A collection of individuals is headed to a house on a given Friday night, prepared to be doused in a variety of alcoholic beverages, kicked, spit on and put through grueling physical and mental exercises. At first glance, such practices seem barbaric, yet when placed into the context of college Greek life, most people don’t bat an eye.
It stands as no secret that most college fraternities engage in a plethora of nefarious activities. From the initial hazing of incoming pledges to notoriously large and debauched parties, several aspects of Greek life have played into the nationwide reputation which frats and sororities alike have garnered.
Over the past year, the University of Wisconsin conducted a review of all fraternities and sororities. According to the comprehensive review, roughly 4,500 students are currently involved in over 60 distinct Greek organizations.
Although UW administration has publicly stated that the review was proactive and not in response to any one event, its release came on the heels of an incident involving a local chapter of Kappa Sigma. The incident, which involved a television set falling from the roof of Kappa Sigma’s house, occurred in November of last year. The event was filmed by onlookers as it plummeted from the roof and it nearly struck a passerby, prompting campus authorities to take immediate action, eventually leading to the termination of the chapter.
This is not the first time that a UW fraternity has faced such consequences. UW’s Chi Phi chapter was promptly terminated after accounts of the organization’s brutal initiation ceremonies reached the Dean of Students’ Office. Similar incidents at universities far and near have lead many to question the necessity of Greek life.
When all is said and done, what function do fraternities serve on today’s campus, and why are they kept intact when they continue to involve themselves in excessively unruly activities?
Fraternities and sororities advertise many benefits to their potential pledges. Community, academic assistance, networking opportunities and close social bonds are all part of the bargain for incoming freshmen. And many Greek organizations deliver on their various promises.
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For example, take Zeta Beta Tau, which boasts a sprawling alumni network including a gaggle of Wall Street executives such as SAC Capital’s Steve Cohen and chairman of Bear Stearns Alan Greenberg. Such an alumni network is said to assist brothers and sisters as they navigate their way into the workforce, and ultimately increase their probability of lifelong success. Certain statistics seem to support this idea, with 86% of Supreme Court justices, 76% of U.S. senators and 85% of Fortune 500 CEOs having been involved in Greek life at one point or another.
Tutoring is also available through many fraternities, although many would make the argument that such an effort is being made to combat the average 0.1-0.3 GPA point drop associated with Greek affiliation.
But the average fraternity or sorority does not attract hordes of fresh pledges with their alumni network, tutoring services or charity events. These components of fraternal organizations are best seen as beneficial side effects — the bread and butter of Greek life lies elsewhere.
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Most Greek organizations draw in their membership with the promise of a vibrant social scene, parties that occasionally resemble riots and close friendships akin to siblinghood. These main pillars tend to define the niche frats and sororities fill on campus.
They organize and concentrate mischief into houses, and give campus authorities a clear cut group to scold in the case that a TV happens to fall on someone’s head. Had organizations been disbanded and students left to their own devices in causing mischief, the same sorts of events would persist, yet authority figures would stand clueless as to where punishment should be doled out. In the presence of a fraternity, the Dean of Students knows exactly where to pin blame, and precisely what avenues to go through to spread a message.
Greek life places the chaotic tendencies of college students into a framework that not only helps to promote order, but also promotes a sense of belonging, charity and personal development. In short, the frat house is not an incubator for misbehavior, it is merely a method of controlling and organizing the inevitable.
John Grindal ([email protected]) is a freshman studying computer science and neurobiology.