Mitigating Greek Life Peer Pressure

Dani Schlenker, Opinion Columnist

For many of us who grew up in the American education system, saying no to peer pressure was drilled into our brains from a young age. Anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns used the slogan “just say no” to try and combat the use of these illegal and/or harmful substances, with the intent being to convince enough young people to look so negatively on these habits that the peer pressure would reverse, and kids would begin to pressure other kids not to use these substances. Studies of peer pressure in advertising, consumerism, violence and numerous other areas of human interaction have revealed its immense power over the decisions we make in our lives – power that we also hold over other people.

Take for example some of the events that happened on campus during the last couple weeks. First years arrived, began to settle into their new dorms, new classes and new friendships. At the same time, clubs began meeting again, sports teams moved into a new season, people rushed for Greek life or didn’t and generally life continued at Whitman as it always has. As usual, first years were forced to reorient quickly to a new environment.

Making new friends can be a high source of anxiety for many of us. I know when I arrived at Whitman and witnessed the social groups that were forming and already formed, I worried about my place in the Whitman community.

Then, not even a week into classes, my fellow first years and I were solicited by private organizations for our money in exchange for membership to an on-campus social club. These clubs promised parties and meetings, friendship and community and most especially the elusive feeling of belonging somewhere, of being a part of something bigger than ourselves. At this vulnerable time in our lives, Greek organizations use peer pressure to convince people to rush.

Now, Greek life has both merits and faults that I am not here to discuss. Instead, I think it’s important to point out that the fall rush process does not allow enough time for first years to settle into their new lives, certainly not enough time for them to understand more about what they want from their college careers and adjust to the microcosms of the Whitman community. We are all here to learn, but we are also here to meet new people and make connections. For some people, Greek life is the place for them to do that, and for others it’s not. But advertising Greek life in the first couple weeks of classes takes unfair advantage of the uncertainty of many incoming students, and their increased susceptibility to peer pressure.

Many universities in America have implemented a spring rush in hopes that first years will become accustomed to life at their schools and hear more about the experiences of upperclassmen before deciding whether Greek life might be something they want to join. In this way, the universities forgo the pressure on incoming students to rush immediately and allow them time to reorient their worldviews and life goals.

It’s true that peer pressure is a cultural and social phenomenon, and that it has existed in nature for as long as there have been communities of sentient beings. However, Greek life has taken advantage of young people’s vulnerability to this pressure for a long time, and in our era of political dichotomy, it is important to remember that there will always be those who are caught in the middle, who deserve the chance to have all the information they will need before they make important life decisions.