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YAHANDA: Trust the Greek system

Fraternities do not discriminate against minority students

Last week, my fellow columnist Nazar Aljassar penned a column in which he denounced the University’s Greek system for a detrimental lack of diversity. He subsequently called for a push to increase minority representation in all fraternities and sororities, even suggesting assigned quotas for each house. These solutions were, as Aljassar proposed, to ensure that minorities could also benefit from the “institutional power” that Greek chapters hold.

It is an unfortunate reality of rush at the University that every student who seeks to join a fraternity will not be granted the opportunity. Hundreds of male students rush every year, and each house can only take so many pledges. For some rushees, this is not a problem — many students rush simply to have fun, meet more people and take advantage of the events put on by each chapter. Others inevitably find the Greek system’s innate exclusivity off-putting. Despite that fact, mandating quotas as to the types of members that should be taken by a fraternity would be an unreasonable overreaction.

To quell ideas that the Greek system is prejudiced, I want to establish that minorities are in no way precluded from signing up for rush. I understand if some minorities feel that they may not be able to connect with brothers. But the best advice I heard before rush was to keep an open mind about each fraternity, which is something I do not think enough people do. No chapter will be exactly as you expected. Nobody should forego rush if he is even slightly interested in pledging, especially if his hesitance is based on a perceived lack of diversity in the Greek system.

Moreover, while fraternities at the University are predominantly composed of whites, Aljassar’s article paints the fraternity system as unrealistically homogenous. Indeed, the Greek system overall is quite diverse. That diversity is perhaps not superficially recognizable, but each house includes brothers from all over the world — including minorities and international students — with different backgrounds, academic interests, future plans and worldviews. To say that Greek men can be distilled down into white, preppy, Keystone-swigging, private school graduates would be doing a disservice to all fraternities. If a minority rushee does not feel at home among members of a chapter, odds are it is more than just his ethnicity that is making him uncomfortable — and mandating quotas will not fix that issue.

All fraternity houses on Grounds, regardless of how they structure their rush events, take recruitment very seriously. They would not invest so much time and money into rush if new members were flippantly chosen. While, admittedly, it can be hard to fully get to know everyone well within the span of a few days — the length of each round of rush — every house puts in an admirable effort to learn as much as it can about rushees. There is no guarantee, however, that every interaction will go well. There will undoubtedly be differences in personalities between brothers and those rushing, and particular conversations will not be enlightening or even enjoyable. These negative experiences are nobody’s fault. Fraternities each are slightly different. They are, at their cores, social institutions, and will tend to bring together brothers who naturally mesh with each other. Of course, minorities can fit in well enough in a fraternity setting to join a chapter. Houses do not reject minority rushees simply based on the fact that those students are minorities.

It is true that some students inherently have advantages over others before rush even starts. Maybe they attended high school with current brothers, already know people in fraternities or have certain personalities that set them apart from other rushees. They have the virtue of being more tailored for Greek life, which works to their benefit during the short rush period. Conversely, some rushees just do not thrive well within Greek culture. But that awkwardness is not totally reflective of who they are as people. Being cut from a house’s rush does not mean that you are considered to be of diminished character or intelligence. Greek exclusivity is no more discriminatory than any other student group. All organizations have cultures or tryout procedures in which not everyone can excel.

Aljassar’s article suggests that the rush process is futile for people who are not already cast in the mold of the traditional fraternity brother. What’s more, though, is the entitlement that he seems to feel towards fraternity membership. He views the benefits offered through Greek life as rights that were only made impossible by virtue of his not being white, thereby exhibiting an incomplete and ignorant understanding of both the composition and the functioning of Greek houses.

The fundamental role of a fraternity is to bring together people who are compatable based on a variety of characteristics. You cannot force those bonds via quotas — nor do you have to. Skin color or ethnic differences alone certainly fail as the most important determinants of inclusion into a fraternity, just as they should not be a major reason for cutting a rushee. I know most houses have exhibited the capacity for interpersonal connections that bring brothers together irrespective of race. If one cannot relate to anyone in a fraternity beyond those who are of a similar ethnicity, then Greek life will not be the best fit.

Do not let Aljassar convince you that the Greek system is only for the stereotypically fratty. It isn’t. Mandating quotas for pledge classes is not necessary. Just because some people — by which I mean any student, not just minorities — do not find a home in the Greek system does not indicate that the system is purposefully stacked against them.

Alex Yahanda is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Wednesdays.


Published February 12, 2014 in Opinion

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