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A Freshman Perspective on Housing

Guest Column Kevin Lang

Before coming to MIT in late August, I watched Animal House for a seventh time, just to prepare for anything I might encounter. Upon arrival, I soon learned that nothing could have prepared me for MIT fraternities.

Somewhere between "let the" and "rush begin," I was pulled into a van on Memorial Drive. Before I could speak up, I was counting down Smoots on the Harvard Bridge. What was I doing? I knew frats were evil. I knew that I belonged in a nice, quiet dorm. I knew my parents would disown me if they even suspected I was possibly considering joining a fraternity. Still, I was a bit curious.

Our van pulled up to an incredible Victorian mansion in Back Bay. My first thought was, "Okay, so these guys do their binge-drinking toga rituals in a fancy house. That doesn't make them any better than other frats." After being wowed by a tour of huge bedrooms and incredible facilities, I sat down for lunch with some of the brothers. I expected them to try to impress me with stories of wild parties and fast times at MIT. Instead, they casually mentioned that their frat had one of the highest average GPAs of any living group on or off campus. Excuse me? These guys were better students than people who lived in quiet, studious dorms?

I will not name this fraternity, but I will say that their primary concerns were academic excellence and personal responsibility. This was a fraternity that graduated brothers with 5.0 averages every year. This frat raised thousands of dollars for charity on a regular basis. These brothers were responsible for each other and to each other. They admitted to serving alcohol at parties, but they assured me that drinking was social at most and that many of the brothers either drank rarely or not at all. Normally,I would have taken that as Rush propaganda, but I believed these guys. Everyone I talked to seemed honest and sincere.

The more I talked with the brothers, the more I wanted to stay. I stayed for steak and lobster, and for hours after that. I talked to every brother about everything imaginable: drinking, parties, tutoring, bibles, meals, expenses, activities, and everything in between. By 8 p.m., Iwas quite certain that I would pledge.

In high school, I had never been to a party where alcohol was served. I have never consumed any alcohol, and I don't plan to start any time soon. I am by no means the most social person in the world. Yet despite all this, I was seriously considering joining this fraternity.

After a sleepless night of internal debate, I realized that I didn't want the responsibilities and commitments of brotherhood. I regretted missing out on living with a great group of guys in a beautiful house with incredible food, but I wanted a more independent living experience.

I like my single in MacGregor House. I like the people I live with and the varying levels of community in house, entry, and suite. However, if I had not had the option of visiting fraternities and possibly living in a fraternity or independent living group, I might have missed out on a truly valuable experience. I chose dorm life over fraternities. I had the choice. As everyone has heard many times before and will hear many times again, the class of 2005 will not have that choice.

Fraternities are great for a large portion of the MIT population. I can't speak for all fraternities, but the ones I visited are certainly not the root of all MIT evil that the administration would have freshman believe they are. A fraternity can be an incredibly supportive environment, one that encourages scholarship, involvement, and responsibility. Alcohol abuse and disruptive behavior can and will happen anywhere; fraternities are not solely responsible for these issues at MIT, yet they are certainly bearing the lion's share of the blame.

If I had come to MIT knowing that I could choose only between various dorms and that the administration somehow feared freshman living in fraternities, my perception of MIT fraternities would be far different. I would still think Animal House at the mere mention of Greek letters.

Freshman need to make their own decisions about where and how they want to live at MIT. Mandatory on-campus housing for freshman will certainly damage the living group system, but it will also hurt a good portion of each incoming class. I was a few hours of rationalization away from joining a fraternity, but I ended up learning a great deal about myself and what I wanted from my years here. I came to MIT for all the opportunities it offers. Forcing freshman to live on campus will greatly limit those opportunities.

Kevin Lang is a member of the class of 2002.