American Hash

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I’ve never written about this before, but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. Drinking and hazing and general stupidity have given fraternities (I don’t like using the term “frats”) a bad name, and I wouldn’t disagree with much of the criticism of them. But one element of the fraternity life seems relevant in these times, and that’s the experience of fraternity rush.

Rush in my time, back in the 1980s, was soaked in alcohol. There was talk of moving to “dry” rush, and that might be a better way to do it, because nobody’s really at their best when they’re drunk. I’m certainly no exception to that, either. But the reason rush exists is to find new members, to keep your house growing for the future. It’s recruiting under a different name, really. And it needs to be done, for the long-term survival of the House.

But just showing up at a party wasn’t enough to gain acceptance. A prospective member needed to show that he could offer something to the existing members, to the point where a bid, or an invitation to join, would be offered. The members of the house would meet people, take their measure in whatever social setting was going on, and decide what to do about offering a bid. That’s where the hash came in.

After a rush party was over, the existing members (you can use the term “brothers” if you want, but I never cared for the term too much) met to discuss the various people who came to the festivities. We called it “hash” because we hashed out our differences about particular people. Some prospective members were generally liked, some people were not, and most fell somewhere in between.  Speeches were made in support of some prospective members, and in the end votes were taken.

In my house, at least, the strongest gesture in support of a prospective member was “jumping the couch,” and if someone I respected in the house jumped the couch for someone else, that was enough to get me to vote in their favor. People who warranted a couch jumping generally received a bid.

At the other end of this spectrum was a “blackball” which I now realize has loaded racial meanings, but the effect of a blackball was that a member would put their opposition to someone in the strongest terms possible. Blackballed persons didn’t get bids, because doing so would be disrespectful to whoever offered it.

The people known as “Dreamers” are essentially prospective members of the American fraternity. They didn’t come to our rush party by themselves, but were brought here by their parents as children. They aren’t “illegal immigrants” as the blackballers among us prefer to call them. They grew up here, and think of the United States as their home. 700,000 of them, give or take whatever the actual number is, are now waiting for our national hash to play itself out.

Extending a bid to these Dreamers will shape the future, without a doubt.  Sending all these people away—or worse, forcing them to live in fear of deportation in the land they call home, as most of them would surely do before leaving on their own terms—would be an act that goes against what America is all about. They’re here now, waiting for the chance to raise their families in the only land they know.

With that in mind, I’m ready to jump the couch on their behalf. Let’s ensure America’s continued survival by giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship, and welcoming them to the American fraternity. It’s the smart and compassionate thing to do, so let’s do it.

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