April 30, 2024, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators sought to replace an American flag with a Palestinian flag before being interrupted by a group of fraternity brothers.

The Daily Tar Heel / Parker Ali

Navigate to News section

Normal Kids Get F*cked

Elite universities went to war against fraternities and fun while indulging Hamas-admiring collectives, and the students have noticed

Ani Wilcenski
May 02, 2024
April 30, 2024, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators sought to replace an American flag with a Palestinian flag before being interrupted by a group of fraternity brothers.

The Daily Tar Heel / Parker Ali

“Armored in Vineyard Vines and Patagonia, fueled by Zyn and White Claws, these triumphant Brohemians protected Old Glory from the unwashed Marxist horde,” reads a recently launched GoFundMe for the members of Phi Kappa Phi, a fraternity at UNC Chapel Hill. The fundraiser, which is formally titled “Phi Kappa Phi Men Defended their Flag. Throw em’ a Rager,” comes a day after a photo of the fraternity brothers being harassed by anti-Israel protesters as they hoisted the American flag, which the protesters were attempting to replace with a Palestinian flag, took the internet by storm. The “boat-shoed Broletariat,” as the GoFundMe calls them, were lauded across Twitter, praised by Sen. Tom Cotton as “patriots,” and have currently raised nearly $400,000 for their eventual rager, including a $10,000 donation from Bill Ackman.

UNC wasn’t the only school where the frat community rose to its defense—at Arizona State, frat boys helped the police dismantle a pro-Hamas encampment, ushering in calls to “bring back the frats” and online celebrations of Greek life as “one of the few remaining bulwarks of sanity on campus.”

But there’s a certain irony in the outpouring of appreciation for the bros. Especially at elite schools where the encampments have been most persistent, fraternities have faced university-driven witch hunts aimed at eliminating their presence on campuses. The anti-frat crusade, which features a questionable judicial process led by antagonistic university bureaucrats hired to promote DEI initiatives, is troubling enough before you consider its glaring hypocrisy in the face of the ongoing protests. Universities that now treat the smallest fraternity infractions as grounds for immediate and sometimes harsh limitation—including accidentally setting off smoke alarms with a candle to turning in party permit applications an hour late—are now, very publicly, allowing disruptive and even aggressive encampments to persist despite their deliberate violations of policy, making the school’s double standards for the application of rules and the distribution of consequences abundantly clear.

It’s the latest and most visible example of a frustrating trend in campus culture, in which elite universities pander to a small minority of progressive students at the expense of the students who simply want to enjoy a normal college experience, which involves things like frat parties, university traditions, and joy, and have found their social lives increasingly restricted at every turn.

At Cornell University, a third of the student body (including my own brother and cousin) belongs to Greek life and frat parties are a major part of the social scene, largely because there is effectively nothing else to do in Ithaca, New York, on a Saturday night. But their social centrality means little to the university administration, which has been waging a determined war on frats for years, wielding an arsenal of nitpicky, draconian, and sometimes openly unfair policies to keep many fraternities in a near-perpetual state of punishment.

At Cornell, the school uses an anonymous reporting system in which anyone can submit a complaint against a frat, even people who don’t attend the university—which can then become near-immediate grounds for a formal investigation during which the fraternity may very likely be suspended. This happened as recently as February, when Cornell’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards (OSCCS) received “an anonymous incident report” making unspecified allegations against at least 10 fraternities. By 9 p.m. the same day, OSCCS emailed every new member of those fraternities encouraging them to come forward with their own reports; three days later the school began suspending the accused chapters. The frats were prohibited from all social activity during the investigation, which included banning new members from eating at the house, even though they were paying for the fraternity meal plan, and limiting events at campus apartments occupied by graduating seniors, some of whom even had to cancel their birthday parties. I talked to one senior who wrote to the university, explaining that their guidelines were making it impossible to hold even small gatherings among friends and asking for additional clarity so seniors could find approved ways to enjoy their final days as students—especially since the anti-Israel protests were making campus life notably unenjoyable.

“It was frustrating because most people in our frat are Jewish, and the frat really was essential for us while there were swastikas being drawn on school sidewalks and people were yelling ‘From the river to the sea’ every day,” he said. “I said in my email to the school that campus is divided, isolating, and even threatening for Jews sometimes, so having the fraternity social network is actually a critical part of our lives. They didn’t even respond to my message.” The school lifted his frat’s suspension nearly a month later after the university found insufficient evidence for the allegations.

This incident—and the myriad other times the school leaped to penalize even unsubstantiated infractions—is still fresh in the minds of Cornell fraternity brothers as they watch the university’s noisy Gaza encampment enter its second week, despite multiple statements from the school pointing out its many rule violations. “It’s pretty clear the school views a certain type of rule break as honorable and just, and other rule breaks as violations by entitled jerks, so this was not surprising to me,” the senior said.

Another fraternity member pointed out a notable recent incident, in which their house failed a fire inspection after the discovery of a leaky pipe in a room that only the school has access to, and was subsequently banned from throwing parties inside. The fraternity received approval from the Ithaca fire department to hold an event in an outdoor tent with two open sides. Despite securing the proper permissions, the party received several noise complaints, leading to a swift “raid” of the tent by the Cornell police, after which two 20-year-olds were disciplined by the university for holding Keystone Lights. “The school will find any excuse to get us in trouble. It feels like Cornell only wants to mess with the normal kids at this school, normal kids who don’t want to sit in tents all day, they just want to have a beer at a frat party with their friends,” he said.

The embattlement of “students who just want to have a beer at a frat party” is a common theme at many schools with encampments, notoriously including Columbia University, my alma mater.

When I arrived at Columbia in 2016, the school wasn’t exactly a Greek paradise, but there were frats occupying brownstones off Broadway, where they offered the opportunity to attend parties on our space-restricted city campus that weren’t crammed into sweaty dorms. Other frats, including the Jewish fraternity, AEPi, vied to occupy brownstones vacated by other suspended frats. By the year after I graduated, several of these frats had been disbanded and the newly available housing had been granted to identity-based affinity groups in a shrouded bureaucratic process commonly viewed as unfair.

Elite universities pander to a small minority of progressive students at the expense of the students who simply want to enjoy a normal college experience, which involves things like frat parties, university traditions, and joy.

The university’s decisions were especially galling to the Jewish members of AEPi, who lost their house in 2010 and have been working to earn back a brownstone since then. Columbia uses the ALPHA Standards—a set of metrics ranging from liability protections and academic performance to participation in “Diversity Education or Multiculturalism” workshops—to evaluate Greek eligibility. AEPi was told that a high ALPHA score would help them get their brownstone back; they had a perfect ALPHA score almost every year since 2012 and were rejected every single time. Instead, the brownstones were transformed into Q House (for LGBTQ students), the Black Residential Brownstone, Casa Latina, and Indigihouse. Setting the tone for their future dealings with the university, AEPi complained about the unfairness the first time they lost a house bid, to which Columbia responded that the ALPHA standards were apparently always meant to be just “one component” of their eligibility and that house occupants also “need to follow community standards.” “My feeling was that we were good citizens and followed exactly what the school asked us to do, and we still got fucked,” said a former brother.

Other Columbia alumni pointed out that the university also meddles with nonfraternity campus fun. Many former students found the persistence of the disruptive encampments especially exasperating because, as they vividly recalled, the university banned a long-standing campus tradition called Orgo Night in 2016. That annual event, in which the Columbia Marching Band would come to a main study room in the campus library the night before finals to play loudly and perform a short satirical comedy routine, had been going on for over 40 years—until, that is, students began complaining that the satire was too triggering. The administration deemed it too distracting and stopped the band from performing. “I saw photos of kids in the library trying to study for finals and watching the protests through the window and immediately thought about Orgo Night being called ‘too distracting,’” said one alumnus. “Why is it only the crazy tent people who get to have their fun?”

There is absolutely no problem with giving spaces to campus affinity groups or reasonably penalizing moronic fraternity brothers who violate rules. What is a problem is the way the same university officials who are terrified to offend or restrict the rule-shattering minority of politically active progressive students are nevertheless perfectly happy to trample all over the college experience of the students who just want to partake in normal campus activities and traditions. It’s no wonder a growing number of high-achieving students are applying to Southern schools—why willingly enroll at an institution where you can receive disciplinary consequences for sipping warm Keystone Light in a frat backyard while kaffiyeh-clad students are free to call for intifada?

Forget the political hypocrisy, excessive bureaucracy, and blatant administrative unfairness—all of this just makes for a campus experience that the Cornell student described as “exhausting.” It has nothing to do with supporting Israel or Palestine or protests or frats; it’s a matter of the universities equally enforcing the rules to create an environment where kids don’t need to wake up every day prepared for battle. There are likely many students on these campuses, from freshmen trying to enjoy their first sunny campus spring to graduating seniors who had their first year derailed by COVID, who are annoyed with the hijacking of their semester and would love nothing more than to go to class or attend a party without walking through NYPD officers or tent villages with Hezbollah flags. Elite schools have deemed the presence of these beer-drinking normies unimportant, sometimes even antithetical, to their broader ideological mission. This decision should be added to the long list of things the Ivy League did at its own peril—and its students’ expense.

Ani Wilcenski is Tablet’s audience editor.