We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
A few months ago, a fraternity brother of mine sent me a list of questions related to my recovery. I’ve been mulling over answering them directly or on the blog and after discussing them with my fraternity brother decided to answer them on the blog. Before I start that series, I think a little background on my college experience might be in order.
University Park is located at the exact center of Pennsylvania and is mostly surrounded by the borough of State College, PA. The town is a total of 4.5 square miles and is surrounded by farmland and mountains. In the 1990s, the town boasted a total of 42,000 residents and the student population was approximately 40,000 undergraduates. The entire area is peaceful and relaxed and goes by the moniker “Happy Valley.” To say that it is an idyllic location is an understatement of perhaps the greatest magnitude.
When I was in school, there were 56 fraternities registered with the Intra-Fraternity Council and 23 sororities registered with the Panhellenic Council. Within the confines of the 4.5 square miles, there were approximately 25 bars. There were at least 10 beer distributors within ten miles of the town. Due to Pennsylvania’s insane liquor laws, you can only buy beer in cases or kegs at beer distributors – if you want a six pack, you have to go to a “six pack shop” where you pay significantly more than at a distributor. And if you want wine or liquor, you have to go to a state store. There were two state stores in the town.
Penn State University Park is officially a dry campus. This does not mean that you can’t possess alcohol if you are of legal drinking age. This also does not mean that you can’t drink alcohol if you are of legal age. All it means is that you can’t buy alcohol on campus.
In the 1990’s, if you were under age, you didn’t dare present a fake ID. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) was incredibly powerful and liquor licenses were golden in the borough. No owner wanted to lose their license and so enforcement was strict. If you were caught with a fake ID, not only did you the establishment take your ID, but the proprietors would detain you until the police showed up to arrest you. And so bars were off limits to under age students.
In contrast to the PLCB enforcement, there was a tacit agreement that the IFC was responsible for self policing fraternities and so the police did not raid fraternity parties. With the fox watching the hen house, the fraternities were the safest place (from a getting busted perspective) to drink if you were underage. Despite Penn State’s official status as a dry campus, there is no denying that alcohol was pretty much everywhere and readily accessible to all students regardless of age.
I arrived at Penn State’s main campus, in May of 1990 at the ripe age of 17 and a half years old. I had experimented with alcohol a little in high school, but I was in no way a party guy. I was a complete light weight and would get drunk on one beer and was passed out after three. I had absolutely no interest in fraternities and was actually dead set against them when I got to school, and then the first weekend arrived.
Everyone I knew was going out to fraternity parties and despite not really wanting to go, I found myself with a group of kids running from house to house drinking foul keg beer. What it lacked in quality, it made up for in quantity, and you couldn’t beat the price – free. That’s right, free. No cover, no charge, no nothing. Just show up at the door and get drunk. A night out cost me a total of $1.18 for a pack of smokes and $5 for pizza after we’d all gotten shitfaced.
While I didn’t like most of the fraternities, I would go out with the group because it sure beat sitting in my un-airconditioned dorm room by myself. One night, my friend Gus asked me to go with him and a few others to a house and I said, “No, it’s not really my thing.” When pressed I told him that I didn’t really see myself getting into the Greek scene. Gus said, “this house is different.” I didn’t believe him, but I went anyway.
It was different. It was small. It didn’t have letters on the outside. A guy who looked like the lead singer of the Fine Young Cannibals answered the door with a glass of milk in his hand. This was Delta Phi. This was my house.
I started hanging out there and had a lot of good times. Gradually, my tolerance increased and gradually I got comfortable with the scene in general. In the fall, I pledged with Gus and 3 other guys. Over the next four years, I spent a lot of time with these guys in my fraternity house, in other fraternity houses, and finally in bars — drinking all the way.
We became fast friends. I’m still in contact with all of these guys, and most of the fraternity brothers. I do not regret the fraternity or Penn State, but I know that my experiences in college laid the foundation for my drinking career.