Many minority students do not rush

by Michael Riordan and Ashley Ulrich | 11/11/12 11:00pm

Editor's Note: This is the second article in a three-part series exploring diversity in College Greek organizations.

Dartmouth students can choose to rush fraternities and sororities beginning in their sophomore fall. Panhellenic Council sororities, Inter-Fraternity Council fraternities and coed houses offer open rush processes in the fall and winter, while many multicultural Greek organizations offer an additional spring rush process. About 75 percent of eligible men and women rush Panhell or IFC houses the fall of their sophomore year.

Many students who consider themselves members of minority communities join Panhell and IFC houses, but others choose to rush multicultural houses or opt out of the Greek system entirely. While the decision is stressful for most Dartmouth students, some said that the process can be even more difficult for students who identify with minority groups because of cultural differences or lack of representation.

THE RUSH DECISION

Although the College has tried to expand its social offerings beyond Greek life to spaces like Sarner Underground and Fuel, both affiliated and unaffiliated students said they consider Greek houses to be Dartmouth's dominant social spaces.

"There are so many avenues for social spaces, from [the Dartmouth Outing Club] to athletic teams to off-campus house parties," Andres Ramirez '14, a Latino member of Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity, said. "The Greek system is still most known."

Students who opt out of joining a Greek house may find they feel isolated on Dartmouth's already small and enclosed campus, according to Monica Stretten '15, an unaffiliated Native American and black student.

"The dominance of the Greek system does provide activities for people to take part in because there's not much to do in Hanover," Stretten said. "But it's easy for people to be consumed by it or feel very isolated by it for those who don't partake in it sometimes they feel like they don't have any activity to do."

Stretten, who did not rush, said that superficial reasons, like perceived social status, motivate some students to participate in rush. She said she did not relate to women who were determined to join one specific house for its perceived social status.

"I didn't identify with the types of girls who I knew were rushing," she said. "I didn't have the same social aspirations as they did."

The Greek system has remained strong for decades because the College admits many students from "feeder" schools and prep schools that promote a hierarchical social culture, according to Gordon Reed '15, an African American member of Bones Gate fraternity.

Naldine Isaac '15, an unaffiliated African-American student, said she chose not to rush a sorority because she does not identify with the culture of the Greek system and rarely participates in Greek-related social events at night.

"I don't have strong feelings against rushing, but I don't feel it was as necessary as other girls do," Isaac said.

While he said he does not view the Greek system negatively, Greg Buzzard '13, a Native American member of Alpha Theta coed fraternity, said he thinks the insular nature of the College's social life can encourage people to overlook its flaws.

"I don't necessarily regard the Greek system as a bad thing," he said. "I think bad things happen in the Greek system, but that's true of nearly any institution."

Damaris Altomerianos '13, an unaffiliated Asian female, said she participated in Panhell rush her sophomore fall but dropped out early in the process. At the time, she felt rushing was "the normal thing to do" but realized she could meet older female students in other ways.

While Altomerianos said she respects her affiliated friends' relationships, she is happy with her decision to remain unaffiliated.

"A lot of people in houses are very interested in campus issues and have similar end goals in mind," Altomerianos said.

CHOOSING MULTICULTURAL GREEK ORGANIZATIONS

Not culturally nor racially exclusive, multicultural houses can appeal to students looking to meet those who share their cultural affiliation or interest in cultural issues, according to Christina Goodson '14, a Native American member of Alpha Pi Omega sorority.

"I had friends in [Panhell] sororities already, and I think that's good for some people, but it's not good for everybody," Goodson said. "It could be a cultural thing. For me, that's what it was."

Alpha Pi Omega president Cante Nakanishi '13 said that her organization caters to women like any other sorority, but Alpha Pi Omega's smaller size, with six members, enables closer connections among its members. Most multicultural Greek organizations at Dartmouth have between four and 10 members.

"We were chartered as a Native American sorority, but we hold our principles on a higher level," Nakanishi said. "It might make [Alpha Pi Omega] more appealing to some women, but it's not limiting."

Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member Aaron Limonthas '12 said he chose to join because of the "amazing, honorable men" who have historically been members of the organization and because he was interested in Alpha Phi Alpha's campus programs.

"I noticed most of the upperclassmen [whom] I knew and related to were Alpha men," Limonthas wrote in an email to The Dartmouth. "I didn't even know some of them were Alphas. I just knew they were people I admired."

Lambda Upsilon Lambda member Geovanni Cuevas '14 said he chose his fraternity because he was most comfortable with the brothers and attracted to the emphasis on cultural events. He also appreciated the fraternity's diversity, which contradicts some students' perceptions of LUL as a Latino fraternity, he said.

"Calling us minority Greek' misrepresents what kind of an organization we are," Cuevas said. "That implies that we cater to a specific audience, which isn't true. Our founders happened to be Latino, but that was a long time ago 1997."

Alpha Kappa Alpha vice president Renee Scott '13 said she chose to join the sorority because of her sister's positive experience as an AKA member at Towson University in Baltimore. She said she does not see AKA as different from any other sorority on campus.

"There seems to be a culture of separatism at Dartmouth that is not real," Scott said. "At other chapters of AKA at schools like Cornell [University] and the University of Michigan, the sorority is just like any other house."

Sigma Lambda Upsilon president Jamilah Mena '14 said she came to campus with an open mind about Greek life and eventually felt most comfortable joining her "community of hermanas."

"I was really interested in being able to throw events about issues facing under-represented groups, and SLU really provided that," Mena said. "As a national, we're expected to have a certain amount of programs about cultural awareness and academic achievement each term."

According to Alpha Pi Omega advisor and Office of Pluralism and Leadership Native American student advisor Molly Springer, fraternities and sororities can provide students a support system that can aid in their health and academic success.

"In particular, Alpha Pi Omega has a national retention model built in and asks its members to pay attention to their sleeping patterns, to refrain from alcohol, to make a commitment to their academics and to share bonds of female camaraderie that are really important for Native women," she said.

CHOOSING PANHELL, IFC and COEDS

Minority students who joined Panhell, IFC and coed houses said they rushed intending to discover new communities and make new groups of friends.

Some students rush without any idea of what the process will entail, according to Mariah Claw '15, a Native American member of Alpha Phi sorority. Claw said she had little knowledge of the Greek system before attending Dartmouth.

"For me, it was about getting outside of the Native bubble," she said. "It's really important for me to maintain my connections to my culture but go outside of that too."

Going through the rush process without expectations can improve one's experiences, according to Fako Perez '15, a Latina member of Delta Delta Delta sorority.

"I'm from New York City, and I had no preconceived notions of what fraternities or sororities were aside from what I had seen in movies," she said.

Reed said he chose to rush BG without ever considering another fraternity. He said he felt most comfortable in the house's environment and considers the fraternity to be open to students who do not conform to racial or gender stereotypes.

Minority students are more conscious about the importance of community, according to Reed.

"Minorities understand the need that white students may not get about being around people like you if you're a minority," Reed said.

Still, Reed said that students tend to carry preconceived and misguided notions of what defines each Greek house. Even a house's affiliation with an athletic team may affect people's perceptions, he said.

"Something like that, which isn't even a loaded political type of distinction, does have meaning to how welcoming it is to potential new members," Reed said.

Ramirez said he rushed Tri-Kap because he appreciated the house's sense of brotherhood and its strong ties with its alumni. When he was in high school, Ramirez said his friends who were in college encouraged him to consider joining a house.

Rush brings together people who may never have otherwise interacted on campus, Ramirez said. Those who are disappointed with Greek life usually have not found their niche because they were not open to considering every possible house, he said.

Students who rushed a house but remain disappointed with Greek life stay in the system so that they do not feel "irrelevant" in Dartmouth's social culture, Stretten said.

Buzzard said he chose to rush a coed house because he felt that "mainstream" fraternities promoted unhealthy views of masculinity.

"I knew that the coeds had a reputation for being nerdy but never expecting [their members] to be a certain person," he said. "Other mainstream fraternities would have expectations of masculinity that I would be uncomfortable with."

Isaac said she considered coed houses to be more progressive and accepting than other houses, but she did not think that they were properly integrated into the social scene.

Perez said students should look beyond each house's stereotype.

"My sorority had certain stereotypes that are completely out of the window to me now that I'm in it," she said. "Certain stigmas are sort of based in truth but don't define everyone in that house."