To All the Frackets I've Lost Before
Nothing about fracket-stealing culture makes sense to me. (In case you’re late to the party, a fracket is a cheap second coat brought to frats, in anticipation of it being doused in beer or stolen.) Why is it that I can leave my $1,500 MacBook Air sitting in an abandoned library basement for six hours, perfectly assured nobody will touch it, but I can’t enter a fraternity with a cheap fleece on my back without fearing it’ll disappear 20 minutes after I toss it over the nearest couch? Each week, I invariably find myself several beers deep, barely holding it together enough to engage in the Olympic sport of tying five jackets together with every sailor’s knot in the book, stuffing it under an inconspicuous piece of furniture and hoping thieves are too drunk or lazy to start pulling up floorboards or moving heavy furniture. How could it be so easy to enter a fraternity common room during an on-night and make off with expensive articles of clothing? What are the legal risks for this kind of petty theft, and why is it that nobody seems threatened by them? And most importantly of all, where do the stolen jackets even go?
These questions started churning in my mind like fresh butter three weeks ago, after watching a close friend sink to the floor of Theta Delta Chi fraternity with her head in her arms. She had come upstairs and realized her jacket was nowhere to be found. I unhelpfully searched under some couch cushions while she frantically dialed her mother in Rwanda to break the news that someone had stolen her coat with her passport in the pocket. We had been at Pine earlier in the evening; she had carried her passport with her because, as international student, it was her only valid form of ID and she had to order a drink. Now it was gone. If it was indeed stolen, this would pose an enormous problem for her: while applying for a new passport is easy, applying for a visa is not. Foreigners are required to visit a U.S. Embassy to acquire a U.S. visa. Because there are no U.S. embassies within the United States, international students are required to travel abroad to obtain the appropriate documentation. So, to be abundantly clear: my friend would potentially need to file a police report in Hanover, leave campus on a weekend, travel to Canada, post up in a hotel, camp out in front of the embassy to beat the line, reapply for a passport and visa, and pay for all of it out of her own pocket. She would have to suffer through a drawn out, expensive bureaucratic nightmare because just because somebody in TDX was cold, thought her jacket was cute or thought it would make a good gift for her sister. Really?
Dartmouth’s fracket culture is a relatively modern phenomenon. Ask an alum from the 1970’s or 80’s, and they will tell you that back in their day, things were much different. When I asked my dad, a ’78, he said he could not remember anyone having their jackets stolen at a fraternity in his day. Nowadays, though, visiting a fraternity common room after 1:30 a.m. makes for a grim sight. That late in the night, Dartmouth’s vicious jacket-stealing cycle is in full swing. The first thieves apparently set the domino effect in motion early in the night. The closer the clock moves toward 2 a.m., the less likely students are to leave fraternities in their own clothing. One recent Saturday, I watched as groups of partygoers emerged from a basement as the night drew to a close. As they made preparations for the inevitable Late Night Collis sojourn, the common room began to fill with a familiar chorus: “Are you [expletive] kidding me?” “Ohhh jeez,” “Exactly what I was trying to avoid tonight,” “Guys …” “Oh my god, no,” “I swear I put it here!” and “[shaking head] No respect for society.” Some girls tried on an array of untouched jackets (bright lemonade pink-and-yellow, then olive green, then black) before giving up, shrugging out of them and leaving the fraternity in their crop tops. Other students, after realizing their coats were gone, began listlessly searching through the room: in corners, on couches, behind broken shelves and under piles of debris. One guy rapidly opened and closed every desk drawer in the immediate vicinity. Another checked inside a refrigerator, just in case.
It is surprising that current legal repercussions fail to provide a strong enough deterrent to students looking to steal valuable items. Safety and Security officers are required to investigate every reported incident of theft, and they will certainly show up at your door if someone has reasonable suspicion you made off with their Canada Goose. Despite the fact that jacket theft is relatively low-stakes, low-priority criminal behavior compared to, say, sexual assault, the possible ramifications are serious. If arrested for larceny (theft) of goods valued over $1,000, it is a felony charge and makes you eligible for up to one year and one day in prison, according to Keysi Montás, interim director of the department of Safety and Security. (A nicer jacket with an iPhone tucked in its front pocket easily falls beyond this $1,000 threshold).
There are, fortunately, some success stories. Some people are able to recover their stolen belongings, and their narratives provide clues into the life of a jacket after someone plucks it off the floor of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity. Olivia Marquis ’22 shared one such story. A couple weeks ago, she and her friends tied their coats together before descending into an unnamed fraternity basement to dance away the stress of the week. At the end of the night, they discovered the chain had been untied. Naturally, one jacket was missing. The group of friends tore the room apart, because there had been an ID, phone and keys in the pocket, too. This was no fracket, either — it was a proper winter coat, expensive and distinct.
An iPhone had been zipped up inside, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We decided to do Find my iPhone, and it worked,” Marquis said. Together, the group of friends tracked the signal to a dorm in the River. When they arrived, a male student opened the door and presented them with the stolen phone, ID and keys.
“What about the jacket?” Marquis remembered her friend asking.
“My other friend has it,” was the student’s answer: “She took it and gave me all the stuff inside of it to turn it in.” When Marquis’s friends demanded his friend return the coat, too, the male student hesitated. He hemmed and hawed. Finally, he dialed the number of a girl who lived nearby — the thief, presumably — and told her, “The people whose jacket you took are here. They want it back.”
“Do I have to?” the girl whined. It was difficult to persuade her, Marquis admitted. But the girl eventually acquiesced, after the male student reminded her there was a winter storm coming and she had stolen someone’s only heavy coat. When Marquis and her friends arrived at the girl’s dorm, they found she had thrown the jacket outside and locked the door.
“She didn’t answer any knocks or anything,” Marquis recalled. “But she did give it back, which I feel like is pretty rare.”
A couple days later my Rwandan friend recovered her coat, passport safely undisturbed in the pocket. A friend had got in touch and informed it her it had been found in a dorm room. I can’t help but wonder if the results would have been as peachy if my friend had not been someone who, at times, seems to know everyone at Dartmouth. It is certainly comforting to know that some people here have a conscience. But the fact remains that each week an enormous number of students find themselves quite literally stripped of hundreds of dollars of personal property for simply participating in the school’s social scene. Our community is one founded on mutual respect and trust, and I feel the ways we look out for each other all the time. Someone selflessly sends the entire class their study guide, a good Samaritan buys coffee for the entire KAF line, you don’t touch my laptop when I vanish from the Stacks for four hours. Why is it, then, that jackets are any different?