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Just Guys: Eulogizing Sigma Alpha Epsilon

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MAY 02, 2015


The local news media has contacted us and if they contact you, here is our official response: A couple of weeks ago, the UC Berkeley chapter of SAE voluntarily suspended its affiliation with SAE National, due to alcohol related incidents at the chapter that violated SAE National’s requirement of “alcohol free premises.

Presently the House at 2722 Bancroft continues to be occupied by UC Berkeley students and operates as a rooming house. Beginning this summer and for at least the next year, the premises will be operated as a coed rooming house. 2722 Bancroft is owned by a non-profit corporation and is operated by its Board, which includes 10 UC Berkeley alumni representing several generations who have lived at the premises from the 1950’s to recently.

Best Regards,

The Board”


SAE is dead. The cheetah-print bar in the corner of the quad has been disassembled; the letters  anointing our street-facing wall have been painted over; the carpet cleaned of decades old beer stains. Nobody speculates, really. But the reality is two years from now this fraternity will probably be an apartment complex or athlete house or restaurant, and an era will have ended.

Who cares? The basement smells like beer and old sweat, undercut by the timeless, pernicious sense of preemptive regret (the “god I’m gunna hate myself in the morning”), the front room hasn’t been clean since 1894, and there’s enough broken glass in the quad to guarantee Hepatitis C to any bohemian douchebag with the audacity to cross it barefoot. Structurally, the building at 2722 Bancroft Way should be condemned. Really, it can’t be safe. But, of course, a fraternity isn’t a building. A fraternity is a label, is a word, and, as such, derivative of and dependent on context.

And that’s just it. Where do I stand with SAE? Am I in front, wearing my lettered sweatshirt to class with the hood up, impervious to wind chill and the depressive weight of all-too-recent history? Or do I skulk in the parking lot around back, willing to tolerate a name for the company of its members, but unable to come to terms with the limits of that tolerance? I feel like everyone is somewhere in the middle. It’s a cop out, yeah. Because people aren’t hyperboles of themselves, and reality—realistically—is so fucking mundane. But that’s context, sucking you out the vacuum of that perfect absolute space in your head, and laying it out on the street in front of 2722 Bancroft Way. Because eventually it all comes down to whether or not we’re going to wear that jacket out the front door.

Some people say fraternities are changing. That racial exclusion, gender singularity, and relationships based on mutual degradation are no longer tenets of this social system. That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. But what’s in a name, indeed. No matter how fraternal the bond between members, community alone is not a fraternity. For fraternities, to change is to die. We are, indeed, aware of this death; yet death itself is inconceivable. We live vicariously in this past life, surrounded by relics of a dying era. We stuff our heads into the sand, as if that sand will freeze us in time.

Humor defuses. We’re not in a frat anymore, we’re “Just Guys.” T-shirts are made. We take our sober realities and repurpose them. We sublimate our sadness.

People used to send their condolences. They’d stop me on the street, shoot me a text, pull me aside at a party. “Dude,” they’d say, “so sorry to hear about SAE, man.” As heartfelt as their brevity would allow, like memories shared, commiseration verbalized in the future tense. “Do you remember those gamedays you threw last year? I’m gunna miss those.” A thousand tiny eulogies.

What are we eulogizing, exactly? When it comes to fraternity, labels beget more labels. And within each subset exists a different, personal brand of identity. For SAE, there’s a separation. SAE is a name, a national image that represents and is represented. And within that representation is dissonance: the cymbal crash of solipsistic autonomy reverberates to the resonance of a tolling bell. Our SAE was always defined at odds with this imposing national image, like some sort of beer bonging Robin Hood, drinking for the rich and poor alike. An appeal to anarchist solidarity set to angsty hard rock (think “System of a Down”)—there we were, drinking. For something? Because to drink in spite of that something seems more a self serving preemptive justification than a political stance, one way or another. Or were we already too drunk to make that distinction…

Of course, identity is a two way street. Even now, we’re “not SAE”—a qualification still contingent on an image of fraternity. So what, exactly, are we eulogizing?

Because the memories don’t change. The bell in the quad still rings. Everyone still lives, together. So we lost some letters. We didn’t lose a house, we didn’t lose any friends, we didn’t lose our collective history. We lost three letters to the right of the bay windows, just above the doors, facing the street. And now, I guess, we’re no longer SAE. Three words.

Just. Like. That.
There are three types of death. There is physical death, the body struggles for air and life and fails, laid to rest. There is the act of burial, ashes to ashes and bones are stuffed underground. Then there is spiritual death, where the last person forgets your name. Mourning SAE’s passing is a desperate attempt to grasp something tighter as you feel it drift away. Fraternity is founded on memory—harkening back to an era of chivalry that no longer exists.

David Nussbaum is a contributor to The Weekender. Contact The Weekender at [email protected]

MAY 04, 2015

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