For over a decade, the shoes hanging on the tree outside George Washington University’s Delta Tau Delta (DTD) fraternity on G Street have sprouted like kudzu, fertilized by those venerable Greek standbys: tradition and booze. University legend holds that each pair of shoes symbolizes a sort of conquesttwo frat brothers shtupping the same woman. The fraternity insists that the shoe tree took root innocently 15 years ago, after a group of brothers came back from a road trip to the Bronx, where shoes dangle from telephone wires. Whatever its origin, DTD’s shoe tradition has come to a controversial endat the brothers’ expense.
Back in November, 50 members of GWU’s Womyn’s Issues Now (WIN) held a “Take Back the Night” candlelight vigil on fraternity row. Besides vowing to stand guard outside frat parties to rescue screaming women, WIN issued 10 demands for “direct action against misogyny” from the school’s 18 fraternities. Among them was a demand for the removal of the shoes, which are “disrespectful and degrading,” said GWU senior Charlotte Hernandez at the rally. She also asked that the tree be undressed, since it was sporting more lingerie than a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
DTD membersor possibly the windremoved the offending undergarments. But they stood their ground on the shoes.
“I don’t personally know anyone who’s ever thrown shoes up after sex,” says DTD President Tyler Green, who says he sent his pair of Nike boots skyward two years ago because they were “old and gross.”
The Interfraternity Council (IFC) called WIN’s demands a blatant attackIFC President Dan Zmijewski complained that WIN was “using stereotypes about fraternities to fight stereotypes.”
The GW administration doesn’t put much stock in the alleged linkage between misogyny and footwear.
“Our fraternities can be very, very difficult about these things,” says Jan-Mitchell Sherrill, associate dean for student standards at GW, where 16 percent of the students go Greek. “But I don’t believe this was Animal House.”
Soon after the rally, WIN received two reports of people whacked, à la Isaac Newton, with falling footwear. Hernandez says that’s when the gravity of the situation hit her, and she contacted GW’s grounds crew. GW told her the problem belonged to the city because the tree is on city property.
Good student that she is, Hernandez hit the books and found out that hanging anything from trees is against District law, so she started calling the sanitation department until she got their attentionabout 10 times a week, as it turns out.
Sanitation inspector Tom Day told Hernandez he’d slap DTD with a $50 fine if the brothers didn’t pluck off the shoes within three weeks, a grace period that ended last Sunday. “Not even posters are allowed on trees,” Day told the Hatchet, GW’s student newspaper. “It looks bad.”
Trouble is, Day neglected to notify the fraternity of his decision, says Green. He says DTD first got wind of the order from a Hatchet reporter.
After mulling it over, the brothers decided to remove the footwear-floraas “a gesture of good faith,” not, Green stresses, “because the rumor is true.”
There was another more practical reason. “We didn’t want to pay all that money,” he explains. The fraternity estimated cleanup costs at $400$300 for a city-run cherry picker and $100 in fines.
The 35 members tried to shake the tree but captured only the low-hanging fruit. “We probably could get half down,” says Green, a junior, “but there’s still the other half, so why bother?”
Chapter members will probably chip in to raise the $400, although Green is hoping the alumni group that owns the house will decide to pick up the tab.
The District, meanwhile, is still trying to shove the job off on the university’s maintenance crews. “I’ve got so many prior commitments with dead and dangerous trees,” complains Bob Beck, the city’s tree guy. “When the leaves are on this tree, you don’t even notice it.”
For now, the fraternity is just trying to put its best foot forward. Green trumpets DTD’s Halloween fundraiser at LuLu’s, where it pulled in $5,000 for House of Ruth, a shelter for abused women.
“Enough with the shoes,” says Green. “We just want to move on.”Courtney Rubin