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Good Frat, Bad Frat

Donnie Collins (courtesy of Emerson College)

Sometimes it seems like college fraternities get a bad rap. And in some cases, they deserve it.

Things like wild parties, date rape, mediocre academic performances and binge drinking (to name a few) normally come to mind when most people think of fraternities because honestly, these things happen often enough to warrant such perceptions.

But not all fraternities are bad. Take Phi Alpha Tau at Emerson College in Boston, for instance.

20-year-old sophomore Donnie Collins is a new member of PAT, but he isn’t your typical college student. He came out as transgender just before arriving on campus and has since been saving up for gender reassignment surgery, namely to have his female breasts removed. The only problem is the cost.

At minimum, the procedure will cost roughly $8000. And in Collins’ case, that’s $8000 more than he has to spend. Fortunately his new fraternity brothers, who seem to be pretty open-minded since they accepted a transgender pledge, have taken up his cause and have been raising money to help Collins pay for the surgery.

So far, they have raised more than $12,000 and it looks as if Collins will have that procedure after all. As you might imagine, he was ecstatic when he heard the news.

“I’m overwhelmed and surprised,” Collins recently told reporters. “I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Student reactions to the fraternity’s latest “project” have been mixed, though. Some feel gender reassignment is a private matter and should be funded by the individual, rather than some outside organization, even one connected to the college.

Phi Alpha Tau President John Allen disagrees and believes in what he and his brothers are doing.

“We see Donnie as a brother and we want to support him in this endeavor,” Allen said recently. And thanks to he and the other members of PAT, they are doing just that.

It’s nice to read am uplifting and inspirational fraternity story because as I said, they are pretty rare. Don’t believe me? Then consider this next story, which ran about the same time as my first example.

Washington University (courtesy of Facebook)

At Washington University in St. Louis, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has just been suspended because of racial slurs some of its members made to African-American students on campus. All activities have been halted pending a university investigation.

According to several eyewitnesses, a handful of SAE members approached a table full of black students during dinner, took a photo of them and left. A few minutes later, these same frat boys returned with an even larger group and started singing a rap song that included numerous “N bombs.”

I think you know the word to which I’m referring.

Students across campus were notably angry when they heard the news, including senior Brittany Tokasey.

“I was really upset to hear about it and I was kind of shocked,” she told a local news crew. “It’s not something that usually goes on at this campus and never something I’ve heard about in the four years I’ve been here.”

SAE chapter president Mike Zissman could not be reached for comment, but posted the following to his Facebook page.

“First and above all, I want to apologize,” he wrote. “This type of action is detestable and completely unacceptable. I apologize both personally and on behalf of my fraternity, and promise you this will NEVER happen again.”

I certainly hope this is true because, as we all know, changing the public’s negative perceptions of college fraternities and Greek life won’t be easy. It helps when fraternities like Phi Alpha Tau make the news. But when every other fraternity story is negative and disturbing, the situation only gets worse.

Tighten up, frat guys!

Party Fowl

A Thanksgiving survivor

Hasn’t he suffered enough? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there no end to the ridiculous party stunts that college fraternities will pull just to satisfy their need for drunken entertainment?

Last Friday night, police in Lawrence were called to the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on the campus of the University of Kansas. They received several reports involving animal cruelty and a turkey.

You heard me right… a turkey.

Beta Theta Pi was holding its 129th Annual Turkey Pull, according to Lisa McKenzie, whose band was hired to play at the shindig.

“About seven guys kicked the cage in, then they spent 45 minutes throwing it around like a basketball. They broke its wing. They carried it by its legs. One was squeezing its neck,” McKenzie said. “I tried, but they wouldn’t give it to me. It ended when they took it out to the porch and wrung its neck.”

The president of the fraternity, Ryan O’ Grady, denied the allegations and claimed this never happened. But come on. Who the hell would make up a story about abusing a turkey? And isn’t it enough that his friends and family members were sacrificed a few weeks ago to satisfy our collective Thanksgiving hunger?

I call a party fowl… um, foul… on this whole sorted situation!

Hazing on the upswing

English: , University of Tennessee at Knoxville

University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in college, I often heard stories about fraternities hazing their pledges. Most of it involved excessive drinking or completely ridiculous acts, like streaking or doing other embarrassing things in public. And while much of it seemed innocent to me at the time, I was aware that students were being harmed or even killed at other institutions. Fortunately, hazing was soon outlawed and students who engaged in it faced serious consequences. Sure, some of it still happened, but at least all the morbid news stories eased off a bit.

I wish the same were true today. After just a few minutes of surfing the internet, I came across two recent hazing stories that make me wonder if this is going to become a problem again.

The first story comes from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Their chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity was just suspended because of an incident this past weekend that ended with one student being hospitalized. Apparently, they used hoses to give alcohol enemas to students. This produces a stronger and much more dangerous “buzz” since it allows alcohol to enter the bloodstream faster. The hospitalized student was subjected to this and ended up with a blood alcohol level more than five times higher than the legal limit for driving!

A spokesperson for the university denied this was hazing and instead qualified it as an “alcohol incident,” but I have my doubts. If it were this simple, then why suspend the fraternity? In my experience, alcohol and fraternities go hand-in-hand. Am I now supposed to believe that a single incident of alcohol abuse is enough to warrant suspension of the entire chapter? Better yet, would any fraternities exist if this were standard procedure? Aside from honors or academic fraternities, that is.

The second hazing story occurred at La Puente High School in California. And I must warn you that what happened is a little graphic, so please stop reading if you are easily offended.

Several young soccer players ranging in age from 14-15 were the victims of hazing and sexual assault by as many as ten of their teammates. Basically, the gang cornered each of them in a back room, held them down and inserted poles into their rectums. Although this is horrifying enough, I was even more appalled to learn that their coach was aware this abuse and did nothing to stop it. And his office was almost next door to the room where the abuse took place! It’s also worth mentioning that when the coach saw his players luring one of their victims into the room, he winked at the kid. Is there any doubt he knew what was about to happen?

While I find both of these stories disturbing for different reasons, it is obvious that hazing still occurs far more than it should. I can understand why the fraternity incident happened because as I mentioned, I know how some of these organizations operate. And the fraternity guys I knew were always looking for ways to enhance or intensify their “buzz.” They used beer bongs, did keg stands and consumed more Jello shooters than I care to count. I don’t agree with their methods, but I’m also not shocked by them, either.

Soccer Field

Soccer Field (Photo credit: Peter Ankerstål)

However, the incident at La Puente High School has to be one of the most offensive and frightening things I have heard in some time. Now that I’m a father, I find myself inserting my son into stories like these, at least as precautionary tales. He just started kindergarten and I must admit that relinquishing control of him to teachers and school administrators was not easy to do. I trust they will take care of him and make sure he remains safe, but there is always some level of doubt since no one will care for him like I do. The soccer coach in this story should have protected his players and intervened as soon as he learned of this abuse. Instead, he let it happen and even seemed to relish the fact it occurred. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if one of the victim’s parents beat the ever-loving shit out of this guy because personally, I would do it in an instant. Hell, I would probably kick some of the players’ asses, too. And you better believe that a lawsuit against the school, the coach and everyone else involved would be filed immediately. Someone would pay the price.

Hazing may be illegal, but since when has that stopped anyone? Smoking marijuana is illegal and more people are doing it than ever before, so laws aren’t enough to protect us. We must protect each other so incidents like the ones mentioned here will no longer plague our society. Part of our responsibility is to educate everyone, including our children, about the potential dangers in the world, including hazing. The other part is to take action when things like this do occur so others won’t fall victim to them in the future.

So to all you coaches, teachers or other school officials out there who let hazing and even sexual assault happen to your students,  I have one piece of advice for you: watch your back. Because if you allow something like this to happen to my son, I will be visiting you very soon.

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