November 8, 2010

Out of Division Comes Opportunity

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As much as we hate to acknowledge it, there is a palpable and unsettling divide between the Greek system and the rest of the student body — a divide that runs deeper than those that separate mere social cliques. It is unlike those between Engineers and English majors or Hotelies and pre-meds. It’s one that has been purposefully constructed and maintained, and both sides are responsible.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to see the friendships forged during freshman year left to deteriorate. What a rare sight it has become to see Greek students interacting with non-Greek students, as if there were some invisible glass wall separating the two groups.

But the root of this rift is simple: mutual misperception.

To the rest of the student body, the Greek system has departed from their founder’s intents, solely existing to provide alcohol on weekend nights. To many, it is the land of perpetual one night stands and exclusivity. And in reciprocation, the non-Greeks have become viewed by the other side as the less socially capable, the less well-connected and perhaps the more reclusive.

But these views are far from the truth. The reality is that only a fraction of Greeks are the Keystone-guzzling, fist-pounding, hormone-driven brothers responsible for the ruckus outside your apartment. And scantily dressed sorority sisters — the ones who have an uncanny immunity to the Ithaca cold on weekend nights and have the God-given gift to type on their Blackberries at lightning speed — constitute only a minute portion of sorority sisters.

And similarly, the non-Greeks are just as capable of networking, bar-hopping and socializing as they are of studying. The characters that we have conjured in our heads, who spend their lives in the library, who insulate themselves from the rest of the world, who — dare I say — don’t have a Facebook profile, are closer to fiction than reality.

And though we see them once in a while, they are at the fringes of the student body — the anomalies. They are to their respective groups what Christine O’Donnell and Glenn Beck are to the Republican Party: Hyperbolic and sensationalist representations that have tarnished the true character of a larger, more diverse and uncategorizable student population.

But unfortunately, we have subscribed to these stereotypes and consequently, have been stricken by a tunnel vision that fails to penetrate the profound richness that can be found underneath these superficial caricatures.

In truth, both sides share more than they believe. Party goers, engineers, jocks, hotelies and pre-meds abound and they are just as likely to be found in any Fraternity house or West campus dorm. Likewise, it is not only non-Greeks who are the movers and shakers on campus and lead the environmental campaigns, introduce Student Assembly resolutions or conduct the groundbreaking research. Often overlooked are the members of the Greek system who hold various leadership positions in some of our University’s most influential groups. The reality is that the differences are minute and the overlaps are too big to ignore any more.

Nevertheless, despite these commonalities, this schism is as prominent and as stubborn as ever, especially as the Greek system grows in size and influence. But there is a way to absolve it: The University’s self-centered goal to eliminate drinking presents an opportunity for Greeks and non-Greeks to work together and finally amend each other’s misconceptions.

The prohibition of freshman drinking leaves an unfilled niche that will be difficult, but not impossible, to fill. If the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs decides to take a multilateral and transparent approach to confront the effects of its decision — as it should — then it will require the input of not only the IFC and Panhel, but as well as the various non-Greek organizations on campus.

The Administration is far too removed from the student body to adequately address the needs of the students and the duty to create a safe environment for freshmen will inevitably fall on student campus leaders. It will be up to the Class Councils, the Student Assembly, the programming boards, the minority groups, the honor societies, and even the political groups — together with the Greek system — to organize nighttime events that can once in a while sway freshmen away from the temptations of alcohol. Furthermore, as the underclassman wander to off-campus and unregistered parties, it will be up to these groups, using their campus clout, to warn the freshmen that there is no longer a dependable safety net.

And perhaps from this collaborative effort, tarnished reputations will be rebuilt and misperceptions corrected, giving rise to a new era where Greeks and non-Greeks are no longer viewed as opposing forces on polar ends of the social spectrum.

Steven Zhang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at szhang@cornellsun.com. The Bigger Picture appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Steven Zhang