Friday, May 04, 2012

Dartmouth, Fraternities, and Arguing from (near) Ignorance

If you haven't read the Rolling Stone expose on fraternity life at Dartmouth, do.  It paints a disgusting picture of what goes on in the fraternities of an elite liberal arts college.

You have organizations run by pre-adults with no oversight. The culture convinces the young people that they need to be in such an organization to have a good life -- on and beyond campus -- and thus sets them in a place to be taken advantage of by those in the in-group.  Once inside, the reward structure is based on machismo and having a story beyond those now told.  Because the structure is ossified, this inevitably leads to a ratcheting up where each new class needs to top the last year's class in terms of antisocial behavior.  It gets worse and worse with no external check to keep it in balance.

This structure is not unique to Dartmouth.  So, for those of us who work on campuses with robust Greek organizations that are not Dartmouth, how much can we infer about the workings of our Greek system from this peek into that of another college?  Because of the code of silence within the fraternity world, we know little to nothing about what they do.  We are arguing from a state of ignorance.  We now have a data point from which we can make an argument by analogy.  How much weight can we give to such an argument?  How much can we infer about our non-Dartmouth Greek world from a peek into Dartmouth's?  how unique will these be and how much a function of similar structural elements?