Dunford: My Big Frat Greek Psychosis
Despite its nominal mission of connectivity, the Greek system ultimately perpetuates a harmful social hierarchy at Dartmouth.
The Greek system takes in wandering undergrads and wonderfully churns out generous donors. What could Dartmouth do without it? Within the system, however, members lose their sense of self in a cycle of abuse. Flowing between social and academic life, this cycle is self-numbing. It blocks both self-discovery and communal unity — while sustaining destructive social hierarchies.
During new-student orientation in September 2022, some male transfer students held an event in a fraternity house to give advice to this year’s new transfers. I, myself, was in attendance. These transfers — members of Greek life themselves — stressed Greek life as a necessity. Later in the night, one of the bros took me aside and gave me the “real” advice to navigate Dartmouth: “Embrace alcoholism, don’t focus on academics alone, embrace the culture and leave behind your old identity.”
“Leave behind your old identity”: This piece of advice isn’t completely bad — it has insight. A new place in life should carry this weight — a letting go of the past to experience new perspectives. This is part of the spiritual journey: Buddha’s leaving his royal family, Jesus’s forty days in the desert, me when I stopped playing Pokémon in sixth grade, among others. A loose grip on one’s identity is key for self-exploration. Isn’t this what college is supposed to be about?
But this process can be botched. An alcoholic, for example, takes it to the extreme; they become a cold, hollow shell with no possibilities for growth. The drinking culture at Dartmouth is another example of this botching. As the bro put it: “Embrace alcoholism.”
“Don’t focus on academics alone”: This makes sense to me. Quasimodo-ing yourself in the upper stacks doesn’t seem like the best way to live. On the Sunday afternoon following the night of the bro’s advice, a different bro in the same frat said in passing that he was “so ready” to change from his “social shell” to his “academic shell.” Here lies the dynamic identity of the Dartmouth Greeker. One’s self is carved out into a shell between the social extreme of 100 “siblings” partying themselves into oblivion, and the other extreme of suffocating oneself with academics. Relaxation becomes pacifying yourself as much as possible: superficial sex, doom-scrolling on Instagram, dull competition for discharging masculine energy (i.e., pong) and other pastimes.
But what does “embrace the culture” mean? Considering the first piece of advice about alcoholism, there isn’t much left to the imagination.
The bro I spoke with at the fraternity told me he “would never have imagined” himself in a frat prior to Dartmouth and stressed that I had to rush, especially as a male transfer. He added that all his fellow male transfer friends who didn’t rush were depressed by winter term. For a bit, I struggled with the decision of whether or not to rush — I felt alone in this strange new place, where Greek letters free-float in the air — but then I remembered that I already have depression.
Never look up from your phone when you have to walk alone. Never ask yourself if you want what you’re aiming for. Never imagine an alternative. The system only works if we keep our heads down.
And I, the almighty opinion writer, hold the key to self-actualization. Huzzah! My values and ideas are better than everybody else’s.
No, we’re all trying our best to figure out life, and we’re all basically together in this. So, what’s wrong with having an organized set of brothers or sisters to fall back on? What’s wrong with branching out a bit through a network of like-minded people? If we’re all on the same level, why write an article shaming the Greek system?
If the Greek system truly cared about creating a cohesive and accepting campus community, it would dissolve itself immediately. Instead, it preserves exclusivity through its inherent social hierarchy — students are constantly referencing terms like “top haus” pretending which house they’re in doesn’t matter. So why say it at all?
Greek life also codifies h boundaries within social norms, such as an upper-class “big” wielding “educating” power over a younger “little.” It feeds sexual objectification with things like heteronormative “tails” — an event where a sorority goes into a fraternity, and the sisters are similarly paired with brothers.
This leads them to commit terrible acts in the name of culture –– as referenced in the advice given to me — a culture that often permits and encourages the sexual objectification of women.
Of course, not all spaces are the same. However, all of them participate in the system that makes the abuse institutionally possible.
And the culture bleeds into areas it shouldn’t. Why should the Dartmouth Outing Club climbing team social be centered around pong? Why does the same drab question dribble out of everyone’s mouths every Monday: “So, did you go out this weekend?”
We should balance self-exploration with perspective and humility. Understand that your perspective is not much better than anyone else’s. We are all flailing around in any attempt to satisfy our contradictory desires. We must crush institutionalized social boundaries — not maintain their abusive social norms.
Dunford is a member of an undergraduate society.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.