It’s Saturday. It’s around 10, and you’re in the smallest top imaginable in forty-degree weather. You’re going from house to house, always quiet from the outside yet blasting the same Kid Cudi and Taylor Swift songs behind those blacked-out windows. You just came from one that got shut down because someone forgot to attain a fire permit, which apparently expires every weekend. A real party-killing endemic those are. This is Greek life — Berkeley style.
Coming from Texas, the frat parties I went to when visiting friends differed quite a bit. There was no such thing as bids (more on that later) and the parties were diverse and typically lively. You have a 50-50 shot of this happening here, and that’s a generous percentage.
There are many reasons for this. For one, there is a sense of overcompensation. It’s no secret that Berkeley is a very academically driven school. It won’t make any of the “Top Party Schools” list by whoever comes up with those. And that’s fine; I’d imagine going to number one on that list would feel pretty aimless after a while. I’d probably be too drunk to feel aimless. Plus, the Bay Area has a rich art and music scene, and let’s not forget the bars and clubs just right over the bridge in San Francisco.
Due to this lack of notoriety, frat parties try to make up for it with intense exclusivity. Exclusivity is a common indicator of value. If it’s hard to get into, you expect it to be good. Simple. This doesn’t translate in this case. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been waiting outside of a frat, only to get through the seemingly White House security to a half-empty house. Thankfully I can get boxed wine. Oh wait, one of the guys just spanked it and drank right from the spigot. A lukewarm beer then, please.
A major element that perpetuates this exclusivity is the “bid system.” It’s an easy way to walk right into a party and a major motivator for people to join Greek life. Unless they’re at capacity, one of the doormen thinks your little bracelet is “fake,” or, you guessed it, the fire department is on its way. A lot of obstacles even if you’re in a sorority. Bids aren’t evenly distributed as well. They’re typically given generously to what’s considered “top houses,” aka the rich and pretty. You either feel special or lacking if you get a bid; either way, you’re letting a guy in a snapback who plays di at four p.m. on a Wednesday determine your mood. Every time I’ve asked anyone why we do things this way, I’ve gotten vague answers. Supposedly it’s a safety issue, a way to get a headcount for their parties. The people explaining seemed unsure as well. So, I’ve filled in the blanks.
The bid system is simply a power trip for frats. It’s a way to feel control over sorority women and exclude anyone outside Greek life. After putting on three plastic bracelets like I’m about to go to a music festival or to the top of Magic Mountain, I get hit with the immediate question: y’all got bids? We show our wrists like shy schoolgirls. Thank you sooo much for letting me in. I’m honored.
To be clear, I don’t hate Greek life here. It’s nice to have things to do every weekend. Sometimes exchanges feel like house parties and you’re able to meet new people. I have many friends who are brothers. I enjoy being a part of my sorority. But, this system is whack. You want to have a good party? Don’t only allow those in Greek life to attend. I understand exclusivity. I understand the value of knowing someone who knows someone. I see how bids can allow more new students such as myself to be a part of this social scene. But this is only doing everyone a disservice. Expanding the circle more wouldn’t hurt, it will only help. If the RSF can handle capacity issues, so can you.
The bid system seems like a solution gone wrong. I’m not arguing for the old-school way of doing things (the elevator look,) but it’s gotten so strict that you’d think I was trying to get into the Playboy Mansion. Maybe exploring other avenues of entertainment — club parties, live music, bars — will be all I can do. We’re attending a school where literal elements were discovered. We don’t have to win them all. I think we can all ease up and have a good time.