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Attention Focused On Frats

Boston Globe Editorial Calls Students ‘Dense’

By Rima Arnaout

Media coverage of Phi Kappa Sigma’s Skuffle explosion prank and Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s eviction last week has focused attention on Boston’s opinions about MIT’s fraternities.

It remains to be seen now whether the image of irresponsibility created by the coverage, combined with the administration’s 2001 decision will lead to major changes or even the downfall of the fraternity system.

An editorial in Tuesday’s Boston Globe entitled “A Little Slow at MIT” labeled MIT students “uncommonly dense” and called MIT’s off-campus residences “a decaying throwback and cry out for dismissal and decertification.”

In giving negative coverage to PKS, the media was “really just echoing public sentiment” about MIT fraternities, said Christopher D. Beland ’00, a member of Fenway House.

Many believe that MIT students and fraternities are being held to a higher standard by the press. “I believe that the press coverage of the PKS accident was due to ... public fascination with MIT and its hacks, and heightened sensitivity because of recent fraternity-based alcohol incidents,” said President Charles M. Vest.

“Unfortunately, a few students have acted very irresponsibly from time to time. This does harm us all in the public view. The publicity is intense in part because people know MIT students are bright and hard working ... expectations for us are high,” Vest said.

In addition, coverage has focused only on a small number of fraternities often facing sanctions from MIT and Boston and has leapt to indicting an entire system. “Media coverage has tended to paint all of our fraternities with a single brush. This is neither accurate nor fair,” Vest said.

Some Bostonians support frats

Despite the growing image of MIT students as irresponsible, some Boston residents welcome the presence of MIT’s living groups.

“I am a strong supporter of frats in the City of Boston,” said Boston Licensing Board member Daniel F. Pokaski. “They add a great deal to the neighborhood, they add vibrancy to the streets ... Boston is basically a college town,” Pokaski said.

“But along with that comes responsibility,” Pokaski said, and fraternities are “expected to act accordingly.” There’s a “misconception that we’re [the BLB] on a witch-hunt” for MIT fraternities. “There’s no witch-hunt.”

“I thought the Globe editorial was unfair too... it branded everyone,” Pokaski said. “I will stand by my quote [in the Globe], though, that at times, MIT doesn’t get it,” Pokaski said.

Fraternities changing

Fraternities are adapting to the new climate produced by cooling administration support and negative community reactions. A number of fraternities, such as Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Nu, are going dry next year, some with the hope that doing so will improve MIT’s image and relations with Boston neighbors.

“I think that’s going to help things a lot,” said IFC Vice-President of Internal Affairs Amir A. Mesarwi ’00.

“Society has much less tolerance for inappropriate behavior, especially where alcohol is involved, than was the case a few decades ago ... many national fraternity organizations are insisting that their chapters go dry,” Vest said.

When asked whether going dry is a response to MIT’s negative image or an independent initiative by fraternities, Mesarwi said both were factors. “Within fraternities people are realizing this (alcohol) isn’t what we were founded upon... we need to go back to what we were founded upon,” Mesarwi said.

Other changes could include Boston fraternities moving closer to MIT in Cambridge. “This is a dream of the future that many have long held. I do not know what the immediate future holds in this regard,” Vest said.

The administration may find the IFC unwilling to part with their Boston houses, however. “I think that everyone will look at the situation and see something different,” Trupiano said. “Some houses have been receptive to looking into it and I think that’s an appropriate response ... some houses have not responded either way.”

Vest pledges to support students

“MIT has long supported its living groups, although the balance is complicated by the degree of independence of ownership and governance of FSILGs,” Vest said.

In the past two weeks, Vest has risen to the defense of MIT against the Boston Globe editorial and attended MIT’s rally to support PKS and the Leukemia Society of America.

“I have defended our students because they are wonderful people who should not be castigated because of the behavior of a few. I attended the rally because it was a moving and positive event,” Vest said.

Vest “hasn’t been as much a hands-on community leader. I’m heartened that he came, he spoke, he took a leadership role” at the rally, said Undergraduate Association President Matthew L. McGann ’00.

The new leadership role for Vest isn’t the only positive to come of this media attention. “One positive that has come out of this is that we are opening up a dialogue with news sources, students are becoming more aware about what the administration is dealing with,” Trupiano said.

Vest apparently doesn’t see supporting FSILGs as running contrary to his decision to house all freshmen on campus in fall of 2001 although that decision is potentially more dangerous to fraternities than any recent media exposure. “I deeply believe that we can better integrate and improve all the elements of our housing system ... if all of our first-year students experience life on the campus,” Vest said.