[Print] Social Life Far Worse Elsewhere

Dartmouth’s fraternity system hasn’t gotten good publicity lately. Ever since “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy” was published in Rolling Stone last March, fraternities here have drawn nothing but ire from all quarters.

I wholly understand the anxiousness that such reports may have on your state of mind. I am a freshman here at the College, and, a year ago this weekend, I was here for Dimensions, with offers of admission from Dartmouth and a few other schools in hand. And, perhaps like you, my parents and I alike were thoroughly scared by Andrew Lohse’s tale and all of the other rumors we had encountered. While the reports of extreme hazing were naturally startling, what really worried me was the picture of Dartmouth as an exclusive, cliquey, petty, good-old-boytype place. Such ideas almost kept me from coming here.

I am impossibly thankful that those thoughts did not end up dictating my decision: I’ve loved my time at Dartmouth. And while I could easily speak to my (albeit limited) experience here, the other articles in this issue do a great job of showing how untrue the popular portrait of Greek life here is. I will say this: though you may find some personal reasons not to choose Dartmouth, fear of Greek life should not be one of them. This is not just because Dartmouth’s Greek system is not as bad as advertised, but also because social scenes at comparable schools have their own negative, comparatively unpublicized quirks.

Take Harvard, for instance. I visited a friend there in October, and encountered a particularly bizarre social scene. Instead of fraternities, Harvard has “final clubs” – famously exclusive, all-male societies. Every fall, when “punch season” comes around, the campus alights with controversy over the clubs’ mere presence.

Final clubs have a real impact on the lives of freshmen there. At Dartmouth, students often “pre-game,” and then head out to Webster Ave. Fraternities generally blitz out news of a party to the entire campus, and anyone is welcome to come. At Harvard (as was my experience), the pre-game is the game, as the final clubs are usually closed to freshmen (especially males). The situation there is unfortunately conducive to dangerous levels of drinking, as students congregate around multiple bottles of hard liquor in some bedroom instead of Keystone Light in a fraternity basement. Additionally, freshmen who wish to eventually join a club must assiduously cultivate contacts throughout their first year, desperately trying to secure themselves a spot. The process can induce an awful lot of stress.

I do not mean to insinuate that Dartmouth’s Greek system does not have problems of its own. I do believe, however, that they have been publicized far beyond those of comparable schools. Look at Cornell. Although Dartmouth has become the Ivy League school synonymous with hazing, in Ithaca two fraternities were just suspended for “serious physical hazing.” Two years ago, a student died there after participating in a fraternity drinking ritual.

Even the University of Chicago’s fraternity system has its problems with heavy drinking. I went to the accepted students’ weekend there a week before Dimensions last year, and I remember that one of the frats there was hosting a “Margarita Night.” At Chicago, a “margarita” is a red Solo cup filled about halfway with tequila, with a bit of cheap margarita mix and water added; needless to say, drunk prospies were stumbling all over campus that night. 

And as the examples of Harvard and others show, similar social problems are often extant absent a strong Greek Life. After Princeton banned fraternities and other societies in the 19th century (they still exist there, just in a very limited state), a system of “eating clubs” sprang up. Much like Harvard, the system at Princeton encourages a desperate scrum for spots in the more prestigious clubs. Eating clubs, though, have a much more creative way of cordoning access. Some clubs issue “passes” to nonmembers for parties, which people present at the door; certain parties require multiple passes. There is a thriving pass trade at Princeton: when Friday and Saturday come around, the not so well-connected scramble to find some way of getting into an eating club. Often they are unsuccessful, as I was during my visit to the school in December. 

As countless other schools demonstrate, the lack of Greek life does not necessarily portend a healthier social life. Georgetown, Williams, and Amherst, which all lack a strong fraternity presence, and have systems where sports teams have individual houses that usually host the most popular parties. There, if you’re not lucky enough to know how to put a ball in a hoop or the back of the net, you’re more likely to find yourself locked out of the fun on a Friday night.

Much of what I say above is based on my personal experience and what I’ve heard from friends that attend all of the above schools, so, please, take what I say with a grain of salt. And seeing as how I’m a freshman, I have no experience whatsoever with pledging or life in a brotherhood. I do, however, know very well what it’s like to be in the position of a prospective student.

And as subjective as my experience has been, it really has made me believe that we have an excellent social setup here in Hanover. Whereas at another school I would not get into a party without a few girls at my side, here I can wander up to a fraternity with a nerdy-looking schmob and still get into pretty much anywhere I like. Whereas at another school I couldn’t even approach a house on a weekday, here fraternities open their doors to freshmen on Monday and Wednesday. Friends from other schools that have visited have marveled at how inclusive the social life is here, how we don’t need to “know a guy” to open the door for us.

–Nick Duva