Remedying anti-intellectualism within the g(r)eek culture
I have no intention of leaving gracefully. Five years ago, I started my career as an activist by fighting against anti-intellectualism. I remain convinced that this must be a primary goal of student action on this campus.
Last week, I laid down what I saw to be the five underlying tenets of anti-intellectualism among students here at CMU. I made the claim that these were the principles that guided both geek culture and Greek life. This week, it?s time to talk about how to fight the prevalence of these ideals.
I?d like to clarify something before we get any further: There is no moral equivalence between geek life and Greek life. They are based on the same anti-intellectual tenets but express them in very different ways. While geeks might use technical terms to describe interpersonal relations, frat boys will use terms of dominance such as fag, bitch, slut, or homo. Say what you will about them, I find geeks significantly more caring than Greeks, who do some remarkably uncaring things to people they call ?brother.?
Unfortunately, it?s almost impossible combat geek life because it is essentially decentralized. Greek life is the exact opposite. It almost seems too obvious to say, but all Greeks on campus are members of Greek organizations. They all chose to join and they are leave at any time. That?s why the entire notion of anti-Greek bias is ridiculous. You?re allowed to judge people based on their choices, and everyone who is Greek chose to be so and chooses to stay. Complaining about anti-Greek bias is like complaining about anti-bigot bias.
Whereas geek life is predominantly composed of m ildly marginalized individuals in decentralized, organic social networks, Greek life is the status quo consciously organized. Both continue to exist in spite of their backward ways because of a serious problem of alienation on this campus. Look at what a fraternity offers a first-year: a group of friends, a place to live, a series of parties to go, members of the opposite sex to socialize with, a structure for advancement, and tradition. People who go Greek are usually well-meaning people who think it?s a great way to make a difference in the community. They just happen to be wrong.
Alienation also strengthens geek life. While I took some cheap shots at KGB before, I consider it one of the few organizations that try to get geeks out of their rooms. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of undergrads who spend the majority of their college lives in their rooms in front of their computers. These students often just don?t see any reason to get involved and there does not exist enough of an infrastructure to encourage them.
There?s a solution to both. Everything would change if housing were to transition from the current first-year mega-dorm paradigm of New House, Donner, and Morewood toward 20- to 40-person houses with communal kitchens and lounges. Placing first-years in these giant buildings instead of small houses leads them to find people like themselves. Small circles of friends are created (too often along ethnic lines) and first-years tend not to focus on their own community. Forbes House is the only place that gets it right.
You can change people by changing how they live. Give these small houses a budget for events and food, transform the role of the RA from leader to facilitator, give students a direct role in the management of their own building, and this campus will prosper. If these houses are randomly assigned, we will see diverse organic communities created that will truly demonstrate the strength of our student body. There will still be g(r)eeks, but they will never be able to threaten a strong public sphere that values intellectualism, diversity, and challenging students.
The specter of anti-intellectualism continues to haunt Carnegie Mellon, and it emanates from a very small group of students. It is time to build communities that no longer tolerate this simplistic worldview. It is time for Carnegie Mellon to have communities where students treat each other as equals and don?t refer to each other as ?homos.? Where if students pass out, they get adequate medical attention and don?t get vulgarities drawn on them. Where intellectual curiosity is valued, not seen as ?lame? or ?totally gay.?
The school has a mindset of a battered spouse. Every time a Greek organization screws up, the school puts a new one in its place, hoping maybe if they try harder, it won?t happen again. It?s time to move on and use those spaces for more living areas like Forbes House. Carnegie Mellon has nothing to lose but its biggest weakness.