O’Donnell ’08 defends Greek life in op-ed

By Angie Yang | 12/11/09 2:07pm

Emily Van Gemeren / The Dartmouth

Fra­ter­ni­ties may get a bad rap, but they are good at heart, Ben O’Don­nell ’08 said in a promi­nent op-ed piece in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion on Wednes­day.

O’Don­nell, who was a mem­ber of Phi Delta Alpha fra­ter­nity while at the Col­lege, said that the pos­i­tive at­trib­utes of Greeks or­ga­ni­za­tions are often over­shad­owed by un­flat­ter­ing events.

“For every news story about a suc­cess­ful char­ity car­wash or sack race, there is an­other re­port­ing a stu­pid in­tra­cam­pus frat war, a naked pledge spoil­ing a cam­pus tour for prospec­tive stu­dents or a life cut short by ex­treme al­co­hol abuse,” he wrote in the op-ed.

Books such as “The Real An­i­mal House” and movies like “Borat” only serve to per­pet­u­ate dam­ag­ing stereo­types about fra­ter­ni­ties, O’Don­nell said.

O’Don­nell ar­gued that there is more to the or­ga­ni­za­tions than binge drink­ing, ex­plain­ing that fra­ter­ni­ties offer an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows stu­dents to grow. By being ex­posed to peo­ple of dif­fer­ent be­liefs and back­grounds, stu­dents learn to be­friend – or at least tol­er­ate – those they end up liv­ing with, an im­por­tant life les­son, he said.

O’Don­nell de­fended Dart­mouth’s Greek life specif­i­cally, using it as an ex­am­ple of a sys­tem that em­braces di­ver­sity.

“I shared a house with stu­dents who hailed from Cal­i­for­nia and Nige­ria, and our po­lit­i­cal spec­trum in­cluded both the pres­i­dent of the Col­lege De­moc­rats of New Hamp­shire and the ed­i­tor-in-chief of the con­ser­v­a­tive Dart­mouth Re­view,” he said.

O’Don­nell went on to say that fra­ter­ni­ties serve to pro­vide a valu­able learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Un­der­grad­u­ate fra­ter­nity of­fi­cers keep a house afloat by man­ag­ing its fi­nances, over­see­ing build­ing main­te­nance, and act­ing as li­aisons to uni­ver­sity and na­tional fra­ter­nity of­fi­cials,” he said. “There are other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties too, like mon­i­tor­ing par­ties, co­or­di­nat­ing char­ity events, and, of course, keep­ing a watch­ful eye on the beer sup­ply.”

Uni­ver­si­ties should work to em­brace fra­ter­ni­ties for what they offer, O’Don­nell said.

“A place where, yes, guys can be guys; where rit­u­als, power games, per­for­mances, com­pe­ti­tions, friend­ships, and self-reg­u­la­tion can be played out; a com­mu­nity in which iden­ti­ties are cul­ti­vated,” he said. “Here, in rooms of their own, young men may some­times thumb their noses at the dic­tates of grown-ups, but they also grow up them­selves."

Angie Yang