January 19, 2011

Say No to Greek Life

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The times I’ve pitched this column to friends, the response has been mostly negative. Something vague about it not being worth it.

Probably so. But some things need saying.

To the point, then?

Cornell’s Greek system is a lump on the student body, and it’s high time we hack it off.

As you’re well aware, Rush Week is once more upon us. This means a few things: frats are about to go from super-friendly to super-not, letter bags are about to make a comeback and it’s time for the Sun’s opinion pages to host another back-and-forth on the value of fraternal organizations on campus.

This is how it goes: One side, largely defectors like me, suggests with certain authority that Greek life is toxic to Cornell life. The other side insists we just don’t get it. It never gets very far.

But like I said, some things need saying.

In many ways, my fraternity experience was typical. The only violence I was ever subjected to as a pledge was the kind designed purely to humiliate — much like everything else about the pledging process. In other words, it could have been a lot worse. For example, nobody asked to see my father’s tax return before offering me the bid, as is said about some of the other houses.

But that doesn’t make it okay.

Now, I’m confident that some houses haze less than mine did. I’m even willing to entertain the possibility that some houses have dropped hazing altogether — I’m told some of the sororities have.  But hazing isn’t the real problem here, folks.

Nor is silly stuff like the infamous “Butt Chug” picture — slightly less disgusting than it sounds, or perhaps more, depending on how vivid your imagination is to begin with — that is making the rounds on gossip sites like IvyGate. (An aside: has anybody called it “5 Bros No Cup” yet?)

The real problem with Greek life is Greek life.   Cornell made its bones as an enlightened institution; fraternities made their bones in the dark ages. And charming antiquity it is not: Greek life encourages a stunted worldview, a warped sense of priorities and leaves a lot of brothers morally ill-equipped for anything but Goldman Sachs.

It is Cornell’s tattered baby blanket, and we ought to let go.

To those who’d rather we just reform Greek life: You can dress up a sexist pig, but it’s still a sexist pig. And you’d crack atoms before you distilled the hate out.

Yes, I’m sure things have improved since the 1950s.

When I was pledging there was something about not leaving your car unlocked outside Ujamaa, and, of course, the racially themed mixers, but I didn’t get the impression that anybody was racist. The casual misogyny and homophobia — especially when the Keystones piled up and the openly gay brother wasn’t around — was, however, certainly of a bygone era.

The brothers weren’t all bad, though. Not by a long shot. Under different circumstances, I’d have strained to maintain the friendships. Many of them were my team mates, after all.

I suppose I should underline this point: The people in the Greek system are not inherently worse than the people outside it. (In fact, some of the most admirable people I’ve met at Cornell are in sororities — but they distanced themselves from their houses early on, which says a lot.) The difference is that the Greek system — by design, I stress — compels good people to act immorally.

Can a feminist exist within the Greek system? I know a few. But it requires a rigorous compartmentalization of morality and a suspension of one’s convictions in pivotal moments.

More bluntly: It’s some soul-destroying shit, sister. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

Maybe you’re a freshman guy and you’ve woken up hung over after taking in the strippers at Tits and Turkey night. Or maybe you’re a freshman girl and you’ve woken up sober to sore feet because wearing flats on Wednesday is so not top-tier material. There is probably a question gnawing at you. No, not: “Why no Wangs and Wings night?” But: “Do I really have to go through with this?”

Nah, bro.

Dropping out was, without reservation, the best decision I made at Cornell. Because it made every subsequent good decision possible.

Will you attend fewer parties? A better question: Do you really want your social life based on the play-date model? Do you actually think that’s how socializing works in the real world?

Drifting from the beaten path is not easy. But as Cornell’s most insightful alumnus, Thomas Pynchon ’59, once said: “Why should things be easy?”

College is about stretching yourself. One semester isn’t enough.

I saw the best minds of my generation switch on the autopilot.

It aches me to say it. Some things need saying.

Cody Gault is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be contacted at cgault@cornellsun.com. Stakes Is High appears alternate Thursday this semester.

Original Author: Cody Gault