It Just Might Work: Social heterogeneity

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by Jordan Green

I would never be so rash or foolhardy to suggest banning fraternities from college campuses. After all, freedom of association is foundational to our democratic system. However, after reviewing dozens of comments on a story I wrote that went viral concerning racial tensions at Wake Forest University, I want to say this: Let go of your attachment, guys.

There were no fraternities at my alma mater, Antioch College. I seem to have made it through the experience just fine. (If you read Barometer last week, you will also know that my college had no organized sports, with the exception of ultimate Frisbee and women’s rugby.) Here in the Triad, my colleague Eric Ginsburg’s alma mater Guilford College is devoid of Greek life as well. He, as well, appears to have emerged unscathed.

If you want to join a fraternity, no one should try to stop you. But I pity you if your entire identity and self-worth is wrapped up with the fraternity to which you pledge.

The point of a liberal-arts education is to expose yourself to different ideas, people and ways of living. The word “university,” after all, comes from “universe.” The operative meaning here is “the world of human experiences.”

If your purpose for going to college is to seek out other people from the same social, class, ideological and racial background, you really aren’t getting your money’s worth.

We care about cities at this newspaper. For that reason, we like to think of college campuses as laboratories for the next generation of innovators who will push our cities forward. Unlike the old paradigm of cities operating through good-old boy networks, today successful cities thrive on creative collisions between people with different skill sets, backgrounds and ideas. Fraternities as social monocultures are out; collaboration and cross-fertilization are in.

I really like what one commenter, Brian, says: “Universities are places of learning, collaboration and generation of new knowledge…. What the university should support are functional, inclusive learning communities established as a part of the university experience.”

That idea is deeply unsettling to some, apparently.

From a commenter named Jay: “Universities are, in their very essence, exclusive clubs that set people apart. Do you go to Wake Forest to be viewed with the same status as an individual who went to Greensboro College? No, colleges survive and thrive on exclusivity; the fraternity is a natural extension of this.”

Outside of the academic bubble, no one is really interested in those distinctions, Jay. Employers both public and private — especially large corporations — are looking to diversify their workforces, not as a matter of benevolence but to compete successfully in an ever more complex world. Get with it.

Prior to 10 days ago I couldn’t tell you the difference between Kappa Alpha Order and Kappa Alpha Society, much less Kappa Alpha Psi. The fact that you’re a member of a fraternity, and the particular fraternity to which you belong, is not nearly as helpful in landing a job as you might think. If I’m hiring for a job — which is a distinct possibility as our paper continues to grow — I want to know that the hire is comfortable interacting with a wide array of people and can converse with someone from a different background without embarrassing himself.

Individual ability counts for a lot more than the tribe.