Tag Archives: fraternity tradition

Oscar The Grouch

Context: Informant is a USC student, but not part of a USC fraternity, and has not tried to pledge to one in the past. Their information on the subject is entirely based on what they have heard from their USC peers, who are not part of fraternities either. Oscar the Grouch is a prominent Sesame Street character, known for his irritable personality and the fact that he enjoys living in his trashcan home.

Informant: “I heard from my friend that in USC fraternities, for hazing, they choose the ugliest guy trying to pledge, and they call him ‘Oscar the Grouch’. They put him in a trashcan and then they have the other pledges get really drunk and then throw up on him.”

Background Info: Although the hazing rituals are a well known aspect of joining fraternities/sororities here at USC, the exact details are supposed to be kept secret. Therefore, in this scenario, the folklore is not necessarily the hazing ritual, but the conjecture and rumors which the community makes surrounding the hazing ritual. Whether or not ‘Oscar the Grouch’ is a real hazing ritual or not, the students of USC have enjoyed telling these outlandish stories to one another. When informant was describing the hazing, surrounding people stated they had heard of the ritual as well. Although no one could confirm, it was obvious it was a well-known story among the USC students.

Thoughts: It is definitely interesting to see how folklore can be mysterious, and therefore conjecture on the subject will produce more folklore. The hazing ritual is meant to define who is in the fraternity, and who is not. It’s interesting that the people not in the frat will lack that folklore, and will make their own trying to fill the void. This, i think, leads to a lot of over-exaggerations in the story, and therefore the stories become pretty outrageous. Still very entertaining though.



Informant: I think this is like our second or third day into Hell Week, and we had had some kind of––we were in the courtyard, and they’d given us these giant bowls of chocolate pudding… And it turned into a food fight. So we had, like, just gone nuts, or you know… Spitting and throwing pudding at each other, and just tackling each other in pudding. So what the actives didwas, they put us in the middle of the courtyard in a group and hosed us down to try and get some of the pudding off, right? Well… They finally said, “Alright. The hose isn’t working. You guys go take a shower.” So what they made us do is we all get in the showers. So they had us all strip down, and the pledges all have the same clothes on. We all have camouflage pants, white underwear, and a white T-shirt. And they threw all of our clothes in a big pile… And… They let us take showers for the first time in like three days, and we were feeling pretty good. And then they shut the water off, and they started yelling and they’re like, “All right, you guys have thirty seconds or whatever to get clothes on and get to bed.” And we were just like, “What?” And we had no idea how to figure out whose clothes were whose. So you just grab whatever pair of underwear you found, threw them on. You try to find pants that fit you, put them on, and a T-shirt. And so you went from a nice hot shower into these ice cold––‘cause it’s January in LA and we’ve been outside getting hosed with cold water––so you’re putting on sticky… Chocolate-covered… Clothes, after a nice hot shower. And then you’re crammed into a tiny tiny room where we had to sleep like literally on top of each other, and we’re told to go to bed. So we’re like lying there in these gooey, cold wet clothes… That was just the worst night of Hell Week for me, ‘cause you just itched… But then you also just had the, you know, burrito eating contests where they designed this burrito to make you throw up. So they put everything in it including chewing tobacco. So it was like, you know, raw fish and fricken chopped up squid. And uh, whoever finished it first––and it was giant––got a beer. So… Everyone knew it was either gonna be me or [X] that was gonna win. ‘Cause most guys––there was, you know, guys were throwing up––cause most guys couldn’t keep it down. And [X] and I went at it, and I beat him and he was so bummed. So, that was that… And like they gave us a night in LA and we had to go out and come back with tributes. So they gave us a couple of cars and the goal was to end––this is the middle of the night. We had to go out into Los Angeles and come back with tributes to the Hell Masters. So my team found a street sign that had the name of one of our founders on it. Just coincidence, right? So other teams are coming in with like liquor bottles or whatever, and we walked in with this giant freaking California Department of Transportation road sign. And that stuff was just fun.


Interviewer: Did you enjoy Hell Week at all? 

Informant: I did, personally, ‘cause I like that stuff… When the Jackass Train left the station I was gonna be on it… I mean, I showed up a day late to Hell Week. [X] and I both did. So the Hell Masters threw everything at us. So when everyone else had to go running, you know, [X] and I had to run circles around them while eating a raw onion. But I just came from the mountains so I could have run all day. And we got a lot of respect from the actives by just rollin’ with everything they freaking threw at us. I just thought it was hysterical. 

Interviewer: Did it bring you closer to the other pledges?

Informant: Kind of. It was all about unity, you know?  Like the actives tell you, “You guys are one unit. If your pledge brother can’t make it, you help him out no matter what it is.” And that could be with like running or push-ups or whatever. A lot of the time it was just eating. I mean they’d try to make us overeat, and [X] and I ate freaking everyone’s food for them and there’s guys like throwing up. But, you know it’s… It’s not like you’re a soldier where somebody’s life is on the line and you’re there for them in their time of need. You’re not bonded in that way. There was never an episode where I can help somebody other than, you know, eating their hamburger. And I was just happy to get food. So it was less about, like, being there for your pledge bros, and it was more about proving yourself to the actives.


In their article “Crossing the Line,” Jennifer J. Waldron & Christopher L. Kowalski write, “Initiation rites and rituals are particularly important for men in sex-segregated environments… In the anthropological literature, [Don] Sabo suggested that male rites serve as a means for older players to persuade younger members, often through pain infliction, to conform to the social roles and appropriate behaviors of the team” (291-92). This text is specifically geared towards hazing on athletic teams, but can be applied to hazing within a fraternity, which is also a sex-segregated space. Hazing can be used to establish a hierarchy of power and authority, and to ensure the new members understand where they are ranked on the totem pole.

This informant, however, established a power of his own through the hazing process. Rather than be left feeling submissive and weakened, he felt it was a chance to prove himself to the actives and gain their respect. Thus, while hazing may be a way to put pledges “in their place,” so to speak, it is also a chance for a pledge to stand out. For those who want to prove themselves to the actives, and who fit a more stereotypically, hyper-masculine mold––who eat copious amounts of food, are physically fit, enjoy drinking a lot of alcohol, etc.––it can be a positive experience, and an “appropriate” rite of passage as they enter a hyper-masculine environment.


Source cited above:

Waldron, Jennifer J., and Christopher L. Kowalski. “Crossing the Line: Rites of Passage, Team Aspects, and Ambiguity of Hazing.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol. 80, no. 2, Taylor & Francis Group, 2009, pp. 291–302, doi:10.1080/02701367.2009.10599564.

Frat Party Guidelines

AB: “What sort of unusual or special traditions does your frat have?”

RD: “Oh my god, you want the tea. Oh my god I feel embarrassed thinking because they’re just all so dumb. Oh, I have a good one, it’s called—you’re gonna laugh. It’s called “No Crying Bitches on the Stairs”

AB: “So what is this… stairs thing? Is it a chant?”

RD: “It’s a rule. A mantra. We would say it before parties and stuff.”

AB: “Okay, why don’t you tell me how it started”

RD: “Let’s see, I think this is what I was told. There was a girl at one of our house parties, and I think her boyfriend was there and he just broke up with her or something, so she started crying on the stairs. And it was just… chaotic, I guess. It’s like, a small staircase, so people were stuck upstairs and downstairs and like people were all around her trying to cheer her up making it even worse, and somebody even fell off at one point and I think they broke a foot or something. Anyway, I think they got suspended for a while because there were so many people there it was a fire hazard. So ever since then, well, no crying bitches on the stairs!

AB: “Oh I see. So how does it turn up now?”

RD: “Well, we usually like, chant it before we host a party. Somebody asks, “What’s the number one rule!?” and then we shout, “No crying bitches on the stairs!” It really just means nobody on the stairs just hanging out. Like it doesn’t matter if they’re actually crying or a bitch. But it’s basically just the number one rule of party monitoring. So like, whoever is in charge of hosting the party just has to keep an eye on the stairs.

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “What does this rule say about your frat?”

RD: “Well, I think it reflects what’s going in frat culture just kinda in general, you know. Like I feel like frats get criticized a lot now for drinking and drug problems, and I know my frat has been suspended a bunch recently for stuff like that. But anyway, now frats are having to like figure out how they can still keep being frats with a fun party identity, and also be safe and responsible. And I think “No crying bitches on the stairs” is like, one way that’s happening. .”

Personal interpretation:

Chants are a well-known aspect of Greek life, and they’re typically easy to remember and fun to repeat or say. In this case, the chant shows how a newer concern for personal safety has entered into familiar and easily transmissible forms of Greek life-culture.


Main description:

AB: “So, what other types of unique chants does your frat have?”

RD: “We have so many you have no idea. Let’s see, it’s hard to think of them. Because there’s some I can’t tell you. Oh, I know one. It’s, “Sick but Safe.”

AB: “How did “sick but safe” start?”
RD: “This was one I was there for! We were at a chapter meeting, and like most of the house was there, and we were talking about logistics and stuff for Formal. I think a couple of frats were suspended around that time, or something, because I remember we were paranoid about the university suspending us too down if we were too rowdy. Anyway, somebody asked a question about something, I don’t remember, and this one guy stood up all dramatic and then said really slow, “Make it sick, but safe.” And we all just started laughing. And ever since then we just say it all the time.”

AB: “Awesome. When would you say “sick but safe,” and what does it mean?”

RD: “I mean, we chant it before parties a lot. It’s one the rules we go through before we go to parties a lot of the time. So if we’re all going to something we’ll shout it in the bus. Then it usually means like, have fun, but don’t black out or throw up or something. But it’s also like, something you can really say whenever. It’s started as a chant, but it’s really like seeped into frat slang—frat vernacular. Like, somebody could say, “That presentation was sick-but-safe!” Well, I don’t think anybody ever said that, but you get what I mean.”

AB: “So in that case, what would sick-but-safe mean?”

RD: “Umm, I guess that your presentation was good but it was also fun to watch. Like, you said what you needed to, but you also were funny.”

AB: “So, if you said sick-but-safe to anyone on campus, would they know what it meant.”

RD: “No, it’s definitely kept within our frat. It’s not like a secret, I would say, but it’s—it’s that we don’t really share chants and stuff with other frats.”

AB: “Do you know if other frats have chants with similar meanings?”

RD: “Um, I’m sure they do. But I don’t know them.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “So, what does sick-but-safe mean in general, and why does your frat say it?”

RD: “I think it says a lot about our mindset. Like I was saying, frat culture gets a lot more criticism now than it used so I think they’re all having to kind of adapt to stay frats. So sick-but-safe caught on I think because it sort of captures that, and it’s an easy way to say it.”

Personal interpretation:

The informant emphasizes that fraternity culture at his school (a small, liberal arts college in the South) balances irreverence with responsibility. “Sick-but-safe” helps to articulate this balance. Curiously, it is unique to the informant’s fraternity (other campus fraternities would not say it nor understand what it means,) so it may be that other frats may have sayings/words with similar meanings.

Pledge Secrets

Main Description:

AB: “What other frat traditions can you tell me about?”

RD: “Ugh, it’s hard… there’s like, so many things I could talk about but I can’t tell you. Oh my god, I think I know one… Maybe I’ll tell you, but let me think about it for a second… Oh I know what to tell you, this is safe.”

“So, on the first night of pledging, it’s a really long night, and most of it’s just learning the fundamentals, like chants, and stuff. That’s the part I can’t tell you about, and there’s so much there. That’s like, the stuff that’s written down in the official Chi Delt* handbook. But what I’m about to tell you about is something that just our frat does. Anyway, like I was saying, after the pledges do all the chants and other things I can’t tell you about we do something called “shut-in.”* Everybody in the frat has to be there, and we all share really personal stories. It’s really late at that point, usually like four A.M., so were all tired as hell and like, just already really drained. You don’t have to tell a story, but like, you have to. I was never ready, so I don’t remember telling any good stories, but guys will talk about really dark and really personal stuff. They’ll talk about like drug addiction and abusive family members… God, people have shared some tragic things. Sometimes people share funny ones to lighten up the mood though. Anyways, it’s a pretty big deal. People will save bad things that happened to them just to share them at shut-in. Part of the shut-in thing is also being supportive. You cheer people on when they get upset or start crying.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “So, why is this tradition so important to your frat, and to you?”

RD: “I mean, I think it’s the first time you get depth out of some people. Guys don’t usually talk about super heavy stuff, so a lot of people seem just like, kinda empty until they open up. It’s a moment of connection, which is pretty much why I joined a frat in the first place. I’ve always been anxious around straight men and not super close with them, so this was really, like, probably the first time in my life I ever felt a deep connection with a straight guy.”

Personal interpretation:

The informant emphasizes the importance of connecting with fraternity brothers in this tradition. As he notes, American men are typically not open about personal difficulties, so moments like this are crucial to establishing the bonds of trust needed between fraternity members. The name, “shut-in,” suggests the security of the stories shared that night, alluding to the importance of trust.


*names invented to respect informant’s wishes