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Before Rushing into Anything

Guest Column Jyoti Tibrewala

As an incoming freshwoman, I have become familiar with the rush procedure employed by the Panhellenic Association. I can’t say I have abided strictly by the rules; I attended the tours held on Saturday, but did not really attend Open House I -- technically, I did, since I accompanied one of my roommates to one sorority’s open house and signed in and out merely for the sorority’s records. The next morning, I managed to completely avoid setting foot near the exhibit area in Stratton during Open House II.

Later that day, freshwomen were advised to check back to see if they had received any invites. Now, since I hadn’t attended Open House, I didn’t expect an invite. The only one I could fathom being invited to was the one whose door I sat outside of, Sigma Kappa. So, I decided to make a cameo at Kresge Auditorium, the site of the invitation distribution.

You can imagine my surprise when I was handed an invitation to Informal and Theme. But alas, it was not from Sigma Kappa but from Kappa Alpha Theta, the first sorority during my tour. That Sunday alone, I had seen some interesting things (having visited the East Campus dorms), but the invite from Theta brought me into a stupor.

Before I go on, perhaps I should provide you with an insight into the opinion I held about sororities going into Panhellenic Rush. Let me start by telling you that I care very strongly about my parents’ approval of my decisions. It would take a great deal to make me do something that they were adamantly opposed to. However, that isn’t to say that I don’t have a mind of my own. If my beliefs are strong enough, I will argue my case with anyone, even my parents, to get them to agree or, at least, consider my story.

I watch the news. So do my parents. We’ve seen the countless stories of hazing and other outrageous rituals performed and/or required for initiation by fraternities and sororities. And as such, I have also heard the countless warnings about sororities: Don’t ever join a sorority: if you do, your life is over. I don’t want to get a phone call one night and learn that you’re in the hospital and I’m miles away and helpless. They may sound annoying, but I take my parents’ admonishing to heart, because I know they have my best interests at heart. Besides, I don’t exactly want to end up in a car wreck or worse just because of so-called sisterhood.

However, I had visited MIT in April for its Campus Preview Weekend, and the then-freshmen had told me that Orientation and rush week provide tons of free food. And if there’s anyone who isn’t attracted to that, he or she cannot possibly be a college student. So, I decided that I would attend Informal and Theme -- if, for nothing else, for the possibility of free food; the first Informal featured chocolate fondue served with fruits.

During the night, I was, of course, bombarded with small-talk-type questions from various sisters. The most intelligent question I was asked the entire night was: do you have any questions for us? -- mind you that I only found this question intelligent the first time I heard it.

Now, I have to say that my mind was slowly becoming more open. Perhaps I took into consideration the fact that, although they were a sorority, they were also MIT students; therefore, their agenda was similar, if not the same, as mine -- to succeed. Things had to be different at MIT because it is simply a different type of school. Maybe I would consider pledging a sorority. Then I became plagued by the question of how I would break the news to my parents to get their endorsement. Therefore, the most appropriate question, I felt, was what does your sorority do for Initiation, one of my parents’ and my primary concerns.

But the Theta member I was talking to would not answer my question. She said it was a secret that she could not disclose. She simply responded that it entailed a ceremony. To me, though, “ceremony” could mean anything. It could mean a candle-lighting ceremony, an oath recitation, but it could also mean a drinking fest. She would not specify the type of ceremony, and she even looked around the room cautiously, so as to make sure nobody had heard her mention the word “ceremony.” I began to revert to my original mindset. I figured, if they would not elaborate on a topic that was actually more important than the nonsensical chit-chat they apparently use to evaluate potential pledges, then I would not consider pledging. Staying with the free food idea, though, I attended the daytime Informal and the evening Theme party on Monday.

I also recall receiving a housing book from MIT in May or June that included descriptions and costs of the fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. Theta was listed as a non-residential sorority, and thus, it did not have a house bill (as I understand). The box for dues was also empty. However, during rush, it came to my attention that a freshman pledge of Kappa Alpha Theta would be billed north of five hundred dollars. More withheld information. I obtained further information on what the dues are put towards, and I took some time to analyze the distributions. I can understand that the sorority has to pay a membership fee to the Panhellenic Association and the IFC. I can understand that the chapter itself must collect dues -- I’m assuming these are to cover parties, decorations, and such. I can even understand and agree with the portion of the collection that must be sent to the national association of Kappa Alpha Theta.

However, I do not agree with the idea that Kappa Alpha Theta, a non-residential sorority, makes freshmen and sophomores pay a house fee. Now, maybe I’m missing something here, but to me, “non-residential” means that the association does not have a house specifically designated for its members. Understanding of basic concepts like this is part of what got me into MIT.

You have every right to tell me that, if I do not agree with its practices, that I shouldn’t join Theta (although that is not the point I am making here). And I would respond by telling you that I’m not joining.

But the practices are not my only reason. Yes, the sorority did withhold information from potential pledges. Yes, members of the sorority kept information from me personally. However, part of the reason I will not be pledging any sorority has to do with the realization of what I would be paying for. I would be paying for membership in a group, in a club. There are hundreds of other clubs at MIT that do not charge five hundred dollars for membership; there are even sports clubs that have a lower price tag. Pledging means that you’re paying to hang out with people. I certainly have a higher opinion of myself than to pay other people to hang out with me or to be my friends.

Jyoti Tibrewala is a member of the Class of 2004.