Schwartz: Really think before you rush

Alex Schwartz, Assistant Opinion Editor

It’s the first week of Winter Quarter, and that means hundreds of underclassmen are gearing up for the period of exhaustive social events known as rush week. You may be one of those people.

I want to tell you about a poster I saw a poster in Kresge Hall the other day that asked, “Have you considered joining a fraternity?” Below this bolded title sat four other questions:

“Are you interested in participating in an institution that perpetuates racism, classism, misogyny, and a slew of — well, let’s just call them, ‘bad habits?’ Do you have enough of your parents’ money to not only buy your friends but also partake in reckless and morally objectionable behaviors? Do you enjoy mediocre parties in which you are subjected to bad playlists from 2007 and excessively sweaty men in sports jerseys? Do you desire having a facade of superiority to hide the fact you are a dime-a-dozen, uninteresting, vapid caricature of yourself?”

If the past year or so has taught me anything, it’s that Greek life isn’t just about “Animal House” style parties, beer-centric games and weird pledging rituals. Some pretty ugly societal issues manifest themselves within these microcosms of social interaction: sexual assault, homophobia, misogyny and white supremacy, to name a few. If you don’t understand that fraternities and sororities exist primarily for the benefit of society’s most privileged members, you haven’t been paying attention.

But, as with any issue (particularly on a college campus like NU), there are complexities here. Not everyone who joins a Greek organization is white, straight and wealthy. This doesn’t negate the inherent privilege of the Greek system, and some marginalized people have found that such a system may still have things to offer them. Plenty of people join Greek organizations and have little to no negative experiences, emerging from them well-connected and supported. There are multicultural Greek chapters, service fraternities and pre-professional organizations. And the positive experiences people have had and continue to have in all forms of Greek organizations are valid.

You may have your reasons for deciding to rush. You may be having trouble finding a close, reliable group of friends and want to meet a group of people you’ll be bonded with forever. You may want a pre-planned and stress-free social calendar. You may be looking for a brotherhood or sisterhood. And you may just want the privilege of being able to type those two or three letters into your Instagram bio. All these reasons are valid.

But ask yourself this: Is this truly something I alone want to do?

On a campus where almost 40 percent of undergraduates are in fraternities or sororities, there is definitely significant social pressure to go Greek. People may not be directly peer pressuring us into rushing, but between the barrage of social media posts with pictures of smiling Greek chapter members, casual mentions of fraternity and sorority events and acquaintances automatically asking us which chapter we’re in, choosing not to be a part of the Greek system can at times be alienating. For those who are new to campus, this is understandably scary.

But think of it this way: Would you still want to do all of this physical and emotional work to join a fraternity or sorority if you knew of no other people who were doing it? If you hadn’t seen any smiley cover photos, lettered sweatshirts or coordinated tailgate outfits?

Greek organizations derive most of their value from their exclusivity. If it weren’t so difficult to go through the rush and pledge process, the reward wouldn’t seem as great. If everyone were given a spot in every chapter, there wouldn’t really be a point in joining. Recognize that the most significant thing a fraternity or sorority can offer you is a coveted bid that other people were turned down for. That exclusivity has, over time, made it easier for members of these organizations to gain social capital and, in turn, attract new members.

Know that you can find nearly everything a fraternity or sorority will offer somewhere else. You can find a close-knit group of like-minded individuals somewhere else. You can participate in philanthropic events somewhere else. You can party in a safer, non-gross basement space somewhere else.

If, after evaluating your priorities, you still decide to rush, that’s fine. Again, there are real benefits that might attract you to Greek life. But if you hadn’t really considered how your own values line up or conflict with the values of exclusivity and privilege on which fraternities and sororities are founded, you might want to think twice before rushing into anything.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.