Freek Day, Beanies, and Beyond

Freek Day 1968 Wheelbarrow races
The first Freek Day in 1968 featured wheelbarrow races on one of the practice football fields

From Freek Day to Greek Week, the traditions of philanthropy and fun among the Greek community are still going strong. With Greek Week 2017 fast approaching, students are busy warming up their singing voices for Greek Sing and practicing their Lip Sync choreography.

Since 1968, Freek Day has been an opportunity for members of Greek life to introduce freshmen to the Greek system. The first Freek Day featured wheelbarrow races on a football field, with rows of corn forming a backdrop near the goalpost. Today, Freek Day is held before fall classes start, and members from each chapter, along with anyone from the URI community, head to the beach for a fun day in the sun.

For more than 75 years, URI fraternities and sororities have participated each spring in Greek Week, a week of friendly competition that results in thousands of dollars being raised for charity.

“Tradition is one of the things I love most about Greek life,” said Christina Makris ‘16, a Phi Sigma Sigma alumna. “It’s what connects us to our chapter’s past. When I lived in the chapter house, alumni would come visit and tell stories about Greek Week and Philanthropy Week. It was amazing to think that back then they engaged in the activities we do now.”

Among the most popular Greek Week events is Lip Sync—always a crowd pleaser. “Lip Sync was a great way to end a week that we all wanted to last forever.”

Makris’ fondest memories of URI revolve around Greek Week. “Every year, Greek Week pairings are announced at the alumni basketball game. I can still feel the excitement of finding out who my chapter would be paired with. Even though the game is in January and Greek Week is in April, we would start practicing for Greek Sing right away.”

Among the most popular Greek Week events is Lip Sync—always a crowd pleaser. “Lip Sync was a great way to end a week that we all wanted to last forever,” said Makris, who earned her bachelor’s degree in history, political science, and secondary education. She credits Greek life with bringing her out of her shell and showing her all that she could accomplish. “Being the chapter president one year and the vice president for Panhellenic the next were some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

Students wearing freshmen beanies
Freshmen beanies were considered a rite of passage

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, young men interested in fraternity life had a semester-long rush process. They could rush more than one fraternity, and toward the end of the fall semester or beginning of the spring, they went to Edwards Hall to receive their bid invitations, which often contained personal notes from the brothers. After that, they ran from Edwards to their new fraternity house.

Chi Phi alumnus Paul DePace ‘66, now URI’s director of Capital Projects, remembers his bid day vividly. “We opened up our envelopes and immediately made a run for the house. I remember we even picked up one of our friends and carried him all the way there,” said DePace, who also earned a URI master’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA.

DePace said his time as a pledge was a little stressful, but fun. “Freshman beanies were considered a rite of passage, so we had to wear our beanies at all times. Pledges kept five items on them during pledgeship. These included the pledge book, a yard stick, and a raw egg. Actives would sometimes approach a pledge and slap the egg that was in their pocket. I soon smartened up and put mine in a plastic bag first.”

Greek Week is also the source of DePace’s fondest memories, including the year he led his fraternity in Greek Sing. “Chi Phi never won, or even placed in Greek Sing, but it was still so fun to perform in front of all of Greek life.”

Greek Life Chariot Race
Chariot races on the Quad

Then there were the chariot races, where participants dressed as Greek gods. “We built the chariots ourselves, which made winning much more rewarding,” said DePace. “The year that I helped pull the chariot, we won with Sigma Kappa.”

On Fridays during football season, there were parades with floats, and at night after the game, there were bonfires just south of Green Hall. At one of these fires, DePace’s freshman beanie was tossed into the flames. Homecoming offered a special opportunity for each house to build lawn displays. The displays were rugged, DePace said, but they were an identifying marker of homecoming during the ’60s and ’70s.

On the weekends, brothers would often head to some of the local beach bars. “Each fraternity frequented different bars. We loved the Beachcomber,” DePace recalls. “It’s where I watched the men land on the moon, surrounded by the same brothers that I still get together with today.”

Phi Sigma Sigma alumna Jamie Silverstein ’10 served as vice president of recruitment and public relations for the Panhellenic Council. “My favorite memory was the first time we held bid day on the Quad,” she said. “Before 2009, active members would drive around, sliding bid cards under doors in residence halls. Being able to welcome new members on the Quad brought me so much excitement and pride not only in myself, but in the Panhellenic Executive Board for creating something so wonderful for our community.”

Silverstein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in leadership studies, also has URI Greek life to thank for her Newport wedding in October 2017.

“My absolute favorite memory associated with Greek Life is meeting the love of my life and future husband, Timothy Wilson.” Silverstein said. “He is a member of Zeta Beta Tau and we met during Philanthropy Week of my junior year and have been together for almost eight years.”

Freek Day Tug of War 1968
Freek Day Tug of War in 1968

Greek life on the URI campus is always evolving, but some factors remain constant. The bond that members share with their chapter alumni speaks to how close the fraternities and sororities are. While values differ among each chapter, members of Greek life can meet under the umbrella of the system’s core values: fellowship, leadership, scholarship, and community service. Members of Greek life at the University of Rhode Island have worked together for almost a century to improve not only themselves and their individual chapters, but the URI community and the world around us.

Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this story.