Williams in transition in the 60s: almost a frat boy

Editor’s note: One of the many changes we witnessed as members of both the Class and Generation of 1968 was a complete overhaul of the social environment of Williams College. Future treatment(s) will delve into Jack Sawyer’s influence on the process; here we focus on how it felt to be half-in, or half-out of the fraternity system that defined the college for so many years. Ken Jackson of the Williams 68 Web Team gives us his personal perspective on what it was to like to belong for both Garfield House and Delta Upsilon.

The year 1968 may have been the year that shook the world. Much of the action was in Prague, Paris, Memphis, Chicago, and Berkeley, outside the Purple Valley. But there were ripples of the social and political changes for the Class of 1968, even before we graduated and fell into the real world.

This is a personal recollection of an institutional revolution at Williams: the end of fraternities. Fraternities were abolished at Williams just as we arrived, at the end of a contentious process that alienated many students and alumni. We arrived as the smoke cleared, not very aware of what we had lost or gained in this social change.

Students in the class of 1968 were assigned to residential units. Those of 1968 who were assigned to the “row houses,” the old fraternity houses, found themselves in the wake of Greek life. We often lived at one end of campus, in the Sophomore Quad, and dined blocks away up Route 2.

Experiences varied.

The class of 1966 had been the last class to live full fraternity life. (I think fraternities survived in a ghostly fashion, without residential offerings. Did a few remain as a secret societies for some of the class of ‘68?)

At Garfield House, the former Delta Upsilon, the class of 1966, seniors when we were sophomores, tried to continue what they saw as the positive attributes of their fraternity experience. Under the leadership of Punky Booth and Jeff Jones, they made it clear in the fall of 1965 that we were not members of DU and were not required to engage in any of the fraternal activities. But activities were available.

The class of 1968 at Garfield signed on for a modified pledge class experience. We would never learn the secret handshake, but we spent several weeks in the fall engaged in the rites that socialized us.

After lunch or dinner at Garfield, our class would perform. We had been required to learn the names and the hometowns of the juniors and seniors at Garfield, about 40 young men. We would be quizzed and loudly mocked if we failed. We learned college songs like The Mountains, and sang them to upperclassmen. We wrote and performed skits, bits of genuinely sophomoric humor. And at odd moments, nicknames were visited on favored or less-favored classmates. Every good gang member needs a moniker like Spike or B-bud.

We finished up with a scarcely-remembered Hell Week: shaving cream? water balloons? A long, early-morning walk to town down Northwest Hill Road? I’m sure there was too much time spent at the Narragansett tap in the Garfield basement. Binge drinking we would say now. Hazing we might say now.

But my (fuzzy) memories are positive. I felt like I was in a club much cooler than I deserved. The seniors seemed like gods. The juniors were generous, offering Thursday night rides to Vassar or Skidmore and introductions. Every party at Garfield was full of people I knew (by name and hometown).

This voluntary fraternity by random assignment continued at Garfield for the following two years. The class of 1970, though, may have been slightly less interested in a fading tradition, and in traditional refreshment. I’m with them now. I shake my head over Tufts’ current problems with fraternities, Harvard with their final clubs. At Williams we solved all that long ago.

Ken Jackson



One thought on “Williams in transition in the 60s: almost a frat boy

  1. Nice piece by Ken Jackson about almost being a Frat Boy, but as the older brother of Jeff Jones ‘66 mentioned, and as the President of the Delta Upsilon Chapter at Williams during the actual days of voting to eliminate fraternities at the College I have to point out DU had no “secret handshake”, nor was there a “goat room”.
    Delta Upsilon was founded at Williams and became the largest “non secret” fraternity in the world. All Williams DU’s were proud of that. Christopher “Kit” Jones’62

Leave a Comment or Reply

Required fields are marked with *. Your email address will not be published.