Getting Blackballed: How to Prevent it from Happening

Tim O'Hearn Recruitment

With each new school year comes a new group of clueless freshmen. Recently, with the emergence of websites like TFM and Old Row into mainstream American culture, one might think that high school students come into college knowing more about the enigma that is Greek Life. Too often, they just end up making fools of themselves, sometimes getting the dreaded blackball.

What Blackballing Is

A blackball, in general terms, is a vote cast in opposition to someone gaining membership to a private organization. Historically, black and white balls would be distributed to voting members before a secret ballot is taken. Then, each member would place either the black or white ball into a voting apparatus. After everyone had voted, the cast balls were visually displayed to all members. White balls signified an endorsement, while a black ball, usually, a single black ball, was enough to prevent an outsider from obtaining membership.

In the modern fraternity world, a black ball is essentially a ban from a group and is regarded as a mark of shame. Interestingly, many greek organizations now conduct voting according to simple majorities rather than the one-and-done nature of the blackball. However, getting blackballed happens, a lot, and it can be levied upon you in many different ways. Perhaps by way of executive board vote, perhaps the entire chapter, perhaps just one trusted brother has to make a case against you. Getting blackballed isn’t the same as simply getting cut from the rush list-  it’s permanent, and the worst part is that you might never find out. (footnote: this varies from school to school)

Here’s how to prevent it from happening to you

Let’s put ourselves in a fraternity brother’s shoes. What could a lowly freshman do that would really anger a brother of a fraternity or the entire organization? Attempting to get with a fraternity brother’s girlfriend is high on the list. This is intuitive. Reading about a fraternity’s secret rituals online and then talking about them at parties? Yes, this will probably also land you in the dog house. Trying to fight a brother might get you jumped, hospitalized or, worse- blackballed. Stealing anything from a brother or another guest at an event is also a terrible idea. Telling people you are a brother or are “basically” a brother will get you in trouble, or possibly blackballed. Getting arrested or hospitalized after a party, whether you were there, weren’t there, or were just passing through, and then ratting on the brotherhood, will get you blackballed. Also, talking badly about another person, who ends up being a brother, to a brother, is a classic mistake that will get you blackballed.

Black Balls

Black balls were historically used to cast votes against prospective members.

There is some grey area aside from the obvious points made above. Incessantly quoting Total Frat Move (the book or the website) is going to be a problem with most fraternities. But, let’s be honest, there are a few organizations out there that will welcome it, but do you really want to join a house full of try-hards?

Showing up to a party filled with people you don’t really know and ingesting large amounts of alcohol and or drugs is typically a bad idea. Being the freshman idiot who needs to be taken care of (E.G. you throw up everywhere) will commonly get you blackballed after your second offense, but the larger risk is to your own health and well being, and, of you perpetrating one of the acts listed above.

So, you’re a freshman in college. You think you’re tough/cool/rich/charming/athletic/smart. Let’s think from your perspective. What are you going to try to do in order to maximize your enjoyment of college life and also maximize the chances of fulfilling your goals? Next, think about where you might run into trouble as your path to enlightenment intersects with fraternity rush.

Generally, the risk/reward from drinking a lot of alcohol is really not in your favor. Please refrain from doing that. Girls are great! However, you should be respectful of them at all times, whether anyone is watching or not. Be mindful of a fraternity’s traditions- whether this means not making jew jokes when you’re at ZBT, not trying to give someone the secret handshake, or not otherwise acting out in a way that may be polarizing within the brotherhood, put some effort into this! Also, you shouldn’t break the law in a way that may draw unnecessary attention to a fraternity. If the boys in blue come through, they’ll be happy to inform you of that big fat black ball that’s waiting for you.