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The Awful, Awful Frats
Everyone, including the New York Times, agrees that Dartmouth’s Greek system is an awful thing. That attitude must explain why students are deserting the houses in droves, doesn’t it? Actually, no, because students are not deserting the fraternities and sororities at all; in fact, just the opposite is occurring, as the Dartmouth FactBook shows us:
Today 71.5% of upperclassmen are in Greek houses, and over the past decade membership in Greek organizations has risen by 27.5%: 23.3% among fraternities and 37.4% for sororities. Clearly some people are deriving benefits from brotherhoods, sisterhoods and mixandmatchhoods (for the co-ed houses).
How to explain this phenomenon? I think that the administration has forgotten, if it ever knew, just what makes for a successful residential-college experience. Let’s hear from Charlotte Johnson her theory of how students get to know each other, share ideas and experiences, and bond in lifelong friendship. Charlotte?
I’ll give her a few hints. For athletes, the answer is easy: hundreds of hours of blood, sweat and tears in practice and in competition do the trick. And students deeply involved for years in a specific activity requiring regularly scheduled shared involvement (The D, theater and other performance arts, etc.) become part of a little world that leads to satisfying social outcomes. Needless to say, in Greek life, blood, sweat and tears — and several other excretions to boot — all lead to common experiences and memories.
Where students hardly ever meet other students and build relationships, except in the rarest of cases, is in class. Even small ones. Why? Well, even if you begin to befriend someone in a seminar, under the D Plan you might never be on campus together again; you almost certainly will never be in the same class again; and on a scattered, over-scheduled campus, you just don’t run into people that often.
Back in the day, the dorms offered much of the social cohesiveness that Greek life provides today, but without the mess, the too-often ugly values, and with a far greater diversity of opinion and origin. Ask alumni from before the mid-80’s where they lived, and most often they will either give you the name of one dorm or one house or both. For a great many students of that era, the dorms are where we made our friends. Regular readers know my long-held thoughts on this subject.
But maybe Charlotte has another theory of how and where friends are made on campus. If so, let’s hear it.
Addendum: While Jim Kim told everyone far and wide in Hanover that he had a Ph.D. in anthropology, he sure showed no evidence of it in dealing with residential life at the College.
Addendum: In a column in last Thursday’s D, Vivien Rendleman ‘16 described her take on where Dartmouth students make friends:
My freshman year, hanging out in Greek houses facilitated many of my current friendships. My friends at schools without Greek systems mostly ended up staying friends with the small group of people they met their freshman fall, but because the Greek system offers spaces in which all of campus can hang out, there are so many more opportunities to interact with new people every night.
Thirty years ago, almost every student would have included undergraduate dorm life (all four years) in this description — as befits a residential college.
Addendum: The attitude towards to the College’s Greek houses reminds me of the phrase once uttered about a French politician: “He has the support of no one but the people.”
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