In today's blog post about Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, I'll talk about fraternities.
Richard Nixon was a student at Whittier College, there was a very
exclusive group known as the Franklins. Nixon helped found an
alternative group, the Orthogonians. The fancy Franklins mocked the
Orthogonians as low-class, but the Orthogonians eventually became quite
powerful at Whittier College, especially in terms of student government
and student activities. It looks rather populist, like the triumph of
the underdog, right? But there were two things that Morris said that
caught my eye. First of all, the Orthogonians themselves were exclusive
during the 1930's. As Morris says on page 121, "In the thirties the
Franklins and Orthogonians together would induct hardly a quarter of the
men studying at Whittier College." Second, both the Franklins and the
Orthogonians hazed. The Franklins had their pledges wear dresses on
campus and paddled them. The Orthogonians had some of their recruits
eat spoiled meat, and a couple of recruits were taken to the outskirts
and had to "find their way back to the college" in their underpants
The university that I attended as an undergraduate was
very Greek. We had a rush, in which students would attend parties and
check out various fraternities or sororities. Most people would try to
join one, and they were either accepted or rejected. Some got into
their first choice. Some got into their second, or their third. I knew
one guy who wasn't asked back by any of them! I was so accustomed to
my campus' culture that, when I met people from other schools and they
told me that only a minority of students on their campus were in a Greek
organization, I was surprised by that.
Where was I in all this?
Basically, I was a non-participant. I didn't go through rush. I didn't
join a fraternity. And I had friends or acquaintances who were the
same way. When I was a senior, some people I knew formed a group of
independents, and (if I recall correctly) they would have their own
activities during rush. But I did not participate in that: I was too
independent to want to join them, and they were too radical for me
(particularly in terms of politics).
My Mom suggested that I join a
fraternity when I first attended the university, since she wanted for
me to have business contacts. But I simply did not want to join one. I
did not want to be rejected by a bunch of cool kids, plus I feared
being hazed. Moreover, I didn't want to be pressured to drink. I was
an odd duck, and I did not want to be reminded of that in going through
rush. As I made friends on campus, my Mom came not to care whether I
joined a fraternity or not.
Even though I did not go through rush
my first year, I was asked to join one fraternity. This fraternity
consisted of the quieter people. I think I was asked because a guy I
got along with was in that fraternity, and sometime before I had
expressed interest to him in joining. But I told the person calling me
that I wasn't interested in Greek life. A friend of mine had tried this
fraternity out, and he found its activities to be boring: he'd play
cards with the same people every Friday night. That sounded boring to
me, too. I much preferred to spend my Friday nights reading a book.
The people in the fraternity seemed like nice guys, though.
somewhat glad that I spent my four years of college hitting the books,
rather than going to fraternity parties. I do know people who managed
to be successful after college, even though they were not in
fraternities or sororities. At the same time, I would have done well to
have learned social skills somehow, for my dearth of social skills
would later hinder me from making the contacts that I needed. I'm not
sure if throwing me into parties would have made me socially adept,