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Getting to Know the Greeks

Guest Column
Marissa Raymond

In September of 1999 I woke up and suddenly realized that I had no freedom, hardly any time to study, and no friends outside of the community I had all too intentionally joined. Getting out of bed that morning after two hours of rest, I was sleep-deprived, I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours, and my once-confident personality had been shattered by my new surroundings.

There was no denying it. In those moments I was questioning the soundness of my own judgment. The symptoms were so clear: a lack of sleep, malnutrition, an over-packed schedule. For those of you who have not yet guessed the truth, I will admit my situation. It was on that chilly September morning that I came to terms with the fact that I am an MIT student.

All right, maybe I’m being a bit over-dramatic, but it worked so well to attract attention to another recent Tech column that I couldn’t resist employing the same strategy here. In the September 22, 2000 edition of The Tech, Veena Thomas wrote an article entitled “The Cult Factor: When the Urge to Belong Becomes Too Strong.” There are two basic arguments in Thomas’s article which are misrepresentations or exaggerations of the truth.

First, Thomas details her knowledge of psychology by describing the effects of cognitive dissonance. However, she fails to point out the psychological benefits of the support system that FSILG students receive during and after college. Moreover, the cognitive dissonance which Thomas describes is common in most MIT students. On many days in my first year at the Institute I have found myself in a “state of having two attitudes which are not consistent with each other.” For example, “I’m sick of 8.01 -- I want to sleep!” and “I never want to take 8.01 again. Forget sleep! Hand me my problem set!”

In order to reduce or reconcile the effects of cognitive dissonance, Thomas suggests that members of cults turn to recruiting new members. I, like dozens of other MIT students, have worked with the MIT admissions office to recruit potential students. Is MIT a cult? To use Thomas’s words, “The similarities are striking.” However, how many students at MIT would consider it a cult? By the over-generalized, one-sided arguments presented in “The Cult Factor,” this is the only possible conclusion.

The second misrepresentation in “The Cult Factor” is Thomas’s portrayal of the Greek system. At this point I would like to take the opportunity to explicitly state that I am in no way Greek-affiliated. What I am is Greek-educated. I spent this weekend with fifty of the most active members of the MIT community, attending the IFC Leadership Retreat. I will be the first to admit that I was nervous about representing the only non-Greek student group on the retreat. Contrary to my fears, this experience served to extinguish all of the residual stereotypes that I was holding onto about fraternities and sororities. It gave me the opportunity to learn about their rich traditions, sense of community, and support for one another.

After having conversations with over half of the houses in the IFC, I failed to find a house which includes requiring someone to carry a brick in his backpack or scrub the floor with a toothbrush in their new member program.

The sorority members on the retreat told me that their pledge programs require a one-to four-hour commitment per week. I didn’t hear anything from current members or pledges about “endless meetings for pledges, mandatory activities, and clean-ups designed to take away much of the pledges’ time.” In addition, none of the hazing tactics in “The Cult Factor” are employed by MIT sororities. The first example of “sleep and nutrient deprivation” takes place at other schools, as the article states. The second example, of “pledges wearing strange outfits and ordered to make fools of themselves in the Student Center,” is another example of the misrepresentations throughout the article. These pledges were actually affiliated with Wellesley societies which are not national Greek organizations.

Every Greek representative I spoke to this weekend told me about how much they care about the other members of their chapter, including their pledges. They have fun; they bond over their traditions; they do not want to endanger their organizations by endangering their members.

So now I will urge everyone to do the hard thing: to step outside of the box and seek friends outside of your segment of the MIT population. The only way to combat these stereotypes is to get to know your fellow students.

At the end of her article Thomas asks a simple question, “What makes something a cult? You decide.” I have decided. I have chosen to be educated, to be informed, and to avoid judgment without knowledge.

Marissa Raymond ’03 is a member of the Women’s Independent Living Group.