On Thursdays I like to kill time with my friends-who-are-girls on an undisclosed balcony of an undisclosed dorm building on campus. It’s Spring, so lately the weather’s been generous. We all have work to do, but we don’t feel like tackling it yet. I play DEVO on my laptop. One of us mitigates a nicotine addiction. We wind up talking about things we care deeply for. We like saying fuck with emphasis and aggression.
Last Thursday the girls were painting coolers for guys they barely know, squinting in the sun, exclaiming fuck! more often than usual. It’s a fraternity formal tradition, apparently. Girls going to formals are obligated to make their dates a custom-made cooler stocked with alcohol. Frats go on two-night trips to party on beaches in Florida — thus, coolers with alcohol are a very necessary component of the event. I’ve been told that the girls’ work gets praised by boys for about two minutes at the start of the day, and then their masterpieces quickly become just… regular coolers.
I hear girls get competitive and mean about it. Multiple people posted in Tulane’s Class of 2019 Facebook page angrily proclaiming that their coolers had been stolen as they were sitting out to dry. People get rushed and careless too, which isn’t shocking — a mass email went out to campus residents on Wednesday saying “Good afternoon. This is a reminder that Warren House is home to 140 people. DO NOT spray paint in the building. It is a health hazard to keep the fumes trapped inside.”
Painting a cooler means finding a way to Walmart to get an Igloo cooler, twenty-some dollars of painting supplies, and another 70 to 100 dollars’ worth of alcohol. You have to sand down the surface, paint everything with a layer of primer, let it dry, and then decorate the cooler in a manner that would ideally be colorful and delightful. My friends, always wise, chose the splatter-paint approach.
As my friends painted, I suddenly looked up from my laptop and said something I’d been thinking about for a while. “What the fuck is wrong with Tulane’s fraternities?”
Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with them?
The cooler thing is only debatably terrible — forcing a cohort of sharp, enterprising, hard-working girls to take time out of their busy college life to become homemakers for guys they barely even know. It’s unnecessarily cumbersome and not even low-key misogynistic, but plenty of girls I talked to had fun with the project. Plus the cost of the rest of the trip is covered by the fraternity, so it’s only fair that the girls pitch in.
Something much less debatably terrible is that the guys and their dates are expected to share beds for both nights — or I suppose one of them can elect to sleep on the floor. If that’s not an implication of pressure to have sex, I don’t know what is. One of my friends went to a formal with a guy she pretty much didn’t know at all and didn’t particularly like. She came back saying it was terrible — she didn’t know anybody there, and she had to share a bed with a stranger who initially thought that sex was going to be on the table.
Kappa Alpha’s formal, which in years past was called the Old South Ball, is notoriously fucking terrible. Based on the anonymous report of a girl who went last year, the two weekends of events starts with pledges building a wall around the KA house, followed by a “secession speech” delivered on the front porch by the fraternity president.
They throw three parties across two weekends. Last year the themes were “Pimps and Hoes” and “White Trash Bash.” The formal party on the second Friday is called the Cottonball, during which the Blue Goose Award is given to the woman who has slept with the most members of KA in the past year. That tradition has supposedly ended this year, for obvious reasons.
They finish the festivities with Old South Day, where the fraternity goes to Robert E. Lee Circle and camps out, eating biscuits and fried chicken. Girls wear hoop skirts. Pledges bring KA flags.
That was last year. Aware many students find their formal repulsive on every level, KA actually asked to meet with Tulane Students Organizing Against Racism this year to discuss why an Old South Ball might be offensive. I wasn’t privy to that conversation, but from what I heard, the brothers seemed interested in making some changes to make the tradition appear more inclusive.
Kappa Alpha’s national organization banned the Old South Ball last January, so now they’re calling it Crimson Ball. Clearly not much has changed beneath the surface, though. Here’s a picture taken from the street of KA’s secession proceedings this year:
That says “Make America Great Again.” Trump is written in big letters on another side of the wall, as if clarification was needed.
It’s fine for a college campus to have frats that lean right ideologically, but Jesus Fucking Christ. When Trump’s most popular campaign promise is to build a wall to keep out rapists in Mexico, I don’t think KA’s message could be any clearer. Instead of, you know, cutting out the racist bullshit, they’ve decided to keep with tradition while also updating their racism for the modern age.
But KA isn’t the only fucked up fraternity, and neither are frats who do the make-a-beach-cooler-and-share-a-bed-with-a-stranger-who-thinks-he-can-fuck-you bullshit. With few exceptions, fraternities are fucked up at Tulane. And worse, I think they’re probably fucked up everywhere. They’re the nexus of the white supremacist, affluent male toxicity that pollutes campus culture. They put freshmen through the least productive, most hellish semester of their lives and indoctrinate them into a backwards, culty universe.
Clearly it doesn’t just affect pledges, though. Untold hundreds of sexual assaults are happening on campus every year. Girls are going to parties and getting poisoned. This literally happened to my roommate’s friend last semester — she collapsed in the middle of campus after leaving a frat house and started vomiting uncontrollably. My roommate was with her and called an ambulance. They were in the hospital until 6am.
Here’s the big picture: Tulane could be an incredible community of activists and progressive leaders who are super motivated, intelligent and genuinely prepared to go out and dominate in the adult world. That’s who I am, dare I say it, and that’s certainly who my friends are, when they’re not being forced to splatter paint coolers. But Tulane doesn’t get to be that, because ultimately our culture is still anchored in the white male supremacist traditions, legacy and behavior of our fraternities. Especially KA. Look at this fucking picture from 1985:
I think it’s a bit sad to pay annual dues in order to have friends in college, but I don’t think that being in a frat is intrinsically a terrible thing. I’m not writing all of this to diss anybody who’s in a fraternity, but I am telling you that you need to do better. Based on what I’ve seen in the past ten days, it’s very clear that our frats are in need of a major overhaul — a total reformation of their traditions and values that reflect an organization of the 21st century.
And in the meantime, please apologize to the rest of us for your stupid wall.