Hoyt: An Imperfect System
By Hannah Hoyt, Contributing Columnist
Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2012
We’re at that point in the year when sophomores begin nervously scurrying around campus in small groups. It’s not corporate recruiting, but it’s the only other time when we shed our fleece and flannel for nice clothes. It’s rush. We’ve written about and discussed rush and the Greek system a lot in these pages and on this campus over the past year. And with good reason — we’re a school with a Greek system that just catapulted from well-known and oft-stereotyped to front-page national news for the worst possible reasons.
All of us on campus know, however, that there’s a lot more gray than black and white in the stories that have garnered media attention. As we approach another year of rushing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the aspects of joining a Greek organization that I didn’t think about when I rushed. In retrospect, some of them are glaringly apparent, but other perspectives have only arisen as part of the natural evolution of getting older at Dartmouth, of seeing the messiness behind the outward faces we present as individuals and organizations.
In my experience, one of the most apparent but unacknowledged realities of Greek life is the strange assumption that you are similar to and will be friends with the people in the house that you join. We’ve all had the experience of making “proximity friends” — people with whom you spend enough time that you eventually become friends regardless of shared interest. But usually, when we make proximity friends we still control the environment in which we make them.
Rush, however, is a process of being chosen, rather than choosing for yourself; thus the proximity friendships that arise from joining a Greek house are even more out of one’s control than those that arise from joining a club or taking a class. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I’ve met people, especially upperclassmen, that I never would have met otherwise. However, spending time in a social setting under the expectation not just of friendship, but of “brotherhood” or “sisterhood” places unnecessarily high expectations on our relationships, which can quickly lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction when we don’t build the type of relationships we expect.
My second struggle, one that I’ve been thinking about more and more as I get older at Dartmouth, relates to the obvious gender discrepancies enforced by the Greek system and my surprising ability to sit back and accept these realities. At the surface level, we all know that joining a sorority or fraternity means participating in the Greek system as a whole. Yet when I rushed, I managed to forget that I was joining a larger system. Enamored by the organization I joined, I failed to engage critically with my own objections to a larger, unbalanced social structure in which men control the majority of the social spaces and resources. Without realizing it, my excitement about a small organization rendered me a passive bystander to a system and power dynamic to which I would have objected in almost any other context. More recently, I’ve begun to be more critical about my social surroundings; however, the fact that I initially allowed my excitement about an organization to subsume my concerns about a larger system makes me question my ability to critically evaluate and act according to my priorities.
My final thought concerns the frequently cited topic of traditions. Though we like to think of Dartmouth and Greek houses as storied institutions with long, immutable histories, being a senior makes me realize more clearly than ever that the institutional memory of these organizations is rarely longer than the three-year experience of their oldest and most active members. Traditions of three years are not lofty, ancestral guidelines that justify bad decisions and inappropriate activities. Instead, traditions are ours to make and break. We have the ability and thus the obligation to create traditions that reflect the best, not the worst parts of our organizations.
Ultimately if I had to do it all over again, I think I’d make similar decisions about rushing and joining a house. However, I hope that I would approach the process with a consistently critical eye, rather than the fickle, caught-up-in-the-moment attitude I brought to rush. I wish I’d thought sooner, rather than later, about my own objections to system-level issues. So, for those who are rushing this year, remember that you’re in a powerful position if you retain the critical eye of an outsider and combine it with an insider’s ability to effect change.