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Geek Chic: On Campus the Therm has Turned

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by W.S. Winslow
Freelance Writer

“I don’t really remember when the girls started showing up, but it’s been really hard to get them to leave,” said Elrond. “Especially during exams.”

It’s Saturday night on the campus of the Bohring Institute of Science and Technology where, in recent years, revelry has often been known to exceed cramming. But take a walk past fraternity row, the dorms or Still Bohring, the on-campus pub, and you’d think you were in the library during finals week. These days, the white hot center of the undergraduate social scene has shifted from the Greeks to the Geeks, with a half dozen on-campus “geekeasies” attracting higher education’s coolest co-eds.

At the former Alpha Tau Alpha fraternity house, raucous toga parties, trash cans full of Red Bull and grain alcohol, and humiliating hazing rituals have been replaced by Intergalactic Trivia Nights, physics all-nighters and Star Trek marathons under the direction of a group of science fiction-obsessed robotics and AI majors.

Says RoboticAI chapter leader Steve “Elrond” Buckminster, “The ATA guys basically spent all their dues on parties, trashed this place and flunked out, so they lost their charter. We were looking for a place that could accommodate big study groups and was close to the Robotics lab, so we moved in.”

With his middle finger Mr. Buckminster pushes his eyeglasses back up the bridge of his nose and exchanges Vulcan salutes with fellow chapter member Glen “Roswell” Kim, the living embodiment of geek chic in a t-shirt reading Surrender the Precious, thick glasses and brandishing what look like surgical Tinker Toys. Looking around at the tables of scrawny, pasty-faced engineers sipping soft drinks and sharing Hot Pockets with scantily clad female party guests, Elrond shrugs and says, “I don’t really remember when the girls started showing up, but it’s been really hard to get them to leave. Especially during exams.”

There is, of course, a dark side to RoboticAI’s new-found cool. In one corner of the main living room, illuminated by the glow from a vintage Pacman machine, a couple of residents argue over an arcane piece of Tolkien lore, specifically whether balrogs do or do not have wings. As the disagreement threatens to escalate to conflict, I overhear the words poseur and “wannageek” from across the room.

My host rolls across the floor on his “Frodo Lives” skateboard to intercede. After a few moments’ negotiation he returns and sighs, “With everybody wanting to go Geek, it’s been really hard to keep the egos in check. I mean, last year we were just campus nerds, but now that it’s cool to have Asperger’s, everybody wants to hang with us.”