Frats Vs. “Townies”

A Struggle Between Campus and Community

This image of Fraternity men playing tug of war symbolizes the Struggle between fraternities and townies. Both opposing sides are pulling for their right to live in the manner they desire. (Bluestone 1979))

A community can be a fragile ecosystem. When a new species is introduced, the indigenous creatures will unequivocally be affected in either beneficial or adverse ways. In the early 1970’s, the once minuscule city of Harrisonburg experienced rapid growth. This was due in large part to the admittance of males and the general push for growth at Madison. As the campus evolved and grew, so did it’s greek life. Suddenly, a large population of rowdy and rambunctious frat boys were polluting the natural habitat of the local residents.

The growth of Fraternities had a varied reception among the “Townies”. Some appreciated them for what they stood for: brotherhood. Or they appreciated them for their community service. And one can assume that a large portion of the city was apathetic to the growing greek organizations at Madison. However, there were many citizens who made an uproar when frats began to commandeer houses in their neighborhoods, turning them into Frat Houses.

As expected, the community found the Frat Parties to be an issue. But it was not the cornerstone of their problem with Fraternities in the neighborhood. When a neighbor’s peace is disrupted by a party, one could simply call the police station and the solution would come roaring up in a police cruiser. This was of course merely a quick fix, but often effective. The Interfraternity Council at JMU took police complaints very seriously according to Bill Johnson, the Interfraternity Council adviser and Associate Dean of Students. As the Breeze article clipping (September 7, 1975)  shown below elaborates on, there is a chain of command in which the complaint will be passed along to. Fraternity parties, unlike common house parties, are held with higher expectations for responsibility due to the fact that they are more closely associated with the college.  

So that leaves the question: Why was everyone so riled up?  The problem was largely the aftermath of the parties. Lawns would be riddled with garbage from the weekend. Going on a Sunday drive with your family did not seem as pleasant when your once nice and neat street is suddenly evidence of a fraternity sponsored night of beer and bad decisions. Aesthetics was a large cause for the backlash according to Harrisonburg Planning Director Robert J. Sullivan.

The largest issue for many community members was the increase in population density. These old houses were not built with fraternities in mind. Hypothetically, a couple of frat houses on a street could surpass the number of occupants it was intended to hold, perhaps even doubling it. That means in order to park, often they would have to encroach on the surrounding spots. Not only was parking an issue, but simply that a busier and bustling  feel that a higher population brings was considered to be very abrasive to the community members according to Dr. Richard H. Smith. (Dr. Smith was a member of the community and a significant voice in this ongoing issue.)

Some students would argue that the residents of Harrisonburg were overreacting. According to a student interview in the Breeze,  many felt that the town members enjoyed reaping the benefits of the larger student population (high rent, food sales, retail sales, etc), but didn’t wish to deal with the negative side effects of their new target market. Some even went as far as to say that they felt their civil liberties were being threatened.

This cartoon from The Breeze exemplifies the students opinion on unfair housing, and insinuates that landlords charge high rent for sub-par conditions that even a mouse would find unfit to live in. Additionally, it may loosely reflect the somewhat self-centered opinion of students at Madison College that these poor conditions are to be blamed on the landlord(aka a “Townie”) and not the students themselves or the students before them.

But as with many young adults who lack real world experience, these students failed to take into consideration two things. The members of the community who are agitated are not necessarily personally profiting  from the college students. They may be families whose money earners commute for a living or work in a business that is not strongly impacted by college students. In these cases and others like them, those citizens only receive the negatives. And the negatives are much more intense than some students realized.

“Eventually,” said Smith,”either one of two things can happen: the property can become so run down, that no one wants it, or the student enrollment drops and this housing is no longer in demand-a blighted area is all that will be left..”

In real estate, one bad apple can truly spoil the bunch. When the houses in a neighborhood lose value (potentially thousands of dollars lower), the residents have a right to retaliate. They did this by proposing a new set of zoning codes, which would (among other things) redefine was a fraternity house is in the realm of real estate. After much debate, the laws were altered. But what was the campus going to do about its growing greek organization? President Ronald Carrier proposed a solution: a Greek Row on campus.








Works Cited: under Construction.