On some campuses, your identity boils down to a single question: “What fraternity are you in?” But if the Freshman Bazaar is any indication, a more important question at Yale is, “Do you sing?”
While incoming Yalies flirt with a wide variety of student groups, would-be frat brothers come from a small and self-selecting pool.
“If you want to be in the frat, you’ll seek us out. A more rigorous rush process is for improv comedy groups,” Sigma Phi Epsilon member Marcus Hooks ’09 said. And the tone of the Yale rush process reflects this restrained mentality.
Far from tales of urine-drinking and butt-paddling heard from around the country, the members of Yale’s fraternities paint a picture of a pledge process about as arduous as petting a puppy. Amongst on-campus organizations that send initiates out on scavenger hunts in elaborate costumes, cover them in condiments and tape embarrassing signs to them, fraternities try to keep a low profile. Wary of accusations of hazing, brothers maintain that all initiation tasks are for education and bonding. And despite their evasive responses and descriptions of pledge duties as “general tasks,” both pledges and current members of fraternities seem to genuinely believe Yale’s Greeks have a less intense initiation process than many other campus organizations.
Multiple brothers described rushing and pledging Yale fraternities as a casual affair. After a couple weeks of partying, more partying, watching televised football games and having conversations with current members, some rushes’ bids are accepted, and they become pledges. After a weeks-long pledge process when pledges do things like community service fundraisers and the ever-enigmatic “general tasks” — often culminating in a week-long stay at the fraternity house — pledges are initiated.
In fact, the rush process is relaxed enough that some frat brothers manage to evade it altogether. Alpha Delta Phi member Philip Costopoulos ’10 who was initially reluctant to join a fraternity (citing it as “not the Yale thing”) only pledged after an acquaintance in the fraternity called him on the night bids were accepted.
In fact, often it is not a matter of choosing between fraternities with which to start a social life, but rushing a particular fraternity to spend more time with prior acquaintances.
“There’s not a lot of fraternities where guys don’t know each other before and decide to rush. Fraternities [at Yale] don’t reach out to students as much as at other schools,” Zeta Psi member Chris Andrews ’09 said.
In addition to fraternities catering to prior acquaintances of the brothers, Yale’s approach to undergraduate life seems to provide students with a social structure apart from Greek life.
“I would say that fraternities are less common at Yale because of the residential college system, which provides a great deal of social support for students,” Alpha Epsilon Pi pledge Benjamin Chaidell ’11 said.
Yale’s Greek life only constitutes 10 percent of the undergraduate population. At William and Mary, for example, 25 to 30 percent of students participate in Greek life. Jake Reeder, a junior in the William and Mary chapter of Alpha Tau Omega, said that for many students Greek life is the major way to make friends outside of dormitories.
“A lot of non-Greek students end up only being friends with the people that they were randomly assigned to on the freshman hall or people in their major,” he said.
Sigma Chi member Brian Goldsmith ’09 attributed the difference in Yale’s rush system to frats’ less prominent place in the campus social life.
“Greek life is not really the central focus of the campus, so I think kids are looking more often for another social venue rather than rushing headlong because it’s what you have to do to be social,” Goldsmith said. “It translates into a very different rush process.”
Delta Kappa Epsilon president Stephen Morse ’08 agreed, saying he believed that rush was “less intensive” because fraternities were “not the top priority of anyone at this school.”
Reeder estimates that 15 percent of incoming students at William and Mary know they want to rush, with another 15 percent deciding to after arriving on campus. In contrast, many rushes at Yale said they had never considered joining a fraternity before arriving. And many freshmen also enter Yale with apprehensions about fraternities, from parental opinions to on-campus stigma.
“People view you differently. They have a lot of stereotypes of people who are in fraternities,” Andrews said.
Aside from lacking a large, enthusiastic horde of students willing to undergo ridiculous tasks to belong to a fraternity, multiple brothers thought the university plays a role in subduing fraternity initiation antics, a frequent hot point at colleges.
“Truthfully, I don’t think Yale would put up with traditional, hardcore rushing process as at other schools,” Goldsmith said.
Yale has a reputation as a place of privilege — a bastion of academic fortitude and well-mannered fun. A little coddling of students for the sake of appearances (accompanied, perhaps, by a sense that students have earned the right to “Pledge Process Lite”) can mean the benefits of being a brother without the having to scrub a toilet with one’s toothbrush.
Costopoulos reflected on this phenomenon with a certain self-awareness.
“I think it’s that Yale just tries to pamper its students,” he said. “They want all the good without the bad.”