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In Defense of Fraternities

Reading the editorial “A Little Slow at MIT,” from Tuesday’s Boston Globe, one would believe that all of MIT’s fraternity members are “uncommonly dense,” and that all of MIT’s off-campus residences are a “decaying throwback” that cries out for “dismissal and decertification.”

The Tech believes that although there are a few problem fraternities, it was reckless of the Globe, a major metropolitan newspaper, to generalize from those few frats statements about the entire off-campus residence system. In addition, we applaud President Charles M. Vest for visiting the Globe Tuesday and defending MIT students from the Globe’s generalizing.

The only references the editorial makes to fraternities are to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which recently lost a house, and Phi Gamma Delta, which no longer exists. From there, the editorial goes on to state that, compared to the nation, “[binge drinking] is especially acute at off-campus MIT fraternities” and that they are “no longer a revered tradition.”

Such generalizing is irresponsible. First of all, statistics show that binge drinking at MIT is significantly lower than the national average. According to a 1995 survey by the MIT Medical Department, only 23 percent of MIT students engaged in binge drinking, compared to 44 percent nationally.

Secondly, the vast majority of MIT’s off-campus residences do provide a valuable and unique experience for the residents occupying them. It is unjustifiable for the Globe to have used SAE (which may indeed deserve to be decertified) as a springboard from which to stomp all over every other off-campus residence.

Each off-campus residence deserves to be judged individually, and fraternities that contribute positively to the community -- such as Phi Kappa Sigma, which was at the forefront of the recent leukemia fund-raiser -- deserve to have their good deeds mentioned alongside any infractions.

On Tuesday, President Vest and Dean Rosalind H. Williams visited the Globe to tell its editors that MIT fraternities do indeed provide a valuable experience for students. “Our purpose was to indicate concern about the amount of generalizing about MIT students and our fraternities,” Vest said.

Vest’s visit to the Globe, along with his recent appearance at the rally for Phi Kappa Sigma on Saturday, are good signs that MIT’s administration, despite some controversial decisions in the past, is defending students.

In its editorial, the Globe said, “[Institute administrators] still insist that the school’s traditional housing choices ... are somehow a boon to students.” We hope that the administration will continue to feel that way in the future.