Like many other MIT men, I decided to join a fraternity my freshman year. I spent a good part of Rush going from house to house, enjoying the steak and lobster dinners, go-kart rides, and other freebies. Eventually, someone at one of the houses took a liking to me and invited me back to his house multiple times.
At the time I was not particularly concerned with joining a fraternity. I had just arrived at MIT and did not have a clue what was going on. Rather, I was accepting the invitations mainly to squeeze every last drop of free stuff out of Rush. I received and accepted a bid, but de-pledged after a few weeks, having decided that the house was not an ideal place for me.
However, it soon became apparent that the vast majority of my fellow Baker residents had pledged at fraternities. I loved the culture in Baker but reasoned that, since all of my friends there were moving into fraternities, I would probably be better off in a fraternity myself.
Through a friend of a friend I heard of a fraternity that was accepting new members post-rush (fraternities often do this when they don’t get enough pledges), so I went to check it out. The guys were nice enough, and after coming over a few times I was offered a bid, which I accepted.
Soon after joining I began to have serious doubts about my fraternity — it turned out that the people who rushed me were graduating seniors, and I had little in common with most of the other brothers. I thought about de-pledging but decided against it because I did not want to live in the dorms for the rest of my time at MIT.
After moving into the house my sophomore year, I gradually grew more and more alienated from the fraternity. I was in a tight spot — I wanted the social benefits associated with being in a fraternity but did not like where I was. Moreover, there were no available rooms in any of the dorms I would have considered living in. I decided the best idea would be to stay in the house for the remainder of the year and put off moving until the next year.
Over time my relationship with one of the brothers, a house officer, grew especially strained, and he brought forth a motion to have me removed from the fraternity. Under the bylaws of this particular house, removing a member of the fraternity requires 75 percent of the brothers to vote as such. Though I probably could have gotten 25 percent of the brothers to vote against the motion, I decided that it was best for me to leave. Unfortunately, the only room available on campus was a dingy single at a rather antisocial entry in MacGregor.
As much as I disliked my fraternity, it was my social network, and leaving meant losing practically all of my friends. For three semesters after disaffiliating, I was completely isolated from the MIT community before I made new friends and found an acceptable place to live.
My story illustrates a key flaw in the way MIT times Rush. An early Rush doesn’t just hurt freshmen; it hurts fraternities. It is not easy to find and evaluate potential members in only a week. I have watched fraternities completely change character in the space of a few years because they took chances with grab-bag pledge classes. Such rapid changes are not desirable; most people join fraternities to be with like-minded people, not a random group.
When I first contemplated leaving the fraternity during my freshman year, I went to David Rogers, then director of Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups, to discuss my options. There were two: stay or go. I told the Dean about my experience and asked him why Rush was at the beginning of the year. His response: “That’s how it’s always been.”
But that is not the basis for prudent policy and, frankly, is beneath the level of discourse that MIT promotes. MIT’s early Rush policy might have made sense when fraternities played a critical role in meeting freshman housing needs, but this is no longer true now that freshmen are required to live in a dorm. Having to choose where you will live and who your friends will be for the next four years before even signing up for classes is both pointless and extremely detrimental for all groups involved. A Rush during Independent Activities Period in January, after freshmen have gotten settled and fraternities have gotten to know the freshman class, makes much more sense. It is imperative that the Rush policy be changed so others do not have to go through what I did.
Charles Z. Zien is a member of the Class of 2010.