Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Outcast of House C

 The author struggles to choose sides.
by Brendan Cavanagh

A lot of people dislikes fraternities because they have some sort of moral objection to excessive "partying"- that is, an unabashed abuse of certain substances, most prevalently alcohol. I'm not saying I approve of underage drinking, but that's not my biggest qualm. What have really been aggravating me lately are three things:

First, that most of my freshmen brethren who are newly initiated into their respective houses have naively thrust themselves into arbitrary rivalries with other houses.

Second, that they have also bought into establishing a false facade of true brotherhood with brothers they dislike.

And third, that I have been unnecessarily ostracized for withdrawing from pledgeship just prior to initiation.

1. Last night, two prominent houses on the social scene, whom I shall refer to as House A and House B, played a massively-hyped, albeit unofficial basketball game between each other's pledge classes. Houses A and B have a well-known distaste for one another, and their respective pledge classes have previously opposed each other in sport, earlier this semester taking part in the mandatory "Freshmen Skits," a song-and-dance competition between the pledge classes of every fraternity and sorority. Much to House B's chagrin, House A placed first in Freshmen Skits, inspiring the sore losers to challenge House B to a game of basketball with the hopes of being looked upon more favorably by the rest of the campus. I am in favor of superficial rivalries between houses, to a certain extent, because as in professional sports, games are so much less meaningful when there's no emotional investment. However, after House B played a poor game last night and consequently lost, some of the young men of that pledge class took it harshly. One guy in particular walked up and down the hallway of my unit, where many of the rival brothers reside, walking into rooms and throwing a hissy fit to anyone who would put up with him. As my friends and I discussed the match with a boy from house B, the other indignant young man entered and immediately informed us, "I fucking hate House B." Looking at the smirking brother from House B beside him, he went on to say, "No, I don't even fucking care. I fucking hate those guys so much. They're fucking pussies." Well spoken. It upset me to hear that earlier, after the game, the same young man got into a row with one of his new "brothers," who tried to calm him down and tell him that it was only a game. To this he responded with, "Shut the fuck up, you fucking faggot," inciting some harsh words between the two. Smartly put, as this other guy, this brother of his, is an admitted homosexual. Which brings me to my next point:

2. How can one profess to be someone's brother, and then call him a faggot? How can anyone, in good conscience, become a member of a society that openly claims to house a group of men that are not simply friends united under a similar cause, but rather brothers who unanimously hold themselves up to standards that make them men of good repute? This is something that taught me that I did not want to go through with initiation into House C. I cannot stand hypocrisy. I cannot see myself walking around campus, pretending to love all the guys in my house, despite their faults. Learning to overcome people's negative facets and holding back criticism is one thing, but it goes against my nature to pretend I still like some douchebag for sake of holding up the house's reputation. When I dropped out of pledgeship a couple weeks ago, one of the brothers of the house sat down and had a discussion with me about my priorities. After I gave him my explanation for leaving, he was very sympathetic and understanding, but told me that the number one reason he is still involved is because he feels an inherent obligation to convert those douchebags into well-rounded and sophisticated men- a sort of noblesse oblige, if you will. I understand what he meant, and I find it admirable that he would stick with the fraternity system with the intentions of changing it for the better. I wish him luck, I really do. But I'm also very cynical sometimes, and I think sometimes bad people stay bad people, despite what I may do to change them. And I also don't feel it is within my right to change them for "the better" anyway. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Whatever it is, I don't want to join a house, knowing I don't fit in, mainly so that I can take a governmental role and hopefully churn out respectable men.

3. And finally, I'm upset because even though I explained my rationale for withdrawing to certain individuals in the house, I've since become a pariah of sorts. The newly initiated freshmen have been cool about it- I still hang out with the ones I'm actually friends with. I expect they know how I'm feeling, seeing as they are currently in a position where they're assessing the house's strengths and weaknesses and determining if it's right for them, and they're freshmen, so they know firsthand how hard it can be to find one's true identity at this age. But some of the older guys, who have lived in the house for a couple years now and have fully committed themselves, are less understanding. Perhaps they're angry because I didn't consult any of them before making my decision, or maybe they're doing the opposite of what I told them to do, and they're taking it personally. Either way, some of the nicest guys in the house a couple weeks ago are now the ones who barely acknowledge me when I pass by and say hello on campus.And that's aggravating. I'm not an asshole; I didn't drop out simply to spite any of them. But at the same time, I'm not bothered by their change in behavior because I would not want to claim virtual consanguinity with people who are so narrow-minded that they can't accept that someone's made a  decision in his best interest. To be fair, a lot of the brothers are still nice to me. I've been told by a few that I'm always welcome back and they respect my decision. I was accosted on my way into the library yesterday, even, when a brother asked me how I was doing- about ten times. I think he thought I was severely depressed about it or something.

To summarize, I'm really very happy I didn't join a fraternity. I can't put up with unprovoked hostility between houses, and I certainly cannot tolerate exemplifying false ideals. And it's tough to experience firsthand animosity from brothers who feel spited, and to hear from a newly initiated friend that some of the guys in the house still hold rancor against me. I haven't had many people to whom I can articulate all these tempestuous thoughts, which makes me thankful I have this blog to assemble everything in a less-than-coherent blog post. Even if none of my friends or family members read this, I can always count on my cult status in Denmark to earn me a few page views this weekend.


  1. I've never really understood the concept of fraternities. Maybe it's just because I'm pretty selective socially, but it seems to me as if it tries to force friendship rather than cultivate it organically.

    Most of my friends in Champaign are either improv people, with whom I share a common interest, or people whom I've met elsewhere and have simply had good chemistry with. I can't imagine being thrust into a group of people and being expected to form friendships with all of them.

  2. I'm impressed with your honesty. I agree with most of the things you say about having to accept a lot of people even if you don't like them or agree with their lifestyles. I'll admit that's something I have struggled with through the initiation process. For me I'm taking it as a personal goal to be more open minded and less judgmental and condescending. But don't get me's far easier said than done.

  3. Your shoes in that pic are badassssss

  4. This is almost a Kerrigan essay.