Greek Technique: The Art of Fraternity

Zeta Chi
Zeta Chi during Upper Iowa’s 1999 Greek Week.


That word often has a negative connotation. When people hear it, they often think of preppies, keggers, rituals, and hazing. While those words still ring true for many fraternities across the country, I don’t think they provide a true picture of our Greek experiences at Upper Iowa. Come along with me as I regale you with a PG history (as always, names have been excluded to protect the innocent and guilty alike).

The first thing you need to understand is that Upper Iowa’s Greek life doesn’t necessarily fit all the norms of what you expect a fraternity or sorority to be. Upper Iowa’s Greek organizations do not have houses and do not belong to national charters. Maybe that sounds odd to you, but it has its benefits. There are no national organizations or councils to report to, which means each organization determines their own name, colors, motto, constitution, rules, dues, etc.

All smiles after sealing off a dorm room with duct tape.
All smiles after sealing off a dorm room with duct tape.

I belonged to two different frats in college. The first was Zeta Chi (or ZX for short). Our motto was “Together in unity,” which is really repetitive if you think about it. Our pledge week was fun, and didn’t center around the hazing you hear about with other organizations, including some that were right there on Upper Iowa’s campus. Among other things, we had to carry around a toothbrush all week. And we had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at our first class each morning (which actually worked out well for me, since my first class was an American history course – USA! USA!). The members would trot us over to the women’s side of the dorm one night and have us serenade the ladies with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” Trust me, we wouldn’t have won any Grammys with our performance. But we enjoyed it, and so did our audience.

One night, the frat members put pillow cases over our heads and drove us around out in the country in the back of a pickup truck (really, it’s not as bad as it sounds). They’d take us out to a field somewhere and “guide” us through the pasture, occasionally telling us to jump over a mythical creek. They’d take our pillow cases off and tell us to find our way back into town. We had no problem finding our way back to Fayette, but legend has it there was a sorority pledge group who had to do the same thing one year and ended up headed towards Sumner, a town 15 miles away.

Initiation night began with chugging two beers and then running laps around campus, occasionally being stopped to do push-ups. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker, so they had me chug pop instead (ha ha, let’s all laugh at my expense… come on, get it out). You’ve never truly lived until you’ve done a hyperventilation/sonic boom belch combo while running at full speed.

Later on, each of us entered a dimly-lit dorm room one by one and recited the Greek alphabet while holding a lit match. If you screwed up (or if the match went out), you had to eat some Tabasco-soaked marshmallows… and you had to start all over again. I’m proud to say I did it on the first try, but I remember a few other guys who had numbness in their faces by the time they were done.

Once we had finished everything, we were given our brother names. Some of the names in our frat included Thriller, Loverboy, Speechless, Clutz, Cheat Sheet, Pringles, Mary, Plucky, Nightlife, Stumpy, Stale Cheetos, Roughneck, Nintendo, Sud Sponge, and Parkview. I’m proud to say that mine was Brother Rejection. Rumor has it that I asked out a few girls during pledge week… they all said no… I have no regrets.

The perks of being initiated included getting a hat with your bro name on the back, plus a t-shirt where most of the member names were misspelled, possibly because the guy in charge of the shirts was drunk when he ordered them.

Tug of war victors!
Tug of war victors!

Upper Iowa held a campus-wide Greek Week every year, which included a wide range of competitions. Zeta Chi won exactly two events, and they were as opposite as could be: tug of war and Family Feud. To this day, I still have no clue how we won a contest that required cognitive thinking.

Do I still have the Greek Week awards? You bet I do!
Do I still have the Greek Week awards? You bet I do!

My time in Zeta Chi didn’t last long, as the school forced us to disband my sophomore year. We can all point to some wild behavior that got us KO’d, but, well, your organization might not be destined to last when the dean of student services catches some of your members duct taping a pledge to a chair outside in the middle of the day. To be fair, the pledge actually asked to be duct taped to a chair. I think he wanted a good story to impress the ladies, but I doubt it helped much.

I wish I could say that I came up with that clever headline, but our newspaper adviser Doc came up with that one.
I wish I could say that I came up with that clever headline, but our newspaper adviser Doc came up with that one.

Frat exile didn’t last too long, as we eventually made a push to start a new frat. We called this one Alpha Chi, or AX for short. We had shirts made up with two crossed axes and our motto, “A cut above the rest” – pretty catchy, eh? Most of the founding members were former Zeta Chi guys, but we also took in some new guys who weren’t at Upper Iowa during the ZX days. Brother names included Casper, Who, and Akira, among others (I kept Brother Rejection, in case you’re wondering – at this point in college, the moniker sadly still fit).

We built a foundation on some of the earlier traditions. And lo and behold, Alpha Chi won Greek Week the year after I graduated. It warmed my heart to hear about the triumph – this must be what a parent experiences when their kid does something awesome.

First official Alpha Chi group photo.
First official Alpha Chi group photo.

There are so many more stories that could be told, but as long as my friends have respectable jobs, let’s just say that the statute of limitations will prevent them from being told publicly. I’ll always have fond memories of my Zeta Chi and Alpha Chi experiences, and I made quite a few lifelong friends in the process. No matter what happened during our time at Upper Iowa, I’m confident that none of us have any regrets.

Still fits! (the shirt, not the name).
Still fits! (the shirt, not the name).


  1. I STILL stand firm in the fact that he SUGGESTED being taped to that chair. AND it wasn’t THAT tight lol.

  2. I completely agree – I still remember him asking to be taped to the chair. He was grinning and laughing the whole time!

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