Depledging at Dartmouth

by Victoria Nelsen | 5/8/14 4:00pm

In the revelry and traditions of spring term, the Greek system has become increasingly prominent in my time at Dartmouth. My guy friends have well-established places on pre-rush lists and at fraternities, while many of my girl friends have taken advantage of the free food offered at sororities’ pre-rush events. The Greek Leadership Council just spent three days explaining to first-year students what it means to go Greek at Dartmouth, and the Green Key’s legendary parties loom on the horizon.

The Greek system has become even harder for me to avoid, and it is obvious that this will become even truer next fall when I face the decision to rush or not. Like many other students, the prevalence of the Greek system was my largest reservation about Dartmouth, but at the same time, it is starting to feel like I could find a home in a sisterhood. Nonetheless, it’s hard to completely forget my former doubts, and I remain unsure of what I will decide come September.

Talking to affiliated and unaffiliated people has given me a broad range of perspectives, while also reminding me that everyone truly has a different experience at the College. Throughout my conversations, however, I neglected a certain viewpoint, one that might be more telling than the rest: those who were at some point affiliated, but chose for whatever reason to leave their house.

This story is often unheard on this campus, but these individuals have seen life both in and out of the system, and they thus hold a certain wisdom. And it seems hard to talk about — five students who had depledged or gone inactive did not respond to requests for comment and nine declined to comment.

Some students indicated that they passively decided to rush, especially the women who joined sororities. Though their stories are unconnected, both Annie Fagan ’15 and Deby Guzman-Buchness ’15 came to Dartmouth not planning to join a sorority but decided to pledge after others insisted they would enjoy it.

Similarly, Sam Morris ’14, Sarah Fernandez ’14 and Benjamin Meyer ’15 joined their respective houses because their friends were rushing, so they figured they might as well try it.

With a less committed attitude going in, Fernandez found herself putting in little time to her house and stopped going to most events in the winter of her sophomore year, though she depledged during her sophomore summer.

Fernandez said she immediately disliked some aspects of her sorority, one of which was the superficiality she perceived.

“It just seemed like a place where a lot of assumptions were made about people, and I’m not really about that,” Fernandez said. “It was a waste of my time. If anything, it made me feel like I had to condone things that I would normally never condone.”

Morris believes that there are healthier ways to find community on campus, adding that he found more brotherhood with his rowing team than with members of his pledge class. Morris depledged during his junior fall, and during his terms as a fraternity member, he said never invested much time into the house.

Morris lived in the house during sophomore summer but found himself skipping meetings to do homework and never hanging out in the basement. He liked being with his friends in the house but knew he could do that without being a member.

Eventually, Morris said he decided he shouldn’t pay for something he put little time into. When he depledged, he said his fraternity brothers were not surprised, but they were supportive.

Morris does not believe he can really speak to the Greek system at large, especially because he was only ever a member of one house.

“My experience was personal,” Morris said. “It was mine.”

Others I spoke with left their house because of a dislike for larger, systemic issues.

Guzman-Buchness, who went inactive in her sorority two weeks ago, said she made the decision because she disapproves of the Greek system. The Greek system, she said, is “exclusive for the sake of being exclusive.”

She said the qualities that make someone successful in the rush process, such as strong eye contact and other social cues, are never formally taught, which is one of the things that makes the process unfair. Additionally, Guzman-Buchness said she does not like the connotations associated with certain Greek letters on campus.

“I instantly have an idea of what that person is like, and I think it’s so unfortunate because it’s so unfair to judge someone based on that,” Guzman-Buchness said. “We have enough judgments as it is. I don’t think we need more on this campus.”

Financial costs are another downside to the Greek system. Social capital, Guzman-Buchness said, is correlated with the amount of dues that Greek members pay to their houses, arguing that houses with high dues wield the most social power at Dartmouth. She added that the terms “A-side” and “B-side” also carry economic connotations, and that money has stratified the campus social scene.

“If you can afford it, then you can also be a part of it,” Guzman-Buchness said.

She said that a “lazy pro” she sees in the Greek system is that it is convenient, offering one place and structured time for social interactions.

Guzman-Buchness is currently inactive, which means that she is not paying dues or participating in her sorority’s sisterhood, but she can come back from inactivity.

“This definitely allows you to see how you feel outside of it, and it’s allowed me a lot of time to reflect on what I value from the sorority and what I really don’t miss about the sorority,” Guzman-Buchness said.

Despite the convenience of this middle ground, Guzman-Buchness said she does not like the limbo-feeling of inactivity, but she does not know where her inactivity will take her.

Yesuto Shaw ’15 and Meyer both depledged during their respective pledge terms, due to hazing. Shaw directly experienced hazing, and though Meyer said he knew he would never personally be hazed, he did not support the supposed tradition of hazing and wanted no part in watching other people be hazed. Shaw said his hazing included physical exercise, military-like regulations, physical punishments and social isolation.

“I’m sure other experiences with hazing, though different, are still equally destructive to the goals of creating a strong bond between the brothers and helping pledges become better contributing members of society,” Shaw said.

Shaw said he reported his former fraternity for their hazing, and the house had to suspend its pledge processes for a year and form a committee with national oversight on how to restructure their membership process. He initially joined the Greek system because he liked the concept of a brotherhood and forming a close bond with a group of men. Had he not been hazed, Shaw said he would not have depledged, and he sees little problem in the Greek system as a whole. The bigger problem, Shaw said, is the lack of alternatives.

“I still think the benefits of having a tight group of brothers who share the same values as me and having a strong support network are great things about fraternities,” Shaw said. “I would have wanted that in my fraternity, but unfortunately, I thought that the process by which they had new members become brothers did more harm than good, and I didn’t want to perpetuate that system myself.”

Meyer saw other problems in the Greek system, too. One major example is the prevalence of alcohol. Meyer said he does not feel like he forms real bonds or friendships while inebriated, and he dislikes the environment of basement parties with excessive alcohol, many people and loud music that hinders conversations.

Meyer said he takes advantage of the Greek system and often uses fraternities to socialize, but since he is not a part of it, he has more social autonomy. He has been able to meet a wide variety of people and does not feel constricted to one social group. Though Meyer is not a part of the Greek system, he has friends within it, as do all the other students I interviewed. He said the Greek system should not be abolished, though he does advocate for its reform.

Fagan spent more time in the Greek system than Shaw and Meyer, and said she first began to think about depledging during her junior fall. Fagan was on a Hanover FSP and had considerable free time, most of which she chose to spend away from her house. This, she said, was telling.

During the same term, Fagan also experienced recruitment for the first time from the other side, and she said she was frustrated because “the people we said we wanted and the people we took were not the same.” The process — and the judgment and exclusivity that came with it — made her angry, not just with her house, but with the entire Greek system.

“I think the Greek system, for better or for worse, separates people,” Fagan said. “The Greek system at Dartmouth is so defining that people think of themselves as inside or out of it.”

Additionally, Fagan said the Greek system perpetuates sexual assault, gender binaries, sexism, unequal power dynamics and the idea that there is only one way to experience Dartmouth. She saw her former house as being a part of a larger systemic issue, which she could no longer support.

“It’s a bad system for a lot of people, and it perpetuates bad things,” Fagan said. “I don’t discredit anyone’s experience, but I’m starting to care more about the bad experiences because those shouldn’t have to be a thing.”

Fagan said that she had good experiences with the Greek system as well, and there were parts of the house that she really liked. After she depledged, Fagan sent an email to the other ’15s in the house, and she said she received support from them. Since depledging, she has not experienced any rudeness.

After her experiences, Fagan advises future Dartmouth students not to assume that they should rush and to think carefully about the decision they make.

Meyer said that while the Greek system was not right for him, that is only his own experience.

“You should definitely try it out,” Meyer said. “If you’re thinking about pledging, you probably should, but know that pledging is not binding. If you feel that you’re not fitting into the system that we have, then it’s okay to leave it, and there are many people on this campus who have done that and are confident in that decision.”

After hearing the stories of six students, I thought I would have come to a decision for next fall, but really, I can only take away one conclusion from their words: each person has individual experiences.

Still, broadening my perspective is likely the most important thing these conversations could have achieved. Listening to the stories of the depledged helped me to both recognize and understand the multiple perspectives of the Dartmouth Greek system. As long as I carry this understanding with me, I will be able to refrain from judgment and will hopefully be able to blur my own perception of the lines that the Greek system draws between us.