VERSA | American colleges vs Oxford colleges: a VERSA investigation

First of all, let’s replace that rowdy Bullingdon Boys stereotype of Oxford with the hell-raising frat boys we all know (and love) from the movies. Now, switch the blazers and Blues stash with Vineyard Vines shorts and Sperry boat shoes (or, in the case of Colorado College, bare feet). Sprinkle in some enthusiastic sorority girls chanting about sisterhood and you’ve just about made the transition. But there is one component of higher education that manages to stay consistent over the four thousand mile gap: booze.

VERSA decided to investigate. We asked some American undergrads about the traditions of Oxford and how they compared – and the results were fascinating. The US managed to hold their own well with their own vast array of weird-as-hell customs, with alcohol proving as integral to socialising as ever. But, as expected, there are some things that Oxford does that other countries just won’t ever get.

Our dickheads are cooler than your dickheads.

1. Sub-fusc

American 1: The what?

American 2: That just reminds me of a private school in America with the prestigious attitude of wearing a uniform.  

VERSA: Prestigious?

American 2: Sorry, I meant pretentious.

When we went into more depth about the referendum that took place last academic year, there was instinctive support for the ‘No Sub Fusc’ side – probably due to their whole ‘freedom’ thing. Regardless, when told that one of the arguments against it was because it gets too hot during the exams, the typical American response was given with a dumbfounded expression; ‘Why don’t you install AC?’. Sorry, Chad. You can’t just ‘stick AC’ in a building older than your country.

2. Matriculation

When American ‘orientation’ was discussed in comparison to matriculation, what really struck a chord were the unofficial welcome ceremonies for incoming freshers. At a university in the North East, they’ve dubbed the first Friday of term ‘Freshman Friday’, which sees freshers swarm a specific road dedicated to parties. Thousands stagger up and down, desperate for a drink and new pals, while the older years watch their confusion in smug satisfaction. Fun it may be, Yanks, but #matricuLASH in resplendent sub-fusc it is not. 4/10.

Do you look this fly on ‘Freshman Friday’? No. No you do not.

3. Crewdating (and sconcing, pennying, shoeing etc.,)

This fine Oxford tradition proved to be pretty popular amongst the interviewees, with reactions of “Oh, I wish we had stuff like that” and “This is really pushing me to do a semester abroad there.

While there’s the obvious problem of around 75% of US college students being under 21 (so no BYOB for Arzoo’s or At Thai), the Americans have held their corner well via frequent day drinking. Added to this is the practice of ‘tailgating’: thousands of kids gather in a field with the backs of their trucks open before a concert or a sports match. Throw in numerous games of beer pong and flip cup, and your longings for Arzoo’s will be just as forgotten as, well, the majority of your time spent in Arzoo’s. Apparently the police even leave things alone unless it gets really rowdy. #copLADS

4. Trashing

Trashing was generally considered a ‘sweet idea – but it just doesn’t happen that way in the US. While prelims and finals in Oxford are all in Trinity term (bar the a few unlucky second-years) and set by the University-wide faculties for the most part, in the US there are mid-terms and finals throughout the semester and at its end, which all depend on your subjects, professors, and the university. Said one friend: “Of course everyone has their own personal celebrations, but mostly we just go straight home.” You wot m8?

5. May Day

#1: It sounds cool, but in reality I think that shows how dedicated to tradition you guys are. I just can’t imagine any of my friends staying up all night to watch some boys sing on a roof while being hungover.


#2: There’s something called Spring Weekend that got shut down a couple years ago. All the kids from my college plus tens of thousands of kids from the same state come in and have a massive ongoing party from Thursday to the Sunday.

Better, America. Better. Points deducted for its being shut down.

6. Drinking societies

If it got out that that happened in schools theyd be suspended.

While not having an exact match across the Atlantic, secret societies are not confined to the various drinking societies of Oxford colleges. The interviewees were quick to retaliate with horror stories of ‘hazing’ and the ins and outs of ‘Greek life’ (does the average American even know where Greece is?). Mind you, there were still some traditions they were ‘forbidden’ from telling us…

‘Hazing’ is the period where the new ‘pledge’ (fresher) to the fraternity or sorority earns their place in Greek life through a series of challenges. The worst of the worst was a rumour of girls being sat naked and blindfolded while boys circled their flaws in sharpie. A little more tame is the expectation that a ‘brother’ is expected to always be carrying a stick of gum, cigarettes and a condom – if not, big consequences ensue (which actually turn out to be no more than a ‘keg stand’ or some other alcohol-based challenge). Wetters.

Each sorority and fraternity has its own colours, motto, secret handshake, and traditions. One sorority dresses all in black for their important meetings. The difference to drinking societies is that sororities and fraternities like to represent themselves around campus and online, while Oxford’s elite attempt to maintain an air of exclusivity and, ahem, distinction.

Do you even know what these symbols mean?

7. Bops

Of course, fancy dress is pretty damn universal – there was no surprised reaction to this one. We’ve all probably noticed just how much America loves dress-up parties from Mean Girls (“I’m a mouse, duh”) and their OTT Halloween costumes.

In terms of the ever-popular ‘Greek life’, it’s usually the fraternities that organise themes such as the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ where each sorority is given a sin to represent, and ‘Around the World’ parties where each is assigned a country to dress up as and concoct a drink for. Whilst these might seem fairly normal, at a university in the midwest there are ‘naked parties’ at which the attendants are very literally ass-naked.

The Greek parties can be quite girl-heavy, however. The rule of thumb for a frat party is that any girl on campus, Greek life participant or not, can come – but only boys on the guest list are allowed in. Someone ring up Cuntry Living.

8. College parents

Awwwwww, thats adorable!

Again, it seems like the only place within the US’s higher education system that a similar tradition could be found was within frats and sororities. Boys and girls are assigned a ‘Big’ and a ‘Little’, where the focus isn’t academic so much as teaching the new pledges the ropes of their chosen group. A week-long process leads up to the reveal with clues being dropped over the days. Some ‘Bigs’ even make Facebook pages dedicated to their new ‘Little’ to begin the whole ordeal. Like our college parents, this is apparently ‘really cute’. Okay then.

While Oxford is incredibly proud of its unique traditions, it seems Americas relative youth is no obstacle to fun. We’d welcome our former compatriots over for a polite dinner party any day.