From a LiveJournal posting by Capitan Holy Hippie:
The founding of the Back Table was pretty simple - I lived in Main hall my freshman year, '88 - '89. Across the hall from me lived Nerak, another freshman. We became friends, and stayed friends throughout our college years, although I lost track of her after college. Quad being right below us, we ate there all the time. Nerak being the person she was, she liked sitting with her back to the wall - and tended to choose the table on the southeast corner of Quad, the single seat on the south side of the table, facing north. All of her friends got in the habit of joining her there.
And that's pretty much it - the Back Table got started as a group of people who were friends of Nerak, all sitting at the same table. Over my four years the 'membership' (or people who sat there regularly) changed a lot, and I think there were periods where Nerak wasn't sitting there often. I know that she spent some time as a student in Russia. Two of my four years , the core of the Back Table formed a off-campus house - the Holodeck, and "Holodeck, the next degeneration". Both years we were in 1127 Park St, right next to Grinnell House.
Capitan Holy Hippie speaking up here - the above paragraphs are a capsule summary of what I remember of the starting of the backtable, and its first four years of existence. I started at Grinnell in the fall of 1988, and left in the spring of 1992. I have never met Blade, the person who next takes over the narrative of the Backtable.
Rememberances from Blade, posted later In this Livejournal Thread
I arrived at Grinnell in fall of 1992. At that time, the table consisted mostly of UberGeeks. A significant number of the people there were UCs and computer geeks, and were the remaining members of the first incarnations of the [VAXGODS], the student experts in the campus VAX system. They were also most of the members of the Gamers Guild, the SciFi fan club and a number of Jugglers. There was a vague sense of north and South people, with the South Tablers eating in Quad and the North Tablers hung out in Langhan 1st floor lounge, watching cartoons, Star Trek and MST3K (much to the chargin of the other occupants of Langhan).
That year, Loki ran for SGA president on the Anarchist ticket, pledging to disband the SGA if he was elected. That was also the year that Pheobe Juel won the Jeapordy! College tournement, beating Princeton and Yale (really).
A number of the people moved into 1008 park for Holodeck III: The Search for Sleep. We spent a lot of time, pretty much doing the same thing we did in Langhan lounge, but not bothering anyone else. We played a lot of Magic the Gathering that year. This is the year where I repeatedly received the comment "You live in the fucking Freak House?!?" when I told people where I lived.
A few of us resurrected the [VAXGODS] as a sort of power user support club. This led to a bit of drama, as a number of people who'd had their computer priviledged revoked formed a group called VAXHelpers and began to try to convince people to come to them instead of the UC Corp. Also, this is the year that the Pagan Discussion Circle was put together by Kathyrn Devany Firewoman.
This is really the first shift in the Table culture that I witnessed. We ended up having a lot of pagans and pagan-friendly types, as well as a number of us who were in open relationships and made no attempt to hide the fact (hence the continuing reputation of 'orgies' and such). We joked quite openly about it as well.
It was also in this time that a VAX Notes board called the NEST was established. The NEST was a collection of people who were heavily influenced by Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. For some people, NEST was a family based off of deep connections and deep feelings. For others, they just sorta of went along with things because they wanted to hang out with their friends - they seemed to shake their heads a lot. However, it established a pattern that persisted for several years: a number of us were too intense for our own good.
This year, a lot of us hung out in Smith. A number of other Tablers lived in the same dorm, including a three-room suit that was called 'the Sex Cult' room. And I'll note that we didn't give ourselves that name - that was given to us by someone who barely knew us - "You hang out at that freaky sex cult room in Smith, right?" However, a number of us always found the rumors around us amusing (me particularly), so the name stuck.
This is the year, if I remember correctly, that we actually enrolled the Back table as an official campus group (I don't think it's on the rolls anymore). The purpose behind this was simply that it amused us, as was the basis of a lot of what we did. (Well, that was the motivation behind a lot of MY activities at least. *g*) We wanted the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, mainly. You see, I'd stayed in Grinnell the previous summer, and every time I talked about where I spent my time during the year, people would look at me and say, "Oh. You're one of them." So we decided we should just be 'them' officially.
There were two other main things that happened that year. This was the first year we began receiving regular harrassment. My parents received an anoymous letter claiming that I was 'threatening people with knives' and 'spreading AIDS around campus'. We got a series of anonymous harassing emails. TYhe parents of one of us were sent pornographic posters in that person's name. We were a bit paranoid about it, leading to later accusations of us indulging in a 'persecution complex'.
Also, this is the year, I think, where someone on the Notes boards referred to us as a 'moral cesspool'.
The other thing was that we gained a reputation for being emotionally unstable. The fact is that a number of us were (myself included), sometimes in public ways. And there were a number of heated personality conflcits. Of course, the rest of people weren't that unstable. But that's not particularly interesting to gossip about in study breaks, so no one pays attention to that.
This year we were back at 1008 Park st, this time as Deep 13. We pretty much continued where we were - some of us were pagan and continued to organize the Pagan Discussion Circle. Some of us were still in openly open relationships. Most of us were fairly geeky, whether it be gaming, scifi, computers, SCA or such. Some of us were very emotionally unstable. I, myself, was put on academic suspension after the first semester of this year, so I have hearsay on most of what happened for the next two years.
This was the year of the infamous 'Ameoba of Love'. This started out as something someone called a number of us who were in open relationships and who were all romantically interconnected (about 7 of us at the time). Later, the term was applied to a construct made from gumdrops and toothpicks that was used to map out the romantic connections among the people we knew. A few people took extreme offense.
I was gone, but I really didn't pay much attention to what was going on except with the people I was involved with.
I came back in Spring 98. When i got back, the layout had changed. There were more pagans at Grinnell, so the pagan community wasn't mostly just the freaks from the Back Table. The gaming population had exploded (due to the Vampire LARP mostly). The Campus Monarchists had begun issuing Writs. My favorite is when they issued a Writ for one of the staff building to the head of the Admissions dept. He thought it waqs hilarious.
There were definite North and South groups. The North group were the hardcore gamers and ate in Cowles. You didn't sit there unless you were willing to hear all about someone's Vampire character. North Table were mostly newer students.
The South table ate in Quad and were the 'fucked-up freaks', according to the graffiti in the men's bathroom in Burling. I also found out that Student Affairs and a number of professors had made it a habit to warn students and their parents against hanging out with the Sotuh Table people. Most of the Tablers on South Campus lived in Read, including at least one who never actually ate in a dining hall the whole time he was a student.
Unfortunately, there were a few of us who were still significantly emotionally unstable, so that reputation continued, even for the Tablers who were very emotionally stable and significant academic achievers. There were also a few people who very loudly didn't get along, leading some people to try to 'split off' into other, more private groups. As you can guess, this really met with nothing but hurt feelings.
Read Dorm was definitely established as the lair of the weirdos, which a number of Tablers and their friends living there. Matt Sayre's room was right across from Read 1st lounge, so the lounge was often occupied by people watching obscure science fiction, and the occasional make out session... (okay, that was me a lot of the time).
About that time, the Table picked up a new generation of reasonably stable, if geeky, individuals who seemed to be vaguely embarassed by the bad reputation that us old timer's were leaving for them. Even the Discordians seemed a little more respectable. Anime became more prevalient as a pass time, and the Vampire LARP continued until it died from being overdone.
To everyone's surpise, I actually graduated that year. So I left Grinnell and began a new chapter of my life.