Get Rid of “Exclusivity”

Because "exclusivity" is such a problem

Because “exclusivity” is such a problem

On October 17th, Leif Harder published a guest column in The Dartmouth defending the alleged exclusivity of the Greek system. This is no new topic: complaints about the Greek system and its supposed lack of indiscriminate openness have arisen in earshot without cease throughout my entire time at Dartmouth. They are always met with the same counterarguments: the Greek system isn’t really exclusive; anyone can in theory join one of a range of diverse houses where they fit in, and, moreover, Dartmouth’s Greek system is comparatively open when set against those of other institutes of higher education, or worse, Princeton’s eating clubs and Harvard’s finals clubs.

Experience, to be sure, verifies those counterarguments, since many in my class can testify to a freshman year of walking straight into fraternities five nights a week without hindrance and availing themselves of their eagerly offered amenities. Whereas I have had nauseous experience of waiting in line at an eating club, feeling there was something deeply amiss in the cosmos as a large bouncer lazily located my name among others on a list.

These counterarguments, as much as they are obvious and true, surely fail to impress critics of the Greek system, since the first can be (or appeared to be) undermined with just a handful of anecdotal evidence, real or fabricated, or an appeal to a “feeling” of unwelcomeness, rational or not, or by pointing out that the hellos and friendliness that Mr. Harder received in his first basement experience are unsurprising and irrelevant since he was, after all, the white, male, younger brother of a white, male member.

The second counterargument, moreover, is especially poor, since, if it’s the case that exclusivity is just a categorically bad thing, then the mantra “Fine, we’re exclusive, but so much less so than other places” is as pathetic as “Yes, I may be racist, I could be way, way more racist.” And with that, we have a dead end.

While I think that Mr. Harder’s opinion is both legitimate and earnest, it fails to approach the issue at a deeper, more critical level. Exclusivity, by itself, is not a bad thing. It certainly can be, but the most publicized complaints of exclusivity do always seem to come (almost exclusively) from folks who just didn’t get something they wanted and are unwilling to make do with their own resources.

Consider the hypocrisy of someone who, proud of their admission to Dartmouth, an institution that excludes something like ninety percent of its applicants, would treat simultaneously relish in their exclusive Ivy League status while lambasting exclusivity in the abstract. This is the hallmark of a lazy, hasty mind, for after all, exclusivity can be good, bad, or neutral.

Things that should not be exclusive: rights. Equal protection under the law, clean drinking water, contraception, suffrage, high school education. These are things that, when not everyone has access to them, make the world worse for everyone. Things that need to be exclusive in order to possibly have meaning or efficacy: fire departments, the Senate, the medical profession, professional athletics. These are things that, when only certain people earn access to them, make the world better for everyone.

Things that lie somewhere in between: residential drinking clubs with some kind of hazy cultural identity. The exclusivity of these institutions is arguably important to sustaining their identities, something of no small human value, and the negative externality is simply that some people don’t get to be in a residential drinking club, or at least maybe not the one they wanted.

Yet there is some compelling notion that it is unjust that anyone be excluded from the opportunity to live a full social life according to the conditions of their immediate context; and while the Greek system might justly exclude some people, they are still harmed for lack of an alternative. Who is to answer for that?

To me, the answer is abundantly clear. As it stands, the Committee on Student Organizations is a rag in the throat of progress. It is impossible to create a community on campus that has any chance of competition with the Greek system because of the dystopian strictures in place on such a goal. Were COSO to enact the following reformations, immediate and systematic change for the good would take place:

  • Substantially decrease the requirements for recognition. Allow groups as few as four to gain recognition and do not require a constitution; membership requirements and documentation are tedious.
  • Do not require a faculty sponsor. While students may opt to benefit from the advice and guidance of a professor, too often the professor will exploit the club for the purposes according to his or her agenda, and in the best scenario, the supervision of a third party infringes on the group’s autonomy and identity.
  • Substantially increase automatic funding and the number of private spaces available to groups. This is possibly the most practical disadvantage of alternative social spaces, that they are cash-poor compared to the Greek system and have nowhere to socialize, an indispensable element of alternative “social” spaces. Only frats provide relief from the cameras and surveillance and panoptic accusing gaze of the administration. Requiring that non-Greek student groups detail their expenses and conduct their affairs under the eyes of “adults” is needlessly paternalistic and anti-productive.

If these suggestions were made reality, the whole, tiresome question of the “exclusivity” of the Greek system could be put down like the sick dog that it is. Dartmouth would transform into a culture of inclusion rather than exclusion; no one would have to default to the Greek system and thereby risk social irrelevance. For each of us, there would be people and a place that welcomes us.