September 22, 2017

GUEST ROOM | An Intentional Defense of Greek Life from an Accidental Frat Bro

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Hi, I’m Chris Westersund, and I’m an accidental fraternity brother.

You know what I didn’t do in high school? Party. I didn’t drink alcohol until senior year, where my parents offered me some champagne on New Year’s Eve. I was in musical theatre, played trombone and sang in my school choir. Pretty much the exact opposite of the stereotype, in most respects.

Knowing this, it makes sense why Greek life was never really on my radar freshman year. Like many others at Cornell I knew that it existed, but I barely interacted with it. When spring came, however, enough friends and acquaintances told me I should come up for rush just to try it, so like any good freshman, I decided to go for it. I went up to Ithaca early, moved in and went to the info session beforehand. As is par for the course for info sessions — not super helpful, mostly just a bunch of upperclassmen in suits talking about how their frat became their family, that these are the friends you’ll keep for the rest of your life, etc.

Sounds weird, right?

It sure as hell did to me, which is why after that info meeting, I went back to my dorm, got changed, and ordered Chinese food. Instead of spending a week walking all over campus and making awkward small talk with hundreds of guys while other freshmen did the same, I figured I could do something more productive with my time. That week, I went to some concerts, chatted with locals around the Commons and saw a blue whale skeleton at the Museum of the Earth. I spent the rest of the semester making friends, trying different things that Cornell had to offer and finding little families in other places on campus.

If you read the first line, however, you’ll notice that I’m a fraternity brother. For that, we have to fast-forward a year, when I ended up on campus early after returning from a tour with the Cornell Wind Symphony. I went to a concert with a friend, and afterwards, he suggested stopping by a party next door to his place. Trying to avoid seeming like I was crashing the party, I chatted with the people who lived there, and it turned out they were all pretty cool guys. A couple of them told me to stop by a smoker the next day, and both having nothing else to do and liking free food, I decided to go for it. I went to a house the next day, got some food and met a whole bunch of guys who somehow didn’t seem like my stereotypical idea of fraternity brothers. That pattern repeated itself over the next couple days, and in the end, I somehow got accepted into the Kappa Sigma Fraternity the spring semester of my sophomore year.

There’s been a lot of columns written about Greek life lately, tending towards the negative. I’m not here to do a point-by-point refutation of these, or start a debate, because you know what? I agree with a whole lot of it. Fraternities and sororities have major issues, and changes need to be made. However, I told my story above to let you know that I wouldn’t be writing this, defending Greek life in any way, without good reason. I was drawn to Kappa Sig because I met people with whom I connected, people that did stuff around campus besides the fraternity. Above all, my friends who were otherwise unconnected to Greek life knew the brothers, and had they had pegged them as good, reliable people. And you know what? That’s been proven over and over.

How so? I saw it last Friday morning, when we came to the aid of our victimized brother, and make sure the people responsible were arrested. I saw it in the days following, as we’ve done what we can to support him and the overall campus response, in our capacities as individuals and a brotherhood. For me, this past week exemplifies why I stayed around, why I rushed Kappa Sigma. I found a group of supportive people who were active in their communities both in and out of Greek life.

Like I said before, I cannot claim to speak for all of Greek life or to know any experience but my own. However, what I do know is that I’ve been convinced of the good. Despite opinions to the contrary, simply abolishing the system won’t erase the culture. Groups will still associate, and the oft-denounced secrecy and toxicity will only be encouraged. It is a far better plan to push for the good, the good I know is present, and help grow and develop. That, I believe, is a cause worth supporting, because encouraging the good can push a community to evolve and become something more, something that I don’t have to feel as ambivalent about defending. This might just be the right time and the right place to make that push.


Chris Westersund is a junior in the College of Engineering. He is a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.