In today’s blog post about Roger Morris’ Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, I’ll talk about fraternities.
When 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 (page 120).
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.
I’m 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, though.