Phil Hanlon Take a Shot!
It is widely known that the average income of those affiliated with Greek houses far outpaces the average income of the general student body. Even with robust financial aid systems in place, it can be difficult for students from a lower socioeconomic background to feel comfortable participating in these spaces. House dues for fraternities can top $400; social dues have been known to hit $1000 per member. Members of sororities can expect around $400 per term.
It may not be obvious at first the robust place music has in fraternities and sororities, but songs as a form of banter in Greek life have likely existed since the creation of Greek spaces themselves. Members of these spaces sing Dartmouth Traditionals or covers of certain songs during weekly meetings. If we define music to be any form of organized sound, even house-specific chants play a large role in the sonic space of a Greek house.
After every Wednesday night meetings, the brothers of Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity sing the following song which is set to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”:
“Phil Hanlon took the booze I needed
To get through my 10A.
Phil Hanlon, you can take my freedom,
but you can’t take my booze away.
No, Alpha Chi will not surrender;
80-proof and green we bleed!
We’re taking shots for the old mother
Phil Hanlon take a shot for me!”
For the few POCs or members of lower socioeconomic status that are in the house and perhaps on financial aid, these songs can be a slap-in-the-face. On one hand, there is a student who must work multiple jobs to qualify for financial aid, is stressed about family situations at home, and, more often than not, is a POC. On the other hand, there is a group of members singing chants and songs about the difficulties of not having hard alcohol and having to study. By reinforcing notions of relatively superficial hardships that privileged members face, these songs ignore serious issues that plague the community such as student-worker exploitation or racial bias within the student body.
There are plenty of POC, low-income students who enjoy participating in these chants, and to condemn them outright would miss the point. We want to understand where people participate and how that perhaps affects who participates. From the examples outlined above, we see that musical participation in Greek spaces can be difficult for the people who, if anything, need more than anyone else to be included: survivors of sexual assault and other social minorities. We may be quick to dismiss fraternity or sorority chants as ostensibly harmless, but when contextualized against the physical setting of the music, members of these spaces inadvertently create music performances that exclude participation and place other issues on the backburner.
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