Acceptance Letters: Parents, college and letting go

It's All Greek to Kenyon

Elizabeth Weinstein
November 2, 2016

When the first of our two children went off to Kenyon, we didn’t even know that fraternities and sororities existed on campus, and our daughter’s lack of interest in joining one did not surprise us. My husband and I had not been joiners in college either, and I don’t doubt she inherited a bit of pointless snobbery from us about the whole idea of Greek life. “I vaguely considered myself above that,” she says, “but I was kind of fascinated by the mythology of it all.”

Two years later her little brother arrived at Kenyon with a whole different attitude. Somewhere early in his first year, he announced his intention to rush Delta Tau Delta, one of the seven fraternities on campus, with roots going back to 1881.

Now starting his senior year, he seems pretty busy with non-Greek activities, so I asked him what the advantages have been. “It creates a small community within the already small Kenyon community,” he says. But back then? “Everyone looked like they were having fun. And the brotherhood aspect…it was kind of like Boy Scouts [he is an Eagle Scout, the first in our family]. The attraction to me was similar. I met some older guys; they took an interest in me and seemed enthusiastic about me being their friend.”

Our daughter formed her social life, initially, from a small, tight group of friends in her first dorm and then another close group within her major. Her boyfriend had joined the Peeps—“a quasi-Greek organization that was also kind of an anti-Greek life organization” is how she explained it to me—and that helped create another intersecting circle for her on campus. A year and a half out of college now, she cares intensely for the connections she made at Kenyon and it’s clear that not joining a sorority did not limit those. Nevertheless, seeing her brother become part of a bona fide Greek organization “made me see the people behind my vague assumptions.”

Upending our vague assumptions is one of the best reasons to go to college, of course, so as their mother, I’m glad for both our kids that there is a Greek presence at Kenyon. It’s good to choose what you want to do with your time and we have enjoyed watching our kids make those decisions. You know it’s the right college when you realize you have become part of something bigger than yourself and that you do things there you couldn’t do anywhere else.

“If I’d gone to a larger school I probably wouldn’t have joined a fraternity,” our son says. The fraternities at big schools are themselves “much bigger and more dominating of your social life.” They are also more expensive. At Kenyon, he says, he can enjoy the “group-within-a-group” aspect of Greek life. “I like the air of exclusivity,” he admits. “You have to apply, get in—but it’s not like you’re discriminated against if you’re not part of one.”

After three years our son realizes he hasn’t spent as much time with his frat brothers as he thought he might. He has a time-consuming extracurricular with the Collegian, “and I have to spend 20 hours a week putting the paper together.” Plus, “I wanted to have other friends and I do have other friends.” On the other hand, he thinks that being a Delt gives him more of a chance to be friends with people from all four years.

Beyond all four years, in fact. During an internship last summer in New York City, he got together with a Delt who had been a senior when he was a first year. “It’s not just the career advantages. It’s not like someone is going to hand me a job because I’m a Delt. But it definitely creates a community.” Delt alumni often return to campus to participate in conferences or panel discussions. Sometimes they just come back and drop in at the Delt lodge. Being members of the fraternity “helps them form a connection with students. It gives them a place to come back to on campus.”

I know our son is thinking ahead, with typically mixed feelings, to when he himself will be a graduate. I’m glad he’ll have that special place to come back to. But I realize something else, as we prepare to leave a phase of our life behind: I’m proud of him. I never expected to have a fraternity brother in the family, but now that we do, I see that for him having that place to come back to is more than a comforting prospect; it’s an obligation he is eager to fulfill.