Gang showers. That’s what it’s like to be in a fraternity. Gang showers with a waterproof speaker system and a convenient spot for a shower beer. It’s the little things in life that really make it enjoyable. You figure out the pun.
With all of this hullabaloo about the University’s new anti-fun policy and the speculation about its ramifications and articulations about its permutations, I’m inspired to share my thoughts on exclusivity in the Greek system and the impact that my fraternity had on me, now that the scabs from all of those brands have finally healed.
First off, I’m not going to tell you what house I was in. That would spoil the fun for all the e-gossipers out there who are going to figure it out and start a thread on CollegeACB.
The guys in the house were people I never would’ve met on campus through my classes or extracurricular interests. Also, they weren’t the type of people I hung out with in high school — I was big into the drama club and the boy scouts, fairly a-brototypical from the norm for fraternities. I thought it would be interesting to open myself up to relationships with people that I would’ve previously written off.
At 26, I’m also comfortable enough to admit that part of the draw was that this historic organization of men thought I would be a good addition. Yes, it felt exclusive, and yes, it felt cool to get a bid.
The issue of exclusivity always pervades discussions about the Greek system and its role on campus. The “Greek system” itself isn’t exclusive. With about one third of undergrad men belonging to one of the 42 IFC organizations, it’s really not that “hard” to “get into” a house. I add quotations to point out that rushing is not a job interview, despite how people frame it sometimes.
Individual houses exclude people with whom they don’t think they’re likely to develop fulfilling relationships once the veneer and excitement of rush week is gone. Ask yourself if putting on a show about how cool you are is worth getting a bid to an “exclusive” house. Spoiler — even the brothers in the “most exclusive” houses have their insecurities, and you won’t be happy in a house if you’re not yourself when you get there.
Because each house selects its own members independently, the idea that “being Greek” means much of anything is ridiculous. I didn’t pledge with the other 1,500-odd guys in fraternities on campus. Clusters of houses are similar to each other, but on the whole, there’s nothing that binds Greeks together (Although the IFC tends to be fairly racially homogenous. But that’s a column for another day). Furthermore, there’s this idea that when people become Greek they stop being everything else. I’ve had girls tell me “I don’t date frat boys.” Out of all the fantastic reasons not to date me (like talking about gang showers), I’m so disappointed that being Greek trumps all of them and negates any other aspect of my personality. This assumes that being part of a fraternity was the most significant thing I did in college. It wasn’t. It also puts guys who don’t pledge up on pedestals, as if they are inherently nicer, more respectful and better behaved. Even colleges without frats have fratty douchebags.
Now that I’m not hitting up parties and fancy dinners, the biggest impact that my fraternity had on me was to introduce me to many different people and ideas, which, contrary to popular belief, can both be found in one house. I have a lot of what sociologists call “weak ties,” along with some skinny ties I bought from the Salvation Army. These are informal connections with people who aren’t your best friends, but nonetheless end up playing an important role in your social life and your access to opportunities. While in school, these weak ties help you meet new friends and romantic partners, and populate the parties that you throw.
These weak ties strongly effect your non-social life as well. My sophomore year a rushee overhead me saying that I was trying to get a job in Spain over the summer. He said his dad had worked in Spain, and that I should give him a call. Four months later, I was working in an auto parts store in Córdoba.
I have countless other significant relationships that stemmed from equally random circumstances outside of the Greek system. Don’t hate me, illustrious brothers, but I think I keep in touch more frequently with my friends from the bhangra team than with my pledge class.
Lastly, my house has gave me a personal link to Cornell and the country’s histories. A brother from another era sat next to Lincoln when he was shot, and there’s an 85-year-old alumnus who writes to me from time to time, sharing what it was like to live in my old room back when female students still had curfews and you had to wear a tie to class. Someday, maybe I’ll do the same.
Fraternities don’t have an exclusive market on forming relationships with alumni or providing unique opportunities to meet interesting people. But they do expose you to people who you wouldn’t meet through your own academic or extracurricular pursuits. I wouldn’t be studying city planning now if Greg Riessen ’06 hadn’t told me about this class he was going to take on Green cities during sophomore year.
Being in a house dramatically increased the number of people I knew and the ideas and opportunities I was exposed to. And THAT is why you come to Cornell — to grow into a more well-rounded individual than you were when you graduated high school. Anything that helps you accomplish that is a worthwhile pursuit.
Ben Koffel is a first-year grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org . Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.