Greek Weak

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

"NOTHING is over until WE decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? HELL, NO!"

-- John "Bluto" Blutarsky, National Lampoon's Animal House, 1978

Bluto doesn't live here anymore. And that goes for Otter, D-Day and Flounder, too.

In fact, they aren't even welcome in these parts -- parts being Arizona State University and the crumbling shell of fraternity life that once existed in north Tempe. Granted, ASU's Greek history -- "Greek" referring to the letters frats and sororities use to distinguish themselves -- has never been akin to that of, say, Indiana, Northwestern or Auburn universities, where more than a hundred years of fraternity traditions, toga parties, keggers, hazing rituals and stuffy elitism are more than just colorful anecdotes in school lore. Still, ASU didn't earn its reputation as a breeding ground for boneheads and loose morals -- or as America's No. 1 party school -- without some considerable help from the men on frat row.


Photograpy by Jackie Mercandetti

But the ASU fraternities of yesterday are just that. Gone are the openly rowdy and alcohol-soaked "community service" events, during which, for instance, meathead, oversize frat brothers raced tricycles -- blitzed -- to raise money for, ahem, local charities. Open-house keg parties? Since the fraternity now takes the fall, in this litigious society, if an underage co-ed on her way home in the wee hours gets run over by a speeding drunk, keggers are a no-no. No longer do the elder brethren haze the pledges with various mind-fucks, or force them into sleep deprivation. The frat can't survive the multimillion-dollar headache.

These days, it isn't even safe for a frat kid to shower with a porn star, much less enjoy a hand job from said porn star, lest he become the poster boy for all the Greeks' ills.

"We want something different than all that," Carlos Villicana, the chapter president of ASU's Delta Chi fraternity, says with a straight face. "We're looking for exemplary men of honor."

Villicana says this as underclassmen make their way into the D-Chi chapter room, a homogeneous setting inside ASU's newest dormitory, Adelphi II, that feels more like an apartment complex clubhouse than a fraternity house. It's Rush Week, the beginning of each semester during which fraternities market themselves to freshmen and sophomores, and vice versa. Just a few hundred feet away, at Adelphi Commons, the sororities are doing the same.

Today, Delta Chi is treating its wanna-bes to barbecued wieners and burgers, soda for all, and conversation that emphasizes high GPAs over high BACs.

Inside the freshly painted, newly carpeted chapter room is an unexpected aroma of cleanliness -- a combination of shampoo, cologne and that "new car" smell, or, in this case, "new dorm" smell. There isn't the pungent odor of piss and old beer you expect in a frat house, no broken liquor bottles or broken windows, and no one is passed out on the couch -- massive suede sectionals, by the way, nicely upholstered and spot-free. The walls are mostly bare, with the exception of a Delta Chi paddle hanging on one, and a tapestry of the Delta Chi coat of arms on another. The kitchen is immaculate. Shocking, truly.

And the men of Delta Chi are as squeaky clean as their domicile (at least, that's what's on display for a prearranged visit from a reporter, although it's hard to imagine that any amount of prep work could have created this). There is no keg on tap, no skin flicks on the giant big-screen TV, no sorority girls offering a "secret handshake" to coerce pimply freshmen into joining D-Chi's ranks of "athletes, gentlemen and scholars." Instead, the pledges -- or "associate members," as they're referred to in Delta Chi -- are playing Xbox video games, foosball, and a gentlemen's round of poker -- presumably, there's no wagering.

It's enough to make you want to shake some sense into a Delta Chi, and beg him to scream "TOGA!" But alas, a plea for a little civil disobedience in the form of such revelry would be for naught. This is not Animal House.

Rather, it's more like Revenge of the Nerds -- only without the revenge.

Better yet, call this the Stepford Fraternity. That's just what Villicana, his brothers, and the national headquarters want, they say. But more important, it's what ASU President Michael Crow demands. Which is why the Delta Chis, one of a dozen ASU-recognized fraternities, live here in Adelphi II, better known as "The Prison" to many of its residents who refer to their separate clusters as cellblocks.

Adelphi II is just one more piece of Crow's vision of the "new American university," one intended to corral the fraternities into a controlled environment and eliminate alcohol use on campus. But you'll hear little about the stifling of fraternity life from Crow. He couldn't clear the space in his calendar to talk with New Times about Greek life at ASU, according to ASU spokeswoman Nancy Neff. But the fraternities, including Delta Chi, have plenty to say.

Most of it wasn't on the record, of course.

"We don't want to say anything about Crow because we're afraid he'll kick us off campus," one Tau Kappa Epsilon brother told New Times.

The frats certainly aren't evoking the Spirit of Brother Bluto. Instead of streaking through the quads in protest -- as Crow and his administration have already squeezed some frats out of their own fraternity houses and into the sterile, alcohol-free environment of Adelphi II -- the frat boys are whimpering, despite Villicana's tough talk.

"[Adelphi II] is very temporary for us. We're not buying into Crow's ideas until Crow plays it straight with us," he says, referring to Crow's intent to tear down the remaining -- and dilapidated -- fraternity houses on Alpha Drive at the north end of campus (the only spot on campus where drinking guidelines remain fairly lax for those 21 and over) and move them into housing similar to Adelphi II as soon as 2006. One Greek alum says if the fraternities don't sell the Alpha Drive property back to ASU, Crow and his administration likely will claim eminent domain and end the frat party once and for all.

Their only recourse, according to the dozens of fraternity members New Times interviewed, is to threaten the administration with displeased Greek alum who not only share the sentiment but also donate more than their fair share to the ASU Foundation (ASU's fund-raising organization) every year.

"You don't wanna piss off the donors," Villicana says. "We've got a lot of generous fraternity alum that give millions of dollars to ASU. If you don't cooperate with the fraternities, that money is gone."

So don't expect the Delta Chis, or, for that matter, the Kappa Sigs -- whose house was bulldozed by ASU over the summer -- to smuggle a horse into Crow's office, drive a "Deathmobile" into the homecoming parade, or sneak a Ruffies into Crow's morning coffee.

Rather than standing up to Crow's Dean Wormer like the Deltas so honorably did more than 25 years ago, the ASU campus seems to be inhabited by a bunch of elitist Omegas bending over for Crow, tearfully begging, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?"

It's Tuesday night during Rush Week, and the Phi Kappa Psis are beating the shit out of an old Buick outside their chapter house, the last remaining frat house on ASU's south campus, also known as Adelphi Drive. One of the Phi Psi brothers has already run over the car with his massive 4x4 truck, and now pledges and Phi Psi "actives" are taking a sledgehammer to the Buick's body, bashing the windows, letting out a few grunts as they pound the hood to a metal pulp.

The Phi Psi chapter president is quick to defend the Neanderthal festivities as a way to cap off the "stressful" first couple of weeks of the semester.

"It's just a way for us to release some tension," says Ethan Olson. The "Car Bash" is a new Phi Psi tradition, just two semesters old.

If his fraternity is lucky, Olson says, it will happen for a third semester in the spring.

"Every day, I worry that someone's gonna come knock on my door and tell me that our house is about to be bulldozed," he says. "I guess you could say we're on edge."

As long as they have friends with deep pockets, the men of Phi Psi should be okay.

During the summer session at ASU, Olson would pay a daily visit in between classes to "Old Row," or Adelphi Drive, where ASU's original fraternities were housed beginning in the early 1950s, just south of Apache Boulevard. He'd heard rumblings that some of the old buildings -- the Theta Chi, Kappa Sigma, Delta Tau Delta and Lambda Chi Alpha houses -- might be torn down to make way for Crow's latest infrastructural changes. Rumors that Crow wants a tram built on south campus that takes students to north campus -- and the new light-rail system -- or that Crow wants a new medical research facility there abound. Juan Gonzalez, ASU's vice president of student affairs, tells New Times that the university is considering new fraternity housing in the same spot -- among other RFPs (requests for proposal) the university issued about a month ago.

Nevertheless, in late July, the rumors Olson had heard turned true. He watched as bulldozers plowed through four fraternity houses on Adelphi Drive, all of them in need of major renovations, most just to meet safety codes. "That was definitely a wake-up call," he says.

But the bulldozers stopped short of the Phi Psi house, which is now the only remaining frat house on "Old Row." While the Kappa Sigs were forced to move into Adelphi II (the Theta Chis, Delta Tau Deltas and Lambda Chis had already been expelled from campus by their national organizations for behavioral problems or risk management issues), the Phi Psis signed another yearlong lease with the university.

"We can thank our alum for that," Olson says. "We're lucky to have alum that support us and do what it takes for us to maintain our way of life."

Like Jerry Nelson, the founder of national ticket broker Ticketmaster and owner of his own local construction company, and a Phi Psi alum from UCLA who owns a house in north Scottsdale. Back in 1999, when Lattie Coor was still ASU's president, Nelson invested about $800,000 in the Phi Psi house, installing Internet access, bringing the building up to code, and adding another wing to the house with six more rooms. ASU administration says the upgrades were necessary if Phi Psis wanted to stay in the house.

The same year, Nelson also gave a $1 million donation to the university for what he was told would be a "medical research facility" somewhere on campus.

One look inside the Phi Psi house and it's obvious there's still much work to do. It's certainly nothing as pristine as the new Adelphi II dormitory just a few hundred feet to the east, where the Delta Chis, Kappa Sigs, Phi Gamma Deltas (Fijis), Kappa Alphas and Theta Chis now live. Which says to Matt Binzler, the chapter president of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, that the decision to move him and his brothers into Adelphi II had nothing to do with the condition of his now-demolished fraternity house -- and everything to do with money.

"Phi Psi has [Jerry Nelson], who's put in a million-dollar donation, but he made sure that that million dollars had to go to the house," Binzler says. "And if they would have bulldozed the [Phi Psi] house, ASU would have had to give back the donation. [ASU] wasn't willing to do that, so Phi Psi had a lot more ground to [stand] on."

Binzler is ill-informed, ASU administrators say.

Juan Gonzalez, who has been at ASU for about a year after coming over from Georgetown last fall and played a key role in deciding the Kappa Sigs' fate, says he never knew about Nelson's donation to the university. "It didn't have any factor in our decision," he says.

But Nelson, 75, who was reached at his summer house in Cabo San Lucas, tells New Times that if ASU had torn down the Phi Psi house, the university would have risked losing his money. "I would have definitely considered pulling that donation," he says. "I'm not sure what other option I would have had."

Alpha Drive fraternities still enjoy the good life compared to those in Adelphi II, and even the Phi Psis. While the Phi Psis do live in a house as opposed to a dorm, they still answer to the ASU administration when it comes to alcohol policies based on their lease agreement: for example, no open containers in what are referred to as "common areas," including the backyard and the game room. That makes it difficult to have social functions at the Phi Psi house involving alcohol -- without getting caught. At Adelphi II, it's even more ill-advised to have alcohol on hand, where having open containers can get you kicked out of the dorm, or worse, the entire fraternity expelled from living there -- even if the person drinking is 21.

But on Alpha Drive, the frats still control their own drinking policies, or at least their national headquarters do. Most have parties frequently, albeit with strict guidelines: A guest list must be turned in to the Greek Life advisers at ASU 24 hours in advance; bartenders card guests at the door; and parties must be separated into drinking and non-drinking areas. Still, someone is rarely watching.

"Without a doubt, they have an advantage on Alpha Drive," Binzler says, referring to recruiting new members. "They're able to throw parties. They're able to do all that legally. If we did that, we'd run a real risk of being kicked off, which sucks."

Several fraternity members, including Binzler, Villicana, and others who asked not to be identified, say they believe that the fraternities have been set up by the administration's policies regarding alcohol. As strict as the drinking policy is at Adelphi II, Binzler and Villicana say it's inevitable that someone will be busted.

"You can't control what everyone's doing in this place. I mean, come on, these are college kids. They're going to drink," Binzler says, which is ironic considering the cashed case of Red Stripe beer on his dorm room floor and the empty containers of Jagermeister that adorn his dresser in Adelphi II.

"When one person screws up," says Villicana, "it will make everyone else look bad. When one fraternity gets kicked out of this place, then the rest will follow soon enough."

"Alcohol is not synonymous with fraternities," Gonzalez argues. "Look at their charters, their mission statements. You can run a fraternity without the use of alcohol."

Right. And Otter wasn't a womanizing con man; he just had intimacy issues.

Back in the day, Doug Todd knew how to party. "We'd head for the desert or head for the river late at night, and that's when we'd drink beer, and lots of it," says the Maricopa County treasurer, a Tempe native, ASU grad (1951), and Delta Chi alum, fondly remembering his fraternity days -- and nights -- along the Salt River. "One Saturday night I remember pretty prominently being dropped off on College Avenue in front of East Hall. They dropped us off in front of the door with about a quarter of a keg left.

"We were sitting on the curb trying to finish that keg when Charlie, the security guy, came up to us and said, 'Now, you boys know you're not supposed to be doing this.' And we said, 'Oh, yes sir, Charlie.' So then we picked up the keg and finished it in our rooms.

"Now you'd be gone if you did anything like that."

Bob Francis knows that all too well. For more than 30 years he worked at ASU, in its admissions office for most of it, but most recently as the executive coordinator for Greek Life until he retired in 2002. He also spent 10 years as an adviser to his fraternal alum, the Pi Kappa Alphas (or Pikes). Francis was a Pike when he attended ASU in the late '60s, arguably ASU's Greek Life heyday.

"Our campus was maybe 12,000 to 15,000 students at the time, and being in a Greek organization provided quick opportunities -- intramurals, certainly social events, things that are very organized," Francis recalls. "Other people are planning it all, and you just show up."

Most of the events, Francis says, were always with sororities, but most would be off campus, maybe at a VFW hall. "We drank more than we should have and did crazy things."

Still, the ASU administration at the time, Francis recalls, was supportive of Greeks, "because they were adults," Francis says. "I think the community, for the most part, was supportive as well, but they were cautious. There's a reason they didn't want fraternities and sororities living in houses in their neighborhoods."

Reasons like the Phi Psi 500, a tricycle race to raise money for local charities (and the fraternity house itself). Or the Sigma Chi "Derby Days." And the Sigma Alpha Epsilon "Paddy Murphy" party, a "mock wake" for St. Patrick. Add the "Greek Week" festivities and, on the surface, they all sound pretty innocent, or just plain goofy. "But a big party almost always followed these things. For the Phi Psi 500, most of the teams would show up already intoxicated," Francis says. "It doesn't take very long for things to get out of hand."

Once the drinking age was lowered to 19 in the late '70s, things got out of hand in a hurry, Francis says. All students -- not just fraternities and sororities -- began drinking on campus legally. And a few years later, when the drinking age was again raised to 21, it was too hard to turn the kids back to the way things used to be.

The '80s and '90s did little to improve the Greek image at ASU. There were hazing violations, drinking violations, and plenty of fraternities were being placed on probation or even suspended from campus. In a span of less than a year, Francis says, three Sigma Phi Epsilons died from alcohol-related incidents between 1995 and 1996 after keg parties on Alpha Drive.

But it's what's happened in the last few years at ASU that's put Michael Crow on the offensive and fraternities in the position they're currently in, says one ASU administrator, who asked not to be identified.

"Let's face it. The fraternities have done some really stupid things," he says.

Some things have happened beyond their control.

Such as the death of freshman Jessica Woodin in 2001, a 19-year-old who'd partied at the Lambda Chi Alpha house all night, attempted to cross Apache Boulevard at 2 a.m., and was killed in a hit-and-run accident by Mark Torre, a young attorney and ASU alum. Torre -- who, it should be pointed out, had begun drinking at a Red Robin restaurant, not at a frat party -- is now in prison. The Lambda Chis were forced to shut down by their national organization, and became the target of a $1 million lawsuit. The Woodin family and the Lambda Chis eventually settled for $150,000.

Some things were not beyond their control. When Brian Buck answered the door at the Sigma Nu house on a September morning in 2001, his first mistake was inviting the Shane's World #29: Frat Row Scavenger Hunt 3 crew inside. Never mind that he showered and made out with a porn star, Calli Cox. You don't have to be in a fraternity to think, hey, this isn't such a bad thing. It's what happened a year later when the community, and Michael Crow (having been inaugurated as president of ASU just two months prior), found out about the film, and Buck became a willing semi-celebrity.

"I don't know where Brian Buck is. But I can tell you he isn't welcome back here," says Marcus Finefrock, the recruiting coordinator for the Sigma Nus, who just moved back into their house on Alpha Drive after being kicked off two years ago. "Not after he aggrandized himself the way he did."

The fraternities New Times spoke with point to both events as the collective impetus for the strained relationship between ASU's fraternities and the Crow administration today.

Carlos Villicana says Delta Chi's residency in Adelphi II is temporary. Whether that's his or ultimately ASU's doing is still unclear. "There's no way we're going to stay in this place," he says. "Yeah, the facility itself is nice, it's new. But this is not a fraternity house, this is a dorm."

Soon, the D-Chis and all of ASU's fraternities may have yet another on-campus alternative. On October 7, Crow is expected to hear a proposal from Jeffrey Abraham, an ASU Pi Kappa Alpha alum, a self-employed "consultant" who once coordinated the multimillion-dollar renovation to ASU's Old Main. He also worked as the director of the Pikes' national scholarship program in Memphis, Tennessee, for five years. And, most recently, he coordinated the logistics of Crow's inaugural ceremony in 2002. So he knows how to raise money, and he claims he knows how to work with Crow.

"I think President Crow wants to work with the Greek community. I think he sees the benefit of Greek life and he sees the value of maintaining a relationship with our Greek alumni," Abraham says.

For almost a year, Abraham has been developing designs for a "Greek village" on north campus where the run-down fraternity houses on Alpha Drive -- including those of Sigma Nu, Tau Kappa Epsilon, Sigma Pi and the Pikes, all of which were built in the early 1960s -- currently stand. He brought the initial proposal to Crow's desk a few months ago, but Crow wanted something different, Abraham says.

"[Crow] wanted something that incorporated all of the university -- a multipurpose area that could greet visitors to ASU when they're coming down Rural Road [south toward University Drive]," Abraham says. What Crow will see on October 7 is a proposal for a $150 million to $200 million community in three phases on 18 acres of land that includes a new university visitor center, retail space and a high-rise hotel on the complex's Rural Road facing. On the western end of the project will be new parking structures and an 80,000-square-foot student recreation center -- a "satellite" rec center to complement the one already in use on the south end of campus. Most important, though, will be the complex's guts: a group of new residence halls for independent students (mostly freshmen and sophomores), graduate living facilities, condos for faculty members, and a set of brownstones for fraternities and sororities.

And, "most of it will be privately financed," Abraham says.

It sounds like a slam dunk for all parties involved. ASU Residential Life gets space it sorely needs, considering the tightly packed residential eyesores on campus like Manzanita on University Drive (as well as a long list of safety concerns the older residence halls have presented over the years). Crow gets a cornerstone property of his administration's infrastructural improvements to the campus, not to mention control of a highly sought after piece of real estate. And the fraternities get to move into a facility that provides the opportunity for all of their members to live in unique individual housing together.

The only problem is that it's too good to be true.

"We all know this thing is never going to happen," Villicana says. "It's a pipe dream. It's all talk."

Because, Villicana says, it's something Crow doesn't have to do.

The more likely scenario, most fraternity members who spoke with New Times say, is that Crow will offer the fraternities space in the new complex -- under ASU's rules. The fraternities, in turn, will argue for "self-governance." Crow will decline, then claim eminent domain on the property, and give the fraternities who own the houses -- which are surrounded by property ASU has bought over the past couple of years -- half their market value. And the fraternities will be forced to make a decision: move into Adelphi II or something similar, or move off campus.

"I mean, really, what's the incentive for Crow to give us self-governance?" Villicana says.

Even ASU Greek Life adviser Mike Najor -- whom the fraternities believe is solidly in their corner -- says the plan won't happen.

"ASU wants that property, and they'll get it," Najor says. "What will inevitably happen is that in five or 10 years all of the fraternities will either live in Adelphi II, or live in something very similar.

"But the days of fraternity life as everybody knows it, or knew it in the past, are over."

It's Bid Day, the end of Rush Week when fraternities and sororities choose their pledges. At Adelphi II, the Delta Chis are about to commence their "pinning ceremony," when -- with the help of the lovely ladies of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority -- the "associate members" will take an oath pledging their loyalty to the frat and to its secrets, and the ladies will fasten the pledge pin to the men's shirt pockets.

Delta Chi's "actives" -- those who've been in the frat for at least a semester and have been made privy to all of the fraternity's secrets (whatever they may be) -- are dressed in black shirts and silk ties, their hair gelled and spiky. They stand along the outer wall of this multipurpose room, one similar to the D-Chi chapter room, minus the amenities, as the Kappa Kappa Gammas are seated in front of them, most looking pretty uninterested in the ceremony about to take place.

Then, a long procession of about 35 nervous pledges -- all dressed in white shirts and ties (the white shirts signify the pledges' "purity," one D-Chi brother says) -- march to their destiny, to the center of the room.

At the head of the room, behind a table covered with red books the D-Chis call their "Cornerstone," and pledge pins, Carlos Villicana begins the ceremony and addresses the newbies.

"There is threefold obligation you must take before becoming an associate member. It is the same obligation many men in Delta Chi have taken before you," Villicana begins. "This oath will contain nothing that will conflict with any of your duties which you owe to your job, country, family, or moral integrity. With this understanding, is it your desire that we proceed with this ceremony?"

"It is," 35 voices say in unison.

A list of all the pledges about to be inducted into D-Chi is read aloud, slowly. When his name is read, each pledge is visibly pleased with a grin.

The boys are asked to raise their right hands. And the oath begins.

"Say I, then pronounce your last name, and repeat after me," a Delta Chi alum instructs the pledges.

"I vow on my word of honor/as an associate member of the Delta Chi fraternity/to keep inviolate the secrets of Delta Chi./I promise to accept and uphold my responsibilities as an associate member in Delta Chi./I will conduct myself with honor and as a gentleman/so as to reflect credit upon myself/and esteem upon my associates./This threefold obligation will be my constant thought/until I have gained sufficient knowledge to be initiated into full membership/as a brother in the bond of Delta Chi."

After a tedious process of fastening the Delta Chi pledge pin to the shirt pockets of the newly inducted, the Kappa Kappa Gamma girls take their seats, and are treated to a rousing rendition of the Delta Chi song of brotherhood. Arms around each other, they sway back and forth, some struggling to remember the words.

Finally, it's over, and they go to the Bamboo Club for dinner.

Carlos Villicana sticks around for a few minutes to gather the D-Chi handbook, the extra pins and "Cornerstones." His duty is done for the night. Maybe.

"So when do the whippings begin?" Villicana is asked.

"About midnight, right in the center of the courtyard."

Sadly, he's joking.

E-mail joe.watson@newtimes.com, or call 602-744-6557.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.