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The Third Side of Fraternities by Chris S. '11

The way I see it...

PREMISES
1. This is an OPINION post. Not a suggestion post. I’m not trying to debate about housing or even recommend to you what you should do.

I’m just trying to be honest.

2. When I explain what goes on in fraternities, I’m basing everything primarily on my fraternity. The two dozen plus fraternities at MIT do not all have the same personality, so it’s not fair to categorize fraternal life into one big stereotype, whatever your stereotype may be.

3. I may not be always politically correct. I apologize for that in advance.

Paul joined a fraternity, and now lives at his fraternity.
Snively didn’t join a fraternity, and lives at his dorm.
I joined a fraternity, but I live at iHouse, a specialized dorm of 21 students (and I’m not planning on moving out anytime soon).

Not to jump on the bandwagon, but I think I supply the missing “third side” to this housing issue. But granted, I think there’s a lot fewer students that live in a small dorm but is part of a fraternity, so I don’t know how much my opinion matters or would apply to future students, but here goes.

First off, I don’t know when the dorms/fraternity debate became so heated. I just want to start off by saying that there’s no reason to bash one or the other (I’m not referring to anyone in particular), but dorm life and fraternal life is so different that I don’t think it would be fair to compare one or the other on par.

Joining a fraternity doesn’t mean you’re “paying for friends,” nor does not getting a bid during Rush imply that you are socially awkward.

Being a fraternity guy, I just want to kind of talk about Rush.

Like what numerous people have mentioned, Rush is not perfect. I wrote two entries ago that you should explore around a bit in the beginning (which is still good and sound advice), but I guess what I didn’t emphasize is that if you really WANTED a bid, you need to settle down into one fraternity probably midway through Rush. So, precisely as Snively said, if you did Rush “right” (by constantly going to all the different fraternities), you might end up with no bids at all by the time Rush week ends.

Equally flawed is the idea that you suddenly become “brothers” with people that you know after just one short week. After all, is it really possible for you do find the “best match” for your next four years by which dinners you chose to go to during Rush week?

And, like mentioned in Snively’s entry, there is no “pretty solution” to this dilemma. But let me explain a bit about what goes on in chapter rooms during Rush week and the week before Rush (“Work Week”). I think this aspect is often skimmed over and thus it makes the process of Rush seem arbitrary and random, but there is a lot that goes on in fraternities before extending a bid. Getting a bid is a carefully, well-thought out process, and definitely not something that you get just because you show up to all the Rush events for a specific fraternity (but this is a popular misconception).

One week prior to Rush week, the brothers who can make it back from MIT return to campus, and try begin planning for Rush. During this “Work Week,” renovations may be done on the house, assignments for Rush events are handed out, and the brothers generally hang out with each other after a long summer.

Once Rush begins, different brothers are assigned to head events that happen each day, and each member of the fraternity try to go out and meet as many freshmen as possible. At the end of every night, all the fraternity men gather together at the house, plan tomorrow’s events, and talk about freshmen that they met today who may make good potentials.

As Rush goes on, it becomes more and more important for interested freshmen to stick with a fraternity because basically there is no way for us to get to know you better if we only see you at one event! This is the reason why, technically, you need to settle into just one or two fraternities through middle of Rush week. This also facilitates for better discussion amongst the brothers at night because they would have known you better and thus have more things to say.

Also, as the brothers get to know you better, the daily discussions would often progress from just general chatting (interests, activities) and hanging out to more serious discussions, such as what it means to join a fraternity and things like your values, ideals, ideas…etc. Often, if you find that the attitude and the topics of discussion between you and the fraternity brothers segue into deeper talks, it’s a good sign that the brothers are considering you seriously as a potential future member of their fraternity.

Towards the end of Rush week, especially the last two nights of Rush Week, the nightly meetings amongst the fraternity men get progressively longer and longer. As interested potentials start getting singled out, the discussions of the relative impressions and merits of each potential become the subject of careful examination (which often turns into long discussions). The meeting before “Bid Day,” (when “bids” – or invitations to join the fraternity, are handed out to potentials) is often the longest meeting, as all the brothers go through all the potentials that still remain in the database and proceeds to talk about whether or not to extend a bid to them (for “controversial” potentials, it may even lead to debates). Last night was that meeting for my fraternity, and the brothers of my fraternity met for nearly five hours.

Still think that getting a bid is “arbitrary”?

For every night in the past week, there was practically no evening when I returned to my dorm before midnight, and often it was not until three in the morning. All of this effort goes into helping my fraternity select the best potentials as possible – the potentials whom we believe best exemplifies our ideals and would contribute to our fraternal environment.

Still, you protest, how is it possible for you to know whether you’re the best fit for us in just ONE week?!

I want to address this from two angles:

First off, I believe that for a great number of potentials who accept bids from different fraternities, they start growing into the personalities and the character of the fraternity they join (and I think the same is true for a lot of dorm communities). Thus, in a lot of cases, you don’t need to be “best fit” from the very beginning, since as time goes on and you get to know your brothers better, whichever fraternity you join would become the “best” fraternity for you. Moreover, after awhile, you really have no basis of comparison anyway (how would you know whether you would have been happier at another fraternity?)

Although “growing into the personality of the fraternity” sounds risky and feels like you’re losing the essence of your own personality, it’s not really the case. The personality of the fraternity is defined by the existing brothers who are part of the fraternity, and if you feel comfortable about them in the beginning, chances are that feeling won’t fade as times go on (obviously, there are exceptions, but that’s generally minor and besides the point).

Second, this is the reason why my fraternity recruit year-round. If you don’t feel comfortable joining, we won’t force you. Plenty of potentials had turned down bids from us, but reconsidered their decision as they got to know us better. Moreover, doing Rush during your freshman year isn’t mandatory, by any means! You may decide your sophomore year, after you’ve spent a year at MIT and gotten to know a bit more about Greek life, to Rush a particular fraternity that you find valuable. No one is asking you to make an impulsive decision. If you don’t feel comfortable, then just leave! I don’t know too much about other fraternities, but I know for a fact that my brothers and I would not just give you the cold shoulder after Rush if you turn down a bid from us.

There are a lot of comments about the Rush process being “judgmental” and “quiet kids getting shafted.” I apologize about that stereotype as a fraternal member, but I maintain the stance that there is really no way to not come off as judgmental to some people when you only have a week to meet them! My fraternity places a key emphasis on trying not to perpetuate this bitter feeling, and thus we welcome you to continue to explore and talk to us throughout the year. At least for us (and I know at least of a couple more fraternities), Rush doesn’t end after this week, if you don’t want it to.

—-

Now leaving fraternities, and talking about dorm-life.

I love iHouse. I enjoy the intimacies that iHouse offers, with just 21 people in the dorm. Like wings in Baker and Next, entries in McGregor, or houses in Burton Conner, we are a community.

Throughout the year, we discuss issues about international development, plan potential projects, go on awesome retreats, have great speaker dinners, and most importantly, just hang out and learn from each other by living with each other.

You may have known Zach and Steve, my roommates from last year, from various blogs that I posted last year (if you don’t, click on the iHouse link on the very top – it redirects to our i3 video, which both of them were featured. I was the cameraman. =p).

Throughout the last year, I don’t know how many times Zach helped out on my physics psets, and helped me to secure the needed 85.2% (0.2% above the A cutoff!) for me to net that 5.0 GPA in 8.02. Steve was there with me through the presidential primaries, explaining to me which states were the key “battleground” states. He also introduced me to the world of American sports, and I remember all the time he spent in front of the television, waiting for the Patriots to lose, but being disappointed every time. And of course, they would remember the time when I almost burned down the room because my lamp nearly caught on fire at three in the morning (while they’re both deep asleep!).

Going outside of the room, there’s Tim ’08, who would always be phenomenally annoyed when late-night revelers partied too loudly in the lounge (“late-night” was defined as past 10pm for him). There’s also Kathy ’10, who taught me the secret of making really easy (but awesome-tasting!) garlic noodles, for which she is famous for. I remember staying up till 6 in the morning doing my 5.111 homework with Mary ’11, who could have gone to sleep but wanted to stay up with me since I was up doing work. She fell asleep while studying 5.12 (which was her pretext of staying up), but I would remember that time when we were both so delirious from working at the end that we just stopped working to see the sun rise across the Charles.

And of course, our Zimbabwean GRT, Tsitsi, who studied at Harvard undergrad and now is doing grad school at MIT. Her delicious baked chicken (as well as her multi-colored fruit mojito salad) was the centerpiece of many wonderful study breaks, and her smiles and hugs never fail to cheer us up after a long day at school.

The stories would go on, but I guess what I want to say is that I’m so thankful for my fellow dormies. They are as important to me as my fraternity brothers, and I would not place one over the other.

So how do I feel about being in a fraternity and a close-knit dorm at the same time?

I think the most challenging thing for me is to divide up my time between my fraternity and my dorm. It helps that only a handful of the brothers are living in the fraternity house at this point (we’re not a residential fraternity, yet), but the majority of fraternity events do occur at the house, so I still have to end up walking over (it’s about 15 minutes, on foot, for me to get from iHouse to my fraternity).

I enjoy being in a fraternity because you can get instant access to many upperclassmen, who are often have a lot of “MIT wisdom” and can advise you well about a ton of things – everything from finding an UROP, to doing well in your classes, or even relationship advice. Another great plus about being in a fraternity is that each brother has his own friendship circle, and you get to meet a lot of the friends of other brothers, which is great if you enjoy meeting new people. Furthermore, the fraternity as a whole often organizes many events, such as retreats, mixers with sororities (MIT, BU, Wellesley…etc.), dinners with faculty (like President Hockfield), and I find participating in those events to be very rewarding.

Yet, at the same time, I like living in a dorm because of the different community that it offers from my fraternity, its proximity to campus, and the ability to meet a lot more freshman (or even just other students) through living in the dorms. Living in a fraternity, although great, tends to be a little bit more constraining because after leaving campus, all you see would just be your brothers and people who happen to be dropping by at the house (although I can’t speak for this, since I’ve never lived in my fraternity house). Of course, there would also be girls in your dorm, which is different from living in a fraternity house.

(there are also the benefits and opportunities that iHouse specifically brings, but I won’t mention them here because I don’t think it’s pertinent in comparing dorm life v. fraternity life straight out)

Tonight, I went over to my fraternity house, grabbed dinner, met many of our new potentials, and hung out at the house. Afterwards, I returned to iHouse, where there was a delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen (it turns out Kayla ’12 was cooking dinner). I headed upstairs, played two LAN matches of Age of Mythology with Steve and Zach, celebrated the fact that Zach was just appointed Concertmaster of MITSO (MIT Symphonic Orchestra), and now here I am typing up this entry.

I won’t try to convince you to join a FSILG (fraternities, sororities, independent living groups), though I would definitely encourage you to give it a try. At the same time, I won’t think any less of you if you live in a dorm. For me, I experienced quite a lot of both worlds, and I’m happy to have found my balance.

Now that isn’t something I’d trade any day. ;)

10 responses to “The Third Side of Fraternities”

  1. Oo0Oo0O0
    IHouse looks really cool. Maybe I’ll go there if I get accepted.

  2. cristen says:

    all this makes me wanna write about being in a frat that doesn’t even have/want a house, haha. 4th side anyone? =)

    oh yea, awesome post Chris!!

  3. Ivan says:

    Really insightful post Chris.

    I knew almost nothing about the IHouse and this was a really good way to quickly learn a little about it and broaden my options concerning where to live at MIT.

    How did you pick the IHouse, over other independent living groups? Is there a week where you can visit each house and decide?

    Can you switch between living in a fraternity/sorority, dorm or independent living group during your years of study at MIT?

    thanks in advance

  4. Keri says:

    Ivan – You can definitely switch between living in a dorm and an FSILG. People do it all the time – I know of two people who are on the list to move back to Senior Haus next term after a summer + fall living at sororities or ILGs.

  5. FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!! my first “FIRST” comment!!!!!!!
    but i have a question too. i am from Greece.if i become admitted to MIT, my descent, will it play any role, admitting to a fraternity?? silly question!! sry

  6. '10 says:

    With all due respect to Chris, Snively, and Paul, their posts regarding fraternities should really be taken with a grain of salt.

    While there may certainly have been some misunderstanding or too much hesitation on the part of the house, it’s honestly pretty difficult to go through Rush trying to get a bid and then not getting one.

    And while I do not know Chris/Paul personally either, both are clearly very involved in other extracurricular activities outside of Greek life and also just starting their sophomore years, meaning that neither one has spent much considerable time actually living the fraternity lifestyle.

    There are too many other aspects of fraternities not covered by these blogs for any one blogger to “present” the such and such side of Greek life.

    To all the readers: please keep in mind that while all the bloggers are perfectly capable of expressing their opinions, it doesn’t always mean you’re getting the full story (not their fault). Sometimes you’re getting the exception to the rule.

    Bloggers, there’s no need to respond to this comment. Surely you have better things to do than to read comments on your own blogs.

  7. Snively says:

    *applauds*
    Also, I like how it’s gotten to the point where we have to put disclaimers at the beginnings of our posts.

    Though, yours needed it less than mine.

  8. Dianne'12 says:

    Arghhhh.. isn’t it annoying when someone says you are wrong, and there’s ‘so much more to it’.. but then doesn’t say what ‘much more’ is? So easy to do, and so NOT helpful to anyone.

  9. Oasis '11 says:

    @ Dimitris –

    I doubt it.

    @ Ivan –

    iHouse requires you to fill out an application if you rank it amongst your first 4 choices in the housing lottery. Unfortunately, because we need to finalize the number of frosh in iHouse every year, you will not be able to switch dorms if you choose us (and we choose you) during the summer (though you’re still welcome to do REX and eat all the free food!)

    @ ’10 –

    I agree with you, and this is why I feel like there’s really no point to arguing about frats v. dorms on the internet. I only try to present the view from how I see it, and try as hard as I might, it’s impossible for me to convey everything about fraternal life that there is. And I don’t believe that any one on campus (fraternity man or dormie) can give a fair and accurate picture either. Moreover, I’m part of a fraternity that I personally consider to be more “different” than the other fraternities (for example, we don’t pledge) and thus I claimed at the top that I’m not trying to represent all 27 fraternities at once.

    Fraternal life is an experience that personally I think frosh shouldn’t worry too much about until they come on campus. It’s something that you have to personally “try it out” to see whether it is right for you. I can post until I’m out of breath (or…out of words, haha) and it’ll still be just that – words.

    All I’m trying to do is to show you one aspect of fraternal life that I’ve enjoyed, and I just want to leave it at that.

  10. Anthony says:

    Hey Chris..

    I should really consider “not” joining any frats @ my school! Just too much work and the frats at my school tends to go out of control. In other words, the “grey area”. I don’t want to go into details.

    Enjoy your second? third? year at MIT.

    Btw, you know me, I’m Anthony (graduated from Morrison in 2005).

    Take care =) XD