Party on, Chico
Warning: Not to be read under any circumstances
The university is Chico’s biggest business and its students are the town’s greatest source of industry, so maybe we were naïve to think that criticizing them wouldn’t attract much attention. But sometimes, even stating the obvious can get you into trouble.
Being the author of the controversial “Party Rules” story we included in this year’s Goin’ Chico, and having received both accolades and condemnation by amused or enraged readers of said piece, I am now apparently supposed to explain why it was OK to write and publish such a caustic attack on our town’s most historic institution, and what this apparently outrageous act was meant to achieve. But seriously, what would doing so accomplish? The whole purpose of satire is to reverse the conventional mode of thinking about a particular subject. Explaining the article to people who either don’t understand that concept or are too personally invested in the subject matter to see it from any other vantage point seems like a boring and pointless exercise.
Most of the people who complained about the piece seemed to only read the passages that most offended them personally. I don’t feel like that’s my problem. Nothing I write at this point will change their minds.
I will say, though, that it was the easiest piece I’ve ever written. In fact, it had been working itself together in my head from about the first week I started attending classes at Chico State. Yes, that’s right—I am a Chico State grad. Although I had some good classes and more than a few quality professors, the experience on the whole felt like an expensive waste of time. That’s my personal opinion—sorry to burden you with it. I have no way of knowing whether it would be the same if I’d attended any other university.
Criticism of the piece—and of me personally—has been intense and has come from several different quarters. Many former alums were outraged that I would call their diplomas “expensive but ultimately worthless.” Some of these fine folks have written e-mails detailing how successful they have become since graduating, and how partying at Chico State helped them develop the “social skills” that got them where they are. One spelling-challenged alum bragged about his job “schmoozing with lobbysits” at the “capital” and suggested that I am basically just a hater.
Actually, I’m glad for the success of these status-conscious grads and I wish them all the best in their high-falutin’ careers. I find it strange, however, that they take so much pride in their diplomas, as the majority of the students I attended classes with at Chico State were focused on doing the least amount of work possible in order to obtain a barely passing grade.
I’ll be paying for my Chico State degree for something like 20 years. I thought when I enrolled I’d meet students who were searching for new ways of thinking, for ideas that could make the world better, for new ways to, as Johnny Cash said, “make a few things right.” Instead, I found myself back in high school. The majority of conversations between my fellow students were not about authors or theories or politics but about how “so-and-so was hella drunk last night” and “did you hook up with so-and-so?” and “how did I get home last night?”
And yes, I know that’s a generalization. Obviously not all Chico State students are alcoholics in training, but the reputation of the college as a party school has stayed intact because there is a whole lot of truth in it. I wish someone would have been that honest with me when I enrolled—at least I might have known what I was in for.
The Greeks in particular found my article offensive, and the paper was even accused of being “bigoted” towards them. On this charge I’m probably guilty. Most of my interactions with frat guys have either been trying to avoid getting in fights with them or covering their arrests for the paper. Sorority women seem to me to come from some bizarre alternate universe where the quality of another woman’s tan and her brand preference for hair care products is some kind of measure of her humanity. This has probably given me a warped and negative picture of Greeks in general, and for this I must apologize. I’m sure most of them are wonderful, successful people and that, just like the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, there are a few bad apples ruining it for everyone. So could you guys please stop sending me death threats now?
As for the bureaucrats that run the school, I have even less respect for them now than I did before the article was written, especially after seeing their clumsy overreaction to our well-intentioned criticisms. I do, however, have a small amount of pity for them, because they are in an almost impossible position. They need to play up the “unique social atmosphere” of the school in order to bring the students (not to mention their money) in, but they are apparently powerless to control the form that “social atmosphere” will take. I would commend the university’s issuance of new guidelines to try to rein in the more out-of-control frats, but I can’t see how the new rules will have any effect. If Greek students are willing to break their own covenants, not to mention state law, what good are a bunch of unenforceable guidelines? Would they have saved Matthew Carrington? I doubt it.
That’s another thing people didn’t like about the piece: I named names. What is this, the People’s Republic of Chico? It’s OK to say somebody died but not who they were or how it happened? Or is it never OK to point out anything negative at all? I used students’ names purposely in order to avoid casting those who died (or committed infanticide, as the case may be) as faceless statistics.
I wanted readers to ask themselves, “What kind of society creates a Matthew Carrington?” Here’s a guy who, by all accounts, was bright, funny, popular and good-looking. So how did he get in a position where, even faced with death itself, he could not stand up and say “no” to his drunken tormentors? And what kind of culture creates a mentality where it is perceived as normal that new students who want to join what are touted as public service organizations are subject to torture, humiliation and degradation? And for that matter, why do people who call one another “brothers” and “sisters” feel the need to engage in sado-masochistic and vaguely homoerotic rites in order to bond with each other?
Now that I’ve again made the mistake of writing my actual thoughts without the shield/crutch of journalistic impartiality, there’ll no doubt be even more pissed-off party bros, dime-store shrinks and third-rate writing coaches out there who want to tell me how to do my job, or worse, tell me how to think. Well, go ahead if it’ll make you feel better. But blaming the messenger won’t bring back the dead, and it won’t solve the university’s problems.