Monday, January 29, 2007

Going greek

As the age-old adage goes, don't call you fraternity a frat unless you feel like calling your country --well, a similar monosyllabic and highly offensive term. Such a statement is undoubtedly echoed at infinitum to anyone affiliated with college Greek organizations, whether it be through membership or just passing familiarity with this bizarre clique.

Obviously, the Times Union reporter who penned a Sunday's piece about the University at Albany's attempts to rein in so-called underground fraternities was not one of these people. Using this informal slang no less than 17 times, the reporter tried to sort out the UAlbany's age-old quandary of how exactly to cope with the campus Greeks, a problem that has befuddled the administration since the university moved uptown and the city enacted its anti-grouper law downtown.

When Greek organizations first started cropping up in the 1930s, they were generally sanctioned and even encouraged by the administrators of what was then the New York State College for Teachers. But because the small downtown campus didn't have space for the fledgling groups, many of them settled in the city's private-owned row housing in the nearby Pine Hills neighborhood, where similar organizations remain today --off campus and generally out of the purview of the college.

Administrators had their one opportunity to reign in the Greeks in 1962, when the college became a university and construction began on the uptown campus. The creation of Greek houses on campus could have placed the groups within arms length of the university's regulatory power. But at the time, the notion was that the Greeks, who were cultivating quite a reputation as rabble-rousers, would just disappear if they were plugged into the student collective living at the college's four massive quads. The city took a similar approach to the Greeks, stringently enforcing its so-called anti-grouper law that prohibited more than three unrelated people living in a one-family unit and effectively shutting down many of the fraternity houses downtown.

Indeed, as the transition was made from downtown to uptown throughout the 1970s, many of the college's stalwart Greeks vanished. By the time the go-go 80s rolled around, this all changed. Fraternities continued to use rented apartments in Pine Hills as a stomping ground for parties, while using on-campus dormitories as quasi-recruitment centers. Within a decade, the school's flailing Greek system reinvented itself and then ballooned to encompass more than 50 fraternities and sororities, most with rather impressive membership.

In response to this growth, then-UAlbany President President H. Patrick Swygert organized a 16-member panel of students and campus officials to study the construction of a Greek row on the campus. Five unproductive years later, a group of student leaders rallied behind a similar idea, proffering to settle in a designated strip of the city; then Student Association President "Landslide" Larry Kauffman even suggested taking a corner of Albany's embattled Arbor Hill neighborhood for Greek housing. Both efforts quickly fell off the radar were left to the annals distant past.

Today, Greek life on the Albany campus is nowhere near as prolific as it once was during the 1990s. National organizations cracked down on many of groups for hazing and alcohol policy violations, while the administration took care of many others by an ineffectual practice of "de-recognizing" them; in other words, taking away their ability to have university-sanctioned events.

The result? The most offensive of these organizations simply went "underground" with little, if any penalty at all. In fact, some have apparently made quite the run at being derecognized, drawing membership from having a so-called bad-boy reputation. Unlike those groups sanctioned by the university's student-run Inter-Fraternal Council, unrecognized can do pretty much what they want, especially when their living far away from the prying eyes of administrators. One such organization --Zeta Beta Tau --has remained in existence nearly a decade ago for well-documented hazing violations.

University administrators tried extending the olive branch to some of these organizations in attempt to again bring them under some sort of quasi-control; come back now, and we'll grant you amnesty. for your misdeeds. Quite expectedly, none of them bothered to respond. And why would they, considering the deal brings them nothing but the ability to hang posters on campus and participate in the hackneyed events of Greek Week?

Truth is, there's an element of fraternal life that's inalterably lost when there's no common house for the members to gather. After all, it's hard to foster brother- or sisterhood without having a physical place to symbolize that unity. On campus university-owned Greek houses would give the student members an element of personal responsibility, while their conduct is closely monitored by the administration. It would also help the city clean up what has for decades been one of the most problematic neighborhoods in Albany.

But devoid of true housing, or any sort of responsibility for that matter, these student groups often degenerate into the stereotypical notion of fraternities, which at UAlbany, is a roving bands of loosely knit miscreants donning peculiar symbols and rabidly cavorting around with little if any fear of reprisal. Most inner cities classify these groups as gangs.

No doubt, the Greek system is once again reinventing itself at UAlbany; the free-wheeling days of binge-drinking keggerfests appears to be drawing to a close, as the school tries to bolster its academic reputation. But despite its ebbs and flows, Greek organizations continue to maintain a solid presence on the campus. They'll be back in force at some point, it's just a matter of when and under what manifestation. The question UAlbany officials should now mull is whether they plan play a role in this reinvention as it takes place before their eyes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call your country a cunt? Exactly.

I find it funny that established newspapers have no qualms with using derogatory or bias language when talking about fraternal social organizations. I dare say they wouldn't treat a campus ethnic club with the same disdain or lack of respect.
The state university system also has a discriminatory approach to fraternities and sororities, mandating that they perform community service and report to campus officials, while campus "clubs" which use thousands of school activity funds, are able to act without any oversight or service requirements.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only thing worse than the Greek system is Nepotism.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...say those on the outside looking in.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Greeks are getting slow. Question their system 20 years ago, pre-Internet, and you had five envelopes in your snail mail box and two Fed Ex deliveries (one from out west, the other from Europe) the next day.

While the Greeks may be getting slow, at least we can take solace in the fact that the "We're-In-You're-Not" outlook hasn't changed.

Warms the heart just so, it does, it does.

8:18 AM  

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