Chad. Thad. Brad. If those names don’t sound familiar to you, then I don’t know what you’re on. Today, I want to talk about my experiences living in the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) frat house during Fall Quarter of 2018 at University of Washington. It was my first quarter on campus since returning from overseas studies in Sāmoa. After completing an abbreviated term of AmeriCraps that summer, I moved back to campus as a sublease in an ATO fraternity house (however, I never actually became a member of the frat). That decision put me on course for a thrill ride that ended up burning down the frat chapter (metaphorically) and left me on a long road to mental recovery.
Before we get into the meat of things, I need to share some personal gnosis from my grimoire. In the pluriverse that is witchcraft, it is generally agreed that intent almost always presupposes magick. I talked about this briefly in my recent public transport project, “Minneapolis Wave Chart.” If you ever create art or craft items by hand, this should sound familiar to you. When you envision the outcome and the means to get there, you are programming your energy with intent. That energy then goes towards bringing your vision to life. Admirers can sense how much work goes into the things you craft. In other words, if you spent days doing a beautiful painting, people will notice. If you craft with the intention of doing so lovingly, that’s putting your love into what you make. Witchcraft isn’t different from these principles—in fact, art can be seen by the artist in these terms if doing so is part of their spiritual practice.
Where I believe magick differs from arts and crafts is its tendency to take on a life outside human control. In Wicca and other neo-Pagan traditions, the ‘rule of three’ specifies that when a practitioner sends energy into the world, the impact this energy has on the practitioner is generally three times more than what they bargained for. A similar thing can be said about the term ‘karma,’ found in some Eastern traditions. I don’t necessarily subscribe to these terms because the magickal locus of control isn’t always centered on the ego. This takes seriously the agency and free will of non-human entities (see recent book, Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet by Tsing et al.), but it could also just mean that sometimes intent does not presuppose magick. The latter is what I believe is at play in my frat house experience, given I did not practice witchcraft in 2018.
While I’m happy the curse continues to dissuade ATO from reestablishing a chapter in Washington for the time being, that curse did not come without a deep personal cost to my mental wellbeing and safety (at least initially). I took an offer to live in their frat house because rent was significantly cheaper than the university-owned apartments. While I assumed there were going to be parties, I did not anticipate the gross nature of these weekly events. Worse yet, I was the only person who lived in the basement which is not insulated from the noise and vibrations upstairs. The basement also had the only bathroom that was available to me, which on some nights was plastered with gross liquids and stenches from partygoers who decided to give out in the wrong place when they’ve had a little too much. In one case, a man passed out on the bathroom floor which isn’t even allowed by the fraternity chapter.
I had days where it was difficult if not impossible to physically leave the chapter house. The fraternity members often left furniture and bags of belonging which blocked not only my access to the bathroom, but the fire exits as well. That was pretty much the last straw for me. I would have been okay with the parties if the men tidied up the place. They didn’t have a basic sense of decency and respect for my dignity as someone who pays into the chapter house and lives in the basement. Upon conclusion of Autumn 2018, I promptly abandoned my lease and resided temporarily in Vancouver B.C. before returning to university-owned McMahon Hall the following quarter. Since abandoning that frat house, I privately vowed to exact revenge on ATO in one measure or another.
I wasn’t sure how to get revenge on the fraternity chapter legally and safely. Yet, I often joke about my desire to friends who ask me about it. The experience left me with a mental sore spot and ongoing prejudice against cisgender (white) men. As an intern for the Pacific Islander Student Commission, I was against a measure introduced in undergraduate student government later that year that would have increased the number of protected Senate seats for Greek organisations on campus. When coronavirus and ongoing racial movements hit, I marched across the UW campus alongside Black Lives Matter protesters. We disrupted the daily activities of University District residences and buildings including Greek Row. I was satisfied I exacted my revenge on ATO in this manner, knowing at minimum they’re just losers.
However, I was never aware until recently that I left a magickal curse on ATO the year I abandoned my contract. Simply abandoning the contract was one of the possible ways I created chaos and inadvertently left a curse for the chapter, but there were probably other ways I did it too. I resented and eventually ceased doing house chores when the proportion of party rubbish and dishes far outweighed my own footprint on the house and when others didn’t help either. At one point during my stay, I had threatened to move belongings out onto the rain in order to clear the only fire exit. In December that year, I placed a metaphorical lock on the basement bathroom to protect it from drunk partygoers and documented it on Facebook. Finally, when I learned of the men’s plans to rush me into the chapter, I avoided the men for as long as possible to keep that from happening.
Whether the curse on ATO emerged from one or multiple causes doesn’t matter (although given the strength of the curse, I believe it was likely the latter). The damage was done. Two years after I abandoned the frat house, I learned ATO no longer had an affiliation with the University of Washington. The chapter has not been active on its social media channels since the end of the 2018-2019 school year, and its registered student organization account was disconnected. At that time, the chapter was undergoing a “redevelopment” phase facilitated by its parent organisation with a target opening date of 2021. Today, I learned also that while the fraternity still owns the chapter house, its reopening date was pushed back to 2023. I don’t know the actual cause of the Washington chapter’s demise. Safe to say, I at least had some role to play in this.
It is possible the curse was linked to a larger pre-existing blanket curse affecting multiple ATO chapters. Two years ago at Washington State University, the ATO chapter was embroiled in a hazing controversy that left at least half of its 15 members with criminal convictions and the other half facing trial into April this year. On Reddit, I also learned about an anonymous UW student who rented from ATO at another school when its chapter ended up becoming defunct. He moved to UW and knew ATO members there before it too became defunct. The bloke acknowledged the fraternity as a whole is cursed and also notes the fraternity’s property manager is still holding on to the abandoned capital assets.
My frat house experience to date remains one of my most triggering memories. It didn’t help that it was a year since mum passed away which in part contributed to my poor decision to rent from a fraternity. Since my frat house experience, I was generally more careful and selective in my housing choices. When I began living with female roommates upon going to graduate school, I felt far safer than I ever would than if I had continued living with men. Having reflected on the experience through pagan ontology, I recognise how powerful my curse on Washington ATO is, knowing at least one affluent fraternity remains off the streets. I will always remember the academic quarter I took matters into my own hands and did what is right for my wellbeing. That’s it. See you.