Beta Bridge never looks the same. On almost a daily basis, its appearance changes as University students partake in the decades-long tradition of painting birthday messages, congratulations or promotions for upcoming events on Rugby Road's bridge. Recently, Beta Bridge has undergone a different kind of change.
After more than 30 years of the postscript "THX DU" accompanying every message painted on the Bridge's sides, students are beginning to shift to a new message: "THX BETA," recognizing Beta Theta Pi fraternity's return to its original home at 180 Rugby Road.
"For us, it was a pretty quick shift from [people painting] the 'THX DU' to 'BETA,'" Beta President Patrick McDonald said. "I think it's a great tradition and I would like to see it continue."
The position of "guardians of the bridge," however, began with the Delta Upsilon brotherhood, which moved into the corner house after Beta alumni shut the University chapter down in 1971.
Jay Hoover, a 1981 University graduate and Delta Upsilon University Alumni Association president, said other University students quickly came to realize that if they did not paint "THX DU" somewhere on the bridge, their message would be quickly altered.
"Once they threw their empty paint cans over the tracks, it would probably be DU going to get them [to] change a letter or two," Hoover said. "We were happy to be stewards of the bridge. It was a real honor."
Certain messages were more likely to be edited by the brothers than others, such as messages from other Greek organizations, birthday wishes or less serious messages, Hoover said.
Current Delta Upsilon President Paul Hodskins said any paintings slandering the brotherhood, Greek system or the University and its traditions were frowned upon and were likely edited over.
Hodskins elaborated on the unofficial rules the Delta Upsilon brothers decided upon, explaining that the original "hours of operation" for the bridge were 11 p.m. until 2:15 a.m., Monday through Saturday and that the brotherhood reserved the right to edit the bridge for grammar, punctuation, style, brevity and obscenity.
Now that Delta Upsilon has moved into its new house on Madison Lane, Hodskins said members of the fraternity no longer consider themselves the "guardians of the bridge." He said for many brothers the transition was bittersweet, but they are looking forward to starting a new chapter of Delta Upsilon's history at the new location.
"I think it was a fun tradition," Hodskins said. "In general, traditions have their time, and DU's time has passed. Now that Beta's back in their original house, it's an appropriate time to see this tradition come to an end [for DU]. We don't have an issue if they want to assume the position as the corner house, but ultimately the tradition did not start with them."
Beta is excited to assume guardianship and begin its legacy at the corner of Rugby Road and Chancellor Street regardless. McDonald said settling into being stewards of the bridge will be a process. "It will take a little time to figure out our traditions," he said.
There is, however, one new tradition that McDonald confirmed: if students paint "THX DU," the brothers will paint over it and place a stamp in the shape of a dragon, Beta's symbol, over the correction.
Both McDonald and Tim Akers, Beta's University Alumni Association president, stress the importance of Beta Bridge as a place for University students to express themselves.
"It's not our business to censor the bridge as long as proper respect is shown," McDonald said. "[The bridge] goes far beyond Beta and DU to the greater University community."
Akers echoed this sentiment, saying that to him the bridge represents free speech and the Jeffersonian principals of the University.
"The bridge belongs to the University," he said.
The self-regulating nature of the bridge embodies this spirit of free speech and student governance, McDonald said, noting that there are unspoken rules regarding courtesy toward others' messages.\nAkers said he believes that Beta Bridge belongs to the University community and that students should not have to thank anyone to paint on the bridge.
McDonald said he loves to see people thank Beta when they paint messages, however.
Although Delta Upsilon doesn't occupy the corner house anymore, Hoover is very positive about Beta's new guardianship over the bridge. "Beta Bridge is in good hands, and I think they're doing a great job," he said. "I'm proud of what they've done with the house"