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Tufts Daily: Students ponder merits and demerits of Greek life

Students weigh pros and cons of Greek life
Sorority and fraternity recruitment on campus underway this week

William C. Winter and William K. Winter

Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2009
greekrush

Meredith Klein / Tufts Daily

Tufts fraternities offer house-specific rushing events, whereas sororities have a general rush for all prospective members.

Whoever devised the old proverb “You may pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family,” has clearly never experienced Greek life at Tufts.

Accustomed to small classes and individual attention, many Tufts students are unsatisfied with living in large residence halls. While some of these Jumbos decide to live with friends in off-campus houses, others choose to join close-knit communities that are laced with tradition and guided by philanthropic values. These fraternities and sororities seek not only to improve the social lives of all Jumbos but also to provide a family for their respective members.

The more grueling process of actually joining one, however, may be a different story. Recruitment for fraternities and sororities began Sunday. Not only do many prospective brothers and sisters say that they have a difficult time deciding which house is right for them, but they also need to gain the approval of current house members — a task which may be easier for some than others.

According to sophomore Kimberly Reisman, a member of the Chi Omega sorority, the recruitment process is very similar among sororities at Tufts. Prospective sisters attend three informal socials at a house that they are interested in joining. During these socials, prospective sisters are strongly encouraged to mingle with current house members to learn about the values and history of the sorority. In this way, the prospective sisters are able to determine if the house is an appropriate fit.

Likewise, current sisters carefully evaluate each potential sister to determine if she would contribute personality and new ideas to the group. Even though the selection process is quite rigorous, Reisman sees value in it.

“There are certain things that a sister in Chi Omega represents,” she said.

Fraternity recruitment is, similarly, a two-way street, according to Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep) president Mark Simons.

“Rushing Tufts Sig Ep is a way for guys on campus to get to know who the brothers are and what the house is like,” said Simons, a sophomore. “It’s a great opportunity for students to see that these alleged ‘rowdy frat brothers’ are really just the students that sit next to them in class, are involved in clubs all over campus and are studying with them until the early morning hours in the library. It’s a casual atmosphere where members can share their memorable experiences as a brother in Sig Ep and talk to interested students about all the opportunities that come with being a brother.”

Sophomore Alisa Brennan, the president of the Chi Omega sorority, is pleased with her experience as a sister. “I decided to join a sorority because I wanted to be part of an organization that would provide a great group of long-lasting friends that I can rely on and that support me,” she said.

Brennan said that many of her greatest memories at Tufts come from her sorority’s philanthropic work, such as their support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the house’s organization of several community events.

Simons is also proud of his decision to join Sig Ep. “I wanted to join a house that was active on campus and was proud of its record in philanthropy and academics, yet was also able to strike an important balance and was able to provide a great time for not only brothers, but also students all over campus,” he said.

But not all universities see the value of Greek life. Brigham Young University, a private university associated with the Church of Latter-day Saints, is completely devoid of Greek life. Similarly, the University of Notre Dame, a private Catholic university, has long been known for its exclusion of fraternity and sorority houses. According to the Notre Dame Observer, some students at Notre Dame believe that fraternities create unnecessary divisions among students. Additionally, some Notre Dame administrators fear that the conception of Greek life could spark the occurrence of hazing incidents.

Unfortunately, the seemingly ubiquitous fear of hazing among university administrators is not always unfounded. According to the Los Angeles Times, 21-year old Matthew Carrington, a pledge of the Chi Tau fraternity at California State University, Chico, died after allegedly consuming a lethal quantity of water as part of a pledging ceremony. Similar tragedies involving the death of prospective fraternity or sorority members have recently occurred at the University of California, Irvine and Utah State University.

Tufts has several stringent anti-hazing policies in place to prevent such behavior on campus. According to the Pachyderm, “some offenses may result in serious disciplinary action, even for the first offense.” Alpha Phi, one of the sororities on campus, allegedly violated one of these provisions. As part of its punishment, the house is unable to resume recruitment until the Fall 2009 semester.

According to Simons, Greek life is often unfairly shown in a negative light. “What people need to know is that students are continuing to change and improve the reputation of fraternities,” he said.

Despite the incident with Alpha Phi and rumors floating around campus about secret illicit camaraderie-building activities, freshman Delphine Thierry said that she does not see Tufts as having a serious hazing problem, but her limited time on campus makes it difficult to tell. “I haven’t really heard any stories about it,” Thiery said. “At other schools, they have pretty ridiculous rituals. I really don’t know what to expect.”

Still, Thiery doesn’t see herself joining a sorority any time soon. “[It’s] not really my scene,” she said.

Despite the skepticism that many have about the redeeming qualities of Greek life, many Jumbos are highly interested in getting involved. At an event held at Hotung Café, dozens of prospective members attended to learn more about life in one of Tufts’ fraternity chapters. One freshman at the event, Benjamin K., who requested that his last name be withheld, is interested in the social aspect of Greek life. “[The brothers of a fraternity have] the camaraderie of a sports team without the athletic ability,” Benjamin said.

Sophomore Brendan Blaney, the Theta Chi president, believes that most people rush fraternities or sororities in order to build lasting friendships.

“A lot of people [rush to] look for a family,” he said. “[A fraternity is] a group of friends that’s always there for you.”

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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