Campus Curfew: Rushing to Conclusions

It all started when I heard that GDX (Gamma Delta Chi) – the football frat at Dartmouth – is actually coed. In fact, informal history holds that GDX was once a very different house: a nerdy coed with cute pets and an attitude of inclusion. It wasn’t always so testosterous.

Beta (Beta Theta Pi) had been the football frat since 1858 – until the mid-nineties, when they were derecognized by the College for offenses of hazing, racism and sexism. To prove that the Dartmouth football team ain’t nobody’s bitch, they charged at Gamma Delta in a block rush. Thus the original membership was overturned and GDX became Beta in disguise. But what about the policies implemented by the house prior to the takeover? Wouldn’t they continue to apply? The one time I’d been to GDX, I didn’t even make it the house’s pinnacle of pride: “The Pit.” There were just too many giant, sweaty men in the way. Plus the whole house exuded the sticky essence of a male-marked territory: It smelled like pee. I lasted about ten minutes.

Now my curiosity was piqued. I contacted the president and asked him point blank. To my surprise, he admitted he believed the house was, in fact, technically coed. The jocks may have tackled the nerds, but not their ideals of equality. If someone were to reclaim her right to that space, she would be picking up where they’d been cut off. She would be taking a radical step towards reinventing Dartmouth as an inclusive, safe ground for women. Besides, I mused, football is more than a little homo – and I love gay men! How obvious could it be? GDX was for me.

That Saturday I showed up for rush. Being more punctual than my fellow pledges (whose game had apparently run late), I was given a tour of the house by an obliging, if extremely wastey-faced, member. Through my plugged nose and his slurred speech, I was still able to pick up the points of great significance.

From the walls upstairs, dorky kids with groovy hair and thick-rimmed glasses stared out from the old composites, and I wondered what they must think when they return to their beloved house. The brothers I encountered met me with a variance of civility – from polite interest to borderline hostility – and looks of questionable integrity in between. For the most part I was ignored.

This time I made it to The Pit – a cement sublevel to their basement where, according to my tour guide, some crazy shit has gone down. Like, some crazy-ass, ragey shit. Unfortunately, the fire department has since extinguished the rage, and these glory days have frittered. Now the neglected pong tables, adorned with the long retired mascot of the Dartmouth Indian, seem to echo a nostalgic melancholy throughout the chamber.

But I was assured that the resilient brothers still manage to entertain themselves in the rest of the basement. Picking up a special bowl, my guide explained the mechanics of The Volcano: “Oh man! When one of us is feelin’ it, we call a Volcano fire. We fill this baby up with liquor and light ‘er; then we all drink from the bottom while he sucks up the fire on the top through a straw! And the straw melts and it’s like… it’s like Rage!” Just thinking about The Volcano, my guide’s spirits were ignited in reverie, and we continued the tour in good cheer.

Then the pledges gathered in the living room and the frat’s president arrived to inform me that he had just spoken with the corporation president, who was “pretty sure” they were no longer coed. “Oh no! Well, I understand…” I said demurely. “In that case, could I get a copy of your constitution?” He told me that he didn’t have one on hand, but to contact the corporation president directly.

So I did. And “Hanker Jeff” assured me he that he’d fax it to me asap. Weeks went by and he wouldn’t return my calls. Then came the weekend when several GDXs showed up at the Great Gatsby party thrown by an undergraduate society. Finding a few of them blacked out, my friend introduced herself and casually mentioned me. “Oh, that bitch,” one began with a hazy recollection. “We didn’t want her pledging, so we told her we’re not coed anymore… It’s like a big house secret, but we’re totally coed! Don’t tell anyone!”

“Noooo problem,” she replied with a wink.

I took the whole sordid story to the CFS (Coed, Fraternity, and Sorority) Board, only to be referred back to the president of GDX. Then out of the blue, I received a long email from a frat memeber. Somewhere in the middle, he stated:

“I personally think your attempt to and interest in pledging is backed by a desire to write a story about it.” …MOI?! “You can deny this claim all you like – and, it’s likely you will – but the Brothers of this house take their membership in this organization very seriously. We do not appreciate any such attempts to mock our brotherhood, make a joke of our us, our house, or slander us individually.” As if I would make a joke of us!

“Get over it, women cannot pledge here.”

Gosh. I wondered if women really couldn’t pledge, why not simply cite the segment of their constitution that spells it out? Why mix it up with personal protest and such outlandish speculation? Recalling the attitude of Dartmouth before it finally went coed, I asked, “But wasn’t this the stance of the College prior to 1972?”

He declared: “Our house will no longer entertain discussions with you. Please refrain from contacting us regarding this situation.”

Well then.

Later that week, I got wind of a speed dating event between GDX and Kappa pledges. Kappa Kappa Gamma, also known as “Visa Visa Mastercard,” is a sorority whose sisters stereotypically enjoy volunteer work, shopping, and tons of coke. Fortunately, the program coordinator agreed to let me jump in on the GDX side. The girls thought it was hilarious that I was trying to pledge GDX (“ohmygod what did you wear?!”); but of course not as hilarious as the idea of two girls opposite each other in speed dating (how silly!) Although I didn’t score a date, they were altogether supportive of my mission to become a brother.

Finally, I scheduled a meeting with the advisor of GDX. When I told her of my misadventures in rushing, she seemed confused: “But wouldn’t you rather join a house where the members wanted you?” “Uh, no.” If GDX had once welcomed women as members, it was unacceptable that small women in small pants trickle in on the weekends instead. Male fraternities completely dominate the social real estate of Dartmouth, and this needed to be corrected – so if I could redefine gendered spaces as they exist on campus today, I needed to do so. She blinked. “Well, now I’m curious. I think I’ll have a peek at their constitution and let you know.”

Within a week, she responded with, “Over the years, I have been a particular fan of Dartmouth Urban Legends (my caps) and kind of like collecting them. It seems that the story of GDX being coed, is just that, an urban legend. I reviewed the GDX constitution yesterday… it states clearly that membership is open (through the pledge process) to any male in Dartmouth College. The officers of the organization have no interest in or plans to change that fundamental part of their membership requirements.”

I felt like Rudy. Only, you know, until the end of the movie. So wait, was the frat ever actively coed? Or were the women of GDX really nothing more than an urban legend? A vague recollection was beginning to surface… a female face? In one of those old composites upstairs?

I had to find out, but I also had a sneaking suspicion I’d outworn my welcome. I dressed my roommate in a revealing outfit and sent her to GDX. Nancy Drew style, she scoured all of the old composites, smiling sweetly at the passers-by. She came home with names. Lady names — two, in fact. With my mad Google skills, I located Victoria Smith, a ’78 graduate, a member of GDX. I decided to meet with her in person.

Vicki told me that there have been a total of three women to pledge Gamma Delta Chi. The first, a year her senior, had suddenly dropped out, or otherwise “vanished” before graduating. The third, a few years younger than Vicki, had been a victim of the jock blitz – which had actually begun in the eighties, before the final Beta coup. Although an extremely active and devoted member, she was aggressively antagonized into depledging. Vicki Smith was the one in between. As it happened, she was the only female to graduate a GDX brother.

Dartmouth had, to put it lightly, a rocky transition to coeducation in the seventies. According to Vicki, being a female student at that time “sucked.” For her, the house had acted as a reprieve from the relentless sexism on campus. She was fully accepted as a member and a voice at GDX, if not in the wider Dartmouth community. She reminisced about bombing other frats with flaming tennis balls, the house’s vintage fire truck (their “claim to fame”), and the time her cat had kittens.

Although she is still close with her old housemates, she is uncomfortable so much as setting foot in the house today. When the giant, sweaty men demand who she is, she is forced to say “the girl in the composite.” She concluded, “It was once a kinder, gentler place.”

Victoria Smith sank the house, voted at meetings, and made her way into that faded photograph still hanging on the upstairs wall. She was a GDX, through and through. But the organization that had embraced her and bolstered her security had become a stronghold for the misogynistic legacy we call the Greek system. Still, I’ve met that girl in the composite. She belonged to a fraternity. And I have faith that one day, there will be a block rush for equality.

Are you with me?