I’m not here to defend fraternities. I’ve found that people have largely made up their minds about the Greek system by the time they’re 18 or 19. But I do think the anti-fraternity chorus has grown overloud, the outrage in the court of public opinion disproportionate. Fraternity men are movie villains, the “frat bro” a national stereotype/punch line on par with “annoying hipster.” I sometimes meet judging eyes when I say, “Yeah, I was in a fraternity.” I think it’s ridiculous.
I’m not alone when I count my college years as the most formative of my life. Those years were dominated by my fraternity participation. Sigma Chi was the biggest and most overwhelmingly positive force in my life for those four years, and the lessons I took from it were every bit as valuable as anything I learned in a classroom. You go to class to study English or finance, but you go to college to study life, to continue becoming who you are.
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The workplace-focused I-BEST program has emerged as an alternative to the GED test for adults who haven’t graduated from high school.
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Seven years ago, inside an eighth-grade classroom at Mount Vernon Junior High School in central Los Angeles, Deborah Membreno began to imagine a life beyond the chain-link fence surrounding the concrete schoolyard. Her outlook brightened the day an adviser from a University of California outreach program visited to talk about college.
The adviser who showed up at the school, where nearly 90 percent of students qualified for free lunch, was from the university’s Early Academic Outreach Program. She argued a positive side to being poor: The government would help pay for college.
“I thought I was smart,” Membreno says. “I had good grades. But before that day I didn’t think going to college was a possibility. My friends and I thought the cost would be too great.”
Membreno’s parents were undocumented Honduran immigrants trying to eke out a living. Her mom cleaned houses in the beachfront neighborhoods of Venice and Santa Monica. Her dad worked in a clothing warehouse downtown. They were divorced. Most of the time, Membreno lived with her father in a house with 12 other people: aunts, uncles, cousins, and a few nonrelatives.
The Early Academic Outreach Program adviser gave Membreno a chart listing the standardized tests and subjects needed for admission to the University of California—history, English, math, lab science, foreign language, visual/performing arts and electives—highlighting those courses that should be taken as Honors or Advanced Placement “to increase competitiveness.” At home that afternoon, Membreno framed the chart and hung it on the wall.
“I knew what I had to do,” Membreno says.
Yale Alumni Magazine’s cover announced this month that the university “seeks smart students from poor families.” As the illustration of a white man in a business suit reaching past low-hanging fruit demonstrates, Yale believes “they’re out there—but hard to find.” I guess my alma mater feels fortunate to have found me–a native of East Flatbush, Brooklyn and the descendant of a housekeeper, doorman, drug addict, and prisoner. I completed a Master’s and Ph.D there in African American Studies and Political Science in 2002 and 2006, respectively.
The article the cover refers to, “Wanted: Smart Students from Poor Families,” argues that decision-makers at this school and others (including Amherst and Vassar) are sincere in their efforts to both recruit more low-income students and make them “feel more at home” once admitted. The piece inadvertently reveals how the privileged point of view of trustees, administrators, and wealthy alumni donors present serious obstacles to these intentions ever manifesting into reality. Since graduating from Yale, I have taught courses at Williams College and Northwestern, published articles, as well as given lectures and trainings related to the politics of structural inequality. Here are three reasons why I believe elite universities and colleges continue to fail to economically democratize their student bodies.
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Ten years ago this spring, I entered a fraternity house in broad daylight to see fellow sorority women perform a drunken strip-tease. The event had no official title, it was simply known as a lip synch. Its purpose, if you can call it that, was to see which sorority had the best song-and-dance routine. The best performance was determined by a panel of judges, mostly brothers of the fraternity, and that year, a “celebrity” guest judge: a professor in the college’s government department.
The event was one of more than half-a-dozen competitive events that made up the fraternity’s week-long charity fundraiser, known as Derby Days. The entire effort was held in the name of raising money for a network of children’s hospitals. But what was really at stake that afternoon was who was going to be deemed the most desirable group of women. And that made me feel numb, and then enraged, for reasons I would struggle to articulate for years to come.
Some of the Derby Days events were benign—a penny war, for example—but most, like the lip synch or the beauty pageant or the skit contest, had a clear message. The winners were the most sexually attractive group of women to a certain group of men.
If you had asked me before I went to college if these events would’ve upset me, I am not sure what I would’ve said. I never considered myself a prude, nor was I sheltered from the world of sexual innuendo. I spent my high school years at a liberal boarding school in the Northeast, where we watched endless reruns of Sex and the City and gossiped about our classmates’ hook-ups.
But there was something about that day in 2004 that gnawed at me. I am sure some of the women who performed in the event got a genuine thrill: They enjoyed performing in front of people. And of course most people like being viewed as attractive. But seeing the event play out in front of me—to feel swallowed by the intense competition, to feel like I was accepting the unspoken terms of the event—changed me. The event seemed to confirm so many negative stereotypes about women and men. That women valued, above all else, being seen as sexually desirable to these men. And that men wanted and encouraged the women to perform as objects for their entertainment.
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How teachers can move beyond statements like, “She is a consistently respectful student.”
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Do frats create future leaders, or simply attract them?
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A yearlong investigation of Greek houses reveals their endemic, lurid, and sometimes tragic problems—and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame.
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Half wish they’d gotten more work experience while still in school.
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Yet nearly half of all married couples are likely to divorce, and many couples report feeling unhappy in their relationships. Instructors of Northwestern University’s Marriage 101 class want to change that. The goal of their course is to help students have more fulfilling love relationships during their lives. In Marriage 101 popular books such as Mating in Captivity and For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage are interspersed with meaty academic studies. Students attend one lecture a week and then meet in smaller breakout groups to discuss the weekly topics, which range from infidelity to addiction, childrearing to sexuality in long-term relationships.
At first glance this class may seem a tad too frivolous for a major research university. But the instructors say it’s not an easy A and its reputation as a meaningful, relevant, and enlightening course has grown steadily over the 14 years it’s been offered. In fact, teachers are forced to turn away eager prospective students every year. This spring, the enrollment will be capped at 100. The class is kept to a manageable size so that students can grapple at a deeply personal level with the material during their discussion sessions.
The Marriage 101 professors believe college is the perfect time for students to learn about relationships.
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