April 14, 2010

Time to Thicken Up That Thin Skin

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Writing a column is an inherently egotistical act. By writing this, I’m assuming that people care and want to read my opinion. Egotistical, no?

But I’m not the only one with ego issues. Most of us have giant egos. After all, plenty of us are smart, good looking, talented or some combination of these ego-growing traits. Plenty of us are also none of the above, and still have egos. Cornell breeds ego as well as, if not better, than it breeds intelligence. It’s just a fact.

Now, this usually doesn’t bother me. After all, I’m just as guilty as the rest of us (if not worse — again, there’s the column thing). Egos are never a bad thing when one can accept criticism, can appreciate sarcasm and can stand to have their ego bruised a bit. Sadly for Cornell and many of its students, many of us do not fit these criteria. Not even a little bit.

Nobody is willing to admit when they are wrong, and when their critics are right, even just a little bit. We deny, defend and hurl insults back at our critics.  We cry that people are stereotyping or typecasting, that we are the exception to the stereotype.

Many groups on campus are closed to criticism, unable to take an insult or admit that it has faults. But none does so more obnoxiously than the Greek system.

This is not to say that all Greeks are bad. But take columns in The Sun. Last year, Kate Engelhart ’09 got more criticism from writing a column explaining why she left the Greek system than she did for any of her other controversial columns. Just this week, Munier Salem ’10 was subject to a barrage of defensive and insulting comments after writing a column criticizing fraternities.

The Greek system should defend itself, of course, when attacked unnecessarily. But what frustrates me is people’s insistence that the Greek system is some utopian, wholly benevolent group on campus, and that they get so up in arms over the tiniest of insults.

Sure, some organizations and houses are entirely benevolent — their focus is on service and sister or brotherhood. Sadly, I can probably count these houses on one hand (maybe two). The rest of the system exists for social reasons, and anyone who claims otherwise is full of bologna.

Joining a group for social reasons isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many close friendships are formed within the Greek system, and that is a good thing. But the vast majority of Cornellians, both Greeks and GDIs, participate in Greek events to dance, drink and socialize. Not for philanthropy. To claim otherwise is to be full of shit, in no uncertain terms.

And one is also full of shit if they claim that the Greek system doesn’t foster, in many cases, douchebaggery. There are tons of nice, wonderful, studious people who break the stereotypes of the Greek system. Every single one of my best friends is in the Greek system, and several of them indeed break the mold. But many of them do not.

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t that much of a surprise, or a problem. What is a problem is that the Greek system refuses to acknowledge the existence of stereotypical jerks within their realm. Many frat guys and sorority girls are able to laugh at the silliness inherent in frat boy antics or sorority girl drama, and recognize that they very often fulfill their stereotypes. They don’t act the victim, claiming to be terribly wronged by generalizations which are, most often, directed only at the worst of the worst.

Let me clarify here: The Greek system isn’t all bad. Thus, don’t send me nasty e-mails calling me a bitter GDI or a classist or just some enemy of the Greek system. That said, the Greek system is unwilling to admit its faults.

Sure, many individual houses or members admit faults, particularly those old enough to recognize the ridiculousness and superficiality of certain areas of Greek life.  And sure, many houses and members work their asses off to organize and carry out philanthropic events, greatly contributing to our community. But that isn’t to say that other Greek “efforts” consist mostly of brothers raising $300 and then jerking each other off over it. True story: At one IFC meeting, the members applauded each other for recycling 300 cans in a campus-wide effort. Seriously? Most frats go through more than that at a single Friday night party. See what I’m getting at?

Perhaps if IFC reps weren’t so keen on padding their resumes, frats wouldn’t be forced to pretend they’re benevolent community builders. Perhaps if the Cornell administration was willing to admit that social outlets don’t necessarily need to unite to save orphans (or other charity work), the Greek system could exist without constantly defending itself.

If people both inside and outside of the Greek system were willing to be honest about it — to accept that it is principly a social system, with occasional positive philanthropic or academic efforts — we wouldn’t have such an issue.

The attitude of a close friend: “I’m in a fraternity to get drunk, hang out with my friends and have a good time.” Refreshingly honest. Of course, he also studies hard, volunteers often and reads lots of books. Just not with his frat brothers.

When people respond to a single, hilarious criticism with claims that the Greek system fosters philanthropy, studiousness and familial ties, it’s honestly laughable.

Just because your fragile ego can’t handle insults doesn’t mean they’re not true. Just because your mother thinks you’re part of a “literary society” doesn’t mean it’s not a frat. Just because there are plenty of good Greek eggs doesn’t mean there aren’t just as many bad ones. And just because I mention the Greek system in a negative light doesn’t mean I’m bitter, ignorant or any other nasty insults that are usually hurled at detractors of the Greek system.

It just means that the Greek system, like many other organizations, needs to get honest, and put its ego aside.

Original Author: Leigha Kemmett