I read with childlike excitement Rolling Stone’s review of Confessions of an Ivy League [Dartmouth] Frat Boy. Maybe someday I’ll read the book too. I can’t tell you how giddy it made me to see someone else tear down the atrocity that is Greek life (in my opinion).
The title of this post was initially going to be “I hate exclusivity – unless I’m included.” But I’m not sure that’s true.
As my husband can attest, I have issues with “better than you” groups – however I subjectively choose to define “better.” Usually it means cooler, prettier, smarter, stronger, wealthier, more important and successful – even if I’m not quite convinced that behind the pearly gates are cooler, prettier, smarter, stronger, smarter, wealthier, more important and successful people.
The hypocrisy of this feeling is not lost on me. I went to an elitist school. I played on a sports team, which can be exclusive. My defense has usually been that these are things that are earned through good behaviors, available to anyone and have a positive impact on society. But that’s also not really true. It’s not a level playing field. It’s not fair. And we’re not all saving the world.
I definitely have my issues with being a Harvard graduate. I felt – and still feel – uncomfortable in any position other than under dog. I don’t feel proud of my alma mater. I squirm when people ask where I went to school. I hate giving an evasive answer. I hate that, by avoiding the question, I’m assuming that saying “I went to Harvard” would be bragging. Which in turn means that I think everyone sees Harvard as “super awesome.” Which makes me an arrogant – if not conflicted – prick. Answering that question is lose-lose.
I love that I went to a public high school. I bring that up in every conversation possible – in great detail. But college? I went to school in Boston. Next question?
Anyways, what does this have to do with frat culture?
Here’s the thing. When I was in high school and looking at colleges, frat/sorority/Greek life meant nothing to me except what I saw in the movies. Which was drinking. And I was terrified of drinking. I seriously thought one sip of alcohol would ruin my life. So as far as I was concerned, sororities were something intimidating and somehow dangerous that I’d rather avoid. Something I wasn’t cool enough to even be comfortable enough to try to join. And, sure, in some way that probably made me feel like a loser. (single tear)
Once I got to college, alcohol and I became better friends. But Harvard’s frat-equivalent “Finals Clubs” and the few female versions (without real estate – no female social clubs at Harvard have a house) remained at arm’s length.
At the core of this distancing, was there an element of social anxiety and insecurity? Absolutely. Did I not feel pretty enough, social enough, outgoing enough to join? Yes. Is that where my fundamental disdain for such groups came from? Probably. But I think it’s matured from the reaction of a scorned loser to thoughts of a relatively confident, stable individual.
From this vantage point of oh-so-clear maturity, here’s what, like, bugs me about social clubs (and admittedly these apply more to frats than sororities):
- You have to pay to be a member
- One of the main points is to binge drink
- As a girl, you often risk rape by entering a frat
- They help the people who don’t really need help – whether that’s in terms of connections and future employment or answers to a final exam
- They foster a blindness to reality, a sense of being above the law
- They make you think things that are not okay, are okay
- They’re exclusive for the sake of being exclusive
- Hazing is wrong. In any way shape or form. If you want real bonding, join the military. Don’t swim in poop.
- They can dominate the social landscape, in a negative way
- They’re governed by an unquestioning belief in tradition: “we do it this way because it’s always been done this way.” Which leaves little room for anyone to stand up to the establishment.
- They encourage cultish, group-think
Am I aware of the benefits of frats and sororities? I think so. Camaraderie is an incredibly important thing especially in a new environment like college. Feeling like you belong or are “part of something” is another. Friendships in general. Stress relief. The “play hard” of the “work hard/play hard” mentality. College memories. Many support charities and engage in community outreach. I’m certainly not above alcohol-induced deep “life” talks. Maybe brilliant, world-changing/saving ideas have been born over a pong table. But I guess I’d prefer that these positives came from something that had a better impact on those in and outside of it in the short and long term. Late nights at the paper, perhaps. Or road trips with your sports team (though yes, I know hazing happens in sports). Rehearsals. Drinks at a bar or in the privacy of your own dorm room.
I know it’s human nature to self-segregate – to find the people “like you” and create a group that’s “not them.” But by institutionalizing it (as Greek life does) and making it exclusive (as Greek life also does), we’re (a) saying it’s okay if not even a good thing and (b) putting too much power in the hands of kids. Who are motivated by kid things. And who are using the power to do harm rather than good.
Based on poor internet research, looks like we’ve strayed significantly from the origins of Greek life. Apparently the first frat, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded in 1776 at William & Mary. Membership was generally restricted to upperclassmen, if not seniors; and men initiated as students remained active in the society after becoming members of the faculty of the host university. They held regular meetings and emphasized “rhetoric, composition, and acting in a gentlemanly manner.”
If we could turn back time…
I guess ultimately I don’t blame the frat and sorority kids, who don’t know any better (though perhaps they should). I blame the institutions that condone it by looking the other way and largely doing nothing. It’s their job – is it not? – to provide a safe environment for learning – about academics and life. And maybe sharing a brooski or two.