It’s graduation season, and that means, among all the other things you may be worrying or wondering about in sending your son off to college as a Freshman, is whether he should join a fraternity or not.
Despite what you may think, there is more to fraternity and the “Greek Lifestyle” on campus than beer guzzling parties. There are many myths about fraternities. Recent depictions in pop culture and some very real news stories about unpleasant hazing incidents and allegations of sexual misconduct have only gone on to tarnish the reputations of fraternal life.
Often, fraternities are literally thought of as “Old School” and the exclusive providence of the wealthy and privileged. The truth is, fraternities may not be for everyone, but Greek Life on campus can offer many advantages. Each student and his parents deserve the right to make an informed decision about joining a fraternity. A college fraternity encourages its members to commit to something beyond themselves. For a young man that is just finding his place in the world, a fraternity can represent a commitment to people, to the campus, and to the community at large.
History of College Fraternities
Fraternities are a uniquely American institution. Other social organizations similar to fraternities exist on other campuses worldwide. However, the traditional “Greek System” is as unique as the American Revolution. In fact, the Greek Letter Fraternal Organization traces its roots to right around the same time as the Revolutionary War.
John Heath founded the first official Greek Letter Fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa in1776 on the campus of William and Mary College. All modern Greek Letter Fraternal Organizations can trace their roots to Phi Beta Kappa. The college campus of the time was a place of strictly scholarly pursuit. Students of the day studied the classics. There was no idea of “elective” courses as there is today. It was all work and very little time for play. But students are students, and the need for social interaction was as real then as it is now.
Of course, only men attended universities at that time. These men formed groups or debating societies to discuss the classic philosophers of the Greeks and Romans. However, debating the pressing issues of the day, such as freedom and oppressive taxation were frowned upon in universities that were supported by the crown. John Heath formed Phi Beta Kappa after being rejected by one of those other societies. His group often met in secrecy to discuss the issues of the times and other intellectual pursuits, and thus the badges, Mottos, and secret handshakes often associated with fraternities were born. So the elite or the establishment did not form the very first fraternity. Indeed quite the opposite was true – the members were the rebels of their day.
Fraternity Myths and Misconceptions
Today many misconceptions about fraternities still exist. In part, this is due to their own secrecy. More often, however, it is because of myths fostered in popular culture. Movies such as “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds” have done very little to present the truth about fraternities and the benefits of fraternal life. Such films rarely mention the fact that fraternal members account for 85% of Fortune 500 executives, and nearly half of all United States Presidents. Obviously, joining a fraternity can have some advantage in a student’s post-college career.
“Frat Boys Are Just a Bunch of Drunks”
Underage drinking and hazing are probably the areas for which fraternities have taken the most heat. To say that both issues have never been a problem would be misguided. However, thankfully, that is seriously changing on a national level. Today most chapters of major fraternal organizations are adopting a strict “No Hazing Policy,” and a “Zero Tolerance” for underage drinking by their members on campus. For example, Sigma Phi Epsilon, one of the nation’s largest fraternities has made a concerted effort to return to the roots of an organization founded on chivalry and gentlemanly conduct.
The fraternity has created what it calls the Balanced Man Program. It is an initiative that stresses academics, etiquette, and community service. Nationwide several other well-known fraternities have followed suit. The director of the Balanced Man Initiative said the program was developed to encourage many college chapters to reform their lax alcohol policies. The Balanced Man program embodies the Greek Principals as it was derived from the ancient Greek idea of “sound minds and sound bodies.”
“All Frats Haze Pledges”
Hazing has been given as the reason why most young men choose not to join a fraternity. But the truth is universities and state governments have long since cracked down on hazing. Realistically today most fraternities do not haze because there are strict rules and guidelines against it. According to the website stophazing.org, 44 states currently have anti-hazing laws. Fraternities who haze run the very real risk of losing their charters, facing civil lawsuits, or being brought up on criminal charges. Hazing, especially in terms of alcohol abuse, physical or mental abuse, is thankfully a thing of the past.
Other Fraternal Misconceptions
There is also a mistaken belief that fraternity means giving up “individuality” for the group mentality. Most fraternities encourage individual thought and encourage free thinking. The modern fraternity recognizes the strength of the individual, yet will come together using the strength of the group to serve the community.
To Join, or Not to Join?
The fraternity system has become much more open and inclusive over the years. Frats still may not be right for everyone, yet students created them, and they will survive as long as they serve the needs of students. College life is about more than academics, and the life lessons learned as a member of a fraternity benefit some men for a lifetime.