While spending a lazy Sunday morning catching up on some reading, I came across an article in Rolling Stone, announcing the University of Virginia’s decision to suspend all fraternities until January in order to investigate the serious allegations brought forth by women who claimed to have been assaulted by frat boys. The suspension is one of several, in a time span that featured not only allegations of assault, but also rape and even death of students participating in some form of fraternity event.
It’s good that the focus is apparently to stamp out behavior like this, but reading about the myriad incidents involving hazing, violence, vandalism and assault got me thinking: What is the pull of these organizations? Why do people join? So I put on my philomath hat and dug in, because, you know, I don’t have rhythm section parts to write or programs to prepare or anything on a Sunday. But hey — I’m enjoying my time off more, correct?
A One-Paragraph History of the Fraternity
Fraternities began as underground countercultures (yes, even with secret initiations, handshakes, and code words), designed to enable members to discuss topics that were generally off-limits on university campuses or in polite society. The first official fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was formed by close friends at the College of William and Mary during the Revolutionary War, at which time it was dangerous to openly discuss matters of independence from Britain. The Phi Beta Kappans would meet in a tavern after other students had gone home for the night to debate hotbed topics of the day, resolving to remain a brotherhood in secret purpose and purport. But unlike their Latin society predecessors (Freemasons, Illuminati, Skull-and-Bones, etc.), the Kappans focused on camaraderie, joviality and benevolence. Eventually, the frat idea moved westward, appearing first at Miami University in Ohio, then spreading out nationwide, later adding the female component: the sorority.
Why Do People Want to Join?
This is a hot surface question for sure, whose answer depends solely upon whom you ask. Responses I’ve seen in my research run the gamut, and I’ll paraphrase them here:
- People join because they want to learn about leadership and become part of a forward-thinking, intelligent, yet benevolent and philanthropic group of future movers and shakers in the world, while cultivating lifelong friendships and strong bonds of loyalty and tradition. Um…OK. Some (or who knows, all) of that might be true. Still, many Greek organizations on campus are, by nature — intentional or not — elitist and exclusionary.
- People join because they want to buy instant friends. And by “buy,” I mean that students, on national average, spend anywhere from $700 to $1200+ per semester to be instantly surrounded by like-minded people. And that is only for basic dues; related expenses also apply. (Here’s a sample from Ball State.) Time was, fraternities and sororities had only “brothers” and “sisters.” Now — especially on the sorority side — there are bigs, littles, grand-bigs, grand-littles, great-grand-littles fuh cripesake, all of whom need gifts and special treats on a semi-regular basis. Add to that the cost of specific outfits for formals and semi-formals, initiations and holiday dances, and your sorority girls (or their parents) are forking over considerable piles of cash every month.
- If you’re not Greek, you’re not cool. That statement stands alone. I haven’t the time or energy to expound upon it.
Now before you go lighting up the comment section in defense of your personal Pan-Hellenic experience, let me say that I have no specific disdain for frats and soros. Just a general one. Seriously, my point is — can you not have meaningful, philanthropic, jovial friendship experiences for free? Why aren’t all chapters free to join, and why do you have to “rush” (the Greek equivalent of Am I good enough to be in your club?) for acceptance? I have watched firsthand as a girl I know suffered one indignation after another at the hands of mean little princesses who thought themselves superior (although I’m aware you don’t need a sorority to be bombarded by an endless supply of mean girls).
For the record, I’ve never rushed a sorority; never had the inclination. So that definitely makes me not an expert. Perhaps there are good reasons (GPA, past community involvement, the old nugget It looks good on a resumé) for thinning the herd. Still, what one hears most about — from the general population AND students — is the epic party culture. There’s got to be a reason for that somewhere, and I don’t think it has much to do with a lively session of philosophical rhetoric bandied about at the frat house roundtable.
Hey, for real — I’ll be your friend for nothin’. I won’t charge you a red cent. And you can discuss whatever you want and state your divergent opinion without fear of reprisal, and you won’t have to take beatings with a paddle or drink till you puke. What a deal.
So, about those Cleveland Browns. Off to the couch to watch the game (after writing rhythm section charts, of course).