“I wish I was a freshman again.”
Last year, while speaking to my senior friends, I didn’t always take what they said to heart. Today, one month into my senior year, I have a strange amount of nostalgia.
I was an 18-year-old entering the world of independence, off-campus parties and Rathbone. The world was my oyster — I had fun regardless of who was watching.
Freshman year was for messing around, meeting new people and making laughable mistakes. But after returning to campus as sophomores, my friends and I would observe a totally new freshman class repeat the cycle.
Today, things are different.
It’s clear the social scene at Lehigh isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the giant packs of wide-eyed freshmen walking down East Fifth and Hillside trying to have fun and meet new people.
We like to think, as upperclassmen, if we close our eyes and reminisce about the glory days, we’d find nothing but fond memories.
I’ve had some incredible times here at Lehigh, but some groups — specifically those in Greek life — have their ups and downs.
I met with a group of my male peers who didn’t want to bask in the glory of our youth. We instead took a step back, reflecting on unfortunate social norms and a culture of gender inequality — a culture we’ve watched develop over the past three years.
In this meeting of 10 Lehigh students, I was the only woman among nine dudes. I only spoke to push the conversation through brief pauses. I wanted the group to feel their voices mattered in the debate on gender equality. All nine were happy to share their opinions.
After an hour-long conversation ranging from hookup culture to the student cycle of growth, the group came to a decision on Lehigh’s campus culture. I suspect it’s the root of our gender problems.
Demeaning women has become normalized among Lehigh men.
For those of you who stop reading and think, “No, not me. I don’t do this” — hear me out.
The degradation of females is just one part of a cycle we, as Lehigh students, adopt and normalize. Think of it in a different way.
If you were part of a sports team in high school, you know the meaning of locker-room talk: sexually fueled conversation between people of the same gender. While both men and women hold these filter-free conversations, I am going to focus on men.
This closed-off space for dudes invites degradation of women that flies under the radar in everyday life. The most common topics revolve around women’s appearances.
Imagine it’s your first semester at Lehigh. You’re used to locker-room talk, but fraternity rush ushers in a whole new ballgame of locker-room talk: rush texts, the part of the cycle where freshmen start receiving texts from fraternity dudes. These texts are meant to hype up the freshmen, usually at the expense of women.
At first, you’re alarmed by the messages you receive from the sophomores in the frat. But as time goes on, you perpetuate the cycle. You send those same alarming texts.
You become the sophomore frat dude.
Freshmen look to the upperclassmen in their fraternities who perpetuate the “it’s cool to be rude to women” mentality. These moldable men continue passing down that mentality to those who join in future years.
My nine-dude group defined rush texts as “superficial icebreaker activities” within Greek life, and a simple way to bond with their fellow dudes to find common ground in the objectification of women.
Rush texts, not to mention GroupMe chats, might as well be constant locker-room spaces. They’re both platforms containing ruthless commentary about women.
Within these spaces, it’s considered normal to compare women on campus to large animals.
Nine senior men acknowledged that as upperclassmen, they see freshman dudes making the same mistakes they, their peers and their fraternity brothers made before them.
They acknowledged the normalization of demeaning women is a repetitive cycle at Lehigh — a cycle that many don’t realize they participate in until well into their junior and senior years.
They acknowledged the Greek system encourages freshmen and sophomore dudes to be a “specific type of guy,” one who needs to embody this stereotypical frat-boy player and succumb to sexist social norms, instead of acting like himself and acknowledging our social system’s clear flaws.
So, if you’re an upperclassman dude reading this, what would you tell your freshman self?
Karli Wachtel, ’18, is a columnist and reporter for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]