Counter: Are Fraternities Harmful and Should You Join One?
Volume XXXVI, Issue 3, December 13, 2013
What do you want to do? Every Amherst student should ask themselves this question daily upon their arrival to campus. Many do. I didn’t. I knew anyone could mold him or herself into the exact person he or she wanted to be at Amherst, but I didn’t realize how much self-reflection and hard work that required. One thing I initially took seriously, though, was my social life, leading me to Delta Kappa Epsilon.
In December 2012, I was passed over for president of DKE in favor of a brother of mine. I had just spent a semester working my ass off to make the fraternity the best it could be and, in that respect, deserved the position. The lack of respect and gratitude inherent in that passing-over bothered me more than it would most people. Even some of my closest brothers, knew. I considered defection. I toyed with subversion. Ultimately, I just ended up self-reflecting. Why the hell did I join DKE?
I reflected on my younger self. I had tried to join some clubs. I played quiz bowl in high school but the team here was well below my admittedly lofty standards. I played Ultimate Frisbee for a semester and change but, while I found the people wonderful, I found the sport nauseating. I bounced around, doing what every person in college tries to do: establish an identity. By the end of my first semester, I stumbled upon a group of people whose ideals reflected my own. These members of DKE interacted with me, liked me, and ultimately gave me a bid. I decided to pledge, not really discerning what this decision would mean for my social life.
Unbeknownst to me, my life began to center around DKE. My pledge brothers became some of my best friends, and I looked to the upperclassmen, not only as friends, but also as mentors. As the years progressed, I began to embody the frat. I preached its strengths, tended to its weaknesses, and mentored Lord Jeffs younger than me who had also chosen to pledge. I found the diversity, intellectualism, and joviality of each new class intoxicating. Reflecting back on these times, I determined that the feelings felt after I didn’t get the presidency weren’t regret, but rather disappointment. The same type of disappointment I’ve felt from countless significant things in my life: my sports teams, my family, my college.
Are fraternities harmful? To me? No. To my brothers? No. To the Amherst community at large? Not if we demand a standard of humanity that we should demand from every person and organization on or off campus. The mental bogeyman of fraternities looms over Amherst. People who have already made up their mind on fraternities often are the ones that most vehemently oppose them, even when they’ve never taken time to engage with this small-yet-spirited community at Amherst. At the same time, many fraternity acolytes discuss them as if they offer some undeniable good for every single student. The inability of either group to transcend their lived experience frustrates me to no end. In reality, fraternities can’t be defined in either of these terms. Like any organizations, fraternities can offer wonderful rewards to those who want to reap them as long as they are judiciously regulated. This regulation does not have to come from on high, but, as the TD saga of last year shows, can effectively emanate from the student body itself.
I’m not pro-fraternity as much as I am pro-do-whatever-you-want-at-Amherst. Of course, the whatever must lie within certain legal and ethical boundaries, but fraternities here don’t inherently transgress those boundaries anymore than the baseball team, or Route 9, or The Indicator does. Abolishing fraternities to rid the campus of a preconceived idea – generally derived from the sordid actions of other, different fraternities at other, different schools – of what Amherst fraternities do and represent is as short-sighted and intellectually soft as eliminating drinking in common rooms to reduce incidences rape. It doesn’t match up. We need not headhunt to make our campus better. Instead, we need to demand an informed, conscientious, empathetic student body.
DKE actively strived for this ideal when I was a student, and they still do to this day. The fraternity represents a cross-section of Amherst in many respects. Sure, there are rich white kids, but there are also brothers of many different colors, nationalities, and income brackets. There are SHEs and Big Brothers and a cappella singers and student-athletes. There are kids that smoke weed every hour on the hour and kids that spend their life in the library. Given this diversity, it seems natural that the vast majority of the group, like the vast majority of Amherst students, work to improve their school. For example, DKE recently underwent bystander training, an education that every student on this campus should undergo. We are also actively involved in a charity that conserves local trails. These two examples constitute a small proportion of the myriad ways DKE tries to substantively improve the college and the town.
More than that, DKE connects me to the school that I miss so dearly. A cappella does not interest me, and ultimate Frisbee nauseates me, but I identify strongly with the ardor and love certain Lord Jeffs have for those organizations. I would never, could never, deprive those people of that connection. We can easily manage the negative aspects of fraternities, but we can hardly recreate the positive aspects for the brothers that participate. I may not have reflected on some of my actions enough when I was a freshman, but I do know I made the best decision of my time at Amherst when I chose to pledge DKE. Simply put: I did it. I did it because I wanted to.
What do you want to do?