When I was in college – yes, they had colleges back then, and no, we did not write with pieces of charcoal on the heads of shovels – I joined a fraternity. The term that was used at the time was “pledged.” One pledged a fraternity and if the brothers thought that you were acceptable, ie, take a good paddling on your ass and perform other, less vicious and idiotic tasks, e.g., going to the ladies room at South Station in Boston and present a detailed sketch of how the inside of that toilet appeared, then you were voted into the fraternity. The catch was that each of the brothers was given two colored balls with which to vote, a black ball and a white one. If you received all white balls, you were in; one black ball and you were out, fini, kaput, so long, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out! Somehow, this vote of no confidence was supposed to ensure that all brothers were fine, upstanding young men of similar strong character. We even had a fraternity house. It was a rather large Victorian, located off campus. Rather than staying in on-campus housing, a brother could stay at the fraternity house at a somewhat reduced rate. The expectation was that all residents would chip in for food and other household necessities. Since I was a commuter student, I’m not certain how that really worked out.
In my junior year, a freshman pledged ‘my’ fraternity. He had been asked to pledge by one of the upper class brothers from the same hometown. I knew the young man by name and community only. I knew that he had impregnated a high school classmate and that his parents had paid for the young woman to travel to another state to go through the nine month gestation period – abortions really weren’t approved of in those days, particularly if you were a member of the Roman Catholic church. How I knew all of this is quite immaterial, but you should be aware that this young man was considered to be something of a rich asshole who liked to play, “hide the pecker,” and he didn’t care which young lady was available. Did I mention that his parents were rich? Very rich? Very, very rich?
During the pledge period, I went to the brother who had been designated, “pledge master,’ that is, he was in charge of the pledge class and responsible for assigning the idiotic tasks and ensuring that the pledges were doing what the pledges were supposed to do. I told my “brother” of my concerns about this rich asshole and requested that he be washed out immediately. I was informed that if I wished him out, I could do so by blackballing him at the end of the pledge period, not before…veddy interesting! When the time came for the vote, I dutifully cast my black ball. Somehow, it never made it to the final count. My vote was not in the voting box when the balls were counted. Despite my protest, the rich asshole became a member of the fraternity and I left the organization. It was not that many years later that the fraternity lost its national affiliation, was forced to sell its house, and to the best of my knowledge, was eventually disbanded.
I’m not in the least surprised by what is supposedly going on at the University of Virginia or at any other college or university in the country that allows fraternal organizations on campus. Can they be good spirit boosters and create lasting bonds? Sure, of course they can. Is it possible for them to become the animal house of movie fame? You bet your ass it is and there will always be an element within the frat who believes that is exactly what they are supposed to be.
Understand something very clearly; every four or five years, the leadership of any campus organization undergoes a complete transformation. If leadership succession is not considered a major part of the organization, it can go from top dog on campus to the bottom of the heap in that short a period of time. And once the “good old boys” take over and every night is keg night, the organization will go straight to hell in no time flat. With the mentality that goes along with eat, drink, and make merry, come other attitudes which are far more criminal in nature, and which involve, eventually, taking advantage of young women by getting them drunk and doing things that neither party would ever consider when sober.
“You’re speaking from only one experience,” you may say. The answer to that is, “No. I spent forty years in higher education; on two campuses where fraternities were in place.” My experience goes far beyond my single personal episode when I was an undergraduate. I have seen young men and women drunk out of their minds at ten o’clock in the morning. I have seen couples screwing in stair wells and behind a tree – not in the trees – knowing full well that one of them had to be drunk…and you can well imagine which party it was.
This raises the question; are college campuses safe places to be? For the most part, I would have to say that yes, they are. They are safe enough for anyone who knows the reason they are there. They are safe for anyone who knows their limits when it comes to alcohol consumption. They are safe enough if you understand that you’re not in college or attending a university where getting drunk every night is tolerated. Every year, some magazine or more than one will come out with their rankings for “party schools,” and every year, school administrators who find their institution on that list attempt to clamp down…or not. Did my kids belong to a fraternity or sorority when they went to college? My oldest daughter belonged to one of the two sororities on campus. They were so busy competing with each other for good kinds of recognition, they rarely found themselves on a Dean’s carpet. Did she drink along with others? I’m certain that she did…but I was never told by anyone, “Hey, your kid’s a drunk,” and a great many people knew who she was and to whom she was related. My son belonged to a different type of fraternal organization; it was a team; a swim team to be exact. Between practice, a tough academic schedule, and meets, he still found the time to booze it up occasionally…and he’d be the first one to tell you that. However, to this day – and he’s damn near 50 – he’ll tell you that he never once intentionally plied a female visitor with booze for dishonorable intentions. As far as the youngest was concerned, she was too busy overloading her academic schedule and, like her brother, swimming on her team, that I have to admit, I’m not certain when she had time to drink…add to that, that she’s not much of a drinker today, and you sort of get the point.
Are all fraternities’ places of debauchery and indecency? Of course not, I’d be willing to bet that those where wild things take place on a reasonably regular basis are a very small group. As I have said, that can change in one four-year cycle. Fraternities, however, are supposed to have advisors. With a weak advisor or a weak Greek system – the administrators who are, theoretically, in overall charge – things can change rapidly. Just because there has been no trouble in the past doesn’t mean that just below the surface, trouble isn’t brewing.