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Fraternity System Not to Blame

Guest Column Lanny R. Chiu

No one can doubt that the untimely death of Scott S. Krueger '01 was a tremendous tragedy. By all accounts he was one of the brightest, most talented, and most promising young people in this country. Whenever someone of such promise dies, it is natural for serious consideration to be given to the circumstances of his death. But the questions that are being asked and the conclusions that are being reached are, at the very least, highly misguided.

Many now take it as gospel that the horrifying acts of hazing and abuse are a daily occurrence in fraternities around the country. They believe that fraternities are nothing more than the elaborate drinking clubs immortally stereotyped in Animal House. I could give many examples to the contrary about the wondrous unpublicized aspects of fraternities at MIT: the complete support that is always there when you can call yourself a brother, the feeling of total acceptance that is always apparent, and all of the small yet wonderful daily experiences. These instances, far more than alcohol, make up the fraternity experience.

I will refrain from trying to explain the idea of brotherhood, which is an impossible concept to explain to someone who has never experienced it. Let me simply say that whenever I walk into my fraternity house, I feel like I am at home. But what is foremost on people's minds is the forced consumption of alcohol which many say is fundamentally part of the fraternity experience.

Like Krueger, I pledged a fraternity as a freshman and went through all of the fraternity rituals that make up initiation into these institutions. But I have never been through the horrifying experiences that are now being described daily in magazines and newspapers around the country. I will not lie and tell you that alcohol has not been part of my college experience. Like most of my peers, I have gone to parties and indulged in wine, beer and other spirits. But what is implied when people talk today of fraternity drinking - the excessive, sadistic acts of cruelty that are said to be enforced by upperclassmen on potential brothers - are to me, like they are to most people in the country, simply descriptions dreamed up by some editor.

Some may disregard my opinion as hopelessly naive, but consider the possibility that everything done during a pledge program, every act assigned by an older brother to a pledge, is not designed as an act of cruelty to give the upperclassmen some measure of sadistic pleasure. Rather, a pledge program should be an experience that builds unity and loyalty among the pledges. It should be one of the best experiences of one's life, because it brings a pledge closer to his fraternity brothers than to anyone but his real family. I know that it did for me. Ask yourself, is the best way to make these pledges feel this tremendous spirit of brotherhood to force them to drink until they are comatose? What sense does it make to hurt these people that a fraternity wants to bring into its house?

That is not to say that these types of hazing events cannot or have not happened. But then what we are talking about is not a problem of the fraternal institution, but a problem of judgement. Fraternities, like any institution, can make errors in judgement, and tragedies can happen because of them. Where was the error in judgement in the Phi Gamma Delta case? Whose flawed judgement brought about this terrible tragedy? The answer to these questions can only be determined by a careful examination of the facts, and I would not even attempt to answer them. But, I am not looking to assign blame. I only hope that people do not condemn one of the oldest and most honorable institutions in the world because of a mistake.

I cannot say that fraternities have always behaved admirably, but can you say that about any institution? Before you start your next conversation with the the phrase, "That Krueger tragedy just shows that fraternities have to go," consider the object of your concern. Are you talking about the fundamental nature of fraternities or one instance of gross negligence? I grieve for Krueger and his family, and of course I don't want anything like this ever to happen again. But let us not compound this tragedy by committing another one - by damning an honorable institution simply because we feel a righteous anger.

Lanny R. Chiu is a member of the Class of 2000.