Why did USC build the Greek Village, anyway?

Yes, I can think of some reasons, but since all of the ones I think of are… unpersuasive… I continue to wonder whether there are any defensible reasons for having devoted that choice real estate to such a purpose (not to mention putting the Strom Taj Mahal workout center in a location that only the Greeks could walk to conveniently and safely).

If you know of any, share them.

Here’s the thing about this sudden discovery by the university that fraternities tend to encourage unseemly behavior (“USC officials, Greeks debate hospital trips, strippers,” The State) — I’ve never understood why their presence is in any way encouraged at public institutions of higher learning.

At all of our colleges and universities today, administrators know that one of the most serious problems they face is binge drinking, and other activities that most of us associate with… well, Greek life. It astounds me that, in the 21st century, we even allow these organizations onto campuses, much less do anything to make them feel welcome. Not that we independents haven’t been known to chug a brew or two in college, but most of us didn’t join societies that, to the larger world, are essentially seen as drinking clubs.

I could see it if these associations had a salutary effect — say, if they militated against such irresponsible behavior. But I’m not seeing much indication of that.

Of course, I’m prejudiced. I went through college in the early 70s, which is actually the time that the cultural phenomena we associate with the 60s kicked in across most of the country. In my day, there were Greeks, but they seemed terribly anachronistic. It was something my Dad did (Pi Kappa Alpha), but not cool people in my generation. By the 70s — or at least by 1978 — they were associated with a benighted past, an object for satire. It was like, if you were in a frat, what century (or at least, what decade) were you living in? I understood that some people had their arms twisted by their parents into joining their frats and sororities, but what was the motivation beyond that? (There was this one guy who kept calling to invite me to check out his frat, and he only did it because he was bugged by his Dad, who worked with my Dad. I always came up with excuses to be elsewhere.)

The fact that people actually attached importance to this presumed bond — which is a perfect illustration of a granfalloon — has always puzzled me, and even caused me to think a little less of the human race. (While different, it’s distantly related to the way I feel about political parties.) To share another anecdote…

Once, when I was a student at Memphis State, a bunch of us were playing basketball on an outdoor court next to my dorm. Some guy got mad about something stupid and pointless, and put on a disgusting display of petulance, quickly convincing everyone that he was a total jerk. Finally, he decided to walk away, pouting. The attitude of every guy present was, Good Riddance. Every guy but one, who had to chase after him and try to… I don’t know, console him or commiserate or whatever. “We all said, what the hell, man? The guy’s a complete d__k! Come back and play.” There was some reason that his departure mattered to us, I forget what that reason was. Maybe he was taking the ball with him. Otherwise, we probably would have said Good Riddance to him as well.

Anyway, he said he had no choice but to run after that guy, because… he was his fraternity brother. We all looked on in disgust at this display of completely misplaced loyalty based on nothing more substantial than that.

But I’m sure some of you have a different perspective. Please, help me understand the ways that frats contribute to institutions of higher education.

Clue me in as to why those brick palaces, in the core of our community, add to our community.

30 thoughts on “Why did USC build the Greek Village, anyway?

  1. Steven Davis

    Have you looked at the vehicles outside those buildings? The Greek Village is where rich high school kids stay prior to their parents buying a downtown house or condo for Jr. to stay in while at college. Take away the Greek Village and you’ll send the market for croakies, pink oxfords, deck shoes and GQ Magazine into a downward spiral.

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  2. bud

    The university should not in any way fund these organizations. Otherwise they’re pretty harmless really. Drinking is a dangerous endevor for any one, regardless of their Greek affiliation. Much ado about nothing. Plenty of drinking, drugging and other assorted hijinx at non-fraternity dorms. This is nothing more than a right of passage. Everyone should just lighten up a bit.

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  3. David Carlton

    Universities have a lot of stakeholders with conflicting priorities. Speaking as a member of a faculty (Vanderbilt), I can assure you that faculty here are constantly looking for ways to curb the greek influence. Administrators, however, have to kowtow to rich donors, and a lot of those donors are greeks and expect their kids to be greeks. For all too many, the point of college isn’t learning, it’s networking, and greek life is key to that. Note that it’s not a matter of “encouraging” them. Greeks have been around a long time, and have a strong independent power base; it’s a matter of accommodating what you can’t get rid of.

    You also have to consider that putting the greeks together in one place is also a means of keeping them under *control.* When Vandy created its Greek Row, it did so precisely for that purpose; Vandy owns the buildings (I gather USC doesn’t, but has say in who buys in), keeps firm administrative control, and periodically evicts chapters from houses for egregious misconduct. Whatever the current problems, can you imagine the problems if fraternity houses were scattered through Shandon? It’s certainly possible to get rid of the greeks altogether (my alma mater did so about twenty years ago), but it requires a broad consensus among the other stakeholders; I dare say such consensus is lacking at USC.

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  4. Tom S

    I’m with you on this, Brad. I never did ‘get’ the fraternity thing. In my 4 years at USC I formed a strong bond with a number of independent ‘brothers’ and we jokingly referred to ourselves as ‘Kappa Riff Raff.’ Thanks for the post.

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  5. joanneh

    I was never a fan of the brother/sister-hood from high school on. I saw the damage that high school groups claiming to be “sororities” or “fraternities” could do to students’ egos. We talk of bullying now? It’s nothing new. The high school rush was all about raising hopes and then excluding those they rushed so that it seemed they had really “chosen” their sisters and brothers. Odd names, huh?

    When I got to Carolina, I was disgusted when girls on my hall proudly proclaimed they were going to rush so that they could get their “MRS” degree. They counted on that association with the fraternities to provide the young men who had the bucks to be able to rush.

    When my children got to high school (where I taught), I made it clear they would NOT rush. They never wanted to. I hoped then (and I think I did now) that I had raised strong females who didn’t need that kind of “friendship.”

    I was very happy to see in the last few years at my brick & mortar school and alma mater (I’m a virtual teacher now) that the sororities and fraternities have died a silent death.

    I would love to see the same happen in the colleges and universities of our state.

    OK. I’m done. :)

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  6. Bryan Caskey

    The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests; we did.

    But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general?

    I put it to you! Isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you bad-mouth the United States of America!

    Gentlemen!

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  7. `Kathryn Fenner

    For the record, there are two overhead walkways, built at great expense to ferry the plebes across Blossom and Assembly. I’ve walked on them. They are actually kinda cool. I was not part of a crowd–I suspect students are too lazy to use them.

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  8. Greg Jones

    At USC, 74-78, we had University Life sponsored beer parties in the dorms. Of course, the legal drinking age was 18.
    But we never had STRIPPERS.

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  9. bud

    Greg, I stayed in Preston College 1974-1978. The beer parties were quite popular then. And we were certainly about as far removed from the Greek way of life as you could get. But many folks managed to get in trouble without the Greek influence. Not sure I understand the hubub. Drinking should be discouraged no matter where it occurs. Picking on the Greeks, even though they do seem a bit absurd, is not really fair.

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  10. Brad

    Steven, everyone knows that’s what it was. And Bryan intended for us to know…

    What made it funny is that I had to read a couple of sentences of it, thinking, “Why would Bryan say these things?” before I got it — and laughed.

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  11. Brad

    As I’ve written before, we had free beer busts at my private dorm at Memphis State — all you could drink, and more. Which astounds me to this day, that ANY adult could have thought that was a good idea. It also made joining a frat seem PARTICULARLY pointless. (And yes, back then and there it was legal at 18 — which was REALLY stupid.)

    Just because kids will do that if given the chance doesn’t mean adults should provide them with a gold-plated opportunity to do it. In fact, it is the job of adults to keep the little hellions in line, to do all they can to PREVENT such behavior.

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  12. Brad

    We also occasionally had “Italian night” at that dorm — spaghetti and the like. I couldn’t eat most of the food — I think about all I wasn’t allergic to was some zucchini — but I could drink the chianti. And there was no limit; you could just keep coming back.

    I only took one night class during my time as a full-time student. It was a psych course — Abnormal Psychology or Theories of Personality or the like. One night, we had Italian Night before my class. I don’t know how much wine I’d had — several little plastic glasses while chatting with my friends in the cafeteria — but I showed up for class and was deeply confused when the prof handed me a test as I walked in. If I had known there was going to be a test, I had forgotten.

    I took it to my desk and stared at it a moment. Then I got up and headed for the door. On the way, I dropped off the untouched test paper and explained to the prof — perfectly reasonably, it seemed to me at the time — that there was NO WAY I could handle a test that night. I may have mumbled something about wine.

    Amazingly, he let me take it later with no penalty. This was the 70s, you see.

    No, I was not a drunkard. I was just a kid, and far too young to handle the temptations that adults handed to me with no strings attached.

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  13. Brad

    As for those walkways, Kathryn — I very carefully wrote that the Strom was placed “that only the Greeks could walk to conveniently and safely.”

    They can cross the street, which is relatively unsafe around that intersection. They can use the walkways, which are inconvenient — there are NO walkways leading from the direction of the main campus to the gym. Coming from the center of campus, you have to walk a block-and-a-half out of your way, and then climb a flight or two of stairs, in order to be able to approach the gym on a long, oblique tangent.

    Since all 18- and 19-year-olds are certain they are immortal, of course they are going to take the direct route.

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  14. Steven Davis

    “Coming from the center of campus, you have to walk a block-and-a-half out of your way, and then climb a flight or two of stairs, in order to be able to approach the gym on a long, oblique tangent.”

    Gosh, we wouldn’t want students heading to work out have to go through all that, now would we.

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  15. David

    Just because kids will do that if given the chance doesn’t mean adults should provide them with a gold-plated opportunity to do it. In fact, it is the job of adults to keep the little hellions in line, to do all they can to PREVENT such behavior.

    I agree with the first sentence of this statement, but not the second. It is stupid for a university to provide alcohol, especially the all-you-can-drink variety, to students. That is plain and simple. But is it really the job of adults to do all they can to prevent stupid behavior of college students?

    If a student wants to drink a few cups of wine before going to a class and the result is that he flunks a test, then good! Maybe that experience would further him along the path to maturity moreso than having an adult right behind him to make sure he’s in line.

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  16. Rose

    The University actually did get rid of the Greeks – from 1897 to 1927. They started forming on campus in the 1880s and the literary societies, which were essentially debating organizations, felt threatened and petitioned the State Legislature to ban the Greeks since they promoted drinking, cheating, and general bad behavior. Since there were many legislators who were alumni of those lit societies, they banned Greeks from ALL state-supported colleges in South Carolina. Of course, they just went underground and became “clubs” with names like “Sons of Schlitz” and “I Tappa Kegga.”
    Unfortunately the ban was lifted in 1927, the Greeks multiplied, and the literary societies which promoted education, research, and debate, died out.

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  17. Brad

    As David points out, there are several levels of possible response by adults:

    1. Actively encouraging and enabling dangerous and irresponsible behavior by kids.
    2. Looking the other way and tolerating such behavior, but not actively enabling.
    3. Setting some loose limits, for which there are (in this case, mild) penalties for stepping WAY out of line.
    4. Setting strict limits and really getting tough when kids really step out of line.
    5. Taking active responsibility as an adult for preventing such actions by kids who are, for the moment, dwelling within your sphere of influence.

    Arguments can be made for all the above approaches — except for the first one.

    The university sort of started out on the first option by building the Greek Village (although an argument can very well be made for David Carlton’s point that what USC did here was try to CONTAIN the problem). Now, it is pursuing option 3, but trying to sound like it’s imposing option 4.

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  18. Brad

    Oh, and David, I didn’t flunk the test. I was allowed to take it later with no penalty. I did learn a lesson, though. I found the situation — having to confess my incapacity — embarrassing, and never wanted to repeat it. And didn’t.

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  19. Mab

    I nominate Steven as the new Lee Muller/male curmudgeon of the blog. Lee used to be the voice in the wilderness — the yin to Brad’s yang — and never just a voice that aims to please.

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  20. Brad

    Actually, you could assign the same role to Doug and Bud.

    But I know what you mean. Steven’s tone if more reminiscent of Lee. There are differences, though. Each has his own voice.

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  21. Greg Jones

    When it comes down to it, it appears many supposedly responsible adults (including USC) never got the memo about the “new” 21 year old drinking age.
    I live in a more rural part of the state, and there are too many adults “hosting” underage drinking situations at their “hunting lodges” or “pond houses”. By hosting, I mean knowing that it is happening, and saying, “I’d rather have them here than somewhere else.”
    Whether it’s the dorm, or the frat houses, USC needs to come to grips with this.
    Fortunately, no one died. This time.

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  22. bud

    Brad, I guess the reason I sometimes get testy with you is not so much your views on the events of the day but your one size fits all philosophy. It’s kind of Brad’s way or the highway. There are exceptions of course. Brad is completely wrong about Iraq and never really presents a coherent argument in favor of that disaster but mostly I find a need to present a counter argument whenever Brad dogmatically argues in favor of something that is clearly more complicated, with lots of room for a different way of thinking.

    This Greek village thing is a perfect example of that. Clearly, in my humble opinion, it is obvious that college kids can and do behave poorly, especially regarding alcohol and drug use. I don’t find the Greeks any more guilty of that than other college students. But somehow they are the target of Brad and those who believe in this one side fits all worldview. I just find that off-putting and end up defending something that is not something I would normally find of interest.

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  23. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ bud– It’s not Brad’s way or the highway, unless we are all commenting at a rest area?

    Brad doesn’t agree with me, either. Indeed, I doubt any of us agree completely with any of the rest of us. (I think once I disagreed with Phillip. Really.)

    Brad provides us a convenient, civil forum in which to discuss….

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