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Greeks Don't Need to Be Isolated from Campus Groups

Column by Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Over the past week, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the relative merits of fraternities in shapingMIT. The question that Ikeep posing to myself is:While fraternities are a necessary part of providing housing for undergraduates, do they contribute much to the culture of the community in a whole?

After thinking about this for a while, I must give a mixed answer. We've heard from many fraternity members who exalt their participation in community service groups. Yet, at the same time, fraternity member John D. Dunagan '98 says that few fraternity members work at The Tech because they already have a community and don't need another ["Fraternities Provide Family, Community," Feb. 28].

If Dunagan's comments are true through a broad spectrum of the fraternity community, it is clear then that the fraternity system as a whole is not valuable to building a community on the MITcampus. If fraternity members are so close-knit that they associate only with other members with the same two or three Greek letters, there is something seriously wrong with the system that was so highly praised last Friday.

I believe, however, that Dunagan's comments only hold true for a fraction of all those who live in fraternities. The far more logical reason for the disparity, however, is geographic location. Most of the fraternities are located across the river in Boston. While this may be good for the social scene - the nightclubs of Boylston Street are just a short distance away - it does little to facilitate activities, which meet in Cambridge, a 15-minute walk away.I sometimes find the walk into campus from Random Hall annoying, and that is only three blocks.

To be sure, members of Boston fraternities must find the walk across the Harvard Bridge annoying, especially during the cold winter. If there were an easy way to get on campus, more fraternity members might get involved in campus activities, which offer a wonderful reprieve from the stress of MITacademic life.

There are other factors that prevent many fraternity members from becoming involved on campus. Very clearly, one of these is the time commitment required of a fraternity during the first term of freshman year.

Indeed, last fall Italked to a fraternity member in my physics class about how the first term was going here. He commented that almost all of his non-study time was spent on pledge activities at his fraternity and that he had not been able to get involved in activities nearly so much as he wanted to. If the fraternity system did not demand so much of its members during their first terms at MIT, they might have more time to think about joining activities before they get completely swamped with the coursework that takes up most of one's time at MIT.

We have to think about what we can do to fix this problem and to get more people active in the activity system here at MIT. First, we can eliminate the rules that give fraternities an advantage over dormitories - and activities. Activities are currently prohibited from actively seeking out freshmen until the Activities Midway, held after pledges have committed themselves to live at a fraternity and have withdrawn themselves from the dormitory lottery.

Thus, most freshmen who have pledged fraternities are already involved in their fraternities by that point and don't have the time or the encouragement to attend the midway. On the other hand, those awaiting their final housing assignments really don't have much to do and go to the midway, learning about the broad variety of things to do on campus.

If fraternity members did attend the Activities Midway or were able to hear about activities while they were rushing, they may be more inclined to become involved. As it is, freshmen don't have any clue that activities exist during rush, except for the small book that is sent out during the summer and posters in the Infinite Corridor.

Second, we can improve Safe Ride service into Boston. I've heard many fraternity members complain about the poor service that they experience going into Boston. I occasionally use Safe Ride myself when it is an especially cold night and I'm headed back to Random Hall, and the level of service can be dreadfully awful. Fraternities at the beginning of the runs are especially penalized, since it can take up to 25 minutes to arrive on campus once one steps into the Safe Ride van. Running the vans in both directions on all the routes would help everyone by alleviating the capacity crisis that often plagues the Boston vans and by making it more convenient for fraternity members to come onto campus.

I'd like to finish by noting that Ido know a few fraternity members who participate in activities on campus, principally the Lecture Series Committee. Most activities, however, have few if any fraternity members. That lack of participation in activities serves only to precipitate the great divisions between groups on theMITcampus that has been illustrated so well by the opinions voiced over the past week. Until fraternity members become more involved on campus, these problems will remain prevalent, and many of the stereotypes about fraternity members will continue to be true. Fraternity members have much to give to MITactivities; it is my hope that more participate in the future.