'The original party animal,' Bud Light's Spuds MacKenzie, welcomed back San Diego State University students each September during the late '80s with a full-page advertisement in the Daily Aztec. His neighbors on the page: display ads for fraternity rush parties brazenly pushing booze and good times. SDSU has been battling its party-school image for decades, but May's drug bust was touted by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a novel crackdown on a new breed of party animals. Students, however, will tell you that the transition from Spuds and Buds to coke and green-bud happened ages ago. Most of the students CityBeat talked to said it's common knowledge that drug use and alcohol abuse are rampant among students, and fraternities are the place to get your fix. But many view it as a rite of passage into a long-standing campus culture.
'[Greeks] and cocaine go together like soda and whiskey. It's almost like a cocktail for destruction,' said David, a recent SDSU fraternity alumnus. 'But a lot of students' attitudes toward drugs are, ‘Hey it's college.''
SDSU made its first appearance on Playboy's top-10 party schools list in 1987. But administrators weren't happy about this new 'honor.' Spurred by a series of rape cases involving fraternity members, university administrators scrambled to chase MacKenzie from their campus and quash the Greeks' party-boy antics.
During the late 1980s, SDSU saw its name tarnished in the press in a manner that doesn't quite rival this month's national coverage, but belies any notion that parties now are any bigger than they used to be. In 1986, Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and Delta Gamma sorority drew bad press when an 18-year-old sorority member alleged several fraternity members raped her after she passed out at a 1985 sorority-fraternity exchange. The District Attorney dropped the case for lack of evidence, but Pi Kappa Alpha was dismissed from the university and administrators took action against 29 of its members, some banned from the California State University system altogether, according to the Daily Aztec. Several more rape allegations were made the same year.
In 2000, Beta Theta Pi and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternities were expelled from SDSU after hazing incidents involving alcohol landed two students in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, according to the Daily Aztec. The same year, Zeta Beta Tau, Kappa Alpha and Phi Kappa Theta were under investigation for serving alcohol to underage students who were later hospitalized for near-lethal alcohol poisoning.
'If you have such a big group of people, you're bound to find anorexia, you're bound to find bulimia. It's the same thing with drugs,' said Emily Tolstad, 20, a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. 'There are a lot of stereotypes about fraternities and sororities. It's because the people like that are the ones that are remembered.'
The Greek community insists, however, such misuse of alcohol and drugs goes beyond Fraternity Row. In 2005, SDSU made the news for non-Greek-related incidents. Graduate student Matthew Finley, 26, was arrested and convicted for using a campus science lab to make methamphetamine and Ecstasy. Randy Hencken, the past president of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said nearly 35 percent of SDSU students use marijuana and admit to heavy episodic drinking, but he said he suspects the number is actually much higher. And, he added, the majority of those surveyed were not members of fraternities or sororities.
Katherine Hunt, 23 and an SDSU senior, calls herself a 'squeaky-clean student'-and non-Greek-who didn't drink alcohol until she was 21. After the busts on May 6, she asked her study group how easy it is to find drugs at SDSU.
'Everybody said, ‘Oh, we could get it within an hour.' There's just a very cavalier attitude about it on campus and it seems like so many people know about it.'
David said there is, at most, a two-degree separation between students and small-time dealers, but he and most students interviewed by CityBeat said they doubt drug sales are organized into big conspiracies. They said it's a longstanding sense of entitlement to the 'college experience' that has a hold on SDSU, not a sophisticated drug cartel.
'I guarantee you can make the same raid today and find just as much stuff,' said Beau Russell, 22, an SDSU senior about to graduate. 'They just got small-time drug users. A lot of people do it. Nothing's changed.'