A STUDY IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY

A typical Burlington weekend, 1:30am. The party I’m at inexplicably gets busted but my friends and I aren’t ready to call it a night. “Lambda Iota!” we decide and head off towards the imposing house – let’s see if we can’t have a little more fun. Saturday night at Lambda Iota is the usual college frat party. A quick glance shows the expected – a boy-girl chain grinding to some excessively loud hip-hop, copious alcohol, college stupidity reigning supreme and inhibitions soaring out every open window. Some random partygoer – wait. No, that’s a good friend of mine – is walking around with a hard hat on. I try to request a song (Sexy Back, of course) and beer is, predictably, spilled all over my feet. Yep, it’s pretty much the same party I’ve stumbled into countless times. Different frat, different people, same experience. Beer flowing like water, people snagging cups from the Beirut table (anything to avoid dishing out five bucks) and a savage make out session in a darkened basement corner. I walk around for a bit, try to socialize, and eventually realize that there isn’t a damn thing worth seeing here. Same old sketchiness I’ve encountered time and again at one house or another. Yet, as I’m exiting, I realize – every drunk, hazy eyed kid I talked with responded the same: “What? Nah, I’m not a brother here. Say, can I get your number…?” I ignore their advances and wonder…is it the average college student giving he fraternity a bad name and not the other way around? The only brothers I could find were guarding entry and exit routes, manning the keg, and letting people know where the bathrooms were. All harmless and, dare I say, noble tasks. Had I not snuck past the door, I would have been carded and charged by a brother. Greeks across campus have been making every effort to dissuade the commonly held negative stereotype of the fraternity. Matt Clauson, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, explained just what his fraternity has been doing to try and build a good reputation for itself and change student’s image. “People’s view of frats is that they are like a club,” Clauson said, “they come to the door and say, ‘I got five bucks, why can’t I come in?’ “It’s an image struggle. People don’t quite understand that the real purpose of fraternities are to build future leaders.” To the brothers, frat parties aren’t a frivolous subject discussed over a Bud and a football game. The Interfraternity Council (IFC), which consists of at least one member from every UVM fraternity and an advisor, meets at the beginning of each year to propose straightforward guidelines for any social gatherings they wish to have. The IFC Risk Management Protocol states, “all guests under the legal drinking age of 21 must be clearly marked as underage on the guest list. In addition, all guests admitted to events where alcohol is present must be clearly marked as being underage.” In my experience, these precautions are far from strictly enforced. If they were, freshmen everywhere would be very bored come Friday night. Yet, most of the brothers I spoke with attest they are. Someone isn’t being realistic. One anonymous frat brother doesn’t hold the infamous parties in such high regard. “They are crowded, noisy, chaotic events. They involve a lot of dancing, usually done by people [who live] outside the house. The people who come to the parties have more fun than the brothers,” he said. This raises the question- why bother with parties? Tradition, recruitment, something to do – all viable reasons. However, any consequences stemming from “events” are brought upon the chapter by themselves alone. Frat parties give Greek life a bad name, but only by their own choice. There is no rule making hundred person parties mandatory. The frat brothers themselves are generalized just as much as the organization they represent. The same anonymous brother spoke candidly of his fellows. “My overall opinion of frat brothers is that they are good, respectable kids but for the most part have social issues.” Good, respectable kids who occasionally take part in the casual paddling session or the ever popular “Brokeback Mountain Party”. Clauson commented on the issue of hazing, commonly associated with Greeks. “It’s too bad that it still goes on,” he said. “There’s the point of view that [hazing] might be necessary to build brotherhood, but there are other ways to build that relationship, such as team building activities. Once they’re in the fraternity, we all have to work together and everyone has a job.” The Greek system was founded in 1776 as a secret society, a brotherhood of handshakes and confidential rituals. Considering the storied, mysterious history of these clubs, hazing is a disturbing facet of the system, but not a surprising one. Kimberlee Monteaux, Assistant Director for Greek Life at UVM, and Phi Sigma Sigma sister, believes that past mistakes are the major cause of the Greek’s bad wrap. “A long time ago some people just messed up. Unfortunately, we’re still paying the price,” she said. “I believe that Greek Life helps my students become advocates of change. I saw it in myself. It helps them become civically engaged citizens.” It is true that some fraternities are committed to good causes. SigEp have undertaken “Mission Milmoe”, a fundraiser to gather funds for brother Michael Milmoe, stricken with a rare illness last month. “You have to think outside the box to go Greek,” Monteaux continued. “These students have taken an oath to be held to a higher standard and they realize that when they decide to join.” This “higher standard” is part of the reason why fraternities and sororities have a reputation – exclusivity is a turn off for many students. “Some people think they won’t be able to make it no matter what so they just shy away from joining,” remarked first year Anastasia Joseph. “Being a part of Greek Life isn’t something you can understand until you join,” Monteaux said in response to the idea of a pompous image among many non-Greek students. The sense of togetherness (“Mission Milmoe” being an excellent example) is a major draw for many who choose to rush, despite stereotypes. “Being in a fraternity is like having a home away from home,” Clauson said. “These are all the guys who will be at my wedding and probably my funeral. We go out of our way for each other.” Frat boys aren’t always the meatheaded, sex crazed fools they’re often made out to be. There are idiots everywhere – for every idiot frat boy there’s an idiot hippie, an idiot skater, an idiot nerd and an idiot indie kid. Yet, despite fraternity members holding themselves to a “higher standard”, the negative outlook on frats remains, both outside the system and, more tellingly, within. “I joined because I wanted to be more ‘involved’ on campus and be a part of a greater organization,” the anonymous brother said. “But as it turns out, the frat keeps me from doing a lot more things on campus that I would like to do. In all honesty I would probably not have joined after seeing what it’s like. I’ve grown out of the frat.” There are truths buried deep within every stereotype; ugly, harsh facts among the generalizations. For all the good that Greeks do, the image of the party loving, beer swilling, stuck up brother remains. Not every member fits the bill, but if this particular brother can “grow out” of the system, others may not be far behind. Until then, the “Animal House” image will carry on and the parties will rage long into the night.