To Recognize Truth

by Christian Hummel | 5/22/01 5:00am

There have been many blanket statements cast about in recent months regarding the status and future of the Greek system. Although I have tried as hard as possible to remain somewhat detached and to refrain from engaging in this debate -- the ridiculousness of it tends to create a desire within me to do something rash -- a statement by the (yet again) anonymous Students for a New and Better Dartmouth, coupled by the faculty vote, has forced me to offer this humble comment.

The wild accusations that the Greek system is exclusive, sexist, racist, homophobic and the rest are unfounded and utilize language that has become so demeaned by the its frequent use by the Left in recent years. First, no organization can be construed as racist or sexist or the like. These are characteristics maintained by individuals, qualities that cannot be reasonably extended to groups. It is true that many organizations retain the right to preclude membership to members of the opposite sex. This is a practice not unique to the Greek system -- the Women in Science Program comes to mind -- nor is it inconsistent with the ever-elusive "central academic mission" of the school. The desire for current members to retain the right for members to select their future members is predicated on the belief that not everyone in the Dartmouth community is fit to share in the mission of that particular organization. For example, if an organization (Greek or otherwise) is committed to community service, it would a foolhardy endeavor to extend membership to an avowed misanthrope. Just as Dartmouth sees fit to not have an "open admissions" policy, a policy that tends to be destructive to academic institutions as the City University of New York can attest, organizations on this campus feel that it is in their best interests to insure a membership body committed to the same values and principles that the organization maintains. If the organization I am a member of is so sexist, why did I work to further women's suffrage as an election monitor in Eastern Europe? If the organization I am a member of is so racist, why are some of my best friends Asian, black, and Native American?

The language of exclusivity is ridiculous for another reason: many students and faculty have the incorrect notion that members of Greek organizations only associate with their fellow members. This is odd considering the College's own claims that students are involved in myriad activities. As far as I can tell, there are no classes only for non-Greeks or for Greeks. There are no separate dining facilities for Greeks or non-Greeks. In fact, as best as I can tell, every student on this campus has friendships that extend beyond the permeable boundaries of Greek membership. It is absolutely absurd for any student or faculty member to make sweeping claims of behavior, attitude, or achievement on the sole basis of Greek affiliation. To do so indicates that the purpose of a liberal arts education -- to recognize truth in whatever appearance and after a rigorous application of thought -- has been lost. In a close-knit community such as ours, it is not difficult to recognize that students wear many hats. In fact, it is impossible to do otherwise.

A final major point of contention is this notion that Greeks are inferior students and/or that Greek organizations are antithetical to the educational purpose of this College. John Phinney '00 surely should have demolished this perception in his April 20th letter to the editor, "Speak Out," but still this notion persists. First, in the history of this College, some of the greatest contributions have come from Greek members. I think of William Jewett Tucker, Kenneth Montgomery, and Nelson Rockefeller as three examples from just my own fraternity. I live with twenty of the most talented and motivated men on this campus. Brothers of my mine attend some of the best medical (Columbia, Harvard) and law schools (Harvard, University of Virginia, Columbia) in this country. Another I know is in a graduate program for forestry. Besides strictly defined academic achievement, brothers of mine currently work at the finest consulting groups, investment banks, and high schools in the world. The bonds of brotherhood bring people into contact with great individuals, and due to such contact, they are motivated and inspired to achieve the highest levels in whatever field. Statistics compiled by the Office of Residential Life indicate that last term, the difference between the Greek and non-Greek GPAs was .01.

Is it possible that the problem between Greeks and academics is on the part of the faculty? Citing only anecdotes and no statistics, faculty claim poor attendance in Thursday morning classes. Has it ever occurred to these distinguished minds that taking attendance or giving quizzes would mend this problem, should it actually exist? The College does claim that the students here are bright. Is it possible that students do not feel they miss anything by not attending their classes? These faculty also overlook the frequency with which members of Greek houses are members of Phi Beta Kappa or serve as valedictorians at Commencement. Finally, I can think of at least one Fulbright Scholarship recipient who is a member of an evil fraternity: myself. Either they overlook this fact or simply do not take pride in the achievements of their Greek-affiliated students.

Sweeping generalizations are absolutely absurd and have no place at a school with an avowed purpose of liberal education. I challenge the critics of the Greek system to move beyond such silly rhetoric and be part of a constructive process to create a Greek system that is better. I challenge the faculty to take the time to learn from their students about their lives here outside of the classroom, before participating in meaningless, overwhelming votes as occurred on Monday. At least the faculty demonstrated their own commitment to a diversity of opinion.