As a self-professed and widely-known “dorm advocate,” it is in my best interest for MIT to have a thriving fraternity community. For one, having almost half of MIT’s men move out makes the gender ratio in the dorms much more favorable. But in all seriousness, everyone wants to live with other people who want to live with them, and the more living options available, the more likely everyone is to find the niche that makes them happy.
It is in this context that I posit: the current style of fraternity leadership and governance is detrimental to the fraternities themselves and the general residential community at MIT.
By “fraternity leadership,” I’m of course referring to the Interfraternity Council, or IFC. The Interfraternity Council has organizational goals of promoting inter-frat relations, organizing umbrella events like the Greek Griller, doling out some funds, and assembling the fraternity presidents semi-monthly for discussing issues of importance to their community. They also have a Judicial Committee charged with enforcing IFC policies, which mostly serve to protect the frats from themselves, put everyone on an even playing field for recruitment, and ostensibly keep fraternities from infuriating the dorms as much as possible during REX.
It’s the other, more consequential activities of the Judicial Committee, however, that concern me. Besides enforcing mundane recruitment rules, they punish fraternities for infractions that the Division of Student Life would care about: hazing, drinking at CPW parties, and other incidents of law and safety. The punishments issued for these infractions include extreme options such as denying a fraternity a pledge class, or expelling them completely.
Let’s talk about dorms for a moment. The analog to the IFC is the Dormitory Council, or DormCon. They handle most of the same umbrella activities as the IFC, but with less of a judicial presence. What would happen if a dorm was caught, say, making its freshmen run around in their underwear (hazing) or dispensing alcohol to prefrosh? Action would be taken primarily by the housemasters, with probably some official or unofficial nudging from the DSL. The punishments would hardly be slaps on the wrists, but they would be reasonable: meetings with the residents discussing the severity of the problem, disallowing registered parties for a term or two, and a watchful eye from the housemaster going forward. The Committee on Discipline would get involved in extreme cases, but these harsher actions would affect specific individuals responsible and not the whole dorm or larger dorm community. DormCon would largely be a spectator of this process, and they, for the most part, only mediate disagreements if they are asked to.
So why does the IFC punish frats in an extreme and unreasonable fashion? The answer seems simple: They are preoccupied with keeping the fraternity system self-governed, and thus over-punish out of an abundance of caution to keep the DSL from stepping in. It is this existential anxiety that is bad for the fraternities: Is suffering extreme punishment worth the self-governance? My guess is no.
I believe the IFC should give up its self-governance for the good of the fraternities it serves. It is apparent that dealing directly with the administration will result in more sane punishments for the fraternities, and have the side effect of allowing the IFC to focus more on the other thankless jobs they have.
This won’t be an easy change. No one likes giving up power when they have it and can keep it. However, when you are as masochistic as the IFC’s Judicial Committee, it takes a bucket of humility (and probably a lot of pushing from a coalition of frat presidents) to make a tough change that’s better for your community. Why do I think I’m the first person to seriously publicly suggest this? Because there is a lot of loyalty within the fraternity system, and the aforementioned protection of self-governance gives them a united, secretive public face. It is this internality that hurts them, and ultimately weakens the entire premise of housing at MIT.
David M. Templeton is the managing editor of The Tech. This column represents his opinions only.