Daniel Ruth

It's all Greek to me

Against my better judgment, as a freshman at Gannon University some 40 years ago I briefly pledged a fraternity. Just about all my dorm mates had signed up, and I foolishly figured if I wanted to have any kind of campus social life I also needed to become a proud member of Drunka Skunka Dumbka. • I lasted less than a week before I happily turned in my pledge pin. • Since I worked several jobs to get through school I wasn't able to attend the Saturday pledge workday at the fraternity house. So I was required to show up during the week to fulfill my "duties," which on this day involved cleaning leaves out of a basement window well.

The newspaper delivery boy happened by. Today, we would say he was developmentally challenged. The proud, manly fraternity brothers grabbed the kid's bike and started passing it around among them as the frantic boy ran back and forth trying to retrieve his wheels.

A senior fraternity member ordered me to engage in the moment and help taunt the kid. I went inside the frat house, found the president — who would eventually become a judge — and resigned.

This was hardly an act of nobility. I just figured I could shoot pool, drink beer and chase girls just as easily without having to associate with a bunch of morons. Within a day or so of my departure, several fellow pledges also quit and we wound up hanging out together for the rest of our college days as a kind of de facto fraternity — without having to put up with a pencil attached to a string tied around our … well, you get the idea.

Even all these years later, I have never been able to understand why anyone would want to join a fraternity or a sorority. After all, if you have to buy friends, what kind of friends are these people going to be?

And apparently, as recent events have unfolded, it would seem some things never change.

In recent days the University of South Florida has suspended the Omega Psi Phi fraternity in the wake of some off campus hazing that appears to have gotten so out of hand the Tampa Police Department is investigating possible assault charges.

The University of Tampa has suspended three Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters amid allegations they subjected pledges to such rituals as eating garlic, drinking hot sauce and having rocks thrown at them. Good times, good times.

(In the interest of full disclosure I teach at both schools, but not as a fraternity adviser.)

At the moment, USF's Omega Psi Phi has only two active members, which might suggest if you treat pledges as if they were Abu Ghraib detainees, recruitment is probably going to be a bit difficult.

To be sure, many Greek organizations are involved in a number of charitable activities and have long since abandoned the practice of subjecting new members to hazing rituals. However, the perverse tradition of turning the pledge process into Parris Island still persists at colleges and universities across the country and, it would seem, here in Tampa.

And this defies any rational standard of logic.

Why would anyone want to associate themselves with a fraternity or a sorority after they have been beaten up, verbally humiliated, forced to drink hot sauce and pelted with rocks? That's not a fraternal organization. It more closely resembles my Catholic grade school education at the hands of the Sisters of the Blessed Manson Family.

And after having been abused and treated like something out of Joe Pesci meets a vice cop in Casino, the now member-in-good-standing is expected to turn around and regard those who have just defiled him or her as a buddy, a pal, a brother, a sister?

Why would anyone accept as a "friend" someone who had happily physically or emotionally maltreated them? How does this engender brotherhood or sisterhood? When the Greek experience turns into a Mel Gibson marriage something has gone horribly wrong with the concept of friendship.

Parents send their children to a university to receive an educational experience, not an emergency room bill, which explains why institutions such as USF and UT are so quick to react and suspend fraternities and sororities or their members who treat Greek life like a Trojan War.

There is no shame for a student trapped in a fraternity or sorority pledge nightmare to walk away. Life will go on — for the better.

Hell Night finally arrived. It was the final moment of unfortunate indignities to be endured before my classmates, who had decided to remain in Whatta Sucker I Am fraternity, would become full-fledged members.

As my friends dragged themselves back to the dorm, a number of them stopped by my room to tell me they wished they had quit the fraternity when I did. But now they felt — stuck.

Oddly enough, as time passed I was often invited to the fraternity's parties. Free beer is free beer. And I avoided the pencil and string thing, too.

It's all Greek to me 09/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 7:36pm]

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