This article is part of a student series written by BMS Senior Madi Johnson. Feel free to contact her at: [email protected] if you’re interested in commenting on a future topic.
Last November, an 18 year-old Kappa Sigma pledge at West Virginia University was found unresponsive at an off-campus fraternity house with a blood-alcohol level six times the legal limit. He subsequently died from alcohol poisoning, and the national branch of Kappa Sigma pulled its charter from WVU. Last fall, Johns Hopkins University banned open social events at fraternities after two allegations of sexual assault associated with a fraternity. In March, a video surfaced of the Oklahoma Kappa chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon singing a racist chant aboard a bus. More recently, the Sigma Nu fraternity was suspended from Old Dominion University on August 24 after hanging three sexually suggestive banners from the front porch of members’ off-campus house.
Controversies like these have raised concerns about Greek life perpetuating exclusivity and alcohol-fueled physical harm. As such, many schools have placed restrictions on Panhellenic activities. Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Oberlin, and Brandeis have completely banned Greek life from their campuses. The University of Virginia does not allow first-years to participate in Greek life until they have completed their first semester, and this fall, WVU pushed back the start date for recruitment to September 21.
Many argue, however, that the aforementioned incidents represent the minority and that joining a sorority or fraternity can be a positive experience for students. Nationally, nine million college students are members of a Greek organization, and history shows that many of those who have pledged went on to make significant contributions to society. Eighty-five percent of Fortune 500 executives belonged to a fraternity; since 1900, 63 percent of the U.S. President’s Cabinet have gone Greek; the first female senator was in a sorority; and all of the Apollo 11 astronauts rushed while in college. Moreover, students report that belonging to a fraternity or sorority has helped them to lead happier lives in school and to be better prepared for future careers.
These conflicting narratives beg the question: Do sororities and fraternities cause more harm than good?
We asked area high school students to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say:
PRISCILLA BARTON, Episcopal Academy:
“When practiced correctly, Greek life can be a huge asset to college campuses. The family environment that sororities and fraternities are meant to create can greatly influence students’ experiences at a given university. Unfortunately, some of the culture that is associated with Greek life has recently come under fire, with some individuals attributing sexual assaults and rape culture on college campuses to Greek organizations. Many of the individuals blaming Greek life for rape culture are guilty of looking at the issue with gross myopia. The presence of alcohol at parties sponsored by some Greek organizations certainly lends itself to irresponsible behavior; rape and sexual assault are not irresponsible behaviors, but rather criminal actions perpetrated by criminals and not Greek organizations. Dialing back the anti-Greek life propaganda and instead focusing on using Greek organizations to start dialogues about rape culture and sexual assault can be the first step toward changing the greater culture of a school, thus working to send the message to students that sexual assault is not tolerated and that individual perpetrators of sexual assaults will not be protected by silence.”
JULES DACKIW, Carroll Senior High:
“I think that [joining Greek Life] is a great way to meet a bunch of new people from all over the place. However, when sororities and fraternities haze others, it can become dangerous and even deadly. So, I guess if college students want to join a sorority or fraternity, they should be one-hundred percent positive that there will not be hazing going on because [it] is illegal in lots of states. [Moreover], sometimes [when rushing], people will cast their votes based on looks, and if [the applicant] has money or not. In some sororities’ minds everyone needs to be that perfect skinny girl — even though that isn’t what they should be voting for.”
HANA JENSEN, Carver Center for Arts and Technologies:
“Greek life promotes exclusivity, as a sorority or fraternity will require community service, fundraising, and other activities to be done with only other [members], making it difficult to develop relationships outside [the chapter]. Also, once a strong bond is developed, it becomes difficult to go against a popular idea that somebody doesn’t agree with or is morally against. Greek life causes more harm underneath the community service and brotherhood [or] sisterhood that [chapters] use as an excuse to bully and [exclude].”
JAMES LOTZ, Gilman School:
“I know that fraternities and sororities often get a bad rap, but I think that there [are] also a lot of benefits to them as well. I’ve heard that there is a lot of support from the administration and various alumni of fraternities and sororities for people in Greek life to succeed academically and beyond, as well as [support] from brothers and sisters in [the] houses. So, I think that Greek life can be very helpful in certain cases, but its reputation has been tarnished because of recent events and its portrayal in pop culture — specifically, its relationship to dangerous parties. I, however, do not plan to join a fraternity in college.”
NATALIE McGOWAN, Friends School:
“Although Greek life is often positive, it does more harm overall because of the endless examples of sexual assault, discrimination, exclusivity, binge drinking, and hazing. Studies show that men who join fraternities are three times more likely to rape and [that] one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college. Although many schools have reformed and restricted Greek life, doing so does not remove [its] inherent flaws. There are already great ways to make friends at college. Colleges could put in the effort to create a better community based around a fun social life without sororities or fraternities.”
LISA PUGH, Bryn Mawr School:
“Greek life can definitely appear overwhelming, depending on the type of school, of course. I think sororities and fraternities are great for offering that smaller community on a larger campus feel and nothing more than another way to meet people. From what I have heard, I think it is important to remember that Greek Life does not have to define your social experience, but it can if you want it to. It’s unfortunate hearing about tragic stories regarding Greek Life, but people can easily get caught up in the reckless atmosphere that it ordinarily brings.”
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