I joined Theta Chi (Tach) as sophomore. I definitely had some idea in the back of my mind of what problematic things I would encounter, but I also thought that Tach was different. At least it wasn’t Beta. Tach is where the Nice Guys go, right? So it can’t be as bad. The Phi Taus are the hardos, right? While rushing Tach, I was thought I saw a brotherhood that would be respectful and supportive of others, if not only of the brothers. I mean after all, they did have a few Links, three members in Konosioni, and way too many people in SGA. If I had a grievance or felt uncomfortable or wanted to get something done, I could find more than enough back up. This house felt different.
I could not have been more wrong.
On issues regarding diversity there was a silent groan whenever I mentioned it. Regardless of the pushback, as one of 5 people of color (6, my junior year) I felt that if I didn’t mention it would remain unspoken yet again. We would rush another person of color that the house silently deemed safe enough to let in. By that I mean, a person of color who was affluent and/or went to private school and/or, at the very least, survived the initial Colgate culture shock with a nice smile and a powerful tolerance for ignorance. Someone who wouldn’t call people on saying “fag” or saying the n-word while wearing an Allen Iverson jersey and Air Force Ones during a fraturday.
When a person of color who didn’t fit this archetype, that is someone who cared less about code-switching for example, was brought up [by me], I would often get the response He just doesn’t fit the character of the House. To some extent they were right. That person would have a tough time in the house, but it wasn’t because that poc made himself uncomfortable but rather because the culture of the house was an oppressive force that didn’t want him there. They wanted a people of color, so long as they didn’t stir the pot too much. And after said person joined the House there would be no talk of prejudice because, after all, there were people of color in the house.
The phrase “He doesn’t fit the character of the House” was used to weed out people who weren’t cis, straight, and white. Whenever we talked about potential new members, a picture of them would come up on the slide show on the TV, and if what they were doing wasn’t considered masculine enough people would say things Nice guy, but ehh. Give him a bid if we need the numbers.
This character of the house was sacred and its masculinity needed to be protected. This manifested itself in a few ways. For example, the way people talked about sex (always heterosexual), drugs, beer, sororities (sorority hierarchies), and even the way people conducted themselves around campus. If I did something that in some way compromised the masculinity of the house, I knew that I would get some sort of ridicule for it later. While I’m sure most of them thought that it was benign, it actually worked. If nothing, the violator would get a sly comment from a rush chair like Dude, thats a bad look for rush. God forbid someone not as concerned with masculinity breaches the Theta Chi fortress.
I am being generous by only mentioning the diet-racist/prejudice push back that I received. While the more overt prejudice was few and far between, it did happen. Mentioning it is, in my opinion, less important than mentioning the more covert ways in which it happened because it implicates more people. When I made the decision to leave the fraternity it was not because of the people who chanted “Build that wall” throughout several dinners or even because of the people who I know voted Trump but would never fess up to it. It was because of the people who would hear the chant, slur, or something else problematic and then look at me and shake their heads in disapproval but instead of saying something they would just get up and leave the room. There was a silence that made me feel lonely and unsupported. The few people who felt brave enough to speak up, spoke up too little. Or even worse, people would repeatedly transgress even after being spoken to.
It was fatiguing and it felt like an uphill battle. It made my sophomore year very depressing. My junior year when I moved into the house (kinda mandatory for juniors) I felt like I was suffocating.
The sexual assault that surfaced at Beta last semester became the last straw for me. I had known that some people had been perpetrators of sexual assault. I remained silent at the behest of the survivors who trusted me but kept an eye out notwithstanding. But as the days after the incident went on, I came to see that it was not one or two but several. Regardless of all the prevention trainings that we had gotten (One Love and Bystander Intervention) and even all the lectures during our new member education, the House was still a dangerous place for women. It was naive of me to have thought otherwise. It was also naive for me to have been surprised when I found out that the rates were not much different in any of the other houses. At that point, I realized that I was really playing for the wrong team and that I ought to get out. This ship was not worth fighting for.
I did not touch on a lot of things so as to not air all their dirty laundry but the problems with masculinity run deep in Theta Chi (read: all fraternities at Colgate) in such a way that is not safe or healthy for anyone.
On my way out, Tach, as well as other houses on the row, began to start changing things instead of sitting around apathetically. I am hopeful that things improve. I really am. Because a lot people here don’t care enough to actually stop going to Beta’s off-campus parties or even rushing them. However, even in the face of change, I am afraid that new covert phrases will arise to silence the new voices of reason. Things that are kinda true, but still super wrong (ie. like how gay people won’t fit in the house). Whiteness and masculinity consumes and adapts. I began to see this happen, when I criticized our new member education for being a cause of sexual assault or when I would hear some new form of the Bad-Apple Theory in defense of systemic issues. I am afraid that in the face of said arguments, apathy will return and the momentum will die. I am afraid that any expensive space that upholds a culture of whiteness and masculinity will never be anything but toxic and dangerous.
If you are are a first year or sophomore reading this, I’d urge you not to waste your time. This is not a criticism of just Tach, I promise these same problems if not similar ones happens in Phi Delt, BDS, DKE, Sigma, and DU also.
Don’t try to pretend like you want anything more fake friends, parties, women, and clout.
You might be reading this and thinking that I am just bitter. In that case you would be very wrong. So maybe you have to see for yourself. If you have gotten this far and still decide to rush and pledge a fraternity, I ask just one thing: please just try to make every space you find yourself in as safe and open as possible for everyone. Oh, and that leaving is, indeed, an option.