As a Dartmouth fraternity pledge, Snowden Wright ran a debauched gauntlet, withstanding booze-fueled indignities at the hands of his brothers-to-be. Almost 10 years later, he’s glad he did.
At this moment, sitting at a desk void of empty beer cans, thinking with a head clear of any hangover, I am looking at a picture of my friends and me from the night we were accepted into Dartmouth’s Kappa Omega Kappa fraternity. It was taken at least eight years ago. Matt still has a full head of hair. Josh wears the same pink button-ups he does now, and Jay wears the same baggy polo knits he does now. Rick is about 20 pounds lighter.
Despite those bad haircuts, all of us stare at the camera with the genuine optimism of youth. We have not yet taken on the cynicism that will define ourselves for the rest of our years in college. Inside a dorm room during a January so many years past, we say cheese for the camera while squashed together on a futon, smiling honest smiles, laughing honest laughs, all of us hopeful at the prospect of becoming men.
In high school, I’d been a model student who made excellent grades, stayed home on far too many weekend nights, almost never spoke out of turn, almost never faked being sick, almost never broke the dress code, scored high on standardized tests, could use big words to impress teachers, could use slang words to impress peers, and did not even once come close to getting laid.
At the start of college, I knew I had wasted plenty of opportunities in high school—to socialize, to have a good time, to ejaculate; but missing those opportunities in high school meant I could remedy them in college. I had gotten into an Ivy League school. Over the next four years, so went my thoughts during orientation, I would be able to become the person I should have been all along.
I could gain proper social skills and lose my bookish reputation. I could gain a tolerance for alcohol and lose my seemingly interminable virginity. Those goals led me, as they have so many others, as they did so many of my friends, to join a fraternity.
Dartmouth was outrageously Greek. At the time I was there, September of 2000 to June of 2004, 23 Greek organizations were active on campus: eight sororities, three co-ed groups, and 12 fraternities, all of whose members constituted roughly 60 percent of the student body. You couldn’t throw a ping-pong ball without hitting a cup of beer.
It was 2002. At the local bar known as Five Olde—in the corner, a Zenith Chromacolor flashing nothing but snow; near the ceiling, a SmokeEater 3000 going loose on its mounts—my friends and I sat at our usual table toward the back, eating free popcorn and drinking whiskey on the rocks. We were sophomores. Over the past year, we’d stolen the banner from Phi Tau and draped it from the roof of Baker Library, hung a pickled pig’s hoof on a string outside the door of our residential advisor’s room, taken a handful of road trips to Boston, hooked up with many of the same girls, allowed a case of pinkeye to spread throughout our entire dorm, patronized a strip club called Cactus Jack’s one town over, thrown up in our beds at night and the next day cut out the soiled area of the sheets, chugged on scorpion bowls from Panda House, and watched on television as the World Trade Center collapsed to the ground. Whatever innocence we’d had on entering college was lost forever.
That night at the bar, we had been asked by the brothers of the fraternity we would soon pledge if we would join them for hot wings, a casual meet-and-greet prior to rush. We got there an hour early. That is to say we were, by the time the brothers arrived, a sheet and a half to the wind.
We nursed whiskeys as the brothers ordered pints. The bartender knew us by name. We ordered next rounds as the brothers nursed their first. One might have wondered who was courting whom.
At 9:00, the brothers excused themselves to go back to the house, where they had to attend their weekly meeting, a clandestine occasion that intrigued us to a very discernible end. That discernible end, Rush Week, was but days away.
I chose to stay behind at Five Olde after my friends left for a party. My decision would more or less prove fruitful: there at the bar, finishing a drink by my lonesome, I met Jocelyn, a woman with whom, like fraternity life, I would have a torrid relationship for years to come. A relationship that, like pledge term, I would consider enjoyable for a while, terrible for a while, but ultimately, strangely, worthwhile.
Over the course of a couple nights, the entire Dartmouth campus percolated with young men wearing ill-fitting blazers, ugly ties, and double-pleated khakis. The aerial perspective of our scramble from house to house must have been similar to a kitchen light thrown on a bunch of Republican cockroaches.
On the first night, I went by a few houses to consider my options, introducing myself to brothers. My manners were impeccable. “You play first-string quarterback for the football team, huh?” I said to a Psi U. “Isn’t that sort of like being the world’s smartest retard?” I had all the charm of a roof shingle.
Only I could have so thoroughly sabotaged my chances of getting a bid. When I was asked what I would contribute to the KOK house, I told a brother that his ladyfriend had a bit of a horse face, but I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating hay. So what happened later that night came as no great surprise.
After the formal reception, my two roommates and I went back to our room to wait out KOK’s deliberations. After an hour, I was taken into a hallway by a brother whose pledge name had been “retard” spelled backward. Drater explained that, though my roommates were getting a bid, the brothers felt they needed to get to know me better before they could make a decision.
I was shocked. I was not used to being rejected. Well, I was—by women, by bouncers, by editors, and, again, by women. I was not used to being disliked. Well. I was kind of used to being disliked. Still. A second night of rush?! Dammit.
That was when the door burst open. The three brothers came back into the room, laughing and smiling, with a can of beer for each of us. My rejection had been a joke. They explained that the purpose of their little game was to allow us to realize how much we wanted to join the house. Such psychological annoyances would prove to be the bulk of our pledge-term hazing rituals.