Tramping down “Frat Row” dressed in nothing but bed sheets, chanting “Toga! Toga! Toga!” to announce a party that would, by night’s end, morph into an orgy; “papering” winter-bare trees with rolls of toilet paper tossed from upper-level windows, creating a mess macabre, as if from some monster-spider gone berserk; running through the university library “butt-naked” during prime-time study-time in a phenomenon called “streaking”; and, anywhere, out of nowhere, pulling down one’s trousers—underwear and all—bending over, spreading one’s buttocks, and “winking” one’s anus for extra emphasis in what was called “mooning,” were just some of the antics American frat boys were known for in the 1970s and ’80s. So to some degree, the now-classic 1978 John Landis comedy film Animal House was more a reflection of a sub-culture gone rogue than its catalyst. By the film’s release, long gone had been the stiff-upper-lipped fraternities that thrived until the 1950s and early ’60s. Already relegated to behavioral relics had been the manners established by the earliest Greek-lettered social fraternities, those gentlemanly brotherhoods that started becoming a national phenomenon in the 1870s, in the wake of the American Civil War. And fossilized were many of the secret university literary and debate societies born in the 1770s—some bearing Greek letters—(the extant Phi Beta Kappa, established in 1776 at the College of William & Mary, being the first) that were the forefathers of the first social American college fraternity, Kappa Alpha (Society), in 1825 at Union College in Schenectady, New York. By the time Animal House was released, fraternities had already been characterized as “fun first, study later.” Their Greek letters, selected by their founding fathers to embody lofty ideals, were already being translated into English sobriquets: The ΣAE of Sigma Alpha Epsilon had come to stand for “Sleep And Eat.” Even sororities were feeling the reputation-brunt of the era: ΔZ (Delta Zeta) was pejoratively dubbed “E-Z, Sleazy, D-Z.”
Until the 1970s, drunk-driving, sexual harassment, racism, and gay-bashing, for example, were barely considered addressable issues; they were more regarded as unfortunate facts of life. It was not uncommon for a young man to boast the morning after about getting “totally wasted” or “insanely plastered,” getting into his car, and driving home, having “no recollection” of how he made it into his bed; or for male students to grope co-eds without ever thinking it inappropriate; or for people to wear “black face” for Halloween parties or make “off-color” remarks without any social repercussions; or for gay people to be casually referred to as “faggots” or “fairies.” In the 1970s, terms like “intolerance,” “multi-culturalism,” “transgender,” and “marriage equality” were more than a generation away from becoming a part of the vernacular. The “N-word” was still said phonetically and, oftentimes, emphatically. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) would not be founded until 1980. And “sexual harassment” did not receive a recognizable face until 1991 when Anita Hill objected to the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, alleging inappropriate statements of a sexual nature during their years of working together. America was different back then; it was tolerant of intolerance.
But today, the world is more “socially correct”; it is more conscious of social wrongs. Whether in the context of hazing or partying or initiation rites, “No” means no, wrong is wrong, harmful is harmful, and a violation of the law is a violation of the law. Wrongdoing committed on a college campus or in a fraternity house by “boys just being boys” does not shield a perpetrator from the law of the land. Destruction of private property, underage or unconsented sex, physical violence, the inflicting of bodily harm, drug-use and abuse, etc., have no place in the college experience. Therefore, not only should a gentleman not engage in such conduct, he should also actively discourage his peers from doing so. And the fact that “everyone else was doing it,” or that “someone else initiated it” does not exculpate or mitigate involvement. When a gentleman witnesses wrongdoing, he should do his best to abort the wrongdoing, physically remove himself from the scene of the wrongdoing, then notify the appropriate authorities.
But not all fraternity parties are raucous events; many are conducted with utmost dignity, decorum, and tradition. A fraternity house is not only a dwelling place; it is also a hereditary edifice, filled with history, and represents the noble ideals of the organization the initials of which it bears. All guests invited at a fraternity house are to be treated and should conduct themselves as guests of a home of high esteem.