Journey into the heart of greekness

I admit, I had toyed with jumping on the greek-bashing bandwagon up until a fateful day a few weeks back.
It felt a bit more like July than May as I rode my beat up old Schwinn down University Avenue, past Pizza Hut and toward the Dinkydome, a route taken without incident by countless students every day. Birds were singing “tweedle-dee” in the cloudless, sunset sky, and the breeze was swirling through the trees like the ocean air of Malibu.
After passing the Dinkydome, a crescendo of throbbing music drowned out all other sounds. Louder than the laugh of any party-goer, the din reverberated off Folwell Hall, buzzing with the mix of tunes from a half dozen locations farther down the road.
A bizarre reality sank in like a cold winter’s blast on that warm pre-summer day. I knew that this extraordinary Friday had now become a journey into the heart of fraternity row.
The events on fraternity row that day were not any different than those that have occurred on countless other Fridays, Saturdays, Thursdays, or the occasional Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Deep down the sense stirred in me that a moment of truth was near.
I rode past fraternity house ##1, the first checkpoint into the world of bacchanalia. I observed a mob herding around one or two, or perhaps even three kegs of beer.
The realizations came slowly at first.
“Of course, anyone in their right mind,” I thought, “would conclude that these guys like to party. How could spokesmen for fraternities expect us to believe otherwise?”
Maybe I paused for a moment, daring to take a closer look, and jumped into journalist mode while the internal monologue continued.
“Commentaries on the apparent excesses of frat boys and their booze inevitably lead to protests from greeks who contend that not all frats are like that.
So I went on past fraternity house ##2. I checked out the mob around one or two or perhaps even three kegs of beer, swaying a bit to the rhythmic sounds of the “Rocky IV” soundtrack.
My mental voice took on the tone of a dispassionate social scientist making field notes.
“Critics of the greek system, rest assured: Those booze bashes that appear every Friday, Saturday, Thursday, and the occasional early-, mid-, or late-term Wednesday night, really do take place. We are not hallucinating, nor seeing a mirage, nor delusioned by the preconceived notion that these guys drink a lot.”
Between fraternity houses ##2 and ##3, my mind turned to more recent events. The greeks hope that a new BYOB policy will put a new spin on the images of fraternities everywhere. Someday, the “Animal House” will be no more.
The goal of the BYOB policy is to more closely regulate those who can and those who cannot drink at a fraternity party.
Should we expect scenes of the typical weekend on fraternity row to become a thing of the past? Or will the parties rage on without the houses supplying the beverages?
Then fraternity house ##3, past another terrace filled with a mob herding around one or two or perhaps even three kegs of beer. A few of them danced to the joyous sounds of “Macho Man.” Maybe it was “YMCA.”
Existentialist lessons swirled through my head. The only way to make sense of something so misunderstood is to break it down to the absurd and then build it up again with what is known about life.
The greeks certainly provided plenty of the absurd.
Everyone has heard the allegations. Greeks buy their friends. They drink too much. They’re elitist. They drink too much. They sadistically haze their pledges.
My mind continued to race, “Call me a fool for being one of the few too many critics who are bothered by this stuff. We all wind up having our observations thrown back into our laps, as if we were, all along, the deceived. What’s the deal? These alleged `misconceptions’ and `stereotypes’ are supposedly our fault for never bothering to find out what the greek scene is really all about.”
Of course, I’ve never been to a Friday, Saturday, Thursday, or the occasional off-night fraternity party. I can’t even remember having been invited to one.
“The greeks proclaim that their system is, by its very nature, something that no one on the outside can ever understand.”
I pressed onward, past houses ##4, ##5, ##6 and maybe even a ##7, similar scenes meeting my bewildered eyes as I slowly continued to pedal. Some were not the gala affairs of the first three, as just a handful of bored lords were hanging out, looking like they had nothing to do, other than publicize their drinking habits.
Yet the momentum of the moment gained.
“Since fraternities are institutions, perhaps only their members — and presumably all of the other people hanging out around those kegs — are tied to the sacred bond of greek brother- and sisterhood. The only way to understand is to be a greek!”
And thus my epiphany arrived.
Alas, any aspiration actually to become greek and to join the blessed brotherhood lasted only until news of last week’s Intrafraternity Council decision hit the streets.
I remember the last BYOB party I went to. It must have been at least 10 years ago, in high school. Even though I will most likely never attend a greek BYOB, I can imagine some things haven’t changed.
The party will be swarmed with underage kids — bouncer or not. Fake IDs will abound. Frat boys will flirt with sorority girls. Boys and girls alike will spend the night cradling the porcelain god.
Every former teenager will testify that things which were confused for parties sure as hell weren’t full of responsible drinkers.
Fraternity spokesmen continue to consistently fight against portrayals in the media of Greeks as wild, reckless alcoholics. However, students visiting University Avenue on any Friday, Saturday, Thursday or the occasional any other night of the week will be unable to deny the observations of their own journeys.
If the public’s impression of the greek system is at odds with what the greeks would like it to be, a new set of party rules may be only half of the leap out of the darkness we have seen all along.

Gregory Borchard’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected].