Ryan Normandin is severely misinformed on rush, spending, and fraternities in general. He is not a member of a fraternity, so I cannot expect him to understand, but his ignorance could cause many people to make a bad decision.
Yes, the spending during rush is extravagant. Yes, there are parts of rush which could be rethought and improved. Yes, some fraternities will encourage you to join even if you are not completely sure. But while Normandin has had a few bad experiences and dislikes the idea of expensive rush events, he does not possess a hint of the necessary background to tell freshman they should wait a year before joining a fraternity.
First, the spending. Many fraternities spend upwards of ten thousand dollars on rush events, but these events are not “bribery.” Bribery would be approaching freshmen and saying “Hey, if you join you can have $1,000,” which might be roughly what a fraternity spends per person who pledges. The events are simply vehicles to encourage freshmen to come get to know the brothers at various places and see if they would be a good fit. Everyone, including the freshmen, knows the quality of the event is simply how the fraternities want to get you in the door and talk to you. Fraternities do not say, “Hey, we brought you to event XYZ, now we expect you to join.”
It might be tough to think that you can find a place in a matter of days where you can be happy. Then again, you did try to use a five minute i3 video to pick your dorm, a few days of sparse events for adjustment, and lastly ten minutes on each floor/hall/entry to determine where you will be basically locked in for a full year, often without your top preference. Fraternity rush gives you much more of an opportunity to choose your living experience at MIT. You get to talk to all the actual people you will be living with, rather than a single dorm tour guide who may or may not live anywhere near you. You go to fun events and eat food and see how the members of your potential future living group act in an informal setting. You can even just go hang out at their house when they’re not having an event and see if you still enjoy spending time with them when you’re not at an amusement park.
Just like with picking your college, picking your fraternity is all about the “fit.” Often you and the fraternity you’re looking at will know pretty quickly if you aren’t going to enjoy your time there. If after a day you are still standing awkwardly in the corner, then you might want to try another house. As a freshman, I was “flushed” (told that I would not be getting a bid and that I should look elsewhere), and while it hurt at the time, the fraternity was certainly right. A few months later I did find a house where I was a good fit, and chose to spend my next three years there. From the fraternity side, rush is not a “Gotta Catch ‘em All!” mentality — they are looking for long-term additions to their house which will be beneficial for both the brothers and for you.
It is true that it’s tough to know which house is best for you after just a few days. I have gotten the question before, “There’s so many houses. How do I know which one is best for me?” My answer has been that you can’t really be sure, but that once you’ve found a place where you can be happy, and you’ve met upperclassmen and freshmen that you know you can get along with, then that’s all you can ask for. Yes, you’ve probably only just begun to get to know the brothers, but they probably know better than you if you will be happy as a member of their fraternity.
Normandin spoke to a single member of a single fraternity, who said if a freshman likes who they live with, then there’s no point in joining a fraternity. That’s some quality research, but I beg to differ. Fraternities really offer you the chance to choose who you live with and who you will be friends with for many years after college. When upperclassmen move out of your dorm, new people can be brought in who you don’t get along with as well. You get 26 options instead of 11. The quality of the house is often higher. You have access to an extensive alumni network that has a strong loyalty back to their living group many years out. Housebills are lower, food quality is higher. You have a guaranteed voice in the decisions made. You have more opportunities to take leadership roles. There are more freedoms. You form strong bonds with those in your class as you get to know one another and the older brothers. And no, in my experience there has been absolutely no hazing, and any fraternity which participates in hazing should be both ashamed and reported. Lastly, many fraternities do not even require you to move in to the house after freshman year, so you could have you cake and eat it too.
My experience with fraternities has been nothing but positive. I encourage freshmen to seriously consider any bids they are offered. Waiting for a year sometimes works out, but other times fraternities won’t want to waste time on you if they think you’re just going to bail again. Joining sooner helps you get to know your class better, as well as the seniors who would be gone if you waited. If you are on the fence, ask the fraternity for a little more time to make your decision. And if you’re still not sure, I would say accept. If it really doesn’t work out, you can depledge. Odds are that if you aren’t the right fit, both you and the fraternity will understand and there will be no hard feelings.
Steve Howland is a former president of Theta Chi.