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Being Greek at MIT

Guest Column
Damien Brosnan

Throughout my three years here at MIT, I have been involved in many different activities that have benefited both myself and the community to which I belong. The Undergraduate Association, crew, track and field, and now the Interfraternity Council and Class Council have been a very large part of my life and my educational experience here. I also happen to be a member of a fraternity.

My identity on campus is invariably tied to my Greek affiliation, and why shouldn’t it be? I am proud of my fraternity and what it does for me and my fellow brothers. I am also proud of the things that my fraternity accomplishes on campus, largely through the leadership positions that my fellow brothers get involved in. We make a positive difference on this campus, and the same can be said about at least a few members of every FSILG on campus.

I believe in the principles of my fraternity and try to live by them in my daily actions. I show truth in my convictions and the actions I take for the student body, courage in my ability to take on new challenges, faith in my brothers and friends that they will help me when I need it, and power from the knowledge that I can make a difference in the lives of the people within the FSILG community.

In a column written in The Tech last week, the author attempted to describe this way of living life as being formed from certain cult-like behaviors and rituals that caused me to join my fraternity and get involved in it, and also alleged that the reason we fall into such behavioral patterns has to do with psychological tactics used on us in our innocent MIT youth. This whole argument is straight-out ridiculous, both from the loosely analytical basis on which it stands as well as from a plain old common-sense perspective. How so? I’m glad you asked.

First off, the columnist asks, “Why the prevalence of new members in the fraternities and sororities?” That is a good question to ask. The answer is that the MIT student body is diverse and the choice that we afford freshmen (at least until 2002) enables them to choose a living option where they believe they will fit in best, whether that be a dormitory or an FSILG. The columnist basically insults the entire concept of freshman choice by saying that freshmen don’t have a choice, and that we as upperclassmen never had any choice, due to the implementation of these psychological cult tactics. That is something that I cannot possibly agree to as being the truth, and I hope that you won’t find many people that would.

The analytical conclusions drawn from invoking the teachings of 9.00 are equally in error. At one point in the argument, the fact that psychological studies show that those who endure hardship in order to join a group show more loyalty to said group than those that don’t is brought into play as a supporting point of the existence of psychological tactics akin to cult behavior. I believe that it is this very fact that speaks to the strength of our Greek organizations and the members within it.

When I first came here to MIT, I was looking for a place to live where I would have an image carved out for me and something to lose my own identity in for its own greater good. Basically, I was very insecure. But I couldn’t find that anywhere in any fraternity because being a member of any group I was interested in meant undergoing sacrifices of at least some of my time as well as a willingness to challenge my beliefs and see if they go along with those of my future brothers. I basically was forced to become my own person and create my own identity to be considered a worthwhile member of any house.

We don’t want sycophants in our system, nor people with no idea of who they are. Contrary to what the columnist would have you believe, we hold ourselves to a higher standard of membership than that. Professor Pinker must be quite disappointed at the misuse of his teachings. There’s also the common-sense interpretation of these facts that say that the more you invest yourself into something, the more personally responsible you feel for it and the more loyalty you will have for that group.

You have to earn the right to be in a fraternity or sorority here. Membership is a privilege that is to be earned constantly through all of the years that you belong to the group, and privileges require work to attain them.

The list of flawed points in the article goes on and on (such as the use of, at best, second- hand information from other schools given to the columnist by people whose lives are probably more like the columnists than the Greeks they speak of), so I will stop here and issue my own challenge to everyone. I urge you to do a really hard thing: evaluate yourselves. Instead of wondering whether or not you will lose your identity and become a mindless second-class zombie or something like that, take a look at yourselves and ask, “Do I have what it takes to be a productive member of a group that is greater than the sum of its parts? Am I strong enough as an individual to know that about myself?”

I think the answer might inspire you and help you realize that you are worthy of such an endeavor. Then again, the answer might depress you, and possibly make you bitter towards a system that you don’t deserve. But then again, what do I know: I might be nothing more than just a brain-washed cocky fratboy with nothing but rushing freshmen and “proper frat party etiquette” on his mind.

What makes someone an individual? You decide.

Damien A. Brosnan ’01 is a member of Delta Tau Delta and Interfraternity Council President.