Delta Upsilon. They are the “animal house.” In a recent year, they were actually second to Jack Murphy Stadium in annual orders for beer.
A Gaggle of Frats
NATURALISTIC FIELD STUDY
Kinetic behavior of young male, age approx. 20 years. Site: garden-type area bordering fraternity house, San Diego State University vicinity.
SAE brothers. There are seventeen fraternities and eleven sororities officially recognized by San Diego State University.
Subject physical type: mesomorphic (colloq., “athletic build”); skin tone registered within “Caucasian” to “Caucasian very tan” (during observation, however, radical fluctuations were noted — facial complexion was at times pale; subject was perspiring copiously); hair blond, straight, cut short (style evocative of Fifties “crew cut”); T-shirt emblazened with “Party Hardy” logo (logo framed by cartoon depicting young men surrounding woman in bikini); loose-fitting cotton shorts in bright, floral pattern; deck shoes; no socks.
Delta Upsilon brother in room. A fraternity brother speaking of “brotherhood” is not referring to the brotherhood of man.
Crouched on the lawn, he made low animal sounds from the back of his throat. The ridge of his spine was visible through his damp T-shirt. He groaned, bent his head forward, and from his mouth expelled several ounces of liquid onto the ground beneath his face.
Non-literal graph model of greek/corporate socio-economic system. At the end of the academic year, each sorority elects an individual “hasher” who has been especially loyal and obedient.
Essentially a pressure phenomenon — less pressure above, greater pressure below: esophageal smooth-muscle action effectively coaxed his stomach’s contents past his lips. He muttered, spat threads of mucous, coughed, and then heaved another mouthful onto the ground. In respect to Leventhal and Sharp’s (1956) notation system for facial expression, subject scored well within “major discomfort” categories for forehead — horizontal creases; brow — V formation between brows and depression over one or both brows; eyelids — eyes closed with exaggerated creases of upper lids and creases surrounding eyes. Body appendage movement was irregular and at times convulsive. Body odor: perspiration, coconut oil. Detectable breath odor: gastric digestive agents, strong note of alcohol (beer and/or wine).
Pi Beta Phi sidewalk. Pi Beta Phi girls are cute but may be gorgeous.
Conclusion: physical trace measures strongly suggest subject was vomiting.
Possible causes include: traumatic blow to head incurred while dancing (loud dance music was heard coming from interior of fraternity house); self-induced purge phenomenon, related to eating disorder (“binge-purge, binge-purge” syndrome associated with bulemia); direct resultant effect following toxic-level ingestion of beer and/or wine; seasickness (read: “inner-ear disorder”; note, however, that lack of sea vessel or large body of water in proximity to observation site would tend to exclude this likelihood); any combination of these factors.
Considerable weight should be given to the “toxic ingestion” conclusion, if for no other reason than the symbolic interaction of on looking “frat boys” suggested that it, the beer and/or wine, was the most probable cause. Four men of roughly the subject’s age, all holding cans of beer, stood within three meters of him and commented loudly on his dysfunction: “Whoa! He’s hatin’ it!” one said. “Fuck, man, that’s gross!” said another. Their remarks were delivered in a jocular fashion. They seemed singularly unconcerned with the subject’s well-being. Rather, their enthusiasm would indicate they regarded his vomiting as a kind of stigmata — irrefutable physical evidence that a “good time” was being had by all.
NATURALISTIC FIELD STUDY
Folkways analysis: ideology-in-action. Group behavior model.
Wednesday morning, 12:10 a.m.; a group of forty young women exited a fraternity house on College Avenue wearing plastic garbage bags (possibly “Hefty” brand). Moments before, they had been inside the “frat house,” chanting loudly to an audience of “frat boys,” many of whom were holding large beer cans. Screeching loudly, they crossed College Avenue in a northeasterly direction, converging en masse at Los Ponchos Taco Shop at the corner of College Avenue and Montezuma Road. Upon arrival at the shop’s please-order-here window, a group member lead them in a brief chanting session. The chants (mostly unintelligible) were in-unison, monotonal references to recent group experiences (“WE JUST HAD SPAGHETTI THROWN ALL OVER US!!”). One chant was polytonal in character, resembling song in a major key. The phrase “WE HAVE FUN IN AND OUT OF BED!!” Figured in this specific chant as a kind of chorus. Upon completion of chant session, group members ordered quantities of burritos, rolled tacos, and Diet Coke.
Further investigation revealed that the young women were from a nearby sorority. Their “WE HAVE FUN IN AND OUT OF BED” chants at “frat house” and taco shop suggest provocative hootenanny, similar to those courting rites witnessed in western and south-central Africa. “Hefty Bag’-worn-as-dress element bears uncanny resemblance to clothing regulations for women-taken-as-spoils-of-war in ancient Semetic legal codes. Referent to “Spaghetti” chant may, in fact, be institutionalized self-debasement ritual through which the young women prepare themselves for future ego-denying roles as corporate wives.
PARAMETERIZING OBSERVED HOMOGENEITY
In addition to examining naturalistic field studies of fraternity/sorority individual and group behavior, we shall also explore the various components of their culture — self-expression through language; sexuality; physiological affect; beverage consumption, et cetera, and attempt to interpret this culture (read: subculture) as a functional unit of the greater societal framework at large.
There are seventeen fraternities and eleven sororities officially recognized by San Diego State University. Each fraternity chapter has a “house” that serves a dorm/headquarters/beer hall/disco/cocktail lounge/love motel/gymnasium function. Each sorority has a “house” that serves a dorm/charm school function. Although no “fraternity row” (street along which most or all “houses” can be found) exists as such, most chapters are located within a one-mile radius from campus.
There are 2900 students belonging to these organizations (7.63% of the total student population). Individuals wishing to join are allowed to visit and drink beer at the houses during a “rush week,” held each year in the fall and spring semesters. After deciding which fraternities/sororities they would like to join, students must apply to the respective national headquarters (usually located in states east of the Continental Divide, e.g., Indiana). Upon acceptance, applicants receive membership invitation letters. Should they accept an invitation, they are required to pay entrance fees amounting to $140 US. In addition to being conferred “brother” or “sister” status, new members receive jewelry and coffee/beer mugs bearing the official organizational seal. They are then allowed to place their names on lengthy waiting lists for lodging at their “house.”
Chapters at SDSU average roughly a hundred members but can only accommodate around thirty as in-house residents. If and when a student gains a spot, he or she will pay $130 in monthly rent. At fraternities there is an additional $35 to $45 fee to cover parties and other drinking occasions. Sororities are considerably more expensive; sisters must pay an additional monthly $135 fee for meals and the upkeep of their house.
Membership is reportedly at an all-time high, experiencing its greatest growth during the past five years. Certain fraternities, however, have not fared so well. Alpha Epsilon Pi, for example, has only twelve members and has had difficulty recruiting new ones. A recent event involving the gagging and hog-tying of a prospective brother with electrical tape appears to have had a chilling effect. Whether or not this will prove detrimental to the fraternity’s future viabilty is yet to be seen.
Both fraternities and sororities fall under the jurisdiction of democratically elected governing bodies. The Interfraternity Council oversees fraternity programs, interfaces with the university administration and campus police, and administers sanctions against those chapters that violate the fraternity code of conduct. The Pan Hellenic Council governs the sororities and rarely interfaces with the campus police.
Each year both councils sponsor a charity fundraising event known as “Greek Week.” For those seven days, fraternities and sororities organize and participate in numerous competitions and talent shows. The most recent “Greek Week” raised $17,000 for the San Diego AIDS Project.
SYMBOLIC INTERACTION: HOW THEY EXPRESS THEMSELVES THROUGH LANGUAGE
Brothers and sisters use Standard American English in and outside of group functions. Their accent is Southern Californian but possesses a resonance and quality markedly different from the accent of Southern Californians not belonging to the “Greek System.” A casual study of this phenomenon revealed that “Greeks” display less-than-average mobility in their lower jaw. While speaking, the musculature in this region remains somewhat fixed and tense. As a result, air that would normally be expelled through the mouth is forced out through the nose, thus producing the pronounced nasal quality that characterizes their speech. Physiologists have noted that while Greeks may have less mobility in the jaw’s downward motion, their upward mobility remains largely unimpaired.
JARGON GDIs (Goddamn Independents):
Derisive term used by Greeks to refer to students who, for reasons of self-respect, financial incapability, or moral integrity, choose not to join a fraternity or sorority. Many GDIs relish their damned independence and even go so far as to wear T-shirts with the word “GDI” printed across the chest, so as not to be mistaken for a sorority sister (see below) or “frat-boy” (see below).
FRAT, FRAT-BOY, FRAT HOUSE:
“Frat” is, of course, “fraternity’”s abbreviated form. It is used by Greeks and non-Greeks, but when used by non-Greeks, it is felt by Greeks to be disrespectful and pejorative. Deletion of the final three syllables is a constant source of Greek stricture. Regarding Greek sensitivity on this issue, Tom Bulowski, Interfraternity Council president and speech communications major, uses tight Socratic (another Greek) reasoning and suggests the following analogy: “Would you,” he asks, “call your country a —?” (Read: “fraternity” is to “frat” as “country” is to —’.)
BRO’(pil. BRO’s): _
Yet another abbreviation, short for “brother,” this is used by Greeks to refer to other members of their own houses. More specifically, a “bro’ ” is a frat-boy with whom one may discuss one’s problems, toss sorority house trash cans into the street, and drink.
Almost exclusively used by sorority members, this term expresses vague feelings of warmth and camaraderie and is usually directed toward other sisters and their sororities (posters saying “WE LUV OUR SISTER SORORITY” are often seen on campus).
Obscure custom of one sorority “adopting” another for abstract reasons of unclear mutual interest.
LITTLE SISTER (pl. LITTLE SISTERS):
Should not be confused with “sister sorority” (see above) or “sorority sister” nor understood as diminutive form thereof. “Little sisters” are formally organized groups, sycophantic in nature, related to a fraternity chapter. Group members may or may not be sorority sisters (see above). By paying a monthly fee of forty dollars, “little sisters” are allowed to serve as fraternity fans/cheer leaders/devotees. Membership also entitles them to attend as many drinking parties as they wish and, at their discretion, socialize with full-fledged sorority and fraternity members.
Middle-class or upper-lower-class male student working his way through college who finds employment in a sorority house kitchen. Because house rules forbid sorority sisters from leaving the table during meals, “hashers” also serve as waiters. At the end of the academic year, each sorority elects an individual “hasher” who has been especially loyal and obedient. In a ceremony conducted during a formal dance, his unfailing subservience is rewarded with the presentation of a sweatshirt.
Sorority members who live outside the house. For a nominal fee, they can eat meals prepared and served by hashers.
One of the key principles upon which fraternities are ostensibly founded is the promulgation of “brotherhood.” Greek usage of the term is, however, novel, insofar as it is exclusive, rather than inclusive. A fraternity brother speaking of “brotherhood” is not referring to the brotherhood of man. He is speaking, rather, of the playful camaraderie that is the Greek system’s hallmark.
A term referring to the practice of students joining the fraternity/sorority to which Dad/Mom belonged while attending college. Parental pressure in this regard is often strong. As a rule, fraternities and sororities automatically accept children of alumni, and an estimated fifty percent of the students in the SDSU Greek System are “legacies.”
THE GREEK MYSTIQUE: SEXUALITY WITHIN THE GREEK SYSTEM NATURALISTIC FIELD STUDY
Site: fraternity house driveway. Monday, 5:00 p.m. Four fraternity brothers holding beer cans stood side by side, facing the street. As if acting upon an internal cue, all four began to chant simultaneously a three-word phrase, “We want pussy. We want pussy. We want pussy.” Chanting session was, apparently, spontaneous and gratuitous, as no on-site chant leader was in evidence. In-unison chant lasted approximately one minute. Group then disbanded and returned to house interior.
While chanting plays an integral role in Greek culture, it is usually an interactive behavior (e.g., the sorority sisters vis-à- vis the taco stand). In this specific case study, some other dynamic is clearly at work. The chant’s “out of the blue” nature can perhaps best be defined in terms of a glossolalic episode. Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, is essentially the impassioned utterances (in English and in “spirit languages”) of worshippers swept up in religious fervor or in the expression of a specific desire, (e.g., for healing). One might infer that rather than merely a vulgar sex rant, the spontaneous three-word chant was the expression of a base, animalistic need to a god (note: Bacchic cults engaged in libertine chanting as pre-“free-for-all” warm-ups).
Greek male/female courting behavior is elaborate and best observed early on Friday evenings during the academic year. Limousines shuttle steadily from sorority to sorority and glide off to dances. Sisters in décolleté dresses scamper about, helping frat-boys in tuxedos load cases of beer into freshly washed compact cars. Conviviality fills the air. Reggae (the music played by impoverished Jamaican blacks, often revolutionary in nature) blasts from the back yard of a nearby fraternity party. Young men holler, wiggle their behinds, and wave beer cans in time to the lively music. Bright lights shine on young girls dancing. Laughter. “Hey, bitch!” calls a frat-boy to a sister on the sidewalk. “Only kidding,” he consoles as he wraps his arm around her waist, and the two move off down the street.
In general, the Greek attitude toward sex is characterized by a disarming forthrightness. Fraternity brothers loudly voice their approval of female passersby, and sorority sisters, after a few beers, can be heard doing the same (to male passersby). Sex, for them, is clearly not meant to be a slave to propriety. It is meant to be openly discussed and enjoyed by all. This almost Scandinavian regard for romance is not always shared by the greater student body. In March 1985, Sigma Phi Epsilon announced that it planned to screen the film Deep Throat as a fraternity fundraiser (projected profits were estimated at $500 to $1500). Independent students and the women’s studies department questioned the screening’s value, and when the fraternity’s alumni corporation treasurer threatened to withdraw support, the brothers relented and dropped the film from their events calendar.
Pursuing standards of conduct that often run counter to conventional morality is difficult. Institutional iconoclasm has caused considerable confusion within the Greek rank and file. Several incidents in which young women claimed to have been raped by fraternity brothers spurred concerns that the Greek system was providing too little in the way of moral guidance for its members. Recently, several fraternities and sororities have jointly sponsored a “When Is It Rape?” program that outlines differences between consensual sexual congress and the act of rape. Doug Case, university adviser to the Interfraternity Council, hopes that all fraternities and sororities will eventually adopt the program on a voluntary basis. “They will” he says, “get more out of it if they want to do it, rather than if they are forced.”
FINDING TYPICALITY WITHIN THE GREEK SYSTEM: THE NORWEGIAN VOTER DILEMMA
‘‘....If a social scientist wants to study the Norwegian voter, it would simplify research enormously if he could find the pure voter, the one person who would be the representative of all Norwegian voters, so that all that was necessary would be to ask him or watch his behavior..."
— Theory and Methods of Social Research John Galtung, 1967
In any investigation, it is always helpful to square one’s collected data with the observations of a knowledgeable informant — an individual sensitive to the area of concern. Every effort must be made to skirt rookies, outsiders, and frustrated, needy persons in the search for such an informant. Their input will only serve to confuse matters. The ideal informant must be able to serve as both his group’s advocate and critic. He must be both typical and atypical.
In the course of this “Greek-system” study, such an individual was discovered and interviewed. His observations provide useful insights into the fraternity system — how Greeks view themselves and their sorority sisters.
Q: Why do Greeks seem to vomit more often than other students?
A: They do not. Go to the dormitories on any Friday night, and they’re [the students living there] puking all over the place. Greeks are out in the open, so they seem more obvious.
Q: What about these incidents involving young women ... or even the fraternity that had the two-way mirror installed in the women’s rest room?
A: Fraternities only reflect the mores of the society at large. Date rape is a hot topic now. But it’s not only a problem of sororities and fraternities. It happens elsewhere. It happens in the dorms. It happens in the apartments where students live. It’s nothing particular to Greeks.
Q: Given that fraternity life is not morally superior to “independent life,” what does it have to offer a student?
A: Leadership opportunities. Responsibilities. Chances to meet people who share your interests. Organized sports. Some sort of structure during college — it can be a very confusing time for kids. And it looks good on a résumé.
Q: What sorority has the least attractive girls?
A: Probably Alpha Xi Delta. A girl would have to have a real inferiority complex to join that house. None of the fraternities wants to have anything to do with them. When they call up, we’re always busy.
Q: And the prettiest?
A: That’s difficult. Pi Beta Phi girls are cute but may be gorgeous. There’s Kappa Alpha Theta. And Alpha Chi Omega. One of those three.
Q: In your estimation, which fraternity drinks the most?
A: Delta Upsilon. They are the “animal house.” In a recent year, they were actually second to Jack Murphy Stadium in annual orders for beer.
Q: So they would vomit more often than other Greeks?
A: Probably the freshmen would, yes.
Q: Which are the “top” fraternities?
A: Sigma Chi. Lambda Chi Alpha, which we call “Lambda Clone Alpha” because they all look the same, similar to the guys in Tau Kappa Epsilon — flat-top haircuts, shorts, et cetera. Sigma Pi is also one of the “top” fraternities.
Q: Given the cramped quarters in most houses — four to five brothers sharing a room is not uncommon, where do Greeks go to engage in consensual congress?
A: The park. The beach. There’s a lot of open space in San Diego.
Q: Perhaps for hiking, but we are discussing intimacy. Where do they go for that?
A: Maybe right there in the room with the other guys.
Q: In the presence of other fraternity brothers?
Q: One would assume the young woman in question would be a sorority sister?
A: Most guys date within the system. Some don’t. Most guys move out of the house by the sophomore or senior year, you see. Group living can be a problem.
Subsequent to the interview, the informant cautioned that his observations were highly subjective but also added that he felt that there was some truth to be found in his highly generalized statements. “Not all Greeks are alike,” he said. “There are some assholes in every group, but they’re certainly not the norm.”
NATURALISTIC FIELD STUDY
Friday night ritual, 2:00 a.m., Montezuma Road.
Two fraternity brothers are observed escorting a sorority sister to her house. Both brothers are tall and blond and carry large cans of beer. At one point, they stop to hurl the trash cans from a nearby sorority house into the street, directly in the path of oncoming traffic. A young girl’s voice from an undetermined location is heard telling the young men to be quiet. One of the young men spins about and advises the strident voice to “suck my ass.” The sister leading the two brothers pauses unsteadily on her high heels. She, too, is holding a beer can. She shakily plants her heels on the curb’s edge. “What the hell are you two waiting for?” she asks loudly. “Christmas?”