Smile Politely

One Man’s Story of Being Briefly Greek

I guess a fake email went out recently to undergraduates of the University of Illinois stating the negative aspects of fraternity life and rush week. Since it has been some time since I’ve been in school, I can’t necessarily say what rush week or frat life is like anymore. What I can do is relate my own frat experience in this article.

I started attending U of I in 1998. My dad’s suggestion was that I rush his fraternity, since, as a legacy, it would be easy for me to get in. I took his advice, hoping that his fraternity would present itself just as it did in his stories, which were similar to Animal House. However, after two weeks in his fraternity, I realized that I didn’t relate to any of the brothers, so I quit and finished the remainder of my freshman year as a GDI.

While at Bromley, I made friends with a couple of guys who were members of one of U of I’s elite fraternities. Most of the members were jocks and rich kids from Hinsdale, so naturally I was repulsed by the fraternity as a whole; however, my friends didn’t seem like stuck up, rich hockey players. Instead, they were alcoholic potheads, just like me, so they were easy to relate to.

Over the summer, one of the guys stuck around. We hung out a lot and I started to become his good friend. Once summer neared its end, he suggested that I rush his frat as a sophomore I told him my reservations, but I have a terrible time saying “no” to anyone, so I eventually gave in to his intoxicated form of nagging.

I went to a rush event with him. It felt like a trip to an art gallery, minus the art and minus any intelligent conversation. I wasn’t too impressed. I mainly just felt awkward, but some of the juniors and seniors seemed all right (two were from my hometown). They asked me to go out with them later, so I did.

I guess the allure that I saw was that I never paid a cover charge, I never paid for a drink and I always found myself immured by young, ditsy women. Naturally, the fraternity seemed advantageous. After a few more nights out, I was presented with a bid, which meant that I was invited to become a pledge. I accepted and started my pledgeship.

The first two weeks seemed like a breeze. Sure we had to do simple chores around the house, but most of our time was spent setting up parties, meeting all the frat dudes in the house and contemplating setting up philanthropic events that never came to fruition.

The party didn’t last long, though.

Our first pledge meeting was held in the basement of the house during the third week. We were lined up around half of the room, against the wall. The other half of the room was filled by a gigantic table with older members hanging all over it. Immediately, we were ordered to strip down to our “tighty whities”. I don’t know why I didn’t immediately walk out. Actually, I was too intimidated to try to leave. I stripped down and was then humiliated for the rest of the night.

I guess the goal of the humiliation, the yelling, the beer being thrown on me and all of the push ups was to break me down. It was also supposed to make me closer to my pledge brothers. I left that night wanting to quit, but what I was afraid of was running into these guys when I was out. They knew everyone at every bar, and that meant I would have to have reconstructive surgery unless I wanted to feel like a nerd in high school.

As the weeks went on, I did benefit from the fraternity. We had tons of parties, slammed copious amounts of beer, met all kinds of girls and smoked all kinds of pot, much to the dismay of most of the fraternity (I paid dearly for this during my lineup, but I wasn’t going to quit) I still hung out with my GDI friends more often than I did the frat. I don’t know if it was because I had a hard time relating to my freshman pledge brothers, or because I just wasn’t frat material. The GDI’s wanted me to quit, but I was way too scared to do so, so I continued on.

Hell Week approached just after Christmas and shortly before class started. We met at a bar, got doused in beer and then had to run across campus to our house. When we got there, I instantly realized why they called it Hell Week. We never slept, we were only given one cup of beans a day for food and we were subjected to all types of elements. The worst part of Hell Week occurred after 1 a.m. each night. Once the bars closed down, we knew we were fucked. All of the members of the house came back trashed and took their aggression out on us. We were pushed, punched, kicked, spit on and screamed at.

Due to our lack of sleep and food, none of this seem to faze us. We just got used to it. I do remember wondering why no one from campus security or administration ever stopped by the house during the week to monitor our slow death. I guess they found it best to turn a blind eye on the entire show, but if they had seen it, my frat would have been shut down instantly. Hell, one of my pledge brothers almost had to go the ER because he was diabetic and the lack of food nearly killed him.

The last night of the week was the worst. I can’t exactly tell you what happened to everyone else, because we had pillow cases over our heads. What I can tell you is that I was that I had bleach dumped on my head, which nearly suffocated me, someone tried ramming a broomstick up my rectum, but I tore the case off, ripped the stick out of his hand and defended myself. Luckily, a few of the members heard about this and ordered him to go to his room. I was then dragged through ice, push down numerous times and then found myself holding hands with my pledge brothers. We then recited our creed over and over again in unison, until we got it right, and then we were done. It seemed anticlimactic.

The members congratulated us, took us out for breakfast and dropped us off back home.

I remember walking in to my apartment exhausted. My best friend was on the couch, passed out, but he had tried to wait up for me. I felt like crying when I saw him. I knew that he was a better friend to me than any of the guys in my house. I knew that he didn’t need me to prove myself to him and for that, I respected him.

He woke up briefly, asked me how it went and I just shook my head. We had a couple of beers, smoked some pot and then went to bed. We had class the next day.

I was so jaded by my experience in the frat that I rarely showed up at events. I didn’t pay my dues either, so I was pretty much kicked out after my sophomore year, although not officially. I still receive their membership letters, asking me for money. They’re lucky I don’t try to get money from them.

I know that the fake email stated that fraternities are basically terrible machines who only promote alcoholism, but I don’t think that is true. If anything, I drank more with my GDI friends than I did with my fraternity. Also, my frat was anti-drug, where as my GDI friends couldn’t do enough drugs.

In life, we decide who we want to be. I know that even though I did join a frat, I am not frat-like. I also know that I wouldn’t change anything about my college experience. When I think back about my stay at U of I, all that comes to my head is one of the last scenes from Risky Business when Tom Cruise manufactures a huge, shit-eating grin and states, “Looks like University of Illinois!”

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