Elias: Frackets; What’s Yours Is Mine?

Fracket culture is indicative of a wider crisis of selfishness on campus.

by Chantal Elias | 2/15/19 2:10am


We have reached the point in the winter term when the first-year class begins to question the ritual of fracket stealing. After many were exposed to Greek spaces in the latter part of fall term and with over half of winter term under the class’s belt, the shiny allure of Greek life is now fading ­— providing space for first-years to critically look at the traditions they have been participating in. 

One such ritual is the stealing of jackets in response to the loss of one at fraternities. Just last week, a member of the Class of 2022 curated a long Facebook post calling on our year to be the class that abstains from the tradition. Surely, we are adhering to the experience of being a Dartmouth first-year — we are the fresh faces that come in with an outsider’s perspective and are appalled by the long-standing tradition of “acceptable” stealing. Despite the predictability of my class’s protest, it is not in vain that we desire to put an end to a highly questionable practice. It is, as I argue, less about the jackets and more about the underlying principle of putting our own needs before others’.  

For those unfamiliar with this ritual, a fracket is a jacket that one will wear to a fraternity during the colder months. At the beginning of the year, many first-years are advised by upperclassmen to purchase a cheap fracket, with the understanding that it most likely will be stolen at some point. There are many informal agreements built into the world of frackets. First and most obviously, there is the shared view that Hanover winters are far too cold to walk outside without the proper warm layers. There is also an unspoken rule that if you cannot find your jacket in the clothing heap where you left it, you have licence to take another’s coat. Thus manifests a cycle of jacket loss, the stealing of a new one and a post on the class Facebook page to find said jacket with which, more likely than not, you will never be reunited. Simply put, Dartmouth is harvesting a jacket trading system — and it is cause for concern. A fundamental pillar of this economic network is the initiator, that is, the person who takes the first incorrect jacket of the night. The rationale for taking another jacket often ranges from intoxication to an honest mistake. To cultivate this strange practice of stealing, the required ingredients are: young people, alcohol, a cold climate, fraternities and a certain level of affluence. The presence of these elements at other colleges means that, despite the absurdity of the fracket subculture, it is not unique to Dartmouth.

It is also evident that wealth has a role in the jacket trade. The likelihood of an expensive jacket (the brands Canada Goose or Artizia TNA being popular on campus) getting stolen is exponentially higher than a jacket purchased from Walmart. Students frequently debase their jackets to make them appear less expensive and attractive to ward off potential snatchers. One must ask, if such a wealth disparity did not exist on our campus, would the jacket ritual exist in the same way? 

I was introduced to the fracket pandemic during the past Winter Carnival weekend. While leaving one fraternity for the next, my friends and I believed our jackets had been taken and began contemplating which jackets we would be taking instead. Facing this five-minute reality, I simply could not convince myself to take another jacket — I decided I would rather have walked home without one. This experience enabled me to understand the moral dilemma that is heavily ingrained in the fracket-taking world. The act of taking another fracket comes with the understanding that someone else will be disadvantaged and may have to walk home cold. In that moment of deliberating which jacket will replace our own, we are prioritizing our short-term self-interests and partaking in stealing — an action that, in any other environment, would be considered wrong. This illegal practice, I believe, does not have a place on our campus. 

Overhauling this Dartmouth status quo is not an easy feat. At a practical level, fraternities should allocate more space for jackets to be stored, perhaps with hooks to hang them up rather than having to shove them in a corner. Secondly, each frat attendee should put a label on their jackets to avoid the common mistake of taking someone else’s identical black Patagonia-esque coat. The latter part of the initiative, but arguably more important aspect, is to address the underlying culture of disrespect for one another and our belongings, a reality that frequently manifests itself into the ritual of fracket trade. We must come to realize as a student body that the proverb “what’s yours is mine” does not apply to all our material possessions. We must try to think more about our peers and the ramifications of taking another’s jacket, rather than finding a solution to satisfy our immediate needs.

If someone posts on the class Facebook page to re-locate their coat and publicizes the jacket they took in exchange, we must be courteous and offer their coat back. We can be a cohesive community without the sharing of our belongings. In fact, we can grow into a much tighter-knit campus if we build a culture of mutual respect. 

It is, of course, hypocritical for me to judge those who partake in the fracket trading system. I could easily have been another “stealer,” had my fracket not turned up on Friday night. The student body is populated with people who, I am confident, share a similar view to me. We do not agree with the theft of frackets, but we will partake in this ritual by buying a cheaper jacket and potentially taking one to replace our stolen coat. To change the cycle of “fracket” stealing, we must make a concerted effort to abstain from its practice and encourage others to do the same. 

Perhaps I am just another young hopeful desiring a change to this age-old campus phenomenon. Nevertheless, I see merit in confronting its existence and using the current Class of 2022’s protest and passion to advance the proposed steps toward reform. There is certainly a group of freshmen who are determined to end the cycle of jacket theft. The entitled attitude associated with the fracket tradition is not synonymous with the Class of 2022 — a group that has broken records for diversity measured by a wider range of socioeconomic and racial demographics. Surely, a custom that reeks of affluence and selfishness cannot exist within such a diverse group of people. 

Traditions have a place on Dartmouth’s campus, but practices like “fracket-taking” should not. The disadvantaging of a peer is not a practice we should be proud of, and one that I am confident is not emblematic of the greater community. No matter how you spin the fracket ritual, at its core, it is stealing. I am hopeful that in the coming years, new students will be tasked with buying just one winter jacket.