By this point, the frivolous spending of FSILG rush is almost over. In the real world, people driving around in vans with blacked out windows trying to pick up freshmen would be creepy. In the real world, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a week on trips, food, and Segways would be considered brash and spendthrift. In the real world, using all of those purchases to convince someone to join your club is called “bribery.” But here at MIT, it is the norm for fraternities to recruit members by taking advantage of freshmen’s unfamiliarity with their campus living groups.
It is important to realize that fraternities rely on new members to sustain themselves — no new members means no new sources of funding. Rush is, on their part, an investment, where each fraternity spends on average $20,000, by last year’s estimates. Of course, the fraternities do not see this as bribery or a waste of money; it is simply an opportunity to meet the brothers. But when during REX did you have steak and lobster dinners, go to amusements parks, or ride Segways? You didn’t, but still had a great time and met the occupants of the dorms. Any money spent in excess of what is necessary to provide a vehicle for students to interact with the brothers amounts to bribery.
During REX, you are also expected to select a living group based on limited interaction, and it is also possible to choose the wrong place. Yet the difference between REX and Rush is not in the mistake, it is in undoing the mistake. The Housing Office runs transfer lotteries and can move students between dorms. Fraternities don’t have an adjustment lottery. You must “de-pledge,” an uncomfortable and potentially awkward process in which you risk alienating your friends in the fraternity.
Rush during the very beginning of freshman year is a terrible and fundamentally wrong idea. But since 50 percent of MIT’s males are in fraternities, there are few voices to come forward and say so. I recently spoke to a fraternity brother, who wishes to remain anonymous. He told me that if a freshman already likes the people they are living with, then “there is no point in joining a fraternity.” Unfortunately, it is difficult to find many brothers willing to voice their true opinions on fraternities and the Rush process. The problem with that, of course, is that freshmen are pushed towards pledging before they even know the people they live with.
Yet freshmen often face tremendous pressures to join fraternities, even if they clearly don’t want to. In fact, I had the unfortunate experience of being the victim of fraternities’ underhanded maneuvers to gain my membership. Earlier this year, the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha decided it wanted to set up a chapter on campus. I was contacted by representatives from the fraternity who were interested in my opinions on fraternities and the Rush process, as I had also published an article last year on the dangers of Rush. I agreed to meet with them and during the first half of the meeting, we did indeed discuss my opinions regarding frats and Rush. However, the tone suddenly shifted when they handed me a folder containing lots of information on their fraternity. They asked me to return for a second meeting the following day.
At this point, I had a pretty good idea that they had lured me to the meeting under false pretenses in order to attempt to recruit me. When I attended the next day, I was proven correct; they whipped out a chart of the leadership roles in the fraternity and asked me where I thought I’d fit. Ironically, they thought I’d make an excellent recruitment chair. They asked me back for a third day and told me to think about joining — but they told me not to discuss my thoughts with anyone because no one else “would understand what they were trying to do.” In other words, they wanted to make sure that they could intimidate me in isolation; friends were variables that could influence me to not join.
At the last meeting I told them that while I appreciated what they were trying to do, my decision was a “no.” They expressed their disappointment and put on very well-rehearsed sad faces and spent 30 minutes trying to convince me that by “No,” I actually meant “Yes.” I told them “no” again.
The tactics they used were designed to elicit an emotional response from me and convince me to join. They tried to logically argue that I should join, they argued that it was in the best interest of my future that I join, and they said that I would “never again have an opportunity like this in my lifetime.” They played every card they had, and they succeeded in making it very uncomfortable for me to say no. But I did, and I hope you do too.
Let me be clear, however, that this article is not motivated by a hatred of fraternities, While I am not a member of a fraternity, were I less persistent, I would be. Steve Howland argues that I am in no position to argue against freshman joining fraternities, but a fraternity brother is not going to tell you to hesitate joining.
So, if you are a freshman and you receive a bid to join a fraternity, do not accept it. If they want you this year, there is no reason why they will not want you next year. Take your freshman year to meet the people you live with and get to know the fraternities outside of the circus that is Rush. It is simply illogical to believe that you can get to know a group of people to the extent that you wish to live with them in the course of a week. So, please, wait until sophomore year to accept any bids — getting stuck in a fraternity and finding out it’s nothing like what you expected is a mistake that can ruin your freshman year, and it is one that many make.