Bigley: Adding Alternatives
It was like the floodgates had opened, a wave of dependency on the Greek system rushing forth. Only after having experienced both the freshman ban from fraternities and the ban’s sudden lift could I see the degree to which fraternities dominate social life at Dartmouth.

During the six-week ban on fraternities last fall, freshmen moved between dorms, searching for something to do at night. Although the College held some events, many were poorly attended, so they did not make for the best venues to meet other campus newcomers. Many freshmen call their opening weeks “boring,” but, hey, we were still meeting new people, even if the threat of undergraduate advisors breaking up our gatherings loomed overhead. At least people were talking to one another. But a lot has changed since the ban was lifted. At first, the appeal of previously forbidden fruit was a breath of fresh air. Finally, we had “choices” — we could choose which fraternity to visit. Soon, distinctions between many fraternities blurred. Each one had a similar setting: pong tables, loud music, large quantities of Keystone and the occasional dance party in the near-pitch black. In contrast to the low-key environment of dorm rooms, I found that there is much more pressure to drink in frats, where the central activity is either playing pong or getting drinks at the bar. It became increasingly clear that we had no “choices.” When everyone else is going to fraternities, is there a choice? Many of my friends tend to go to fraternities on weekend nights because they are not sure what else to do, not necessarily because they love fraternities or the drinking associated with them. After all, in fraternities, drinking — often heavy drinking — is inevitable. Greek life’s monopoly on the social scene fosters heavy drinking, which in turn thwarts any spirit of intellectual discovery. Of course, having fun at college is certainly important. Who doesn’t like fun? But nihilistic drinking is not the best way to spend our formative years. Is it possible to engage in intellectual dialogues that extend beyond the threshold of any classroom door when students spend up to four nights a week downing Keystones and the subsequent mornings (and often afternoons) recovering? At the most basic level, the loud music makes it difficult to have conversations. Throw in large quantities of alcohol and you’d be hard-pressed to find any substantial connection or growth in a frat basement. Heavy drinking prevents us from intellectually engaging with one another and thinking critically about the world around us. As Dartmouth students, we have so many resources available to enhance our learning, yet so many of us students engage in behavior destructive to both our bodies and our minds. Although many students realize the profound impact extreme drinking can have on their hearts and livers, as well as brains that do not fully develop until age 25, we often do not consider that the time we spend drinking could be better spent. There is an opportunity cost associated with our nights in fraternity basements. When we spend multiple nights a week playing pong or binge drinking recklessly, we miss out on other chances for self-fulfillment or personal growth. Sure, kids drink heavily at other colleges as well. Yet because there are few, if any, viable social alternatives to the Greek system, our institutional framework helps create this culture of inebriation. Our school’s size and isolation limits our social choices. The answer to this problem is difficult and complicated. It is difficult for a small college in a small town to provide an alternate social scene. But an attempt to create a culture that is not entirely predicated on heavy drinking is a worthwhile endeavor. The proposed residential college system is a viable option. This new system could provide students with a chance to bond without the presence of large quantities of alcohol. The College should continue to work on improving and adding non-Greek social choices, because current options are scarce and dissatisfying. The College hosts some events, but there are still relatively few spaces for students to socialize outside of the Greek system. Without alternatives to the Greek scene, students will continue to perpetuate this cycle of excessive alcohol consumption often because they are unsure what else to do.
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