Durham doesn’t do fraternities and sororities…
Fraternities and Sororities are ever-present on American college campuses. You struggle to find a university-based film or television show that does not include a Greek-lettered frat house full of inebriated guys lording it over semi-naked ‘pledges’ who perform ritualised initiation tasks, or a dainty sorority house occupied by sickeningly perfect, preppily-dressed ‘sisters’.
These elitist clubs form a deep-seated tradition in American youth culture but, as far as I know, they’ve never successfully made the leap into our green and pleasant land. But what if they did? Channel 4 reality show Sorority Girls might have been a flop, but I believe Durham could be the perfect launch pad for the invasion of this particular American institution into the UK.
If you think of fraternities and sororities as homogenous social groups, bound together by common pastimes, social background and deliberate outward appearance, then Durham appears the perfect breeding ground.
Our noble university is ripe for a fraternity influx. In years two and three, when we are cast in to the living out void, these new houses could be the perfect antidote to a previous year of admirable yet slightly sickly college spirit. Forget the rush to sign for a house, pledge for a Greek house instead. You’ve got your brothers and sisters now: Hatfield’s lion and the Cuth’s ‘Lash Penguin’ will no longer mean anything to you.
Moreover, some potential groups have begun to coalesce already. We could take a quick tour of Durham’s potential fraternities and sororities right away.
We start our voyage of discovery where all good things begin, on the historic Bailey, with Beta Nu Omicron Kappa. Colloquially known as the ‘Big Names’, these male gods of the Durham social scene inhabit a veritable Olympus of connected houses on Saddler Street.
Obviously they received a raft of housing offers for second year, but Beta Nu is the lofty peak that every true aspiring BNOC must climb. Uniform includes a hand-stitched Barbour from Van Mildert, which can only be earned after committing regular nights to nightclub promotion in your formative Durham days.
One of the initiation rites is waking up on a Thursday after a massive Lloyds session with the Facebook holy trinity (friend request, notification, message) on your Blackberry. There’s no secrecy with the Betas either: visibility is everything. Latest reports have suggested they are keen to diversify and they now welcome applications from any of the Bailey colleges.
Before we meet the girls, next stop is with the Gentleman of the Lodge. Despite their name’s masonic overtones, their traditional wooden clad dwelling is more in the hunting mould, situated by the Racecourse sports grounds. This fraternity proudly embrace Durham’s reputation as a bastion of the nation’s privileged upper class: entry requirements insist that you can prove your lineage back to at least the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Living a life beyond caricature, their daily dress is a tweed jacket and bold chinos (red is the current fashion): a costume primed for clay pigeon shooting across the Wear. Plans to introduce pheasants into the opposite woodland are still pending council approval so, for now, young pledges have to operate the trap.
Durham’s sororities are equally conspicuous. Most prominent among them are the Alphas (their founders knew they were the best so didn’t feel any other letter was either needed or apt). These blond dynamos are the female royalty of Durham. Their palace: a stunning set of apartments on the Wear by Freeman’s Quay.
Always seen in immaculate designer smart casual, with an unnecessarily stylish handbag – an ethical shopping bag just won’t do for lectures – the Alphas are, without fail, perfectly made up, ready for another classy lunch date or evening aperitif at Ebony or Whisky Riv’s.
The girls run every charitable or classy event in Durham. They’re the ones who seamlessly took over the running of college charity events from last year’s Alphas. They shamed you into buying a rose on Valentine’s. The fashion shows are also Alpha territory and are organised with brutal precision. They might appear in the elegant dresses but their strict code of Constans Decorum forbids involvement in the underwear finale.
Our last stop is with the sorority, Lambda Alpha Chi. The very fact that, in the Greek, their name resembles the abbreviation ‘Lax’ should give you an unmistakeable clue to their exclusive membership.
The only one of our ‘big four’ Greek houses to form around a sports club, the Lacrosse girls are an intimidating breed – not least because people find the rules of their public school pastime almost impenetrable.
Understandably, the initiation process for new girls is identical to that favourite Team Durham October ritual, ‘welcome drinks’. Before they can don their customary Bailey tracksuit, meaning they can carry their odd looking sticks with pride while trudging down to Maiden Castle, new recruits have to endure weekly intoxicated humiliation while dressed as everything from babies to vegetables.
I’ve got a feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface of Durham’s potential Greek life, and I’m sure if they did form I’d definitely be way off the mark.
But, of course, it’s ridiculous to suggest that fraternities and sororities would ever make the jump to Britain. Yet, if they did – and it’s a nearly impossible ‘if’ – I’m proud to say Durham is fortunate enough to possess the characters that would make our fraternities and sororities some of the best in the world.
For the previous article, ‘Durham doesn’t do political activism…’ click here.