Let me take you to a Friday night on campus. If it’s a good night, maybe three or four frats are throwing open parties with clever, rhyming themes (i.e. “CEOs and Corporate Hoes”). If not, then there’s only one house throwing down, and the whole freshman class is eagerly charging up the front steps, trying to garner favor from the brothers in order to gain entrance. Each time a brother aggressively shouts, “EVERYONE OFF THE STEPS OR NOBODY GETS IN,” a few people step back as ten times as many people surge forward. In this sham of a line, students that were polite and tactful by daylight suddenly turn crass, vulgar, and cutthroat. The timid become ferocious with five shots worth of liquid courage; the modest, in desperation, brazenly use their assets to their advantage; the germophobic forget their fears and claw at the hair of the people in front of them, trying to get just a bit closer to the door. There is no competition like trying to get into a packed frat.
After half an hour of waiting in that mayhem, you finally get your hand X’ed by one of the brothers, and walk through the door, triumphant, victorious, convinced that all your hard work has paid off. You put your $150 Northface in a corner with a hundred other Northfaces, and go downstairs to grab a beer. Unfortunately, there is already a swarm of tipsy kids around the bar, all grabbing at the holy grail of Natty Light. Coordination is nowhere to be found in this scene, so enough beer has been spilled on your shirt that you’d probably get drunk enough just wringing it out into your mouth. But eventually, you get your hands on a small plastic cup of frothy beer, and you hit the dance floor. You dance for about five minutes before you realize it’s two hundred degrees in there. Celsius. You’re sweating out every ounce of water you’ve ever had in your life, and you come to the epiphany that everyone else on the dance floor is equally as disgusting, and you wouldn’t want to hook up with any of them anyway. So you book it out of there in anger, wondering why you went through all that hell only to have a terrible time.
On top of that, you’ve lost your Northface. Crap.
Luckily, there’s an alternative.
In early November, the Leonard Carmichael Society held their Vegas-themed semi-formal at the Back Bay Hilton in downtown Boston. Busses were provided to get to and from the hotel. The line (and yes, it was an actual line) to get into the hotel moved swiftly—a look at your ticket and ID, and you’re in. At the door, chips were handed out for pseudo-gambling tables such as craps and blackjack. There was a free coat check that ensured reliable recovery of personal possessions. The dance floor was at least four times bigger than that of a dingy frat basement and the venue was well lit so that friends could recognize one another without having to shine their cell phone screens on each other’s faces.
The IGC formal at the Cambridge Hyatt was another large-scale formal. With a professional DJ and a dance floor in the hotel ballroom, the formal was much like a prom experience, but it was free as opposed to $100 per couple. Cheesecake, fondue, and other desserts were offered, as well as a 21+ cash bar with cocktails and beer (Coronas, not Keystones). Although hundreds of students attended, there was ample room to roam around or relax. Students could chit-chat in a side area away from the pounding of the music, rather than being forced to resort to shrieking as a means of communication.
In addition to these, every semester there are small formals that are specific to different fraternities and sororities. There are three key differences between these events and frat parties: location, environment, and impression. Formals take place in off-campus hotels, restaurants, or clubs. As a result, students seem to maintain a sense of responsibility that is usually lost in dilapidated frat houses. The environment of these venues—from the lighting to the side areas for sitting and chatting—fosters a sense of socializing with friends and meeting new people through formal introductions, rather than a sense of unwanted intimacy with strangers. The very impression of the college formal encourages students to behave better. In button-ups and suits, glitzy dresses and stilettos, students sip their drinks rather than shotgun their beers. They’re a lot more likely to take necessary measures to keep their dinners down. On the whole, there’s a much classier code of behavior at formals and semi-formals than on Pro Row.
If you’re looking to get deliriously wasted on cheap beer so that your hook-up tonight looks at least tolerable (and thinks the same of you), and you’d like to participate in a couple brawls in order to achieve this end, by all means, head on over to a frat. But for a worthwhile experience complete with cocktails, conversation, and class, you’re much better off attending a formal.