Peters: Understanding Exclusivity

by William Peters | 4/23/14 6:08pm

In Monday’s “Great Debate,” Aaron Colston ’14 and Becca Rothfeld ’14 focused on exclusivity in their arguments to abolish the Greek system. They argued that houses maintained exclusivity for the sake of exclusivity alone, and that there was no benefit in alienating people from their spaces. In reality, exclusivity and selectivity have their benefits. Moreover, exclusivity at Dartmouth is in no way limited to the Greek system, and singling out this one exclusive aspect of our culture is an inaccurate representation of reality.

Colston and Rothfeld argued that the exclusivity of the Greek system is an unnecessary component to the Dartmouth experience and that it only causes harm. I offer a different perspective. I remember during my first fall here after transferring how Interim President Carol Folt told the Class of 2016 that the school had only accepted under 10 percent of over 23,000 applicants. I felt special. I was selected, while thousands of others were turned away. There is no denying that many of us revel in being selected for an exclusive student body. As a species, we constantly compete with others in one way or another, and we take great pleasure when we are acknowledged or praised for our efforts or natural demeanor. When we are rejected by those exclusive bodies, we feel the sting of disappointment, and in some cases we feel wronged. Exclusion is not unique to the Greek system, but rather a fact of life at Dartmouth and throughout the world. From corporate recruiting to secret society taps to graduate school admissions, we compete for admission into exclusive groups throughout our lives.

When I got here in the fall of 2012 from Bunker Hill Community College, I was a poor 26-year-old veteran who had no idea what he was getting himself into. I was, of course, thrilled to be part of a handful of accepted veterans, and, having been drawn here by the strong emphasis on community and tradition, I was ready to become a part of it all. But I quickly learned of the exclusive pockets within our community. When I began to experience fraternities, I usually went out with other veterans and often ended up hating it. Loud music, filthy conditions, long-haired 20 years olds often appearing to take advantage of drunk girls — all the stuff that Colston, Rothfeld and other Greek system opponents frequently parrot. The brothers I encountered were usually territorial and rude, and, if not for my fellow veterans, I might have gotten myself into some fights. I didn’t understand Greek life, and at the time, I didn’t care.

By the end of winter, I was a prominent advocate of razing every Greek house to the ground. But in truth, I simply felt unaccepted and alone in this new community that I didn’t understand. I was angry and confused, and I often felt judged and intruded upon. This community was alien to me, and I to it. My frustrations almost brought me to leave Dartmouth, but I found solace in the place I least expected it. At the end of the winter of 2013, I left a Saturday night hockey game and decided to enter Chi Heorot fraternity. I’d seen the rowdy bunch in the stands many times, and I knew that hockey players could be a few years older. So I gave the house a shot. Where I least expected it, I found friends, and eventually my home here at Dartmouth. My brothers and I differ in many ways, but, for the first time, I had a place that I could be myself and never have to apologize or defend myself. Once I found that, I wasn’t angry anymore. In fact, I felt that I finally understood Greek life.

Greek houses are not exclusive for the sake of exclusivity. Rather, exclusivity is a natural consequence of the Greek system’s organization of students into different communities. The Greek system offers various benefits to its members beyond the mere pleasure of being inducted into an exclusive group. I have found community, brotherhood and acceptance.

Some people will never get this experience, and that is unfortunate. The inherent exclusivity of Greek houses does not warrant their abolishment. Greek houses are exclusive spaces, but so is Dartmouth. Greek life has a lot of room for improvement, but then again, so does Dartmouth.