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From house parties to charity work, brainless frivolity to strict academic requirements and hazing to friendships, undergraduate fraternal organizations stand for a variety of lifestyles and Greek life varies accordingly between colleges.
Greek life has a reputation for bad behavior, but there’s one aspect that many students don’t take into account: bonding. Senior Maddy Pigeon, who plans to join a sorority at her first-choice college next year, admires Greek life for its sense of community.
“You have a bunch of girls looking out for you and always making sure that you are around people who care about you,” Pigeon said. “You’re going into a group of friends that will accept you.”
Having heard her mother’s stories about timeless friendships, Pigeon believes that going into Greek life means meeting a new friend group. Pigeon is among many students with this belief. Senior Caroline Dodd, whose brother and father have been involved in fraternity life, thinks Greek life is a fun opportunity.
“There are a lot of events and it seems like a great place to meet people,” Dodd said.
While joining an established community of like-minded individuals may be enticing for some, finding friends through a structured organization isn’t as alluring for others. In some cases, like-minded might mean close-minded: traditional Greek society members are sometimes stereotyped as conservative business majors with wealthy parents. This is by no means universally accurate, but many students perceive limited diversity in fraternities and sororities and choose to search for a less stagnant friend group.
“I don’t see the point of it,” senior Eli Mitchell said on joining Greek life for community. “It’s just an outdated tradition. Why can’t we just be individuals and have our own friends that we find on our own?”
Tradition, however, is exactly what Pigeon hopes to find. However corny they may at times be, Pigeon feels that ceremonies that bring old alumnus back show how timeless a fraternal community can be.
Ceremonies may not be the only place fraternal alumnus gather. Rather than on a college campus, picture the exchange of secret handshakes and Greek symbols in a business’ conference room, between corner offices, in congress or even in the Oval Office.
Though only 8.5 percent of all current undergraduate college students in the U.S. are a member of a Greek society, former fraternity or sorority members consist of 120 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, about one third of current congress members and 48 percent of all United States Presidents.
Thanks to the widespread success of these graduates, many fraternities and sororities pride themselves on breeding future leaders through a number of elected officer positions like president and treasurer that are ideal for résumé padding. Additionally, many organizations enable their members to make connections with internship programs and future employers in the area through alumnus.
Even though some fraternities or sororities may produce successful leaders, Greek society’s effect on grade point average (GPA) is much more controversial. While some colleges report increased GPA for the average fraternal member than the average unaffiliated student, others report the inverse.
“I think there’s a possibility that [Greek life] could interfere with studying… a big possibility,” Dodd said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to balance both so I can get good grades but also have fun.”
A growing number of fraternities and sororities compel their members to strike this balance. In addition to event attendance, many Greek societies require their members to maintain a minimum GPA, ranging between 2.0 and 3.5, to remain in the fraternity or sorority.
Success, leadership and academic encouragement aren’t what popular entertainment associates with fraternities and sororities. Thanks to movies, headlines and comedy websites, Greek life is synonymous with two things: alcohol and hazing.
Partying, say Greek society advocates, isn’t exclusive to Greek society. Many argue that the failings of certain members don’t necessarily indicate a systematic problem, especially when dealing with college students.
“If a person wants to drink, they’ll drink to their heart’s content, but if you don’t like to drink you probably won’t drink much,” said senior Evan Westhoff. “I don’t think [Greek life] affects a person’s fondness for alcohol.”
Despite the stereotype, many students, like Westhoff, Pigeon and Dodd, don’t consider alcohol integral to Greek life. Certain fraternity and sorority houses may be known for hosting parties that involve drinking, but being a fraternity or sorority member does not necessarily increase the likelihood to drink in excess.
“If there’s an opportunity for alcohol, you have the choice of deciding if you want to participate in it or not,” Pigeon said. “When members of a sorority are looking at pledges, they’re not looking at how many shots they can do so much as how well they can live with each other.”
Rather than counting shots, a fraternity or sorority member may be counting donations. Most modern Greek societies focus on philanthropic work done locally, through charitable organizations like Girl Scouts of America, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House Charities and through major fundraisers. Though the dollar sign varies by fraternity or sorority chapter and by year, Greek donations and charity work is a huge part of what keeps the system alive and in good terms with the community both on and off the campus.
Instead of charity work, the media and the public tends to focus on scandals. Alcohol poisoning, forced public nudity, mandated sexual aggression and dehumanizing scrutiny of bodily imperfections are much more popular stories.
Hollywood depictions of rushing and pledge week are enough to turn anyone away from the Greek system but many believe hazing gone awry should be considered an outlier rather than the norm.
“I believe that in some schools—the major, major Greek colleges—to some extent, it’s true [about hazing],” Pigeon said. “I do believe that they are heightened up a lot and they do take away the good parts of Greek life.”
Those opposed to the Greek system agree that the attention-grabbing stories aren’t always to be trusted.
“[Hazing in the media] is obviously not realistic,” Mitchell said. “I have no doubt that hazing happens but portraying it like that implies that it happens more often than it does.”
While hazing may not be a common screening process, all Greek life comes with one hefty membership requirement: a membership fee. This fee varies by fraternity or sorority and can range from anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for living in-house. Some Greek houses pride themselves on being more affordable and enjoyable than living in an off-campus apartment or in the dorms, but each formal dinner, 80s themed mixer and toga party cuts further into a college student’s pocket.
Greek society is different at every college; the community, alumnus, academics, parties and cost all vary between fraternities and sororities. Even with a stigma of bad behavior, community and philanthropy show that Greek life is about much more than partying.