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Rush Offers More Than Free Food

By Benjamin P. Gleitzman

As freshmen gathered under the blazing sunshine in Killian Court for their class picture, few could have anticipated the intensity and drive with which they would soon be pursued by upperclassmen with cryptic symbols emblazoned on their chests.

Students, gripped with hunger, fear, and wonder gazed up at the president of the Interfraternity Council as he gave his final remarks, officially closing Orientation for the Class of 2009. However, instead of a Rush kickoff with fanfare, as anticipated by many in the crowd, budding hackers interfered with the microphone system at that moment to effectively put him on mute.

Impressionable new students, slightly bewildered and a bit sweaty, filed toward piles of hamburgers, pulled pork, and potato salad baking in the noonday sun. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Flag Day come once a year to good little boys and girls, but Rush Week at MIT marks the start of a time-honored tradition that may be sorely missed by freshmen once it’s over.

Rush is in no way a new tradition at MIT, having begun all the way back at MIT’s original campus in the Back Bay area and remaining through former President Charles M. Vest’s 2001 decision requiring all freshmen to be housed in dormitories. So what’s it like after this long history?

From the grounds of Killian Court, students were personally escorted into a convoy of beat booming convertibles, vans, and carpools running between fraternity houses. I rode in style to my first steak and lobster dinner, while other students tested their hands at the poker table, chilled out with ice cream and a professional masseuse, or unleashed suppressed rage with a sledgehammer to the windshield of a ’95 Buick Le Sabre. I remain angry for having missed that event.

Even so, the focus of Rush ought not to be lost among the glittery, glamorous, and often glitzy baubles that fraternities place on display for wide-eyed, unaffiliated freshmen. With 12 straight days of Rush in store for the Class of 2009, most students would find it hard to resist at least one or two extravagant days on a fraternity’s bankroll.

In fact, in part thanks to the Clearinghouse rush participant tracking system re-adopted this year, some students may find themselves all but stalked by fraternity members looking to show them a good time.

At times the pressure was intense, leaving me trapped like the victim in a bad horror flick. I could barely finish one fraternity-related activity before an anonymous voice would page my cell phone, peddling free luxurious fun. Proposals of paintball, laser tag, and the night’s surf and turf casual dining location inundated me. Hiding in a strategic location during a crucial game of paintball, my position was betrayed by yet another phone call, leading to a few bruises the next day.

Some students may find this persistent pursuit disruptive and overzealous, but others have a more positive attitude. As a natural response, freshman seem to use this heavy recruitment to achieve the wonderful feeling of being wanted. This fledgling feeling might sometimes have artificial roots, with fraternities looking to fill empty beds, but with more time I can see my friendships with fraternity brothers from multiple houses coming to mutual fruition. Especially at such a prestigious university, who wouldn’t want to be sought by successful upperclassmen? The desire for acceptance is strong.

Rush is in many ways a battle for the unexpectedly stylish, the zeitgeist. Candied yams and shuffleboard won’t make the top of many freshmen “to do” lists this year, but croquet and Klezmer music might appeal to those who otherwise never intended to join a fraternity. I jumped at the opportunity to fire a pistol for the first time, and couldn’t say no to a posh dinner at the Ritz. This is a time for frats to put their best foot forward and attract members who want to experience MIT outside the classroom.

But even with all the excitement and camaraderie surrounding Rush, some students worry whether this preferential treatment will extend after pledging. Sadly, the free food will probably stop, but I doubt the friendships made during Rush Week will.

Pledging a fraternity might get you into some great parties but any brother will tell you that there’s more to fraternity life than Friday nights. I’ll pick a frat because it’s engaging, because I enjoy spending time with enthusiastic pledges, and because it creates a support system.

Rush is a time for students to witness firsthand another side of MIT while having fun in the process. So go shoot your handguns, scarf up a free meal with at least two food groups, and gamble the night away on homemade poker tables. Meet some upperclassmen because they have some good advice to share, and tell them thanks for blowing a little dough on your behalf. Most importantly, remember this is the start of a new school year with fraternities as only one of many attractive possibilities on the college horizon.