Look at these images. At first glance they seem like the remnants of some terrible massacre. Coolers left full of food and beer. Over 90 tents standing eerily empty. Condoms. Tampons. Clothes. There were people here, but they seemed to have disappeared. Was it zombies? White Walkers? A sasquatch?
Nope. Just a fraternity that threw a party at Lake Shasta and left literally everything behind — including brand new tents, sleeping bags, food, beer, and 10-yards of trash. After media pressure they apologized… But it happened.
Which begs the question: Is this just another example of the continuing spiral of shame befalling the Greek system across U.S. universities? Or does this speak to a deeper, more troubled part of our culture? Is it as easy as saying, “Yeah, mob mentality has always been around. Deal with it”? With ecological awareness so high — at a school in Oregon, no less, where they let you use your grey water and pay you money for having solar panels — is it okay to say, “Someone should have known better”?
Full disclosure, I was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa at The American University in Washington, D.C. I pledged after I transferred there because I was 3,000 miles away from my home. I was in a strange city. I was young. I liked to drink, but was not yet allowed to by law. And I really liked the opposite sex. So joining a fraternity seemed like the play to make. I get why people do it.
My fraternity was far from perfect, but from my vantage point the problems with the current Greek system didn’t seem as systemic. The racism I experienced as a Native American seemed indicative of the individual insecurities of certain members, not the organization. We counted African Americans, Hispanics, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Persian Americans among our ranks.
We didn’t ritualistically pummel each other. Drinking wasn’t a huge part of pledging. Hazing was just memorizing boring Greek stuff, cleaning apartments, and doing push ups. Then, partying. Pretty innocuous when I look back now and hear the horrors happening all over the country on college campuses. It feels sad (and gross) to think that I was ever associated with anything even tangentially related to the sort of bigotry shown by Oklahoma’s SAE chapter last year.
Like most Greek organizations, my fraternity had a yearly retreat. We set up camp on a farm way out in the Appalachian lowlands. We never left a trace. It was just simple respect to our hosts for inviting us to their property.
As it currently stands, fraternities and sororities are part of the American mythos. They were founded to be about charity and community and they’ve lost their way. They have proven to be lacking in collective ethics for too long. But the level of group-think and complete disregard for nature/the planet/others isn’t isolated to fraternities and sororities.
Troy Nichols, a park ranger who has working at Lake Shasta since 1983 had this to say about 30+ years of people “enjoying” nature:
What’s disturbing is the amount of excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, unsafe boat operation, physical altercations, alcohol-related injury and total disregard for the environment, public land and fellow man. This is proven quite easily; measured in the dozens of cubic yards of waste collected by the Forest Service every year…Forest Service law enforcement has always dealt with similar issues, and we try to enforce litter laws to the extent possible. Most of these kids are good people. They know the difference between right and wrong. The problem is what they do when they are intoxicated.
Perhaps this is just a sign of the times, another reminder of our disposable, single-use, buy-now-ask-questions-later society. Which is awful to consider, because interacting with the natural world is an essential part of the human experience. And it belongs to all of us. But what’s truly maddening is that this has been happening at Lake Shasta for 20+ years of one guy’s career, and we’re just now noticing.
So to answer the question in the title: Should we be surprised that a frat did this? Probably not. Should we be surprised that humans did this? Definitely not.
There are plenty of people out there who really would jump off a cliff if their friends did. Some of those people look for connection through the Greek system, and none of those people, in this case, fought to clean up their camp at Lake Shasta.
This lack of critical thinking, this lack of individual wherewithal, is why people tease frat boys. And in this case, they deserve it.