[Print] Fraternities: A Freshman’s Best Friend

Gauging the social life at an institution can be tricky. Departments can be assessed based on the quality of professors and courses. Tuition couldn’t be a more black and white issue for rising seniors in high school given their knowledge of their own family’s budget and eligibility for loans. Figuring out if you’ll fit in at a certain college, on the other hand, seems impossible to answer without firsthand experience. It’s a lot of guesswork, involving subjective perceptions and the impressions given by the College and its critics. Unfortunately, for incoming students, those impressions can be overwhelmingly misleading.
I remember the first impression of the College’s social life that I received on a tour in the summer of 2011. It was a rainy day, but not so unpleasant as to keep us from slogging around campus; however. it was wet enough that some soggy pieces of Keystone thirty rack boxes floated along Webster Ave. A classic Dartmouth scene that I have now come to know quite well. Our tour guide took it in stride, though at first he looked a little rattled by the concerned faces of some parents. He gave that strange, narrow and qualification-filled definition of Greek Life that I suppose tour guides are told to relate. Frats organize “social events,” like concerts, the majority of campus participates in Greek Life, but you don’t have to, and sometimes there’s alcohol, but no one underage drinks. Ever.
There’s something unsettling about these halftruths from the perspective of a prospective student. At least a part of you ends up thinking maybe they serve to cover up an even more harmful reality that the College seeks to sweep under the rug. After Andrew Lohse’s article came out, the rug seemed to hide the skeletons the College could no longer fit into its closet. 
The administration went on the offensive and took a stance entirely in opposition to Greek Life. In the elitist rat race of collegiate rankings and reputation, the College wouldn’t let hyped up charges of hazing weigh it down. It embraced a bizarre hypocrisy: touting its traditions, but blushing whenever one of its oldest institutions, the fraternity system, became the topic of discussion. 
I imagine that in the context of that Rolling Stone article the Greek Life portion of tours has become more awkward, maybe even more ominous. What used to be a somewhat casual dismissal of overly anxious parents seems more like blowing off a substantive threat, like some heavy handed foreshadowing in a subpar
apocalypse movie: No need to worry about that smoldering volcano, it’s been dormant for a hundred years!
Despite the salacious Rolling Stone article, freshmen and prospies should not fear frats
As a freshman in the College, earlier this year I ventured into that strange world of Frat Row for the first time myself. I remember walking right up the front walkway with one of my friends from high school, approaching the front door, and then boldly knocking. No one answered. Phi Delt’s music hung in the air, delightfully out of date. I knocked again, perhaps a little more frantically this time. Finally, a brother pointed us to the back door and we were ushered into our first frat. 
Dartmouth’s Greek system’s openness cannot be overstated. At most other colleges, entry to a frat for a freshman guy means camouflaging yourself in a herd of freshman coeds, or maybe climbing in a window. After all, haven’t we all seen those very actions played out in every movie about going to college? That enjoying a fraternity, or sorority, only requires rapping on the right door gives freshman a huge amount of choice. Admittedly, certain types of people gravitate towards certain houses (GDX’s demographic seems somewhat weightier than Tri-Kap’s), but freshmen gain access to that variety of social circles and scenes to peruse and find the best fit. How else would freshmen later decide which house to rush and pledge?
That inclusiveness links freshman to the rest of the College. The Greek system gives new students a venue they would not otherwise have to meet upperclassmen. If you play enough games of pong or hang around a house long enough you’re bound to meet a brother or two eventually. In the process, you’ll be sure to extend your social circle from just your freshman floor to encompass wider segments of the community. Seeing more familiar faces around campus inculcates a sense of belonging at the College, and knowing more upperclassmen means you’ll meet people with interests similar to your own. 
In experiencing all of this, you’re bound to become closer friends with your own class along the way. It can be awkward at first, if you and your pong-partner pick the wrong door or suffer through a few brutal pong losses. But in the grander scheme of things, those are just temporary and will undoubtedly bring you and your friends together throughout your short time at Dartmouth. In the houses, the stresses of school life are stowed away for a short while and you get to know the people you’re spending the four most formative years of your life with. The Greek system forms an indelible part of Dartmouth’s culture. In at least one way or another each student’s life is affected by this institution. Admittedly, perhaps some of my tour guide’s answer is true. You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. 
Sports teams, extra curricular activities, and classes all provide a similar venue to engage with the student body just as dice or pong do. But not everyone can embrace or succeed in those particular routes. Yet, there is nothing to be afraid of in any of these paths. 
The Greek system, thus represents a choice for freshman and prospective students. A choice, nothing more and luckily nothing less. An entire section of the Dartmouth community is waiting to be explored if you so choose. All you have to do is knock. 
– Alexander Kane