Back in the day, the 1960s to be exact, when I showed up for first year at the University of Western Ontario, there was an organized frosh week. Purple Spur, a group of senior students, kept us busy all day, doing their bidding. I don’t remember all the indignities we were put through but picking up trash, barking like a dog, and generally feeling degraded were among them. The purpose, of course, was to create a community among the new arrivals. Western had only 5,000 students in those days, compared to 28,000 today, so it seemed easy to make friends. Plus, I was in residence so lived and ate with students from freshmen to doctoral candidates. I made friends that I see to this day.
Even then, in the dark ages, there was drinking, although not to the same organized excess as today. A senior classman, who shall remain nameless, bought me my first case of Labatt 50 for which I paid the princely sum of $4.36. That case of twenty-four now costs about ten times as much but inflation doesn’t seem to stop students from gathering by the thousands – something we never did – to drink beer, smoke pot, destroy property, and pelt police sent to control the throngs.
Some universities have become known for their lawless rowdiness. Queen’s in Kingston, Ontario, comes first to mind, but Western students have been flooding to Broughdale Avenue since at least the 1980s for festivities fuelled by drugs and booze. Such raucous events used to be associated with Homecoming, traditionally in October. Moving the date and cancelling Homecoming has made no difference. In fact, the numbers at these unsanctioned blowouts seem to grow every year. There’s a snitch line for complaints. The school’s response can range from a note on a student’s file all the way to suspension. It is not clear, however, how many cases have resulted in any punishment.
The main question is this: why has this behaviour become a such popular pastime throughout North America? First, and most obvious, the participants think it’s fun. The actions of John Belushi and his fraternity brothers in the 1978 movie Animal House were likely an early stimulus. But most of all, it rankles parents, neighbours, faculty, and anyone else over thirty who may or may not have attended such a gathering themselves in their day. And therein lies a likely explanation. Annoying behaviour has been driving older folks crazy ever since Cicero lamented how Rome was in decline by saying, “O tempora, o mores!” which translates as “Oh the times! Oh the customs.” ‘Twas ever thus.