by George Cortelyou
One experience which I do not wish to repeat from my freshman year is the Killian Kick-Off. The afternoon started off with the group freshman photo, followed by a mad dash for ice cream, and then by a number of featured speakers who attempted to motivate first year students in their search for a living group. One of the speakers that I had the misfortune of listening to that afternoon was Dr. Will Keim, a minister/motivational speaker whom MIT had hired to be the "keynote" of the Kick-Off. Because the format for the Kick-Off has been changed, Keim will not be speaking again this year. This is a fortunate turn of events, because during my freshman year at the Killian Kick-Off, the speech he presented was insulting and degrading. He, a straight white man, made numerous jokes about the recklessness, sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism of straight white men my age. Keim made light of these issues while pretending to take them seriously. And when he did attempt to be serious, he displayed nothing but insensitivity toward those he thought he was speaking for. He spoke in gross stereotypes and failed to address serious issues in a manner that was at all helpful; he merely repeated what many in the audience believed to be true about men, women, straights, gays, whites, people of color, rich, and poor. I am relieved that he will not be speaking this year. Besides Keim, there were other speakers that afternoon. They were mostly students from fraternities and sororities who tried to raise our excitement for what was still to come in the Kick-Off-the moment when rush was to begin. It should be made clear to first year students that the purpose of the Kick-Off is to hype up rush so that the freshmen become excited and eager to join fraternities, sororities, or independent living groups (FSILGs) (It is no wonder MIT wants to excite first year students about the FSILGs. The freshman class simply cannot fit into dormitory housing; about one third of the campus must live in FSILGs to solve the institute housing shortage). The speakers at the Kick-Off last year spoke to their audience in a way that assumed we were all interested in living in a fraternity, sorority, or independent living group. They constantly tried to build up the excitement for rush. "Twenty minutes until Rush begins!" they said. "But first we'll hear from Will Keim..." I should point out that during the summer, before coming to MIT, I had imagined myself living in a dorm, without question. I undoubtedly received over a dozen phone calls from fraternity people who "just wanted to get to know you," "tell you what our fraternity is about," or said "you must come to 'such-and-such' a party." I found those calls annoying and inconvenient, not to mention I also got a booklet from each fraternity (or so it seemed). I was fair minded and read/paged through each, and I was not inspired by any of them. And so, I found the unsolicited calls annoying to the point of harassment. I did not like fraternities at all then. So it was quite surprising that during the Killian Kickoff speeches, I was beginning to think that I would be living in a fraternity. The tone of the speeches worked its way in. Fraternities did not sound so bad after all. Any negative stereotypes were played down; fraternities no longer seemed to me beer and brothel, but in a kinder, gentler age. And of course the next few days sounded exciting, with so many activities going on. What fun! I couldn't wait to get started. Then with the words "Let the rush begin!" I was transported within seconds from enthusiasm to total and utter bewilderment. I had no idea what pandemonium it would become! I was suddenly outnumbered three to one by upperclassmen. I had failed to notice earlier that there were many more people listening to the speeches than had posed for the freshman picture. The intruders, sitting amongst us pretending to be freshman, got up and took their nondescript shirts off to reveal their fraternity letter shirts underneath. Additional fraternity members dove in from all sides of the crowd. I cannot remember just how many fraternity people solicited me. They traveled in groups of up to four. Some came up to me and insisted that I go with them. Others literally grabbed me by the collar and began to drag me off to the side before I resisted and fled. I must admit that some of them were more humble; they simply handed out fliers about what events their fraternity was holding in the next few days. To get an idea of the frenzy, imagine Killian Court filled with thousands of people, and then in a matter of minutes all of the freshman sorted out and either taken away or left to wander off alone. I ended up giving in with nowhere to flee and was taken to one of the fraternities. It was in the spirit of the day-after all, the speakers talked highly of the fraternities and hinted repeatedly that I should go live in one. I was driven to a fraternity. There, I was checked in. First, I got a tour of the fraternity from basement to roof. I remember the tour guide making numerous sexist comments in relation to the history of and possible uses for the furniture. Further, it was to be taken as a given that in the future I would enjoy abusing alcohol, especially in the form of beer. Beer fumes rose from the floor boards, and dried food bits stuck to the walls here and there. Trying not to be seen as a jerk, I was amicable and talked with some of the residents and the alums who had come to help out with rush. It was mostly, "Hi, what's your name? Where are you temping? Where are you from? What do you want to major in?" This was before, during, and after the sparse dinner in the well overcrowded dining room. I noticed that there were many females who seemed to be residents. Upon inquiry, I discovered that they were either summer residents or a girlfriend of a male resident. I spoke with, or rather, was spoken to by many of them. They were lined up in rows waiting to talk to us. After a while, it seemed that they enjoyed getting away from us. This led me to think that they had been told to be nice to us. I watched the pat smiles and welcoming gestures of one of the women during dinner. She seemed to strain to do it. I felt bad, thinking that this was like a beer commercial tactic. In order to attract the freshmen, you use women as objects. Sex sells, as they say. Not only that, but the use of women as bait for the freshmen made the house reek with a dominant heterosexual atmosphere; if there were any gay house members, they were most assuredly left unmentioned. I checked out of the house and left disgusted, with no desire to visit another fraternity. I despise the forced nature of what I experienced. The system was designed to get me excited about fraternities, then rush me off to one were I was supposed to be tempted by a barbarous culture. The "rejects" (those who the fraternities deem as undesirable) end up living in the dorms. I resent the plans that were made for me and the assumptions that were made about who I am. I have realized that the speakers were sweet talking us into tolerating the initial chaos of the Kick-Off so that we would be more willing to be taken. As a disclaimer, I only went to one fraternity. Perhaps there are fraternities unlike the one that I was taken to. Nevertheless, it was a bad idea to have gone to Killian Court for the Kick-Off. My advice to incoming freshmen is to go see for yourself what the living groups are like. Try on your own to try to find a living group that is right for you. Do it on your own terms so that you aren't duped into making a decision about your living group that you may regret for the next four years.