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Joining a College Fraternity: Alpha Chi Sigma Initiation

Paul was a student at the University of Wisconsin in the '60s and also served in the Navy during America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity just off Madison Campus

A side view of Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity at 621 N. Lake St., Madison, Wisconsin.  Picture taken 6-12-19

A side view of Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity at 621 N. Lake St., Madison, Wisconsin. Picture taken 6-12-19

Joining a College Fraternity

Joining Alpha Chi Sigma, a professional chemistry fraternity was one of the most exciting and memorable events of my college years. Although I did not pursue a career in chemistry after getting my degree and doing some graduate work in chemistry, the camaraderie of my brothers and experiences with the fraternity will always be remembered. The steps I went through before my final initiation in the fraternity involved the following:

1. Rushing a Fraternity:

It was a clear, cold day at the beginning of February 1966. I was a senior at the University of Wisconsin on its Madison campus and living in the Lakeshore Halls a stone's throw away from the shore of Lake Mendota. Having just returned from an inorganic chemistry lecture in the old Chemistry Building, I was sitting in the snack bar under the Carson Gully Cafeteria for dormitory residents of Adams Hall. California Dreaming by the Mamas and Papas was blaring from the jukebox as I was running over in my mind the merits of rushing a professional chemistry fraternity.

I had never considered joining a fraternity during my freshman and sophomore years. A number of my classmates had done so, and so many of them had eventually flunked out of school due to bad grades from too much partying and not hitting the books. My studies had taken priority over socializing during my first three years of college. I had been in a pre-med course of study which was very demanding. Now that all of the medical schools had rejected my applications, I had recently applied for graduate work in chemistry. Perhaps joining a chemistry fraternity at this time would be a good move to make.

The notice which I had seen posted in the Chemistry Building was announcing an open smoker for all students in chemistry-related fields interested in joining the fraternity on the following evening at the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity house. The next evening at 7:00 I made my way across campus and almost to the shore of Lake Mendota where the frat house was located at 621 North Lake Street. The house had a great location in that it was situated only two blocks from the central university library and State Street where the campus merged into downtown. The fraternity house was huge and old, and I shivered from the cold breeze off of the lake as I rang the front doorbell.

A fraternity brother answered the door and ushered me into a smoke-filled front room that was crowded with fraternity brothers and others like me rushing the fraternity. I had small talk with a lot of the brothers and other rushees. Next, I filled out a form indicating where I was living on campus and what I was studying in school.

2. Pledging a Fraternity:

Two nights later two fraternity brothers knocked on my dorm room door and extended me an invitation to pledge to Alpha Chi Sigma. If I was interested in joining the fraternity, I would have to attend the first meeting of pledges on the following Monday evening.

The next Monday evening I made my way down to the frat house, arriving a little before 7:00. After being met at the door, I was led down to the basement of the house where about 10-15 other pledges like me were being seated at picnic table benches in a party room that had a bar in the corner. After we were all assembled, our pledge trainer, Jim C., arrived and called us to order while his other fraternity brothers were having their weekly meeting upstairs. Tony W. was playing the piano and everyone was singing the fraternity song.

Jim began by welcoming us all as pledges and laying out what was expected of us during the next three months before initiation into the fraternity. We were given a pledge manual that stated a brief history and aims of the fraternity. We were instructed to memorize and know the aims of the fraternity which are:

a. To bind its members with a tie of true and lasting friendship;

b. To strive for the advancement of chemistry both as a science and as a profession; and

c. To aid its members by every honorable means in the attainment of their ambition as chemists throughout their mortal lives.

We were also expected to know other general facts about the fraternity such as its founding on the University of Wisconsin campus on December 11, 1902, and its association with alchemy. Other secrets about the fraternity would be revealed during our formal initiation ceremony. Finally, we were all given a plaque of wood and instructed to lacquer and decorate it with the fraternity's code of arms, and then have it signed by all of the fraternity brothers.

During the next three months, I got to know well most of the fraternity brothers, especially all of my pledge brothers. The fraternity brothers included both undergraduates and graduates in the field of chemistry. Some of the undergraduates were majoring in chemistry to become doctors, teachers, and graduate students. The graduate students were all researching in preparation to earn Masters's and Doctorate degrees.

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Jack W or Waz was one of my pledge brothers whom I got to know the best. He was an undergraduate majoring in chemistry, and it was a lot of fun being around him. We had so many good times both in the frat house and outside in the bars, especially Johnnie a Go-Go.

I also learned a lot about the frat house. It was an enormous three-story structure built around 1900. Upon entering the house, there was a small foyer which after making a left turn led to a library on the left, a dining room on the right, and a huge living room at the end. A big kitchen was in the back of the house. There was a half-bath powder room at the base of the stairs leading up to the second floor. On the second floor, there were five rooms, a large bathroom with two showers, and a sleeping dorm which was one step down from the bathroom. On the third floor, there were four or five other rooms. The fraternity employed a cook and maid who prepared supper six days a week. There was also a house dog, Kim, and a dog committee responsible for walking him every day.

The most enjoyable part of my pledge life was the weekend social events. They included late Friday afternoon beer suppers and occasional Saturday evening parties. The beer suppers were get-togethers between the fraternity and guest sororities or nursing college students. We provided the music and beer while the young women brought in the food. The pop music featuring songs by the Buckinghams, Beatles, Grassroots, and others was recorded from the radio and played back on a big reel-to-reel tape deck. This was a great opportunity for all of the brothers to meet chicks and have a groovy time. At one of the beer suppers, I met a fun-loving nursing student. Later, during the early evening after leaving the frat house, we spent an enjoyable evening attending a Byrds concert at the Orpheum Theater on State Street. We also had parties about twice a semester. Bands were invited to play inside the house and most of the brothers brought dates to the parties.

3. Alpha Chi Sigma Initiation:

Alpha Chi Sigma's initiation finally came at the beginning of May. It was in the form of two days of informal hazing and one final day of a formal initiation ceremony.

The informal hazing began on a late Friday afternoon. After arriving at the fraternity house, all of the pledges were at the mercy of the brothers. I remember going to a drug store to buy cigarettes for some brothers. Another pledge brother and I then had to carry an old sink down to the fountain in front of the central school library. We were instructed to fill the sink up with water and then carry it back to the frat house. The problem was that there was no drain stop for the sink. It was hilarious seeing us try to use our hands as water stops while we attempted to carry the sink back to the frat house. Later in the evening, there was a lot of drinking and all of the pledges had to down or chug a beer if they couldn't answer the trivia questions that the brothers were asking. "Why is the sky blue?" was a question I couldn't answer.

Formal initiation into the fraternity took place on Sunday morning. During this ceremony, we were all introduced to the secrets of the fraternity. We all had to take a pledge not to reveal these secrets to anyone. During the ceremony, we were individually blindfolded and led to different rooms in the house where the secrets were revealed. Throughout the whole ceremony, a classical piece of music was played over and over. Many of the secrets revealed the fraternity's association with alchemy. I remember that the last part of the ceremony required all of us to stand on a chair. We were then asked if we trusted our brothers. After we all said yes, we were told to fall backward off the chair. Thankfully, all of us were caught by our brothers before hitting the floor. Following the initiation ceremony, we all went to a banquet, and of course, bought drinks for the pledge trainer to get him drunk

I lived in the fraternity house during the summer session, and then I became an active member of Alpha Chi Sigma's chapter at the University of Michigan where I was briefly a graduate student. The fraternity was very good to me. The friendships made with my brothers have lasted most of my life, and the experiences will never be forgotten. As of today, I still review periodic newsletters from the national office of Alpha Chi Sigma.

An Invitation to Rush Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity in 1966

An invitation to attend a rush smoker at Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity

An invitation to attend a rush smoker at Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity

Revisiting the Old Fraternity House

On a visit to Madison in June 2019, I made arrangements with fraternity members to visit my old Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity house at 621 N. Lake Street just off of the University of Wisconsin campus. I had not been to the fraternity house since 1973 so you can imagine how excited I felt.

Late in the afternoon on the chilly rainy afternoon of June 12, 2019, I was met at the door of the fraternity by a male member who was not living in the house. The fraternity accepted coeds in the 1970s. As I entered the house, I noticed that all of the rooms were in the same place as they were in 1966 when I first entered the house. However, the feeling was much different this time because all of the people that I had seen before were now gone. The fraternity house was scheduled to be demolished in 2019 due to walls that were falling apart. I took some pictures inside the house but quickly learned that you can't go home again.

Inside of Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity House

Old Dining Hall and Kitchen in Background.  Taken 6-12-19

Old Dining Hall and Kitchen in Background. Taken 6-12-19

Living Room of Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity

Main living room of the fraternity.  Meetings and parties were held in this room.  Taken 6-12-19

Main living room of the fraternity. Meetings and parties were held in this room. Taken 6-12-19

University of Wisconsin Madison Campus


Alex Guseman Talks about Alpha Chi Sigma

Joining a College Fraternity

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn

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