Are You Going Greek or Going Geek?
The Truthiness About Frat Life
Campus life brings up a whole set of issues quite different from high school and yet, they seem not so dissimilar in their concept. College is still about popularity and "the right crowd," but in a carefully cloaked, more mature way. If you've landed on a coed campus chances are you are having to make the all-important decision..."Do I go Greek or do I remain a Geek?"
Frats in America
Frats have been a part of the American university culture since 1825 with the official founding of the well-known fraternity Kappa Alpha, or simply, KA. I say fraternities are American, because the institution seems to be uniquely American. The Greek university system has been rooted in altruistic origins. In the beginning, frats strove for high ideals academically and socially. They have figuratively formed the Garden of Paradise from which all Greekdom is now descended; they have stood for political and social issues, supported their community through fundraisers and events, and held themselves to superior academic standards.
Today's Greek system is a meld of male and female, black and white, frat and sorority houses that stand nearly side-by-side. While the houses along Fraternity Row still adhere to standards set by their brethren in the beginning, their biggest claim to fame is the parties. And, yes, the parties have become infamous and sometimes even dangerous. There are still fundraisers and community service; and many still make their members beholden to certain academic standards. Beyond the college scene, most frat and sorority members believe they have forged social alliances and friendships that will last for all time.
The fraternity system once began like any other institution in the U.S., dominated by white males. The term "sorority" first became part of the campus culture in the 1870s. Today there are - besides 64 men's fraternities - 9 historically Black fraternal organizations, 26 women's sororities, and 24 Latino organizations. There are also 13 recognized Multicultural Greek associations.
Requirements for going Greek
If you think of yourself as "The Lone Wolf," you may not be the stuff of a pledge. Rush week will likely turn your stomach. If you are considering pledging a fraternity or sorority, do your homework. Know what the general focus of your new "home" will be. Some Greek organizations are more academic than others, some more athletic, some more...party.
Membership in a frat will cost you money. In fact some critics of the Greek system accuse members of buying a social life when they hit campus. Costs associated with membership vary from campus to campus and organization to organization. But for those organizations where you live in The House, you will pay for that privilege as well as for the services of the house cook and any other attached fees, such as regional, national and initiation fees. Expect to pay between one or two thousand and up to five or so thousand dollars. There are some organizations that offer scholarship opps from time to time.
You will be required to go through the pledge period, that in-between, limbo time where you are neither a brother nor sister and you have chosen to leave the campus lifestyle. The down and dirty of pledging really varies from campus to campus. Many universities have cracked down on the alcohol, but tragedies still occur when the goal becomes pushing a person to their limit. Hazing for all intents and purposes has been forbidden or outlawed, but tragedies still occur.1 And in some instances campuses have locked up and thrown away the key to fraternity houses.
In defense of the Greek way of life, recruitment tragedies are not commonplace, but when they happen they become center stage in every American household.
Don't disregard the social commitment that a fraternity or sorority requires. Members are part of a united association. There are standards to uphold, not only academically, but socially. You say you're not really into that party coming up this fall weekend? Think again, friend. Once you live in the house you are expected to follow family rules and that includes putting a good face on for your brothers or sisters.
Are you one of those students whose father, grandfather and perhaps great-grandfather all belong to the same fraternity? So sorry if you thought you'd escape that familial tradition, but the common American fraternity and sorority have a lengthy DNA. Sometimes it's just expected that you'll carry on the family tradition. If you think you've got it easy, think again; it's not a given that you automatically earn a spot in the "family organization," and although the rules for legacies differ from organization to organization, chances are you'll have to rush and pledge just like anyone else.
Need the Info
Before you pledge a fraternity or sorority make certain you have collected information on the following about the Greek letter society you'll be part of, not only for the 4 years you're on campus, but for the rest of your life:
- Academic requirements
- Social expectations
- Membership cost
- Community service activities
- Reputation on and off campus
- House curfew
There are many more questions you may think to ask, but just feel comfortable with the other members and with the affiliation you are creating. If they are like you, chances are you will like them. And don't pledge just to have a "group."
Best Greek Schools
According to The Princeton Review, DePauw University, in Indiana, holds the top spot for "best fraternity and sorority scene," followed closely by Washington and Lee, Birmingham-Southern and Wofford.2
The Importance of Being Geek
If you are one of millions of new college freshman choosing to remain independent of a fraternity or sorority, don't take the moniker "geek" to heart. Just as the Greek way is a lifestyle, so is solo campus living.
Campuses Without a Greek System
Imagine-- most of the top ranked colleges, both large university and liberal arts, have no Greek letter system to speak of. What's more, of those institutions, all retain better than 90% of their students on campus during the weekends.3 There's plenty to do without a fraternity row.
Top Colleges and Universities - Top Geeks
According to U.S. News and World Report, some of the top colleges and universities in the country either run without a Greek system or have relatively few students who participate. Of the top five ranked universities, Princeton (1), Harvard (2), Yale (3), California Institute of Technology (4) and Stanford (also 4) have no Greek system. MIT (also tied for 4) and the University of Pennsylvania (5) both have Greek letter systems. MIT has nearly 50% participation by males and just under 25% by females, while less than a quarter of either males or females participate at U of Penn.4
Top Liberal Arts Colleges
Four of the top five liberal arts colleges - Williams (1), Amherst (2), Wellesley (4), and Middlebury (5) - all manage without a Greek system. Swarthmore (3) has just over 5% of males attached to fraternities, but there is no fraternity housing on campus.5
Another sure-fire way to avoid the fraternity lifestyle is by attending one of the Christian colleges and universities. Institutions founded specifically on Christian values disdain the traditional college campus Greek letter organizations and instead have created alternative environments that foster bonding and social interaction.6
Colleges that Have Abolished a Greek System
Believing that the Greek letter system is more indicative of exclusionary practices and dangerous partying, a few colleges have done away with the institutions, preferring instead a more balanced and focused campus life: Bowdoin College7 and Colby College.8
Geeks vs. Greeks
Okay, so most of the Greek houses have their own cooks, members may not have to share a room with anyone else and they have these fantastic parties. Somewhere in the allure of "they've got it made" is the truth - fraternities and sororities are under tighter rules and regulations now than ever. Some of them cannot even have members of the opposite sex in their rooms and here you are living in a coed dorm.
You make your own rules, for the most part, if you live on campus. Greek life is a lot like having an instant family - think Real World meets Jack Ass and intersects somewhere in there with The Osbornes.
Next Saturday night if you're not in the mood for the big party, wherever that may be, you can choose not to participate. Live in a frat house and you had better rise to the occasion. Members are required to know their organization's rules, traditions and ceremonies and take an active role. Greeks not only have campus rules, but they also have house and Greek letter rules. And membership can cost big bucks.
A lot of independent students accuse Greek members of trying to find themselves an instant clique. You can survive very well on campus just on your own merit. Part of the college experience is finding your own crowd without the influence of an organization.
While fraternity row may have the market cornered on parties, the rest of campus has an abundance of activities going on at any one time. There may be arts and music, film, intramural sports, and other non-Greek social events. And quite frankly you can still partake of the Greek parties, without the membership baggage. Sometimes the best times are had just hanging out with some friends in your own dorm room.
As much as the frat boys and sorority girls rely on their organization's mystique and reputation, you have a reputation and image to uphold as well. In fact this is precisely why so many of your on-campus peers will have chosen to remain unaffiliated with a Greek letter. When you choose independent campus life to Greek, you are symbolically choosing freedom and individualism; you are actually already creating your niche and taking sides.
- "Pledge Dies in Hazing at Chico Fraternity," Meredith May.
- "Major Frat and Sorority Scene," The Princeton Review.
- "America's Best Colleges 2007," U.S. News and World Report.
- "America's Best Colleges 2007"
- "America's Best Colleges 2007"
- "Most Council Campuses Offer Alternatives to 'Greek Life'," Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
- "Bowdoin Makes Progress on Residential Life Goals with Purchase of Former Fraternities," Bowdoin Campus News.
- "The End," Hanauer-Milne.
Bowdoin Campus News. Bowdoin Makes Progress on Residential Life Goals with Purchase of Former Fraternities. [updated 1 September 2000 ; cited 24 September 2006 ]. Available from http://www.bowdoin.edu/news/archives/1bowdoincampus/000854.shtml.
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Most Council Campuses Offer Alternatives to "Greek Life." [updated 1 September 2005 ; cited 24 September 2006 ]. Available from http://www.cccu.org/news/newsID.382,parentNav.Archives/news_past_detail.asp.
Hanauer-Milne, Julia. "The End: Divisive demise of Colby's fraternities was the end of a tradition and the beginning of a new era." Colby Magazine. [updated 2006; cited 24 September 2006 ]. Available from http://www.colby.edu/colby.mag/issues/current/.
May, Meredith. "Pledge Dies in Hazing at Chico Fraternity." San Francisco Chronicle. [updated 3 February 2005; cited 24 September 2006]. Available from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/02/03/BAGIGB497T1.DTL.
The Princeton Review. "Major Frat and Sorority Scene." The New 2007 361 Best Colleges Rankings. [updated 2006; cited 24 September 2006 ]. Available from www.princetonreview.com/college/research/rankings/rankings.asp.
U.S. News and World Report. America 's Best Colleges 2007 . [updated 2006; cited 24 September 2006 ]. Available from http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/rankindex_brief.php.
Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing, and Binge Drinking. Nuwer, Hank. Indiana University Press. 1999.
Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities. Kimbrough, Walter. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. 2003.