Much Ado About Greek Life

Do other universities have more inclusive social spaces, or is Greek life the only option for a College in a small town?

by Connor Allen | 10/13/21 2:25am

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Psi Upsilon is among the many fraternity buildings ignored on campus tours.

by Caroline Kramer / The Dartmouth Staff

On my official Dartmouth tour, there seemed to be an odd trend: Some beautiful, classical buildings (or houses, I’d almost immediately learn) were taboos my tour guide danced around — “Here is Foco, short for Food Court! We sure love slang here at Dartmouth! Kindly ignore that building with fancy ancient letters!” Yes, the Dartmouth administration — and, by extension, Dartmouth tour guides — seemed to operate with a collective hushed embarrassment regarding not just the existence, but the dominance of Greek life on campus. For an institution that comprises such a massive part of student life, should Greek life not be a selling point for admissions’ advertising strategies?

The obvious answer is no, considering both who is often paying for college — parents, who, for the most part, are not the biggest advocates of underage drinking — and the fact that Greek life has been plagued nationally with systemic problems like sexual violence, racism and hazing. Thus, any non-self-sabotaging dean of admissions understands that Dartmouth’s response to Greek life must not be advertisement but damage control, and, consequently, awkwardly steering student tour guides away from Greek houses. But does it need to be this way? Is Greek life at Dartmouth a necessary evil — is it even an evil at all? — or do better social options exist? 

While members of Greek Houses may spend more time in their spaces during rush, Jack Roney ’22 explained that being unaffiliated does not prevent him from seeing his affiliated friends for most of the school year. 

“Most of my friends are affiliated, which was a little tough, especially when they were all rushing,” Roney said. “But that has become much less of a problem now, just because it’s kind of fun to have lots of affiliated friends and not be affiliated, ’cause I can go if I want to hang out with somebody or play pong, but it’s not an obligation in the same way.” 

There is some level of intermingling between Greek and unaffiliated students, then, and the level of exclusivity appears to be less apocalyptic than opponents of Greek life have made it out to be. Still, Roney emphasized that a true alternative to Greek life might not be so easily accessible.

“If you don’t have that community of people that you’re friends with outside of Greek life, then Collis After Dark isn’t really a replacement for it,” Roney said.

While students can find community in organizations outside of Greek life — such as the Dartmouth Outing Club, in Roney’s case — college-sponsored social scenes don’t appear to serve as a true alternative to Greek life. 

Sara Kim ’22, a member of Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority, also had mixed feelings regarding Greek life. While she went into rush understanding Greek life’s reputation of being exclusive and hierarchical, she found that the rush process allowed her to encounter many different people that she had “never seen around campus” before. However, rush permanently altered her former social circle, and she has “drifted apart” from friends in other houses.

Echoing Roney’s sentiments, Kim said she believes that the College-sponsored social spaces — such as Collis After Dark and housing community activities — are not a viable substitute for Greek events. 

“I don’t think I’ve gone to a single [College-sponsored social space],” Kim said. “If it’s between tails and this, I’d go to tails.”

It appears that the College itself cannot replicate more inclusive Greek communities, and those outside of the Greek system must chart the community-seeking waters without any help. 

Perhaps it’s more practical to imagine if any other social option could work, rather than to analyze the issues within Greek life. That is, is there a system that is obviously better for all parties involved? Ella Manning, a freshman at Haverford College, lent a fresh perspective having never stepped foot in a fraternity. Haverford, a much smaller liberal arts college, does not have Greek life, but that does not mean that social events are inclusive.

“A lot of people will make the joke that ‘there’s no Greek life, but there are athletes’ — they kind of serve as the replacement for that,” Manning laughed. “People will complain about there being a divide socially between athletes and non-athletes.” 

A college without any Greek scene might just be more cliquey than Dartmouth’s roughly 60% Greek population. The question then arises: if a non-Greek college is just as socially hierarchical as Dartmouth, would a non-Greek Dartmouth be any different? Maybe the Sings would be the next Gamma Delta Chi. Maybe club table tennis would be the new top house — naturally. In other words, a non-Greek Dartmouth might only be altered in the most superficial ways.

Jeremy Lucas, a freshman at McGill University in Montreal, also gave a unique, non-Dartmouth perspective and might just have a solution to the issues within Greek life: lower drinking ages. McGill students that are at least 18 can enter the numerous bars and nightclubs of the bustling Canadian city — clearly a direct contrast to Hanover — and the social scene is correspondingly very different from Dartmouth’s fraternity basement scene. 

“With all the activities available and places to meet, it’s very inclusive,” Lucas said. “Being able to drink legally when you get here at 18 takes away the need to have frats at McGill.” 

This makes a shocking amount of sense, especially applying the same logic to Dartmouth. Fraternities and sororities, aside from their stated, college-brochure goals of brotherhood, sisterhood and charity, function as facilitators of underage — and of-age — drinking, dancing and nightlife. In this way, being logistically convenient places for those very popular campus activities, they become the hub of social life.

If anyone could legally throw a dorm party — or apartment party, in McGill’s case — with alcohol or head over to a bar, club or concert, Greek life could lose some of its campus necessity and dominance. Perhaps rather cynically, this is why Collis events and other Dartmouth-sponsored activities have never really been able to provide a true alternative to Greek life — they are dry for underclassmen and offer fundamentally different experiences than those found in a grimy yet endlessly appealing frat basement. 

And so it appears that Greek life might really be the only option for a college like Dartmouth; students like to party, and until there is a bar scene, nightlife or some social circuit dominated by athletes to function as an alternative, Greek life might just be the best option available, at least until Hanover develops into an urban metropolis. May future tour guides continue to awkwardly not talk about Psi Upsilon. 

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