I came to Amherst thinking that the school had no Greek life. In fact one of the reasons I chose Amherst was because I wanted to avoid what I thought Greek life necessarily entailed: excessive drinking and demeaning hazing, not to mention the stereotypical lack of respect and decency often affiliated with the system. I wasn’t confident in my ability to avoid involving myself in frat life if my friends joined, and so I thought it best to avoid the Greek system altogether, purposely choosing a campus that didn’t have frats. After all, when I visited Amherst I was told that there were no fraternities “on campus” (Fiske was right). Amherst seemed a perfect fit for, among other reasons, the fact that I could comfortably avoid fraternities without the possibility of succumbing to their brotherly allure.
Maybe it was my naivety, or maybe my high school mind jumped to conclusions: I assumed no frats “on campus” meant that there was no Greek life at all—after all, why would anybody lie (trick? misguide?) to me about something that simple? Greek life is Greek life: if there are students involved in the system on campus, then there is Greek life, right? And if there is Greek life on campus, then a college would tell this fact to a potential student, right? Wrong and, again, wrong. Everybody knows there are fraternities, and despite their supposed “non-existence,” they can play a large part in Amherst’s social culture.
Coming into Freshman year I knew a grand total of three students at Amherst. Two had gone to my high school, and one was a friend from my childhood. Naturally I tried to get into contact with them, and the one with whom I ended up spending my first “college night” introduced me to his friends. We played drinking games while discussing how to get by at Amherst (what classes to take, places to go, etc.), and I can still feel my distinct excitement at the thought of already having a group of interesting friends whom I liked. I remember how hot it was in their suite, how big the guys looked (some were three years old than I was) and how surprisingly friendly they were to me. Not only were they great, but they were also, as I slowly learned, members of a frat. Soon, many of my Freshman friends were also in their social dorm; before long, I found myself spending much of my time in the upperclassmen’s suite whispering with the other Freshman about the possible existence of an underground fraternity at Amherst.
One thing led to another, and, before I knew it, my Freshman friends were accepting bids into the fraternity. I, too, accepted a bid, forgetting my pre-college desire to avoid Greek life, thinking that if all my friends were in the fraternity, I would feel exceedingly alone if I were not. I made it about halfway through the pledge process before dropping; choosing to stop being a “pledge” was an excruciating decision because I felt like I was effectively saying “ok, I don’t want to be friends with you anymore”—something that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The problem was that I’d realized that no matter how badly I wanted to maintain my new friendships, frat-life wasn’t for me.
But this post isn’t about the positive or negative characters of the institution that some people find Greek life to be. In fact, in the time I’ve had to reflect upon the process of pledging, I’ve come to realize how meaningful and uniting the experience is for those who go through it. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with some of its finer points, I feel like I can see the big picture in that Greek life (in this case Amherst frat life) creates a unity amongst “brothers” that Amherst students otherwise might not experience. So, no, my issue isn’t the fact that there are frats on campus because, if nothing else, I think I can see their inherent value and appeal; instead, my issue is the fact that I was led to believe that there were no frats when I applied to Amherst. I felt assured that the scenario I envisioned was something about which I wouldn’t have to worry. Instead, I got caught in my circumstances: I was Freshman trying to make friends, thinking that an “underground” group that hung out together was exactly what I needed to adjust to my new, scary, college environment. I genuinely thought I wanted to be in frat, not only because many of my friends wanted to be, but also because it gave me a group of students with whom I could associate—a comfort when I felt lost. I wasn’t strong enough to understand the reasoning behind my actions, even though, a year earlier, I had anticipated them. And so my issue is that now, two years later, and having undergone the exact process I wanted to avoid, I feel lied to.
I feel lied to because I chose Amherst, in part, for something that turned out not to be true. I feel lied to because I felt sucked into a process, an institution, I now recognize is much stronger than I could have ever imagined. And, I feel lied to because the fact that Amherst does not officially acknowledge Greek life to potential students now, today, feels conniving and deceiving. And it’s not as if the school doesn’t know frats exist, in fact it is undoubtedly clear that they do know (see housing regulations for RC’s, or any of the number of yearly frat events). No, my issue is not with Greek life, it’s with the deceit I feel because, yes (by the way!), there are frats at Amherst and (surprise!) they do play a role in the social life.
So why is it that Amherst claims that there are no frats on campus? Why is it that I legitimately thought I was coming to a college without Greek life, yet within months the figures of underground fraternities had crystalized in front of me? I honestly don’t know. What I do know, though, is that I feel deceived. To reiterate, I have no issue with the fact that Amherst has fraternities; rather, my issue lies in the fact that the school knows there are frats, yet told me there were not. It’s time to stop playing with words (“there are no frats ON campus…”): there are frats and whether or not we acknowledge them they are on campus. So now what? Well, really, nothing: I just wish I’d known before I’d come here. I wish that someone had been honest with me because that way I could have had a better understanding of the social dynamics of the college I would attend.
Image from: http://www.smcm.edu/admissions/honors/accolades.html