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Brothers as Ithacans, for over a century

Unlike most Cornellians, brothers in Phi Kappa Psi are not justing moving through Ithaca. We were here even before the City, itself, was incorporated. We are proud of our Ithaca address, 525 Stewart Avenue, on the rue named for Ithaca's first Major, David B. Stewart. Our alumni have worked and prospered in the Ithaca valley, in the agora marked out by City father, Simeon Dewitt. Though we as brothers come from all over America and around the world, we have tapped Freshmen who were just out of Ithaca High School; our alumni have taught at "I" High.

Our alumni have also been clear that the mission of Phi Kappa Psi at Cornell is to develop the next generation of global leaders. To the extent we support 'philanthropy' or 'community service', we perform those services because it strengthens our sense of community, how we live and work in the Chapter's 'hometown' since 1868. We are members of the Ithaca agora: see the video below.

Walking out the front door of the Gables, every brother knows he is not only a Cornellian but also a resident of the City's University Hill neighborhood, stretching from our own veranda down to Linn Street on the Flats. In recognition of this relationship, we gather together our closest neighbors three times a semester for a block meeting, to coordinate and council on mutual concerns.

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The Phi Psi 500

Every year, the Brotherhood sponsors the Phi Psi 500 as an act of public service. The first '500s' were started by our Indiana Chapters and fashioned as bike races using the Indianapolis 500 as the model. We have adopted various forms over the years and the event is generally a good time.

Now, the historic '500' was of a larger magnitude. Our brothers at Penn State took the Hoosier model, and modified it for the East: a run of about a mile, with beer chugging stops along the race route. Our brother Roger Barton '74 imported the model to Cornell, and incredibly, the university administration approved and, indeed, embraced the idea. Day Hall promoting a beer chugging event? Wow.

Wow, indeed. Tells volumes about the times, then and now. We pitched the 500 to Day Hall as a means of ending the student riots that erupted every spring, back in the day when our parents were in school. Sort of a 'bread and circus' for the plebes. Organized mayhew for charity. The riots were not, by the way, against "Vietnam." The University had expanded from 10,000 to 20,000 students and Day Hall conveniently forgot to add housing. When the housing lottery was held each spring, the losers picked up bricks.

At its peak, 'the 500' was a four-day extravaganza. 2,000 runners; $20,000 in cash for charity. Between our private and Barton Hall parties, Cornell consumed about 1000 kegs of beer. Elvis Costello played Barton, and led the chant 'Phi Psi 500! Phi Psi 500!'

Then, President Ronald Reagan teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and agreed to condition State receipt of federal highway funds on the raising of the drinking age. Governor Mario Cuomo and his staff toyed with negotiations to create alcohol havens around universities. Vermont--which has few highways--was about to tell the Feds to pound sand, keep the highway funds, and let our beer flow. Would have been a long road trip to Burlington.           

At Cornell, the IFC organized the Social Chairmen of the old, ancient Houses and a protest of sorts was held on Slope Day (which had been banned). But the students did not pick up their bricks this time. A new generation of socially-liberal, politically-sedate students were inheriting the Hill.

So the old social order--including "the 500"--went silently into the night. It was great while it lasted, and all grand times come to and end. The old Cornell fraternities did not have much with which to bargain. The military draft was over, so we were no longer being conscripted (the reason the drinking age was lowered). And the threat of student violence was gone. Within a few years, the Collegetown merchants and university administrators praising our achievement with the old Phi Psi 500 were decrying 'drinking games'. Wow, it was one HUGE drinking game. In many ways, Cornell has never recovered from this hang over. The current social order was, at best, a compromise between complete Prohibition and the old order, or, perhaps is it a transition to renewed Prohibition? The answer to that question may lie in how well we handle what limited rights we have left.

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