know what hell we saved you from" in the dormitories and some of the perceptions of fraternities in the column by Stacey E. Blau '98 ["Hypocritical Fraternities Embarrass MIT," Feb. 25].

Most of these errors are not the result of some rush ploy to attract freshmen or of bigotry on the part of students but the result of a system that produces a majority of students who have lived at a living group since rush, have been imbued with the rush myths, and have dutifully inscribed them onto the impressionable minds of a new group of freshmen each year.

Certainly individuals are partly to blame for the spread of these stereotypes, but it is the administration that has allowed the system that encourages such behavior to continue. And why not? It's certainly easier and cheaper for them to make rush rules guaranteeing a good yield at fraternities than to build a new undergraduate dormitory and deal with housing responsibly. The graduate housing office has a goal of housing 50 percent of graduate students and is attempting to reach that figure by building more dormitories. The strategy behind undergraduate housing seems to be to exploit fraternities in order to put off dealing with the real problems of housing, in spite of the negative effect that this practice has on campus life.

If the state of relations between living groups on campus is to rise above its current depths of stereotypes and mindless devotion, then freshmen must have real understanding and real knowledge in order to make a truly informed decision on where to live. This is the only way to prevent the perpetuation of the myths that are dividing the student body today.

MIT must revamp the rush system dramatically. One possibility is to mandate that all freshmen will live in Institute housing for their first term at MIT. Rush could be conducted at the end of Independent Activities Period or during the entire first term. This system would give freshmen the opportunity to gain information by experience rather than force them to sort out the lies and deception that make up rush and then make an informed decision on where to live, something that just isn't possible in three days.

The understanding that students would gain from this experience would serve to break down the sharp separation between Greeks and dorms. This plan would also most likely bring criticism that the Institute is forcing students into dorms and might require the construction of a new undergraduate dorm. It is better, however, to pay this price now than to continue to mortgage the future of our Institute to disunity and ignorance.