In Which My Past Returns to Haunt Me.
How do you tell someone you don't love them anymore?--Cowboy Mouth
Apologies for the improper grammar in the quote above, but I had problems finding a decent video on Youtube of the song in which that quote appears, and it's unlikely anyone unfamiliar with the band would have known what I was going for anyway.
I got an email today from a stranger who wants a favor from me. He's not the son of an East African Prince with millions in oil money, and he's not a politician asking for a contribution or a vote. It's from a transfer student who wants to start a chapter of my old fraternity on our campus.
Yeah. I was in a fraternity when I was an undergrad. In my defense, I can only offer that my chapter was an unusual one--for example, I was 26 when I rushed, 27 when I initiated, and I was divorced, with visitation rights for my daughter and stepson. And I wasn't even the old guy in the chapter--there was an active member who had me by 2 years. The chapter President was a straight-edge Southern Baptist, but the guy who met me at the fraternity house door had a goatee that extended 4 inches off his chin. A purple goatee. Which was a good color, because it matched at least three of his earrings and the one in his eyebrow. And it was one of the fraternity's colors. How could I not rush?
It worked out for me, in part because the fraternity I rushed had been wracked by a hazing scandal a couple of years prior that resulted in a loss of over 90% of the membership, and that meant that not only were the members desperate for new blood, but they were also really trying to break with their past, and they did. I've lost touch with most of the guys I went through with, though I talk with a handful these days thanks to Facebook, and I certainly don't regret my time there, though I can't say it was a thoroughly edifying experience.
So how do I tell this guy that I think the Greek system on campuses today is a really bad idea, one that I want nothing to do with? I feel that way because for every experience like mine, there are ten (at least) examples of kids dying of underage drinking during fraternity parties, not to mention the continuing issues with hazing, and sexual abuse of women at parties and elsewhere. It is, to my mind, an inherently diseased culture on many campuses, because it feeds into tribalism and othering (often along ethnic lines). The benefits that defenders of the Greek system claim do not, to my mind, outweigh the negatives. And I can't be a part of it.
It's not the first time I've been asked about this. About a year ago, a former student of mine asked me if I'd be interested in being the Faculty Advisor for his fraternity, an organization different from my own. (See? I still claim it--someone explain that to me.) I begged off, using the fact that I'm not a professor as an excuse, but the truth is that even though I liked that student, his fraternity is the stereotypical fraternity--cookie-cutter guys with popped collars who all come from some sort of privilege, who throw sorority parties where the guys dress like they always do and the women are in their underwear (cuz it's a lingerie party, see?), who talk loudly about bitchez and hoes and pimping. I haven't heard homophobic or ethnic slurs yet, but it won't shock me if it happens.
It's not that these are bad guys--I don't know most of them--but they seem to feed off each other, much like mobs do. I'm all for people joining groups based on similar social interests--we're a gregarious species, after all. But these groups in particular seem to be based around the accumulation of power, whether political, economic, or social, and they play it as a zero-sum game. They win at someone else's expense, and it's not much of a surprise that most elite politicians have been members of these groups at some point. I'm not a zero-sum game kind of guy anymore, and I wonder if I ever really was, outside of an actual game. And I think I'd just as soon not perpetuate what I see as a problem.