Yesterday, Deans Mary Miller and Marichal Gentry announced a change to the Undergraduate Regulations that prohibits fraternities and sororities from all freshman rush and initiation activities until the spring semester. Greek leaders on campus are particularly frustrated with this new rule because it reflects a gross misunderstanding of the role of fraternities for those of us that have chosen to join one.
Miller and Gentry argue that during the fall, freshmen need time to “establish their own routines and independent friendships and to explore the full range of activities on campus,” suggesting that committing to a fraternity impedes the process of acclimation to life at Yale. Furthermore, they imply that devoting time to a fraternity prevents freshmen from experiencing the “richness of the broad Yale experience.” Their claims could not be further from the truth, and had they consulted with even one Greek officer or fall pledge before enacting this rule, perhaps they would have been persuaded to reconsider their decision.
Fraternities provide one of the best ways for freshmen to realize and develop their passions while receiving guidance from upperclassmen about transitioning from high school to college life. The 79 brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon represent more than 12 nationalities, a full scope of socioeconomic backgrounds, straight and gay men, a spectrum of political affiliations, an a cappella group, Yale student government, four varsity athletic teams and seven club sports, in addition to a long list of other organizations. The freshmen who choose to join our fraternity gain instant access to our insights and experiences, and we always enjoy sharing our pursuits with them.
The process of developing a genuine friendship relies upon these types of conversations. I would urge any skeptic to ask freshmen who pledged during the fall if fraternity life somehow hindered their personal growth and exploration. Most of the brothers I have spoken with tend to describe their pledging experience as the best decision they made at Yale and the defining moment of their Yale career.
While some Yalies may claim that fraternities serve merely a social purpose on campus — and yes, we all host social events — most students and administrators fail to recognize our close sense of community and brotherhood. I joined my fraternity because I was looking for a group of interesting men with whom I thought I could develop lifelong friendships. We consider ourselves a family. We have an incredibly strong support system. The social benefits are always secondary to our sense of brotherhood.
The most frustrating aspect of this new regulation is the lack of inclusion of Greek leaders in the discussions that led to the change. The Yale administration made a deliberate decision to exclude us from their decision-making process. Because not one fraternity was consulted, the administration does not understand that each of us rushes and conducts pledge during the fall for specific reasons. Many of the fraternities that attract athletes must account for the timing of their seasons, while other fraternities rely upon pledging during the fall for financial reasons. We are organizationally dependent on the timing of fall pledge. We will all face immeasurable troubles in terms of trying to attract membership, which is the only way our fraternities can grow and flourish.
We are also bothered by the administration’s choice to single out Greek organizations. There are a number of organizations on campus that require a greater time commitment than pledging a fraternity and are more narrowly focused in their missions. Is there something about the time and effort devoted to a fraternity that is different from a singing group or political organization? To be clear, I certainly would not urge the administration to apply the new rule to all organizations, but it’s unfair to target one student group while exempting all others.
The “broad Yale experience” Miller and Gentry hope to encourage with this rule is actually something fraternities tend to provide, but the administration has chosen to view fraternities in a negative light and presuppose that we only engage in inappropriate activities. We know we have our faults and sometimes make poor decisions, which the past has witnessed, but the core of our organization is something powerful and meaningful. Sigma Alpha Epsilon has initiated over 300,000 brothers over the past 150 years because it has been successful in fostering the very sense of community and brotherhood that appeals to the 15 or so freshmen who join us every fall.
Reconsider the new change to the Undergraduate Regulations, Dean Miller and Dean Gentry. And please include us next time you make a decision that seriously impacts our organizations.