As mentioned previously, I was invited to discuss physics and politics at one of the local fraternities earlier this week. Oddly, given the primacy of Greek organizations on campus, this is only the fourth time I’ve set foot inside a fraternity or sorority house in seven years. The previous occasions were times when I was doing housing inspections for the committee that handles those matters.
They’ve cleaned up the house since the other time I was there– they used to be Φ Γ Δ, years ago, and then there was a brief interregnum when they were officially “Alpha Beta” (referred to as “oh, those assholes” by some of the current brothers), and then a few years ago, they became Delta Kappa Epsilon, or, as I always think when I see those letters, Change in Kinetic Energy.
Dinner was Italian food from one of the better local restaurants (Schenectady has an abundance of Italian places), and I had requested good beer, which was provided in the form of a couple of sampler packs from Harpoon and Southern Tier (who make a pretty decent porter). We spent a while socializing and eating, and then I got up and talked for a bit.
As I said in the “Notes for…” post, I kept it pretty informal. I talked a bit about the recent budget mess, to put things in context, and then did my best to throw things open for discussion. I asked a few questions about what they thought, and commented on the answers, and then we gradually moved to them asking questions about physics and other science projects. I spent a bunch of time giving cocktail-party explanations of particle physics topics, and a quick explanation of how you would use a quantum computer to steal people’s credit card numbers.
Some of the questions got a little goofy– “Can you really build a time machine?” was one, and they were really interested in the possibility of some catastrophic event at RHIC destroying Long Island– but they were generally interested and engaged, or else faked it pretty well. I don’t much care, either way– I had a good time.
I was never in a fraternity– Williams abolished them twenty-odd years before I got there, and starting an underground frat there remains just about the fastest way to get expelled– but the rugby club was about the closest thing to a fraternity on campus. Seeing the interactions and rituals of the ΔKE guys the other night really brought that back– the specifics were very different, but the basic forms were all the same as what we did back in the day. It was pretty amusing.
As a result of having been in the next best thing to a frat, I’m considerably less down on the institution than a lot of my colleagues. Wednesday’s dinner basically confirmed my opinion– there’s nothing intrinsically evil about the institution, and they’re no less “intellectual” than any other random group of our students. Some of the trappings are kind of silly, but no sillier than stuff I did back in the day, and I turned out all right.
So, in short: It was a fun time. I probably should’ve had more concrete notes than I did going in, but frantically ad-libbing is kind of a kick, too, and they didn’t seem to notice or mind if they did. I’d happily do the same sort of thing again with one of the other Greek organizations on campus.