Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Those Fraternity Thingies.

My campus, the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA, recently put out a report on the state of fraternities on campus. Because this is a higher-class school, I've noticed that people seem to have come here to actually study stuff and not just get drunk on weekends and have lots of crazy reckless group sex parties and stuff. (Why people think they need to go to college to get that stuff is beyond me. Then again I guess they'd do that anyway and it's just a matter of coincidence they can find it on campus at all.) Anyway, the point is that fraternities here on campus have a very limited presence on campus and aren't a critical element of socialization on campus.

There's an article on the report at the campus's official paper: which contains a link to a PDF of the report in question. There's some amusing stuff in the article, and some that's way out there.

Naturally the report deals a bit on hazing. In my freshman year I was interested in one of the fraternities, whose identity I don't intend to make public. It noted in an early meeting of the pledges that in addition to some typical initiation rituals there would be some "optional" activities that would occur off the record, but he was very clear on stating that they really would be optional and should anyone be uncomfortable with taking part to voice concerns and these activities simply wouldn't happen. I'd say I'm quite satisfied with that response, as this allows the new recruits to potentially bond and maybe have some hopefully harmless fun. Nobody gets too resentful of the people doing the "hazing" and the "hazers" don't pull anything that'll likely raise the attention of the authorities. Making it at least nominally illegal then, might be for the best -- if the people hazing are abusing their power, the pledges can report it. If there's no problem, then it can just stay off-the-record.

Apparently the sororities have a "clue week" which I guess is something like a scavenger hunt or puzzle thing. Anyway, during this, the big sisters of the new members are all trying to outdo each other -- to the point that spending $500 on this for one person isn't unusual. Now, my freshman year, there was a good deal of money left in our dorm's funds and we wanted to spend it for our floor to rent a couple limos and all go to a Brazilian steakhouse in Richmond. If the money wasn't spent it would roll over to the next year. Though this was more like $1000, it was used among all the residents of the floor, so it would be more like $75-150 per person. It wasn't approved by the other people in the hall community, perhaps not surprisingly. However, the story reached legend status quite quickly, especially among people who don't like the people in charge of residence life on campus. I can't say I blame the haters -- the people in reslife are very strong bureaucrats, who make DMV employees look downright flexible, or at least kind. They would charge us $15.75 each for leaving personal trash in the hall bathrooms sometime during March, $15 of which were administrative fees for having to contact us over the summer; the only reason the charge was removed was that nobody told us before the summer that we would have to pay for this, and the year after nobody cared that this practice continued. I don't quite know how this connects with spending $500 on a new member, but I thought I'd tell the story.

(One lesson to be learned is don't send out letters requesting payment if it'll cost more than to solve the problem yourself, I think. Count it as a small loss. Second, don't charge people who aren't even leaving personal trash in those wastebaskets (like me). Thankfully that charge was eventually waived.)

There are also a lot of beer pong tables in the fraternity buildings -- since drinking games are barred on campus, the report recommended starting a policy against such tables. Why they can't just get plain ping-pong tables and use those illicitly is far beyond my understanding. Tables designed specifically for beer pong exist, though, which is why I assume that the tables that the fraternities have are not actually ping-pong tables that are used for that. I do wonder how they'd enforce this if the units move more to ping-pong tables. Will they get rid of all tables like that in dorms? What if they played these games with, say, grape juice or something? Why can't they just modify the beer pong rules so that the cups are placed on the floor and the competitors have to stand a certain distance away from them? It's not as though they've made the issue of unsafe drinking on campus a non-issue otherwise.

What amused me most about the report was the issue of nomenclature. They listed several terms that are common parlance in the community and came up with several alternatives. The result is largely laughable, if for no other reason than the alternatives are wordy and awkward.

• Greek Life becomes Fraternity and Sorority Life
• Pledge becomes New or Associate Member
• Pledge Training becomes New Member Education
• Rush becomes Recruitment
• Rushee becomes Potential New Member
• Probate becomes New Member Show / Presentation, or Presentation of New Members
• Boys becomes Men (or Gentlemen)
• Girls becomes Women (or Ladies)
• Frat becomes Fraternity (as it pertains to referencing an IFC chapter)
• Babies becomes New Members (pertinent mostly for sororities in reference to new members)
• Frat Units [They didn't even have a replacement for this one!] Strongly suggest a strategyto immediately eliminate reference to the fraternity housing facilities as “units.” A “unit” is appropriate as a reference to a cinderblock student storage structure.

Potential New Member is supposed to be a good alternative to Rushee? Perhaps it's because I'm largely unacquainted with the specifics of the fraternity culture, as an outsider, but I fail to see the issue with most of the original terms, barring perhaps, say, "Boys" and "Girls" inasmuch as it has an implication of immaturity among the members. Given the stereotypes of Greek Life (oh dear, I've used that term rather than the longer Fraternity and Sorority Life, as though getting the expression confused with, say, discussing the culture of Mykonos was a common occurrence), that seems appropriate, though obviously changing the words will be what will cause these kids to shape up and become outstanding members of the college community. Of course, if an outsider like me has no strong emotion about most of the current language, then I don't see any reason to change it -- it's not as though changing the language will change the opinion of insiders one bit, as they already have an emotional connection to the community (or at least, it's been my understanding that such is a tenet of Greek life).

Let's look at that last entry again in particular, the one for "Frat Units" it says this:
"A “unit” is appropriate as a reference to a cinderblock student storage structure."
I lived in a building last year that was part of the fraternity complex on campus -- it was built of cinder blocks, had very tiny dorm rooms (I think less than 10x10), and never had the heater at a decent setting -- around this time last year it was 84 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course) all the time in it -- and there was no air conditioning either. Made working and sleeping -- the kinds of things one might do in a dorm room -- ridiculously difficult. I felt less like I was living there and more like I, a student, was being stored there. Thus, for the reason they feel the term is inappropriate, I will continue to use it!

The last thing the report mentions is putting up a statue to celebrate the fact that the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity originated at this campus. It's the oldest fraternity in the nation, too, thus making W&M where fraternities first formed. Incidentally the organization already has a building on campus dedicated to it: it's basically the college's performing arts center. I think if the college wants to show respect to the fraternities, it should save money on a statue and work on improving the living conditions in the fraternity units such as by giving them air conditioning.

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