When Andrew Cary Dickson ’98 went into the Star and Crescent for dinner his sophomore year, he felt that the members of Alpha Delt were snubbing him because he looked like an athlete. According to his father, former Alpha Delt President Paul Dickson ’61, that was not the way it used to be. Back in the day, he said, Alpha Delt housed bohemians and athletes alike.
These days, many of the students who frequent High Street can easily characterize each society or fraternity—Psi Upsilon, Beta, Deke, Eclectic, and Alpha Delt all have their respective stereotype—ut the stereotypes seem to have been different in past decades.
“Psi Upsilon was the [fraternity] with the preppy edge, Eclectic was the straight arrow all-American boy place, and Beta was a little more introverted and scholarly,” Dickson recalled.
There was a different sort of crowd at Alpha Delt too, Dickson said.
“Some of my good friends [in Alpha Delt] were the school’s best football and basketball players,” he said. “It was different back then.”
According to Russian Professor Duffy White ’62, another Alpha Delt member, the defining interest of house residents, including the athletes, was countercultural politics.
“The only way we could have distinguished Alpha Delt was by its interest in radical politics,” White said.
One of the highlights of Alpha Delt in the early ’60s was the time when beat poets Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg came to the house for a poetry reading. The occasion was Dirty River Day, the annual bacchanal when students would race makeshift boats on a nearby river and the women from nearby colleges would drive into town in troves.
“I got to drive Kerouac around,” Dickson said. “He was off his gourd the whole weekend and all these girls from Connecticut College and all over the place had come down. He was basically chasing these girls. He was chasing every girl who was around.”
After the ’60s, Alpha Delt alumni describe a situation that more closely resembled the social contours of today’s Wesleyan.
“Deke had the general feel of the football and jock house. Eclectic was punks, Beta was lacrosse players and more jocks, and Psi Upsilon was business children,” said Alpha Delt member Topher Dunne ’79. “[The students in] Alpha Delt were ’literary’ in the broadest sense of the term—some writers and a variety of musicians and singer-songwriters.”
President Michael Roth ’78, another former president of Alpha Delt, recalls that the society’s members were cautious to avoid stereotyping themselves. As an example, Roth recalls a time when the University was calling various fraternities and societies in an effort to crack down on cursing at football games. Roth picked up the call to Alpha Delt, declaring hastily that Alpha Delt members did not attend Wesleyan football games.
“Everyone in the fraternity was so angry at me,” Roth recalled. “They said, ’You’re stereotyping us!’ and they all went to games cursing.”
Looking back, Roth believes that some things have not changed.
“What probably hasn’t changed is the refusal to be stereotyped,” he said.
For those of an earlier era, such as Dickson, however, the difference is clea—nd not only at Alpha Delt.
“Today, [the societies] are certainly racially, religiously, and ethnically diverse, but I’m unsure of how diverse they are in terms of what people consider to be important,” he said. “Alpha Delt now seems a jazz and martinis kind of crowd.”
Dunne says that other former members had trouble recognizing their old stomping grounds, and were confused when they went to reunions that reminded them more of “a Renaissance Fair” then the house they once lived in.
“My classmate and former member of Alpha Delt, Bayard Klimasmith ’91, passed
through campus and mentioned there were lots of Society for Creative Anachronism types, something completely outside the realm of my recollection from my time there,” Dunne said.
Maria Pia Gekas ’09, the current Alpha Delt president, believes that the house has maintained its philosophical foundations through the decades, regardless of any perceived change.
“Personalities come and go, but our ideals as a society have remained constant,” Gekas said. “There isn’t necessarily one common interest or attitude or personality like that. The society is what binds us all together.”
Overall, Dunne believes that diverse cultures tend to splinter off into interest groups, a trend he has seen with his former house.
“I think that there’s an unavoidable sectioning off into cliques, either overt like ’Greek’ societies or into special interest housing,” he said.
To Roth, however, such barriers too often appear more impenetrable than they actually are.
“[I’ve observed] that you do not have to be a jock to be in one [society] or a hipster to be in another, that in fact they do have personalities that have some consistencies, but they are more open than they appear,” he said.