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.