Social Houses and the Truth in Marketing

by / editorial (0) in Opinions /

Next Tuesday, Community Council plans to vote on whether Delta, the social house commonly known as ADP and which currently occupies Prescott house, will be disbanded as a recognized social organization. The vote comes in the wake of dorm damage that once again exceeds the maximum set by the College. [Further violations are outlined in our news coverage.] But while we recognize the legitimacy of the administration’s recommendation to disband the organization, the outcome of their decision will send ripples through a Middlebury social scene that students often complain lacks excitement and variety. It also highlights the gap between the public face that the College puts forward and the reality that many students experience.

The College proudly bills itself to prospective students – in both its promotional materials and in every information session – as a Greek-free social scene, but neglects to acknowledge the commonalities between Middlebury’s social house system and a campus dominated by fraternity and sorority life. Many incoming students find this an appealing change from the typical college social scene and arrive on campus with an incorrect impression regarding the influence of Greek-derived organizations. Although social houses lack the intensity of fraternities and sororities at other schools, the five College-sanctioned social houses form the backbone of the weekend party scene here on campus. The main distinction is that the College owns the houses that these organizations inhabit, which provides it with a greater level of control over the way that they operate.

This gap between the way that the College markets itself and reality may be jarring to some admitted students, who come here hoping to avoid the drama and expectations sometimes associated with Greek life at other colleges and instead find themselves pulled inexorably into a scene that the administration does their best to obscure through euphemisms. Some of these alternative terms have an awkward Orwellian feel: rush becomes recruitment, pledge becomes education and initiation becomes appreciation. But changing their name does not change their meaning.

For many students, though, social houses end up providing far more than simply a place to drink and dance in a crowded basement. They provide an alternative outlet for community that many take advantage of – particularly people who feel left out of the commons system. New Febs, in particular, often arrive with little support from that oft-promoted system, and without the experience of living on a social hall of their peers. To these students and others who feel alienated throughout the cold, dark days of winter, social organizations provide a sense of community and of family unique to the College.

It would be naïve to assume that disbanding one of these options means that students won’t still seek out the experiences that they would have had in joining. It is obvious from the large number of unregistered social organizations on this campus that demand for membership in groups bound by history and tradition continues unabated, even when removed from the strict rules for membership, requirements of social events and oversight on the recruitment and admission phases that the College imposes. The ability to participate in these groups — which many students consider one of the most significant aspects of their college experience — outweighs even the risk of recriminations that their members face.

Like any organization, social houses should obey the rules laid out for them. But we must not forget that they provide a necessary function to campus life. For members, they provide a sense of community that they might not receive elsewhere. For nonmembers, they provide a place to have fun on a weekend night. We are an extremely isolated school. It’s time to own up to the fact that social houses play an important role; that students here — as at our peer institutions — still yearn for a deeper connection than that found on their hallway, in their class or in their weekly club meeting. Forcing students underground will accomplish little more than to broaden the gulf between our marketing materials and the reality of our college experience.