If there is one thing I have learned from having friends in FSILGs and reading the editorials in The Tech over the last two years, it is that two things are true:
First: the FSILG system works really well for some people, who have a good experience with it.
Second: the FSILG system does not work as well for others, who have a bad experience with it.
This disagreement simmers below the surface and then bubbles over every so often, most recently in the pair of editorials by Ryan Normandin, who is not a fan of fraternities, and Steve Howland, who is. Both make some strong points and some weaker ones, but I do not want to engage with what they have written because I think that the debate is missing the point.
Personally, I am a Randomite, and I love it. I would not want to be anywhere else on campus. I did not rush at all seriously in my freshman year, although I lived at Epsilon Theta my freshman summer and toyed several times with the idea of moving out there. It is probably true that I do not have the qualifications to talk about FSILGs specifically, but what I want to point out is that they are not so exceptional, and should be part of a larger discussion about communities in general.
During dorm rush, I spent almost all of my time at Random, and confirmed housing almost as soon as I was able. And I pretty much entirely skipped FSILG rush. As it turned out, this was a bad decision that worked out incredibly well. Yes, I am blissfully happy where I am. But I did not have the information in my first week of orientation to know that would be true two years later. I should have explored much, much more.
My story is not unusual; Random Hall often has frosh like me. I assume other dorms do too. I have spent the last two orientations encouraging Random’s frosh to go out and explore, so that even if they do not have all of the information they need at the end of the process — and they probably will not — they are as well positioned to make a good decision as they can be.
That said, I did do something right my freshman year. I got involved in as many communities as possible outside of Random, and did so quickly. I had friends at East Campus, friends in the Shakespeare Ensemble, friends at ESG, friends in a p-set group that incorporated people from all across MIT. Even within Random, I hung out on all seven floors as much as I could. And, over time, my communities gradually shifted. My friends at ESG brought me to the Educational Studies Program and ET, and I drifted away from the theater community. The floors I spent time on at Random changed. I had no idea at the time, but I was giving myself as many options as possible so that I could naturally gravitate to the ones I really loved. And it worked. Most importantly, I learned to tell the difference between places I could live — Random Hall being the major one — and places I love but would not want to live, such as ET.
The people who argue about FSILGs in general and fraternities specifically seem to think that living groups are somehow a special category of community. It is certainly true that their implications for the people who participate are much more far-reaching than communities on campus such as a service group, a p-set group, or a sports team. But, when it comes down to it, one community is much like another. It is either a place you do or do not want to spend a chunk of your life. Living groups might account for a more intense part of your life, but that should not make all the difference.
The question, to me, seems not to be whether freshmen should pledge or not pledge. The issue at hand is making sure that freshman have a rich and varied social life. That way, when they make decisions about communities that will affect them in the long term, they can make the best decision possible, whether or not they know it at the time. And from that perspective, dorms should encourage freshmen to participate in FSILG rush, FSILGs should encourage freshmen to spend time with their dorms, and everyone should push freshmen to check out a variety of clubs and teams and people in general. The conversation about communities should not just be a binary one about dorms vs. FSILGs.
Paul Kominers is a junior in Courses XIV and XVII.