Students gear up for ThurtenE 2010 with Lot Week

| Contributing Reporter

The walls are up on the lot, and student organizations are busy preparing for this weekend’s ThurtenE Carnival. With the arrival of its 104th anniversary, ThurtenE stands as one of Washington University’s most central campus traditions.

This year’s carnival

In the past, the carnival has opened on Saturday morning. But this year, ThurtenE opens a day earlier, drawing in locals and students to witness the active progress and final touches on the elaborate façades on Friday while giving them another day to enjoy the rides and other activities.

ThurtenE Honorary president Adrian Githuku explained that the change will allow students’ work to be displayed for a longer period of time.

“We wanted people to see the work that these guys put into it,” Githuku said.

Seven fraternity-sorority pairings are in the process of building themed façades for this year’s carnival, where they will put on student-run theatrical productions. Other student groups, such as Ashoka, will also build structures for the carnival.

Lot Week

For the Washington University Greek community, the construction aspect of the carnival presents an opportunity to form close bonds and embrace tradition. ThurtenE overalls from each fraternity and sorority manage the construction of the façades for weeks leading up to the carnival. The week immediately preceding the carnival is referred to in the community as Lot Week.

Senior Michael Steinbock, a Kappa Sigma ThurtenE overall, has been through four years of the process.

“It brings everyone together,” Steinbock said. “When I was a pledge, this was one of the events that made me really want to join the house.”

Laura Bailis, a senior and Kappa Kappa Gamma ThurtenE overall, agreed. “You spend 24 hours a day with a group of people, and you get to know them really well.”

For new initiates, ThurtenE forms new bonds both within their Greek chapter and outside of it. “We have bonded a lot,” said Sigma Phi Epsilon new member Eric Osman of his pledge class. Osman said he had already spent 30 hours this week on the lot.

Freshman Brittany Katz, a new member of Pi Beta Phi, agreed. “I’ve actually gotten to know a lot of older Pi Phis too,” she said.

For Eric Fischer, a freshman who is the president of his Kappa Sigma pledge class, the traditions of the process are what make it meaningful. “It’s about learning about the process [while] bonding with older members who have already done this,” he said.

“I can’t think of any event in the entire school, not just Greek life, but the entire school, that brings together its participants this closely. Nothing comes remotely close, not even graduation,” Steinbock said.

Junior Victor Thomas, a member of Sig Ep, said that he still comes to the lot often, even though he is no longer required to. “I really love the event so much, and it’s such a good bonding experience.”

Costs and benefits

Though it has a prominent role in the Greek community, ThurtenE is not officially affiliated with Greek life. And according to Lucy Morlan, the Greek Life Office (GLO)’s coordinator for chapter development, a conversation about the expenses that the façades incur has emerged for the Greek community.

“A lot of chapters and a lot of individual members are starting to have those conversations,” Morlan said. “I know that the chapters themselves have been working with the honorary on spending caps, and I think we’re on the right track.”

Mike Hayes, the executive director of Campus Life and director of the GLO), said that the Greek community has met both challenges and criticisms. “The Panhellenic president and the IFC president got together last fall and had a big conversation about ThurtenE, and the Greek community self-imposed caps on spending,” said Hayes.

Chapters are making efforts to reuse ThurtenE materials from previous years to eliminate waste. “I know that we’re personally making a lot of efforts to reuse all of our materials from last year,” said senior and Alpha Phi overall Eve Tilley-Coulson.

But Tilley-Coulson thinks that the structures are among the highlights of the day. “Building the buildings is what brings in ticket profits,” she said.

Hayes also raised concerns about the academic effects that Lot Week has on students. “Grades drop in the spring semester for fraternities and sororities, and we can only attribute it to ThurtenE, though we’ve never done an empirical research study” he said.

“It’s a good thing developmentally—it’s a great thing for teamwork, and I don’t think you’ll find many things that rival it,” Hayes said. “But our fear is, how can you do all of the things you need to do on the lot and do all of the things you need to do academically?”

Fischer said that he had been able to handle his academic commitments and still spend time on the lot. “I’ve actually started to come at really weird hours…I’ll get my work done for the day and come at night.”

“You certainly have to manage your time better, because you’re supposed to be here any time you’re not in class,” Osman said. “But it’s absolutely worth it.”

“It’s just time management, getting your work done,” Katz said. “I come down here for a couple of hours, and this is my study break.”

With additional reporting by Kate Gaertner

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