Verbum Ultimum: Rush Hour

Don’t let rush and Greek life define who you are.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 9/22/17 12:45am

Rush is here. Dartmouth’s rush system — and the Greek organizations it feeds — are both imperfect, but for the weekend they are here to stay. For both members of the Class of 2020 hoping to join Greek houses and affiliated students, these few weeks are a stressful time. Even for those uninvolved, the campus atmosphere can feel decidedly different.

For some interested in rushing, the fear of rejection can be stressful. For others, rush is a time marked by fear of not getting a “good” group of new members. Introspection and a nuanced understanding of the fundamental imperfections of Dartmouth’s own peculiar institution can help alleviate some of this stress.

Dartmouth’s two vastly different systems of rush for fraternities and sororities show the impossibility of creating a perfect system for all. Fraternity rush gives potential new members the agency to select the community they want to join and brothers the agency to shape that community. But such agency doesn’t come without trade-offs. Potential new members lack power in the system, leaving them to the judgment of others. The process of judgment and subsequent acceptance or rejection can be demoralizing and emotionally taxing.

Sorority rush tries to make the Greek system increasingly inclusive to all by creating a more structured process, but in doing so it can place students into houses in which they do not feel comfortable and reduce potential new members’ agency. In sorority rush, with the exception of Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority’s shake out system, bids are assigned through an algorithm, so though sororities have significant influence, they cannot wholly make the final decision in choosing their new members. While the algorithm sifts the great majority of potential new members into houses, this inclusivity can create a mismatch where potential new members end up in houses that do not necessarily fit them well. It can be easy to allow the discouragement from these poor fits to define the rest of their college experience.

In both processes, students risk allowing themselves to be defined by communities that prevent them from growing. Nominally, the Greek system seeks to achieve the opposite. Greek life, at its highest ideal, is meant to provide students with communities where they can develop into better people. The first fraternal organization founded in the United States was the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which still exists at schools like Dartmouth and confers membership solely on the basis of a student’s scholastic standing. Most Greek organizations claim to have similarly high ideals of excellence. Yet when students allow themselves and their social lives to be defined by the houses rather than by a mission, they can lose sight of the ultimate goal of rush: finding a community where they can become a better version of themselves.

Unfortunately, the reality of rush rarely lives up to that goal. Snap judgments are inevitable, and the decisions they provoke have reverberations across Dartmouth’s community. Too many take the results of rush, desired or not, as gospel, as a reflection of themselves. At a time when the College may seem myopically fixated on rush and the Greek system, it can be difficult for students to separate their own sense of identity from perceptions of others. At the end of rush, if you are dissatisfied with its outcome, understand that a house can only define you if you allow it to and if you want it to. If you are satisfied with its outcome, also understand that no house is perfect, and by overly attaching yourself to the house you risk excusing yourself from growth and allowing yourself to become a caricature of what you believe others think of you.

The outcome of rush, as with any “success” or “failure,” provides Dartmouth students with an opportunity to continue becoming a better person. To do so, you must invest value into the person you are — the parts you like about yourself and the parts you hope to change. However, you also do not have to go through this alone. Be sensitive to others and find those who are sensitive to you. This campus, for all its imperfections, has a wealth of resources that are more often than not underutilized. Dick’s House offers counseling during working hours and on-call services 24 hours every day, but there are also other organizations such as the Tucker Foundation, Aquinas House, Headrest and WISE that are less well-known and potentially more personal.

As with all systems, rush is less than perfect. Fraternities and sororities do their best to fit students into Greek houses that suit them and will help them grow, but in trying to create such communities, neither sorting system is fully successful. Dartmouth cannot expect perfection from rush, especially since many students are still trying to know themselves. For the majority of students at Dartmouth who are part of or seek to be part of the Greek system, it is important to remember that the only truly defining factor is their own individual personhood, not the projection of that personhood the Greek system superficially applies to them.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

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