Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Writing about Sink Night when I was at (all-male) Dartmouth is not easy … possibly because much of it was a fuzzy, boozy memory. Nevertheless, here goes.

Rushing fraternities then (1957) at the beginning of your sophomore year was an interesting experience. One tried one’s best to be wooed by a goodly number of frat houses without spreading oneself too thin. Generally, you had a fair notion of what houses you could get into without compromising your standards (or, more likely, the fraternity’s). You dressed in de rigueur belt-in-the-back chinos (now known as kakis); white or blue button-down dress shirt, dirty white bucks (suede shoes), rep-striped tie, and hound’s-tooth plaid jacket … and then, breathlessly, made the rounds of Greekdom. This consisted of lots of cheddar cheese, cider (to counteract the effect of the cheese), and small talk. This small talk on both the fraternities' and your part was not necessarily “small”. It was at both ends of the spectrum, either chock full of insincerity or so sincere as to be maudlin. After a few nights of this charm waltz, you generally zeroed in on a house or two that seemed to like you … and you, them.

From then on it was code talk:
“If we offered to pledge you, would you be leaning our way?”
“I really like your house almost better than all the others.”
“We see you have been spending a lot of time at Sigma Nu. Can we infer something from this?”
“My roommate really likes you guys. Do you think he has a chance?”
“Rumor has it that you won’t be rowing again next year. Is that true?”
“My Dad was a Chi Phi and I feel a great loyalty to you guys.”

At the end of the week (I think it was Saturday night), you hopefully got an invitation from the house of your choice (Will we see you at DTD tonight?) or, if you were lucky, from more than one. And, when you showed up (as I recall it) in old clothes (for reasons you will soon understand), you were greeted at the door by a key brother with a pledge pin which you then were invited to wear. It was like the “one step forward” when you join the Army. This brother-assisted pinning (sinking) thus became your solemn commitment to this fraternity.

Once all the pledges had been assembled, you were introduced to those whom you didn’t already know … and then “sink night” began. This was a joyous outpouring of social acceptance. Every fraternity had a continuous open keg … much of which went on the floor. Pledges threw beers on each other, drank some, slapped each other on the back, and, as the night wore on, tore at each other’s clothing until traveling outside in the chilly fall air, became rather risky and risqué. The reason the various hoards of pledges traveled outside was that you were then obliged to visit those houses where you didn’t pledge and ooze some more insincerity (“I really wanted to pledge SAE but I though we might be a mismatch.”) You also went to the fraternities of your friends and roommates to slap them on the back, spill their beer (and yes, drink a bit), and continue to challenge the limits of modesty.

Was all this drunkenness and male nudity homo-erotic? I never believed so then, but being a tad more sophisticated now, I suspect that there was indeed a voyeuristic element to this tradition. I do hope, now that Dartmouth is co-educational, that this particular merriment has been somewhat mollified. In closing, I noticed on “The Dartmouth” website that “the College compiles figures on the number of students that are treated at Dick's House for alcohol-related incidents” after sink night. Let me just say that after one particularly well-behaved Winter Carnival at Dartmouth I came down with a legitimate case of the flu. When I went to Dick’s house, I was admitted and classified as experiencing alcohol poisoning. Nothing I could say would convince these oracles in white that this was a misdiagnosis.

1 comment:

TheFig said...

Interesting that Pott's memory is so vivid about his own sink night experience. As one of his sinkees, the following year and having had to suffer abuse at the hands and mind of Potts himself, I have absolutely no memories of the night whatsoever, just a strong recollection of a frozen ass as a result of being blindfolded and asked to sit on a large cube of ice, and also ordered by Himself to "Think Off" I did try, but wasn't successful. The concept was marvelous and some years later I was able to actually achieve the goal. Actually, I am trying right now, and don't think I will be successful, maybe if I had a block of ice....I did get a little tingle though. Posted by Bill Figilis February 7, 2007