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What a Rush!

Here's a loaded question: Have CU's frats cleaned up their act? We find out.

Down the tree-lined streets of the Hill in Boulder, where many of the University of Colorado's fraternities are located, you can see the signs of an uneasy cease-fire in the booze war between CU frat boys and Boulder police. In the quiet blocks around the Greek houses, people walk their dogs amid empty beer cans, Liquor Mart keg cups and cigarette butts.

CU's fraternities attracted national attention in 1995 by adopting a "no-alcohol" policy at their chapter houses. The agreement was so widely publicized that it even managed to attract an $860,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for "alcohol education." But less than two years after the initial hoopla, the no-alcohol policy is no more. After riots last May in which students who claimed they were fed up with being hassled by cops lashed out in two nights of mayhem, the city and the Greeks are still trying to work out a lasting peace.

Publicity about fraternity-related incidents, worries about skyrocketing insurance premiums from wrongful-death suits and an omnipresent hostility between the city of Boulder and the frats put the Greeks in the spotlight--and, supposedly, on their best behavior. The Boulder police are trying to tread lightly, too, hoping to avoid adding another public-relations nightmare to the JonBenet fiasco.

It's Friday evening, the first day of Open Rush at CU, when the Greeks start restocking their houses with fresh bodies. Not wanting to feel left out, Westword sends into the war zone two staff writers working undercover as prospective pledges.

Lebanon it's not. Animal House it is.
And sure enough, down one street sits a frat that looks as if it could pass for the famed Animal House. It's a rickety wooden building with AstroTurf mats on the front porch. A couple of brothers look for matches to get the barbecue going. In front, some shirtless brothers toss two pigskins around, blocking the thoroughfare to passing traffic. They launch bombs from the second-floor balcony, bouncing one long ball off the hood of a new Ford Explorer. Across the street are more respectable-looking Greek houses, brick affairs with verandas and columns.

Sort of a plantation look, which is apt. Few things are more lily-white than CU's Greek system, whose 2,500 members (according to Greek officials) comprise a full 10 percent of CU's undergraduate population. A six-member Latino frat is the only non-white presence at the rush tables. The only African-American who attends rush is one of Westword's reporters. "So, are you really here to rush, man?" one frat boy asks, "or are you just here to check things out?"

The frat boy spends the next few minutes gently discouraging the African-American from pledging his fraternity.

In front of Animal House, the rosy-cheeked, sideburned boys wearing baseball caps with sharply curved bills are just kicking it. On the porch, others are on the job. Dressed in polo shirts and name tags, they're the recruiters of the next crop of pledges, and they're very sober about their work.

It's a "dry" Rush this year, so the rush committee greets you with warm Cokes and sincere smiles. But after you've thrown back a few sodas and shown that you're down with them, someone invites you up to his room for a Keystone Light, delivered by a young UPS guy in uniform who seems to be making the rounds throughout the neighborhood.

Justin, one of the brothers, says that tonight they're "just chillin'"--that is, not taking a chance on having the party busted on account of underage drinkers. But when the Keystone Light arrives, he shrugs and says, "Hell, if we can't do anything during Rush, we'll just wait till it's over." Which is precisely at 10 p.m.

After all, this alcohol-free event is sponsored by Coors Light, whose huge banners advertising "Fall Rush" hang outside many fraternity houses.

Sponsorship or not, the brothers are still worried. The Interfraternity Council (IFC), which governs CU's Greeks, has a "buzz crew" of frat members who patrol events at the nineteen frat houses with walkie-talkies, looking for liquor violations. They work closely with the Boulder cops.

But right now the frat boys are more concerned about the police department's black-and-white Suburban, heavily pitted with rock-sized dents, that pulls up right in front of the house. One brother leans over to a prospective pledge chewing on a bloody hamburger and boasts, "We did all that damage in thirty seconds during the riots. They parked that shit on the street and we nailed it. They had to take off, or else they were gonna get killed."

The bravado vanishes and everyone keeps quiet while a few of the football throwers lean into the Suburban's windows. The cops never get out of the car. They're never seen on foot, period. After the brothers chat them up for a few minutes, the cops drive off.

Once they're gone, the bravado returns. "We sent a message with the riots," says social chairman Wally. "We had a party on Thursday. The cops came and broke it up, but they didn't give any MIPs [Minor in Possession] or tickets to the house."

"They took the kegs," adds Justin, "but that was all. They were pretty cool about it."

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