The Dark Side of Rush

Orientation is finally over. It’s the end of the mandatory events that about 50 percent of freshmen don’t go to and the end of the leftover free food that is left sitting near Kresge for days afterwards. But the end of Orientation does not mean the end of free food. For with the end of the first week comes the beginning of the second, known as rush. During this frenetic time, the 26 fraternities battle it out to recruit as many freshmen as possible.

Each one of these fraternities has bills to pay, and they are only able to do so with the annual supply of new frosh. Here are the metrics: the freshman class has 1,071 students, according to the Office of the Provost. Of those, there are 561 males. Slightly more than 50 percent of males join a fraternity, so that means that a little more than 280 males from this class are going to be joining a fraternity during their time at MIT. That’s certainly a limited number of freshmen to fight over. So, they have about a week to convince the freshmen to join their living group. And it has become increasingly clear that this is done in an unfortunate manner.

The first sign to suggest that rush is out of control occurred during the first day of rush, when the president of the Interfraternity Council announced that the 26 fraternities were, together, spending in excess of half a million dollars. $500,000. Many fraternities boast about the great community service they do and the wonderful families that they are. Last time I checked, community service organizations don’t throw $500,000 away on extravagant events to buy members of their so-called “family.”

Regardless of how much money is spent on Rush events, the same number of students will join fraternities. If each fraternity halves its spending, I am willing to wager that the number of students recruited will not change. Over the years, millions of dollars could be saved. And there would be no impact at all on the fraternities except that they have more money to put towards important causes. By cutting extravagant Rush spending, all parties involved in Rush would benefit.

Another distasteful aspect of rush week is the persistence and, oftentimes, the “creepiness” of the fraternity brothers. For example, on the first day of rush, there was a massive barbecue at Killian Court (the “Greek Griller”). I attended with friends to continue to ensure that I would not spend a dime on food.

We were approached by a brother who told us about an event that was about a 5 minute walk away. I later commented that he seemed similar to a telemarketer. Despite our obvious lack of interest and discomfort with the situation, he continued to press us. Before he gave up, he made one final suggestion: we should get in his van which would take us to the event. Looking towards the street, I saw a large white, unmarked van with seemingly tinted windows.

My mind strayed back to one of the first lessons parents teach their children: don’t take candy from a stranger. In fact, never even talk to strangers. And it’s probably not a great idea to hop into a stranger’s van to go to a party. “Creepy” is the one word that describes this situation accurately. It also describes the next.

During Orientation week, freshmen tend to share numbers not only with many other freshmen, but also with upperclassmen with whom they’ve made friends. Freshmen tend to be liberal when giving out their phone numbers, oftentimes giving it to an upperclassman who simply introduces himself and asks for the number with the promise of a game of basketball. Naively, the freshmen comply, many not even aware of Rush the following week.

Before rush, when the fraternities are extremely restricted as to what they’re allowed to do to recruit freshmen, the number is used responsibly — calls are indeed made to hang out or play a game of basketball.

But once the clock strikes midnight, the phone numbers become gold while the freshmen become victims. Along with many other freshmen, I have taken to screening my calls. At all hours of the day and night, we receive phone calls from our “friends,” who sometimes only made friends with us so they could try to recruit us. The words “being used” come to mind. When your phone rings at one in the morning and you answer to find a random kid you met once walking back to your dorm inviting you to a party at a fraternity house, it is not only creepy, but quite irritating. Sadly, there is no “do-not-call list” for fraternities.

Fraternities are not inherently bad. The community service they do, the sense of community they provide, and their involvement on campus is wonderful. The problem is with their methods of recruitment. And while not all fraternities are guilty (I met many who were relaxed rather than intense and nice rather than pushy), many are.

Fraternities are not for everyone. The fraternities should absolutely hold events to show what they’re about and to provide an opportunity for prospective members to meet the brothers of the group, but there is absolutely no reason as to why it should cost $500,000.

I have seen many of the groups portray themselves as honorable, even including it in their pledge. In that spirit, fraternities should take more measures to ensure that rush activities do not disrupt freshman from handling matters like researching classes, adjusting to campus life, and facing the challenges of making new friends in a new environment. Furthermore, it is not necessary to spend half a million dollars in order to allow freshmen to get a feel for what the brothers are like. The fraternities who engage in such practices disgrace themselves and should be ashamed of their hypocritical behavior.

Ryan Normandin is a member of the Class of 2013.