Watching the Game
A relaxed scene on the porch of the Beta Theta Pi house at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, mid-70s.
Update: Joining this organization was the first and perhaps the biggest mistake of my life.
I had almost nothing in common with these men: during my four long and painful years there, I only bonded with two of them. My father hijacked the housing packet the school sent to incoming freshmen and made my housing decision for me without ever discussing it with me. I learned very late in the summer that I'd be put up in the Beta house. Oh, how I wish I'd pushed back and joined one of the residential colleges where I might have found kindred souls whose horizons went farther than fantasy baseball games, beer, bars, pot, "Leave it to Beaver" reruns, the Midwest and plaid flannel shirts.
I'd have liked to have shared a dorm with international students and American students with international experience. I'd have welcomed an alternative to the heteronormativity of the "Greek Life" that had a hegemonic grip on the school's social scene. I'd have loved to have met women with whom I could simply be friends without all the hormonal and cultural drama that accompanied straight relationships on campus. Then, sorority culture was toxic, fixated as it was on appearances, fashion, personal status and the quest for high-achieving men. As a result, I did not have women friends because the only women in my orbit were always on dating and flirting mode. I had gone to co-ed boarding schools, so the whole midwestern dating culture that carried on into college was completely alien to me. As a closeted gay man, I did not have the type of motivation that my straight acquaintances had when it came to meeting women. Sigh.
By the time a friend and I were truly desperate to get out of that animal house, there were no vacancies in university housing. The only option was to rent an apartment, something we simply were not up to doing. And why should we have been required to invest the time required to find a place, furnish it, and then be responsible for cooking and cleaning at a time when our futures depended on focusing on our academics with laser-like concentration? Today, I understand universities have quiet dorms and substance-free dorms, something that was unthinkable in the druggy, anything-goes, I-can-do-whatever-I-want mid-1970s.
There developed a powerful in-group of louts who cut themselves off from the life of the university in order to carry on nightly parties where they drank, smoked pot, listened to VERY LOUD MUSIC and spent countless hours cracking one another up. Academics were a necessary inconvenience that were on at least one notorious occasion eluded through plagiarism. There was no overall sense of community; those of us not in the in-group were just there to help foot the bill. I feel sorry for the men who were lured into the failing, dysfunctional organization during my junior and senior years.
One of my so-called brothers who, in my opinion, resented my apparent privilege, disliked my young appearance and was probably turned on by my vulnerability. stole my first paycheck in 1976, endorsed it to himself (using his real name) and cashed it. In my opinion, he meant to be discovered because the theft was, in my opinion, an public act of symbolic rape to establish his status as the alpha dog. The elders who oversaw the frat blew me off when I brought the theft to their attention and asked for justice. Of course, the frat itself was so broken that it lacked a judicial process to hold members accountable for their misdeeds.
Over the years, the University has kicked the frat off campus several times for violating rules in some flagrant and potentially dangerous ways. Every time, the frat makes it way back to the school's good graces, full of pledges to be "Men of Principle" with top-flight risk-management programs. So far, the frat has betrayed the University's trust by breaking rules again and being kicked off campus.
I am just thrilled to pieces that the most recent expulsion and closure of the chapter house came right after someone (alumni, I hope) put a ton of money to refurbish the charmless, concrete-block building. So, not only to these so-called Men of Principle believe they can flout the university's rules of conduct, but they are terrible ingrates who thank whoever paid for the chapter house's remodel by getting the house shut down once again. I do really hope that the alumni are on the hook in a deep way for this well-deserved debacle.
Scan from an original black and white print. My scan of an original non-digital image in my collection to which I own all rights.