Students weigh in on Greek Life tradition
Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 15:05
As fraternity brothers at the university look forward to their spring formals, their dates dedicate their time to creating coolers. Since 2011, fraternity members have asked their formal dates to paint and fill coolers for their weekend-long soirées.
Brian Cooney, a 2011 university graduate and former brother of Sigma Chi, is the founder of the cooler painting tradition at the university. Cooney said he saw the idea of painted coolers implemented in the Eta Lambda chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity at Virginia Tech University. He said he presented the idea of coolers a couple of months before Sigma Chi’s spring formal in 2011. The practice was implemented within the chapter that year.
“Even a couple weekends later when other fraternities were having their formals, some used the idea as well,” Cooney said.
Since the first cooler was painted two years ago, the idea snowballed through word of mouth, especially from female students, he said. The entire chapter began painting coolers through a “forced pressure” at first, but then, the idea spread among all of the other chapters, Cooney said.
Female students with boyfriends in the Sigma Chi fraternity were more excited to make the coolers in 2011, while girls who did not know their dates as well were less enthusiastic, Cooney said.
Since the spring of 2011, some girls’ reactions to painting the coolers became more positive. Helene Zinckgraf, a sophomore and sister of Sigma Kappa sorority, said she enjoyed painting a cooler this spring for her Phi Psi date.
“It is a cute idea that girls make coolers for boys when they are asked to a fraternity formal,” Zinckgraf said. “It’s a nice southern tradition that fraternities are now executing.”
Sophomore and brother of the Phi Gamma Delta also known as FIJI fraternity Alexander Modica said painting coolers has become popular amongst the girls who are tasked with painting the coolers.
“It’s more for pride or a competition between girls,” Modica said.
Most coolers are designed in respect to the fraternity the painter’s date is in, Zinckgraf said. Typically, the name of the fraternity will be included, along with several different quotes and designs that reflect the fraternity member’s individual interests, she said.
“Girls always include the guy’s name, his fraternity and write ‘Formal 2013,’” Zinckgraf said.
A great amount of time, money, and energy goes into making each cooler. Prices vary greatly, depending on the quality of the cooler, paint and the amount of extra supplies that are purchased, Zinckgraf said.
Zinckgraf spent a total of $41 on the cooler that she made for her Phi Psi date. This included the price of the cooler, sandpaper, primer, paints and paintbrushes, but the price of the coolers can range anywhere from $50 to $150, she said.
Painting and decorating these coolers is a time-consuming task, Zinckgraf said. The process includes buying all of the necessary supplies, sanding the cooler, priming the cooler, sketching ideas, printing designs and then painting, and it is usually necessary to paint multiple layers so the paint looks clean and bold, she said.
In addition, many girls also utilize a Mod Podge technique, using Polyvinyl Acetate gel to decorate part of the cooler’s surface, she said. Many girls will coat the cooler with a protective sealant so the paint does not chip, Zinckgraf said.
Students who live in the residence halls are still expected to paint coolers, despite the lack of adequate space for painting, and according to an email sent to chapters by Adam Cantley, the assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life, there have been issues with cooler painting and residence hall rules. Cantley sent out the email to remind chapters to abide by residence hall rules while painting.
“I have been getting some complaints about ‘cooler painting’ in the residence halls.… Tell your women [who are painting coolers] to use common sense and not spray paint in buildings, on carpeted areas or the sidewalks,” Cantley said. “If they can be identified they will be referred to the conduct process for damaging university property and have to pay the cleaning/repair fees.”
Although the idea is popular among many students, freshman Katie Desmond said she thinks there is too much of an emphasis on the importance of coolers. She said the formal should be about spending time with your date rather than making your date do something for you.
However, for students, such as Zinckgraf, painting coolers can be rewarding.
“Although painting these coolers is time consuming, it is also fun and nice knowing that the guys really appreciate and like them,” Zinckgraf said.