Friday, May 30, 2014

The A-Z of I.V. and "My" ΑΦ Sorority at UCSB

by Drew Martin
When the girl across the hall found out I was inexperienced with women, she grabbed a blanket from her bed, took me by the hand, and led me down to the beach at night.

That was 1987, I had just turned 18 years old and it was my first week of college at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), where I moved after growing up as an awkward kid in northern New Jersey. I lived in an off-campus, coed dorm in Isla Vista, the beachside bungalow college town where 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six students last week. The murders were his revenge against young women for not sleeping with him, and to punish the young men who enjoyed sexual relations he said he was denied.

I will not read his 140ish-page manifesto, but I did watch all of his nearly seven-minute-long final video. The first cue that something is off is that he is a 22 year old sitting in a fancy, new BMW. That is undeserved privilege, and the first impression is that he is a spoiled kid who feels entitled to such material things, which in his mind included women. It is also in this case a shell from the breezy palm trees and California sunlight you see in the shot. 

My grandmother used to say "Don't be ugly." Attractiveness is about how you behave. Rodger was a good-looking kid, but (from what you see in the video) he was repulsive with his narcissism. That being said I do not know what he was like in casual conversation, and I have no idea what he personally went through, and how he felt inside. Boys can be jerks, girls can be cruel, and life can feel empty. But of all places...

Isla Vista, more commonly referred to as I.V., is a party town, but it is not exclusive because most of the action is in the public sphere: on the streets and beach. It is a casual place with a good vibe. It is, in fact, one of my favorite places on Earth. The weather is as good as it gets, and the bluffs, beach and Pacific Ocean are always there waiting for you to unwind and let go of whatever might be troubling you. And if you want to get away from a chilly fog or the student life, the sunny San Ynez mountains are a few minutes away by car, and a doable bike ride. To add to the charm (and the reason why the college town is called Isla Vista), the Channel Islands can be seen from the edge of town. It is a place in which you feel good just by standing still.

What I liked most about the town when I lived there for four years was how open it was and how everyone intermingled. It seemed like everyone was in a band and part of the creative process. On the weekends you could walk around and hear and see live music being played in joints, out of garages, and on patches of lawns. There were homeless dudes, hippies, punks, organic farmers, migrant workers, surfers, skaters, and artists. And there were a lot of smart people. Despite the party town image, the real reason most of the residents are there is for school. 

UCSB ranks high academically, has produced a number of Nobel Laureates, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellows, and features unique academic foci such as the Institute of Theoretical Physics, the College of Creative Studies, and the Koegel Autism Center.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UCSB number 11 among all public universities. Leiden University in the Netherlands ranked UCSB number two in the world in terms of impact in the field of the sciences.

I left I.V. to move to the Santa Barbara mountains after I graduated and started working on a farm in neighboring Goleta. Then I left for Europe, partly because the older staff of the school newspaper, the Daily Nexus, graduated and moved to Prague and encouraged those of us who worked on the paper to move to Czechoslovakia and work on their nascent English-language paper, Prognosis.

Before I flew off, I returned to I.V. for a few days to say goodbye. I stopped by the food co-op where I had shopped and worked. A young woman I kind of knew there encouraged me to stay another day. At night she suggested I stay over and said I should crash in her bed. When her boyfriend came home and found me casually sleeping next to her, he said, "You don't have to get up. Stay where you are. I will just sleep over here." And with that he flopped on their couch.

I.V. is that kind of place. I remember a roommate of a girlfriend, who in any other place may have been a little more protected, slept with a homeless man in I.V.'s Anisq'Oyo' Park just because he seemed like a nice person. And I remember how other homeless men used my friends' bathrooms on occasion to clean up. Once I spent almost all of one week hanging out with an older homeless man, not out of charity but simply because we got along together. One of my closest friends in I.V. was not even a student, but an older lady who was a music teacher in a local school and who owned a bookstore.  The point is, I.V. is a very accepting place without a lot of pretension, and the student life there is not the end-all, be-all.

The first few days after the rampage, I could not even read about it. I was in denial something happened there. I am trying to make sense of it now, and thinking not so much about the what could have prevented things as it spiraled out of control, but what could have diverted his character away from even thinking those thoughts. I ask myself what friendships he lacked or activities he could have been engaged with to deal with his issues. 

I look back at my time in I.V. and I see myself as a very happy person. Of course I remember my own demons, and low spots but there were always positive swings of friendships, my studies, and the beautiful environment.

I just dug through my photos to see what I have left from my college years. I found only two pictures: one of a friend cutting my hair freshman year at Coal Oil Point (top), which is the surfing area for UCSB students. The other picture is of my somewhat brief encounter in the Greek system. My roommate (pictured sitting next to me on the beach) and I looked into rushing a fraternity freshman year. It did not go so well so he brought me to a sorority house for a party. I actually did not understand how it worked but we were "adopted" by sorority girls. The bottom picture is of me and my big sister (a senior), who I just realized, was from ΑΦ - Alpha Phi sorority, the target of Rodger.