Falling Through the Cracks

by Pam Prasarttongosoth

Every year at the Killian Kickoff, the fraternities, sororities, and
independent living groups (FSILG's)* wait anxiously for the signal
from the Interfraternity Council President to "Let the Rush begin!"
when they plunge on the first-years, creating a sea of
frenzy. However, not everyone is preyed upon, grabbed, or otherwise
solicited for membership in these elite organizations. Without fail, a
sizable group of Black and Latino students will be left alone,
standing in Killian Court. Like in the eye of a hurricane, the hubbub
of activity will swirl around, but clearly away from, and without the
involvement of these students of color. As if they didn't exist, as if
walls were erected in that empty space between these students and
Rush, the fraternity and sorority members seizing the freshman will
appear as if they cannot actually see this mass of darker skinned
people-as if in fact, the rhetoric of liberal colorblindness has
become so warped in the minds of the frat boys and sorority girls that
they become literally blind to the people of color in front of them.
	Rush gives the fraternities, sororities, and independent
living groups the opportunity to pressure, cajole, and harass "cool"
people into living with them in their houses, and joining their social
cliques. "Coolness" comes in many styles, but always relies on some
basic necessities: 1) You must be straight, or at least closeted and
straight acting. The few sorority and fraternity members who are out
of the closet among their Sisters and Brothers are required to present
an image of asexuality, assuring everyone in the house that there is
no homoerotic tension between them. 2) You must be affluent, or at
least know how to imitate the mannerisms of high society well enough
to travel in these elite circles. The clean-cut, J. Crew look will get
you far. 3) And of course you must be white, or at least white enough
to pass, or unconscious of your color, so that you will not offend and
alienate your Sisters or Brothers by forcing them to confront their
own White Guilt. Oreos, coconuts, and bananas are welcome as tokens to
fill the diversity quota. Just about every fraternity and sorority has
at least one. Some of the more accepting frats have sizable numbers of
men of color, but their reputations suffer because of it. It will not
be uncommon to hear that in some fraternities, "The Asians have taken
over," meaning simply that the white majority in that group is not as
overwhelming as it is at other frats.
	So what do you do if you don't fit the "cool" criteria? The
answer is: not much at all (at least during Rush). Although all of
MIT's Rush literature claims that there is a fraternity, sorority, or
independent living group out there that is right for you, and that all
you have to do is get out there and research your options, "be
yourself," and "relax," the truth of the matter is that you don't have
a lot of options. Fraternities, sororities, and living groups do the
rushing, i.e. they choose you. They know what kind of people they want
in their little society, and who they don't. Those of us who fit in
the latter group will feel particularly alienated during these 68
hours and 45 minutes of Rush, because during this time there is little
else to do.
	You can visit all of the dorms. That will take all of four
hours. And you will have to be careful there too. Even though they
don't give out bids, dorms mimic the tried and true tactics of
fraternity Rush. After you make it through the housing lottery, many
halls and entries within dorms will carry on the process of rushing
you: making "grease lists" of the people that are guaranteed a spot on
a certain hall, or forcing first-years to vie for bids in a particular
entry-just when you thought it was over! Dormitory sections often have
their own characters and "coolness" criteria, where you will again
find the racism, homophobia, and sexism that was such a major part of
fraternity and sorority Rush. Thus, it will not be uncommon to find
all white halls and entries, with Asians, Blacks, and Latinas(os)
ghettoized to specific halls and entries of a dormitory.
	In an earlier time, student groups addressed the issues and
needs of people who did not wish to be a part of the Rush process,
holding events funded with their own money, to provide an alternative
to the frenzy and free-for-all that the fraternities and sororities so
generously provided. However, this is no longer the case. Now student
groups are not allowed to officially "exist" during Rush, because,
apparently, their activities were distracting from the real matter at
hand: filling fraternity, sorority, and independent living group
vacancies. The people who plan Rush, MIT administrators, and the
Interfraternity Council, want to make sure that from the Killian
Kickoff on Friday to Sunday afternoon when FSILG's can begin to offer
bids, there is nothing else happening that will interfere with
Rush. That way, even those who never intended to join a fraternity or
sorority will seriously consider doing so. If the hype of the Killian
Kickoff didn't get to you, the sheer boredom of having nothing to do
but play with Legos at Elsewhere just might.
	Instead, to placate concerns of exclusivity, the Institute has
created three R/O committees, to deal with Women, Sexual Identity
(queers), and Minority (minus Asians and Pacific Islanders) issues,
respectively. On a shoestring budget, each of these committees is
supposed to hold events that will essentially fix the problems caused
by the elitist nature of Rush. Student groups may not donate funds to
these destitute committees, however, because of course then they would
want to rush first-years at committee events-never mind that most
student volunteers on these three committees tend to come from the
student groups that have now been shut out of R/O. However, all of
these "alternative" events must be approved by the R/O Committee,
whose main concern is insuring that the intended targets of Rush are
not waylaid by events more interesting than those put on by the
FSILG's.
	Thus, you will be able to find a smattering of events for
queer folks, brought to you by the Sex ID Committee, but those are
tucked away at remote sites on campus, hidden from view, so that the
presence of bulldykes and drag queens won't offend the homophobic
sensibilities of the people that participate in Rush. Of course, you
can always stuff yourself full of chocolate in the Cheney Room at the
Women's Committee events. The Minority Committee and the Office of
Minority Education (OME) also plan several events to "augment" the
Rush experience, for those Black, Latina(o), and Native American
students who provided that nifty eye of the hurricane effect during
the Killian Kickoff, but how many times can you meet the staff of the
OME? This year, for the first time, there are even a couple of events
for Asians and Pacific Islanders-the forgotten minorities whose
existence as people of color is ignored by the MIT
administration. Since we are "overrepresented" at this school, we must
not have any problems related to our cultural and ethnic heritage and
our history as victims of oppression, right? But don't hold your
breath for these events either. There are only two, and neither occurs
during Rush. Take advantage of the "alternative" events when they
happen, though, they are few and far between.
	During your first week here, the Institute will try to pretend
that the only thing any sensible first-year would worry about is
deciding whether or not to pledge a fraternity or sorority, and
finding a suitable living group. MIT will avoid acknowledging the fact
that Rush is designed for rich, straight, white men and women, to the
exclusion of all others. Token committees to take care of race,
gender, and sexuality issues do not adequately serve the needs of the
many who have no place and want no part in the Rush process. It's true
that Rush is good preparation for the pervasive racism, sexism,
classism, and homophobia that runs rampant through the Institute, but
MIT needs to reevaluate the processes of R/O, Rush, and of frat
culture in general, and realize that the purposes and goals of the
elitist fraternity system are not something that ought to be valued
and preserved.

*For the purposes of this article, my references to the MIT
fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups do not include
the historically Black fraternities and sororities of the Boston
area. While there are issues of elitism that need to be addressed with
respect to these greek letter organizations, that is not the focus of
this critique.



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