I just finished reading Fraternity by Alexandra Robins. It resurrected a lot of memories from my freshman year at college in 1975-76. I found myself wondering, “Why did I join a fraternity when I went to college?”
On the surface, it was simple. Better food, better living space and a established social life with the friends I made my first few weeks in the dorm. The Upislon chapter of Delta Sigma Phi at Franklin and Marshall College was a place where I fit in, had a brotherhood that had a greater focus on academics, a little less emphasis on hard partying and an easygoing approach to college life. The author of the book describes a well-defined approach to brotherhood, leadership and philanthropy that I don’t believe was emphasized forty years ago. I learned many of those things, but only a a byproduct of fraternity house life. We had a bit of hazing, but nothing so severe as that described in the book.
Annually recruiting new members was critical to the survival of out chapter, so I don’t remember being all that discerning about who was invited to pledge and who wasn’t. If a guy desired to join, he was in, for better or worse.
At that time, social events were the domain of the Greek system. There were no sororities on campus till a colony formed my senior year. If you wanted to go to a party, you went to a fraternity. Parties simply involved kegs of beer and a live band. We didn’t drink anything harder than that. A few guys dabbled in marijuana or whippets. Most of us were under the twenty-one year old Pennsylvania drinking age, but as long as we kept it in the house, no one ever seemed to mind.
We certainly did not treat women with any kind of respect. They were simply a commodity, whether they were from campus or nursing students from the hospital down the street. Casual sex was rare, even in the pre-HIV world of the late 1970’s.
Communication was all face-to-face. The house had a pay phone that we all shared. A few brothers had their own phones installed in their rooms. Yeah, I know, it was a strange world with no email, no texting, no internet, no FaceBook, and no word processing. Library card catalogues, books and periodicals, manual typewriters, a campus bookstore and vinyl music defined daily campus life.
However, I probably learned more from fraternity life (along with the college radio station and band) than I did from my classes. I learned a lot about running a house where twenty guys lived and another twenty dined during the week. I learned a lot about music, including playing the guitar. I actually had a lot of fun washing dishes in the kitchen every night to pay for my room and board. I learned how to tap a keg, hack into the college administration databases with a dialup modem connection, make a few bucks typing papers for my friends and jimmy a lock to someone’s room when necessary.
About a year ago, my office manager stuck her head in my office and said, “There’s a guy here who says he’s one of your fraternity brothers.” I didn’t remember much about him since he was a freshman as I was finishing up my final year. But we had a ton of mutual friends and memories, and he helped me realize the lasting value of brotherhood.