I was very disappointed by the columns concerning Rush in the September 10 issue of The Tech. William Damazer’s opinion article was particularly insulting. Freshmen at MIT do not show commitment to their fraternity through hazing. MIT has a strict no-hazing policy to which the fraternities adhere, and to suggest otherwise without evidence is irresponsible. I also find William’s use of the phrase “cheap booze and women” unprofessional and unacceptable. One of the reasons rush is dry is so that alcohol is not a factor in a freshman’s decision, and in any case it’s not any harder to get alcohol on campus than it is at a fraternity. I am particularly appalled at the second half of the phrase, though. The women who spend time at my fraternity are our close friends; we respect and care about them a great deal. They are intelligent and self-empowered, and to suggest that they are here only to be some kind of sexual incentive for freshmen is deeply offensive to them, to the fraternity system, and to me personally. I think we are all owed an apology.
Where William’s article was insulting, Ryan Normandin’s has subtler problems. Steve Howland did a good job rebutting many of Ryan’s misinformed claims, but I would like to rebut a few more. Ryan dislikes the fact that it is easy to switch dorms, but difficult to switch fraternities. As fraternity members understand, it should not be easy to leave a fraternity. You have your dorm-mates for at most four years. You have your fraternity brothers for life. Pledging a fraternity is not a decision to make lightly, and the fact that it is “uncomfortable” to de-pledge reflects this. Analogously, it’s “uncomfortable” to break up with a significant other, but that hasn’t stopped many of my friends from dating.
Ryan suggests that freshmen should wait a year before deciding whether or not to pledge. While this seems like a reasonable idea on the surface, any fraternity member who has seen a freshman promise to reconsider in a semester or a year knows that it almost never happens. There are two big reasons for this. First, MIT freshmen are very busy after Rush, so it would be both inconvenient and awkward to scout out fraternities during the school year. Without Rush to provide a social context in which a conversation about fraternity life can take place, very few freshmen would ever do what Ryan suggests. Second, MIT freshmen naturally become attached to their living groups. After a semester of a comfortable and enjoyable life in the dorms, even fewer freshmen would ever consider leaving for a fraternity, not because fraternity life is less comfortable and enjoyable, but because they haven’t had a semester to experience it.
If the freshman class decides to seriously follow Ryan’s proposal, the inevitable result would be that hardly any freshmen enter the fraternity system. Ryan knows as well as any other MIT student that this benefits nobody — there are not enough places in the dorms for every student, so if MIT is to continue to promise housing for every student, it is essential that freshmen enter fraternities at the normal rate. So the proposal as it stands is untenable. While I might be willing to discuss the possibility that rush shouldn’t take place at the beginning of freshman year, this is a different conversation to have at a different time.
Rush and the fraternity system are far from perfect, but they deserve much more credit than they have been given in this issue. Labeling an article “opinion” does not excuse a writer from providing evidence supporting those opinions. I hope that The Tech will hold its opinion articles to higher standards in the future and that its writers will all think twice before insulting an appreciable fraction of the MIT population that they don’t know.
Qiaochu Yuan ’12 is a member of Theta Xi.