May 16, 2006

Unfortunately, frats defy U of C stereotype

Beyond the perfect SoCal weather, one notable sacrifice I made when foregoing the opportunity to study at any of the West Coast colleges I had the choice to attend was a greatly diminished fraternity system.

Our school epitomizes the life of the mind: Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched. We are stereotyped by the outside (and just as often by ourselves) as nerdy, ugly, and above all else, intellectual. And so it is; and so it was when, with great excitement, I entered my first truly academic community four years ago.

With an emphasis on academics and a de-emphasis on athletics, I expected a smaller frat presence, but I also expected the frats here to defy many commonly held stereotypes about frats. Indeed, I was right on both counts.

I am encouraged by the tolerance and high standards that the frats uphold alongside the rest of the school. With their all-inclusive parties like “Hot Legs” and “Exotic Erotic” they continually support the University’s goal of a safe, tolerant atmosphere that allows for the freedom of speech while still respecting others and not objectifying women.

Unlike the typical sexist machismo one might experience from frats at a large party school, here at Chicago women enjoy the status of intellectual, social, and athletic equals. The women’s track team never fails to receive an impressive response when running by the University Avenue frats. “My respect for you can be shown through grunts and other four-lettered guttural expletives,” they seem to shout.

Of the three frat parties I have been to, I have only been called a “faggot” at two, and I was only old to leave once. Of course, while running along University Avenue, I often enjoy hearing this moniker and other lewd commentary thrown freely my way by Alpha Delts from a house perfectly juxtaposed with the Sem-Coop, home to Freud, Foucault, and Jung. Undoubtedly, these insults would be more frequent if I went to a big state school where frat stereotypes are abundant.

Earlier this quarter I had the great pleasure of going to see my friend perform in After Glow, an encore performance for Off-Off’s show. Upon its conclusion, a group of us walked apartment-bound to the other side of 55th Street. As we came across the last frat on University Avenue, we were stopped by a drunken horde of Fijis screaming with youthful indiscretion; joyous incantations arose as they put down their beers to throw eggs at what was presumably an underclass, half-naked pledge. It was demeaning and humiliating for their target but equally upsetting for anyone within earshot.

After four years of academic soul-devouring, I am heartened that the academic rigor associated with the unfortunate stereotypes embodied by the “Where fun comes to die” T-shirts has failed to permeate our fraternity system. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; there are undoubtedly those who have risen in the face of adversity to defy common perceptions of the typical U of C student.

A taste of the world existing beyond the U of C bubble helps keep the rest of the student body in check. It is a shocking, yet necessary, revelation that our ivory tower is but an ephemeral utopia, and it is precisely for this reminder that I am deeply indebted to our stereotype-defying frats.