I hope they serve beer on Frat Row: A journey through Rush Week
Editor’s note: The following article includes derogatory language and the consumption of alcohol.
Passing through the threshold, I was ambushed by a man brandishing a water gun stocked with lemonade vodka ammunition. After quickly declining the gunman’s offer, I migrated into the main area of Alpha Epsilon Pi, whose insides did not match the pristine aesthetics of its exterior. Party guests were easily distinguishable from fraternity members who were confidently weaving through the crowds at a brisk pace. Drinks were in-hand for most — held to their lips more often than not. These people meant business.
The house’s inhabitants surrounded the beer pong tables, placed strategically as their cups’ contents often took residence on the floor. My toes sent an immediate message of distaste to the rest of my body, as the soles of my sneakers continually plunged again and again into puddles of Keystone Light.
Awkward chit-chat blended together to fill the room. The air was hot with a faint smell of vomit.
The dance floor was filled with booming electronic womps and purrs, though little dancing took place. The clock on my phone read a quarter till 11 — not nearly late enough in the night for the guests to properly achieve inebriation. For now, the guests were contained to limited packs of no more than four people and never gender-integrated.
But that would not last long. Gatherings of college students are not all that different from those of eighth graders — at first. When alcohol is added to the equation, inhibitions loosen and the real fun begins.
At AEPI, many of the people had herded toward the bar stationed at the edge of the dance floor. Those who successfully hailed the barkeep were met with a choice between Keystone Light and shots of lemonade-flavored Burnett’s vodka.
Without warning, a pack of about 20 guys surrounded one of their own, a Corona Light — no lime — in hand, and began chanting furiously in animal intensity as the poor sap was coerced into downing it in as little time as possible. As the bottle’s final contents were quickly reduced to a foamy residue, the pack’s cries grew louder, culminating in the repetition of the fraternity’s namesake: “AEPI! AEPI! AEPI!”
The women in attendance looked on with limited amusement, while the men found the spectacle much more thrilling. The sap himself followed his final gulp with an expression equal parts satisfaction and bewilderment.
It was later made apparent that the ritual is performed whenever someone accepts his bid to pledge the fraternity. The sap was awarded for his speedy consumption with a round of bro hugs and homey handshakes from his new Brothers to be, the majority of whom were sporting their finest throwback basketball jerseys for the occasion. The women’s attire was slightly more diverse, though midriff-baring blouses were a common theme.
Four of these females exited through the back door seconds before me. They were met by a partygoer confused by their premature departure.
“Why are you leaving? This is one of the best party frats,” the man said.
“I know; it smells terrible,” one of the females, an attractive blonde, replied.
It is interesting, though not all that surprising, how the presence of women plays such a large role in determining the popularity of social fraternities, which of course are male-dominated societies. Examples of Greek life in the media often portray gaining membership into the fraternity system as all-access opportunities to a bevy of females.
The accuracy of these depictions varies – often leaning toward hyperbole in order to provide a sense of escapism for the viewer. Dan Strat, freshman in Engineering, found contradictions between the Greek life on TV and in reality on his first night on campus.
“They’re a lot nicer than I thought,” Strat said. “I had (heard of) a lot of stereotypes, and so far they’ve mostly been shattered.”
While open-minded, Strat did not enter Welcome Weekend believing he would find the rush experience particularly appealing. Nonetheless, spending time among other new students and acclimating to his new surroundings summoned reserved energy that was otherwise lost after spending the day moving into his new residence hall.
“This kind of brings the life out of me, ya know?” Strat said, pointing to the scores of students buzzing about. “This is new. Anything new brings energy out of me.”
Strat acknowledged the presence of alcohol and the decision by his new peers to incorporate excessive drinking into their plans for the night. But he insisted that going from house to house represented more than just an opportunity to take advantage of alcohol free of charge.
“Taking advantage and enjoying it is two different things,” he said with sincerity. “It’s new. It’s part of the new experience. You’re never just handed something like that. You kind of have to work to not get caught and take lots of precautions. This is more of a free-roaming sort of thing.”
Outside the Alpha Sigma Phi house, one Brother’s drunken actions worked against his lobbying of passers-by through the doors and into the party. “How’s it goin’, ladieees? Wanna party?” he slurred, raised six steps high atop stacked concrete. His desperation was obvious.
“Um, no thanks,” one group of females muttered, walking faster and keeping their heads down. “Dude, leave and let me do my job,” one of the Brothers said, running from the door. “You’re too tipsy to tell who’s who.”
Twenty minutes later, four other females stood at the door of the fraternity to provide an extra, if blatant, incentive for men to come in. “Just write down your name and info and you can drink all you want,” they called out. As expected, the traffic in and out of the house increased.
Once inside, male guests walked to folding tables covered with sheets of paper to leave their names, phone numbers and email addresses. Females were excused from the formality. “This isn’t a commitment,” one Brother ensured. “We’ll just let you know when the next party is.” Some of the phone numbers listed only had six digits.
Across the street from the house, a group of three females walking north down Third Street was harassed by a tall student with broad shoulders wearing a tight-fitting, dark blue polo, light blue pastel shorts and the always-essential Sperry’s footwear. “Ladies, ladies, ladies. Stop, ladies. Ladies, stop. Ladies!” called out the slack-jawed man, his blond hair gelled in a swoop in the front.
The females walked away with haste, their heels clacking against the pavement. “You guys don’t know what you’re missing,” the guy howled in a final attempt.
Cat-calls from men appeared to be an occupational hazard for the women attending the parties. “I wish they’d quit it,” said Cherie Kamide, freshman in DGS. “It’s so annoying that people get that belligerent to act that way ... Control yourself!”
“I just successfully pissed off three girls,” a guy wearing a white Nike headband upside down alerted his friends later in the evening, a sense of pride written across his face.
Fifty feet away, a campus police car stood idle at a stop sign as blatant jaywalkers went undisturbed.
Somehow, writing in my notepad conveyed to the drunken public that I was knowledgeable, trustworthy and perhaps sober enough to give directions.
“Where’s the party at?”
“Where’s Stoughton Street?”
“Where are the sluts?”
One question – “Why’d you cock-block us?” – was a particular favorite.
Two freshmen sitting in lawn chairs outside the double doors of the Evans Scholars house claimed that I interfered with their attempts at gaining the attention of women walking across the street by pausing in front of them to take notes. Despite my heinous actions, they still submitted to an interview.
“We’re just chilling,” said Troy Tittle, freshman in AHS and in the Evans Scholars program. “Trying to talk to some girls.”
Tittle and fellow freshman Alex Gard called the rush experience “exciting and eye-opening, but it’s scary because you see some scary things.”
“We’ve seen a lot of people being really messed up, making poor decisions,” Tittle said. “People walking in the streets, falling. It’s not like home. People are stupid.”
Tittle continued: “I’m sure if a 16 year old showed up, they could get beer. It’s really just whatever you want to ask for you can get. ... It’s college, though. I feel like it’s almost expected from a lot of people.”
Making decisions based on perceived expectations was a common theme for both the male and female fresh-faced students.
“You’re a virgin? You mean you’ve never seen a penis?” was the conversation overheard at the bottom of the steps in front of the Phi Kappa Sigma, or Skulls, house.
Four women and two men were gathered in astonishment at one of the female’s lack of carnal experience. No matter, one of the gentlemen assured the woman. He’d be more than willing to guide her on her way. As they left, the same man got on one knee and planted a kiss on the lovely brunette’s hand before she and her friend went on their way.
“College!” her friend shrieked, elated with what she had just seen. “Do that again — I want to take a picture! What’s your name so I can tag you on Facebook?”
As they walked out of earshot, the smoocher said, “I’m gonna fuck that chick.”
On the stroll between Skulls and the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, one woman wearing a “Muck Fichigan” had a particularly impressionable group of freshmen boys hanging on her every word.
“If you’re not peeing your bed by the end of the night, you’re not drinking enough,” she insisted.
As the consultation wrapped up, a Champaign Police car made a right onto Fourth Street from Chalmers, cruising past a plethora of stumbling students. It did not slow down.
Inside, the basement of Phi Psi was claustrophobic with minimal air circulation. Twelve-foot long tables allowed for 18-person games of flippy cup.
Sometimes one of the easiest ways to receive a bid into a fraternity, other than through legacy status, is to demonstrate an aptitude for drinking games. In no other walk of life does gulping a small amount of beer and flipping a Solo Cup on its head garner such admiration, but it’s a celebrated skill in fraternity life. Sometimes, getting a bid is as easy as displaying your mettle in three consecutive rounds.
Near the entrance of the Phi Psi basement, an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of printer paper held up by two pieces of duct tape read: “Social Alcohol Ban is in effect. No Alcohol in Common Areas.” It’s tough to say whether the basement qualified as one of the house’s “Common Areas,” but the social use of alcohol was very much in effect.
The ACACIA house was more exclusive and featured more attractions than just folding tables, Solo Cups and ping pong balls. No one was allowed to enter through the front door; people foolishly assuming that the pillared front of the house was the point of entry were directed toward the side. There, prospective guests needed to validate their presence by stating whom they knew in the house. The gatekeeper was a Brother with a commanding presence wearing a sailor hat, glasses and a green Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day Carlos “Boozer” T-shirt. One group was originally denied when claiming to know a Brother. Not until correctly describing the contact’s facial hair — “a tall dude with a chin strap” — did the Sailor allow them in.
The well-lit courtyard behind the house served as the main party area, which was redolent with a scent of beer and cigarette smoke. Inside the house, a tub filled with ice and Keystone Light was welcome to anyone possessing hands capable of reaching in and grabbing one.
Back in the courtyard, the main spectacle was a beer bong extending from a second-story window. “I’m too fucked up to even drink beer,” one woman said when offered the opportunity to use the contraption. Her friend showed more courage, handing off her drink to wrangle the elongated plastic tube. She looked up, requested that the bong be filled and locked eyes with whom else but the Sailor. How’d he get up there? Who was in charge of admission? Who was guarding Camelot?
“Don’t drink until I tell you to,” the Sailor commanded, half his body hanging out the window. From the beer bong’s zenith, the Sailor gingerly poured the frothy liquid as it rushed down the tube toward the girl faster than she anticipated. It quickly became apparent that she would not be able to cap it before reaching the end. The beer sprayed everywhere as if her thumb had been on a garden hose. No one was pleased.
“My thumb’s too small! It’s not my fault!” she pleaded.
“Then who the fuck’s fault is it?” countered the Sailor.
“We’re a fucking top house. Everyone else says they’re a top house, but we’re the best,” one Brother in charge of admittance at Zeta Beta Tau assured a student. “Fuck resumes. Just say you’re in ZBT and you can get any job, any girl you want. My freshman year, I was a loser. I didn’t know anybody. Not anymore.”
Greek life in many ways is a popularity contest, and each house has a certain aura attached to it. Reputations often precede the fraternities. For some, the playing field will never be more level than during that first rush weekend, when most freshmen cannot yet read Greek symbols, let alone tell which three-letter combinations are most prized by women.
Another Brother at ZBT let his alcohol do the talking. “Come take a pull! This is a $70 bottle,” the Brother shouted to anyone who would listen as he brandished a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. “Who wants to take a shot?”
An abundance of hard alcohol was available once inside the house. “Who’s gonna chug with me, bitches?” one woman asked her friends before someone walking by spilled on her mere seconds later.
At the bar in the basement, shots of Jim Beam bourbon and Bombay Sapphire gin were available to whoever asked — surely a welcomed change of pace from the monotonous offerings of Burnett’s, which generally catered to the female demographic.
One freshman at the bar requested a shot of Jim Beam from a bartender who was engaged in conversation. The bartender looked up, annoyed, and said, “I’m not your fucking bartender,” giving up custody of the half-filled handle to the freshman, who gazed at his prize as if he had just been handed the keys to the Ferrari in his parents’ garage.
The gratitude lasted just a moment. He wasted no time pouring shots for his friends. When asked how he obtained the handle, the freshman responded with a new-found, commanding disposition.
“Because I got pull, Bro.”
Jeff is a senior in Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @jkirsh91.