Why will over 50 percent of freshmen men pledge fraternities this year? What is it about fraternity life that leads freshmen to join organizations that are so often associated with binge-drinking, dirty houses, and failing grades, a false stereotype that has been propagated by movies such as Animal House and Old School? How can so many men, from such a diverse set of backgrounds, find common homes in fraternities?
That these questions have answers is apparent if you take even a cursory look around campus. Look for fraternity men and you will quickly find campus leaders, student government representatives, athletes, community service advocates, and above all, dedicated students. It is not by accident that fraternity men are constantly involved with every facet of student life and the MIT community — they are merely implementing the values that Greek life espouses.
Fraternities exist to ensure the personal growth of their members, a need that may not be easily filled by other means. Joining a fraternity offers the chance to mature within a community focused on developing you from a young freshman to an individual prepared to make a difference in both the MIT community and beyond. Opportunities abound — perhaps you will lead an organization with over 40 members, handle a budget in excess of $100,000, play dozens of IM sports, volunteer with friends at a local hospital, or simply study late into the night with a group of willing upperclassmen tutors.
It should also be underscored that these are values-based organizations, each with a set of ideals and membership expectations. Personal responsibility, collaboration, empathy, scholarship, beneficence, morality — these are principles ingrained throughout fraternity culture. While each organization may emphasize particular values over others, the trend is clear — to join a fraternity, you must commit yourself to the highest standards of personal conduct, and nothing less will suffice in the eyes of your brothers.
The results of fraternity life speak for themselves. Fraternities boast an impressive average GPA of 4.29. Fraternities annually volunteer thousands of man hours to innumerable community service events, from crafting homemade wooden toys for children in the community to picking up trash along the Charles River. Fraternities donate thousands of dollars to charities ranging from the Children’s Miracle Network to the ALS Association.
Fraternity members include dozens of student leaders, such as last year’s Undergraduate Association President. Fraternities boast a vast number of varsity athletes, providing the driving force behind MIT’s sports teams. In short, the product that fraternities deliver is invaluable to their members and to the MIT community at-large, and the evidence is plain to see.
I will not be as bold to say that fraternity life is for everyone. I will say, however, that I believe everyone should at least give fraternities a look. You may think that fraternities are not for you; that you have no desire to ‘buy’ friends; that you do not need the personal development opportunities that fraternities provide; that you do not wish to join a culture that you perceive to be built around drinking.
When I first came to MIT, I believed a lot of these same things — I came in with only the negative stereotype of fraternities, and felt no need to go through Rush. Like many freshmen, however, I was attracted by the free food at the Greek Griller, and was quickly swayed by how genuinely the people I met cared about their respective chapters.
There must be a reason that these people are so excited about bringing new men into their organizations, I thought, and I delved deeper to uncover their motivations. I will not repeat the reasons I enumerated above; suffice to say, I found that the people rushing me did so because they saw in me the potential that they had realized in themselves, and they were confident that they could help me grow. I pledged because I saw in the upperclassmen those things that I wanted to see in myself when I was a senior, and saw the fraternity as a vehicle to guide my course.
I now stand in their shoes and can look back upon my experiences with pride. I transformed in these last three years from a bright-eyed freshman overwhelmed by the intimidating MIT experience to a confident, capable member of the MIT community. I had no leadership experience in high school, but now stand as an officer in two large organizations, a result of the half-dozen leadership positions I had the opportunity to take in my own fraternity. I cannot say who I would be today without the influence of my fraternity, but I know myself, and I know that without the guidance of my brothers I would never have seized the opportunities lying before me.
The final piece of the fraternity puzzle that must be mentioned is the Interfraternity Council, the governing body of all 27 MIT fraternities. The IFC is tasked with promoting a sense of interfraternalism among its members, guiding the overall direction of the fraternity community, uniting its members for community service events, and safeguarding the image of our community. The IFC does not strive to be highly visible, but it is responsible for key fraternity events such as Rush and Greek Week. The IFC can perhaps be regarded as the glue that holds the fraternity community together.
If you take anything away from my piece, remember this — even if you do not think that Greek life is for you, recognize that thousands of men have thought the same thing, and yet found significant value in joining a fraternity. There are innumerable reasons why over 50 percent of freshmen men pledge fraternities — it is up to you to find out whether these reasons hold value for you.
Reid Van Lehn ’09 is the Vice President of the Interfraternity Council and a member of Phi Delta Theta.