I have heard the phrase “Tier One” too many times this week.
Girls in the dining hall mentioned it while gossiping about hazing: “Why do they think they have the right to haze? They’re not even Tier One.” A hallmate tossed it out while trying to rank Greek organizations: “Hey, which ones do you think belong in the top tier?” After Facebook stalking a boy from her recitation, a classmate raised her eyebrows and told me: “Oh, wow, he’s in a Tier One.”
The phrase is meant to elicit some sort of reaction, I think — an “Ooh, look at that!” a, “Wow, that’s so cool.” But after being inundated with the phrase, my personal reaction is that it says something unsavory about our culture at Penn.
I understand that some Greek groups are more prestigious than others — some have longer legacies, more impressive histories and higher profile alumni. But in probing other Penn students on their perceptions of Tier One over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that assigning status to Greek organizations diverges from the purpose of these institutions in the first place. As a friend who recently pledged a frat told me, “Tier One doesn’t really mean a whole lot. The spirit of fraternities isn’t in who throws the best parties or mixers or gets drunk the most or is the craziest or any other vain attempt at recognition. The way fraternities are judged by people outside the fraternity system is not what the spirit of fraternities is about. Fraternities should be judged on brotherhood. From outside the system, people look at them only on what the public is invited to go to, but it only makes up about 2 percent of what my fraternity does ... When I can go to the house and discuss my deepest, most secretive problems, with any one of over 60 brothers, I know that I’ve picked a real ‘Tier One’ fraternity.”
While sororities have their own hierarchy, I don’t consider it to be as prevalent. A friend in Sigma Kappa told me, “I don’t think Penn has particularly distinct sorority tiers, and certainly not as blatant as at other schools.” When we speak about Tier One, we’re talking about organizations meant to contribute to the community and foster close-knit relationships between young men. But if Tier One isn’t an indication of brotherhood, what does it really measure?
Downtowns, my friends told me. Crazy parties. Concerts thrown in mansions.
In other words, money.
Tier One functions as a euphemism for wealth. It’s a perpetuated status that we allow ourselves to be wowed by. We associate hierarchy with the haves and have nots, in this campus where Donald Trump’s daughter walks alongside students who grew up below the poverty line. A recent frat pledge told me that when he thinks of Tier One, he thinks of “groups that can afford more parties and afford better venues ... They have an allure because they can afford things that most can’t, like yacht parties, Afrojack or Madeon.” Another said, “The idea [of Top Tier] generates from them holding more parties, but that’s because they have the money.”
To be clear, I have no problem with the concept of Greek life. I’ve seen the positive impact it’s had on many of my friends, and as someone who enjoys the, um, products of frats, it would be hypocritical of me to condemn Greek organizations. As an institution, there is nothing wrong with Greek life. Where we get into trouble, though, is when we rank one group over another. We shouldn’t create a hierarchy; we shouldn’t act like middle schoolers when it comes to evaluating each other. And we certainly shouldn’t factor money into the mix.
I’m the first to prattle about my love for Penn, but there’s a glorification of wealth that permeates this campus. The heavy influence of Wharton, the pressure to work in finance, the fact that we have an entire Tumblr dedicated to $800 Canada Goose jackets and the wild stories we swap from spring breaks to PV and Cancun all indicate our campus-wide adoration of an expensive lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with making and spending money, but wealth shouldn’t be the primary factor we idealize.
We should strive for more than status. We need to reach higher than the Top Tier.
DANI BLUM is a College freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Danalyst” usually appears every Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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