So, freshmen (and a handful of sophomores and maybe one or two juniors), this week is rush week. You now have the opportunity to play group-level bachelor or bachelorette with people who have already been giving you alcohol for nearly six months. Now is probably a good time, then, to hear from a “god damn independent” (GDI) – one who’s about to observe his fifth Kenyon rush week – about what you’re signing up for, as the rest of what you hear about Greek life this week will come from, well, Greeks, be they Greek organizations themselves or the administrative bodies charged with regulating them.
I’ve been told before that, by nature of being an outside observer, I’m disqualified from commenting on Greek life. I disagree. Kenyon’s a small place, and after a full collegiate career of working, drinking and living with Greeks, community advisors and Kenyon students in general, it’s almost impossible to not pick up on particular characteristics of our campus’ Greek culture. To this point, I don’t think that any of what follows will strike anyone as being new or particularly ridiculous claims; chances are, you’ve heard them before in some form or another.
You will be unique Greeks
I should start by pointing out that Greek life at Kenyon has a particularly impressive history of cultural awareness relative to other schools. Well, at least when it comes to fraternities and co-ed societies; sororities have been on campus for less than 30 years (the Thetas became the first, and until 2000 the only, sorority on campus when they were established in 1987) and were still fighting for division housing when I matriculated. Still, the DKEs were originally a secret society that operated in spite of a ban on fraternities, opening the door for other organizations to form when they came above ground in 1854. Kenyon’s Betas were the first Betas to admit students of color, winning a fight with their national organization in 1956; the Peeps cut ties with their national affiliate in 1970 over the same debate. Our Delts were one of the first chapters of Delts to admit Jews. The recently-formed Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and Kappa Sigma Alpha sorority, both coming to Kenyon in 2012, are sure to add to this history, and there are plenty of other examples of Kenyon Greek life’s favorable past; I invite Greek members to add them in the comments.
Kenyon’s Greek culture is also far less exclusive and binding than Greek culture at other schools. Officially, about a quarter of our campus pledges, but those numbers are inflated by the Archons’ triple-digit membership, itself due to the society’s policy of not rejecting anyone who wishes to join so long as they are willing to take an active role in the betterment of our community.
Your brothers and sisters will be some of your closest friends, but GDI’s like me will be, too. You’ll always have someone to party with, but your organization won’t dominate your day-to-day life the way it would elsewhere.
You will run the weekend
Going off of that last point, while pledging is socially optional here in a way that it isn’t at other colleges and universities, being Greek does have its perks. Namely, until you have an ID that gets you service at the Cove or the VI, drinking at Kenyon, by in large, runs through its frats, which means that members really do have a leg up in certain social hierarchies, even if we don’t like to admit it. Not only will you drink more and more often, you will be a gatekeeper for those who want to drink in the first place. You’ll let them in, of course – like I said, Kenyon’s got a wholly inclusive Greek culture – but your decision as to who to invite, and the nature of it being your alcohol, will be significant.
Use this power responsibly; the now-defunct Psi Us learned what happens when you behave badly with alcohol the hard way.
Your grades may take a hit
While Kenyon’s Greek organizations don’t dominate the lives of their members the same way they do at other schools, pledging will still lead to a reallocation of your time. And I don’t mean during Hell Week, and I’m not just referring to drinking culture. Sure, if you live in or near division, even if you don’t want to drink until 3:00 AM you may be pressured to do so, and even if you don’t you’ll be kept awake by those who do (I should qualify this and say that the pressure to drink varies significantly depending on the organization, but I’ve heard enough “drink up or shut up” stories from enough friends in a wide enough range of fraternities and sororities to keep me from qualifying this too heavily). But going beyond that, simply by nature of having a huge, tightly-knit friend group that’s geographically concentrated and highly active, you will, quite literally, put your books down to go play outside with your friends more often than other students. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, I think it’s a good thing – but it’s a tradeoff that you should know you’re making, and it’s a tradeoff that will probably (although not definitely) shave a few decimal points off of your GPA, or at the very least make you reconsider that major in molecular biology.
You will be labeled
This is as much a statement about the wider student body as it is about specific Greek organizations. Put simply, when people ask your friends who you are, your Greek affiliation will be used to describe you. It may be a shame, but, “Yeah, he’s a nice guy. Tall; dark hair; D-Phi,” will be a much different first impression than, “Yeah, he’s a nice guy. Tall; dark hair; DKE.” Each organization comes with its own stereotypes, although these stereotypes can be flexible over time.
For example, my freshman year, Delts were disproportionately swimmers and basketball players, the DKEs were considered to be Kenyon’s landed aristocracy and the Phi Kaps were seen as being a particular physics/drugs/philosophy brand of nerdy; four years later, we’ve abandoned these particular heuristics and picked up new ones. Currently, regardless of the actual behaviors or characteristics of the individuals they are comprised of, the Betas play football (as they have for decades), the ADs are stoners (while the Peeps are into some way heavier shit), the Zetas are super sratty and so on.
These labels don’t have to define you or your search, but you should keep their implications in the back of your head if/when you tacitly decide to adopt one by going Greek.
You will be hazed, but you’ll probably be OK, and definitely don’t call it “hazing”
In order to remain compliant with, you know, the law, Kenyon’s administration and its Greek organizations do a painfully awkward song and dance during the rushing process in order to pretend that hazing isn’t a thing here. It reminds me of the time my tour guide at Oberlin insisted that no one there smoked weed.
Kenyon defines hazing as “any action or situation, regardless of intention, whether on or off Kenyon premises, that results in or has the potential of resulting in physical, mental, or emotional harm, discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or distress to a group’s members or prospective members.” Taken literally, this definition is as likely to include orientation week and finals week as it is to include Hell Week, and has led Kenyon’s zero-tolerance policy to extend to public dances, stuffed animals, gaudy suits and silly hats in recent years. This, in turn, drives the kinds of pledging practices that colleges aim to discourage even further underground, and forces Greek organizations into even grander absurdities. For example, at a hazing panel a few years ago, a now-graduated EDM president refused to even use the word, instead opting for the Orwellian “value-imparting activities” when commenting on the traditions that her organization may or may not have been engaging in.
Truth be told, Greek organizations at Kenyon haze. But you know what? The hazing that goes on here, while I certainly wouldn’t want to go through it myself, is tame when compared to practically any other Greek system in the country and even when compared to the Kenyon of five years ago. Your pledging process won’t reflect the whitewashed schedule submitted to the College’s administration, but you won’t be paddled until your blood clots or forced to simulate sex acts in front of Greeks of the opposite sex, and no part of your pledging process will involve boiling water, raw liver or anything that can be categorized as an “Elephant Walk.”
That being said, “other people were worse” is a shaky standalone argument, and you’ll still do some seriously unhealthy things. You’ll probably drink and/or smoke more than you otherwise would, you’ll fall a month behind on sleep and there’s a once-every-few-years chance that someone in your pledge class will wind up in the hospital (although that chance is lower now than it was when I arrived here). So I won’t go as far as to say that Kenyon’s Hell Week is smart, legal or safe. What I will say is that, as long as you’re clear about what you are and aren’t signing up for, you will come out OK on the other side.
In any event, what you undoubtedly heard and possibly laughed off at the mandatory rush meeting is still the most important thing to remember: If you are pressured to do something way out of line, or feel that your health is being put at an uncomfortable level of risk, stop what you’re doing and tell someone. Public revelations of serious hazing violations at Kenyon – themselves muted, with details generally omitted – are almost always stories that end in the hospital, which is obviously the wrong place for them to end.
None of this is to say that you should or shouldn’t pledge (full disclosure: had I not been cut from the baseball team during my first semester, there’s a solid chance I’d be a D-Phi right now; one more Greek label without any staying power). This is to say, however, that there are a number of things that neither Greek organizations nor those responsible for regulating them are interested in telling you before you sign up, and those are perhaps the most important things to take into account this week.
So good luck and have fun. And look sharp; there are values to be imparted.