I think that most that live in North America (or who have access to American media) have a similar idea as to what a fraternity life is like. From past comedy favorites such as Animal House to more modern shows like Blue Mountain State, most of us have similar views of a place where the alcohol flows like water, and the party never ends.
Though that is the popular culture viewpoint of fraternities (some argue such to be realistic to various degrees), there is apparently a deeper meaning to “Greek Life”. Take this explanation borrowed from the Pen State University website:
The Mission of Greek Leaders
We, the Fraternity Men and Sorority Women chosen to lead the Four Councils commit to the Values of:
Brotherhood and Sisterhood. We strive to accept and appreciate all our members, embracing our differences while holding our common values. We encourage and support the enhancement of our members, and their dedication to our principles. Through our thoughts, words, and actions, we are devoted to each other.
Character, as it is the all-encompassing fiber that binds us as leaders within the Greek community. We pledge to be always hard working and just, and to be held accountable for our actions. Further, we will affirm and uphold the universal values of honesty, loyalty, and compassion, as well as the values of our individual organizations.
Leadership. We define leaders as brothers and sisters who have overcome the temptations of college life and who have proven to be the best at setting examples. Leaders demonstrate good communication skills, responsibility, maturity; they have the ability to balance scholarship, service, and friendship in everything they do. Leaders are able to incorporate diversity, equality, and individuality in all facets of life, while still adhering to the task at hand.
Service. We ensure that our organizations are focused and dedicated to serving their national philanthropies as well as other efforts within the community. Through these actions we understand and respect that our service is an integral part of the community’s well being.
Responsibility, to ourselves, our organizations, and our communities. We hold ourselves and our peers accountable to the higher expectations of the Penn State Greek community.
Scholarship. Striving to excel in our professional and educational endeavors, we strengthen our fraternal bond and maximize personal achievement.
Affirmed, this 25th of August 2004.
The Purpose of Fraternity and Sorority Life is to:
- strengthen the Scholarship of our members,
- promote Brotherhood and Sisterhood,
- develop Leadership,
- engage State College with Community Service,
- support the Philanthropic efforts of our organizations, Penn State and the community,
- build the Character and Integrity of our members,
- affirm personal and organizational Responsibility,
- and to support the Mission and Goals of The Pennsylvania State University.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life supports the active and alumni members of the Penn State fraternity and sorority community and provides staff, events, and resources to achieve this purpose and help the leadership fulfill their mission.
Though I selected Pen state, most every school you check will give you a similar explanation. Condensed, the message seems to be building the individual within the environment of a community of similar minded individuals.
Though I do find fault in the philosophy (building community, by further teaching people yo segregate themselves?!), it seems to be on the surface, harmless.
But many people (well, people within the realm of the mainstream and progressive media sphere) are questioning that assertion these days, after numerous stories of undeniable irresponsibility keep coming out of fraternities nation wide.
The latest I heard about was out of Pen State (ironically), after several images were leaked from a closed facebook group associated with the campus’s Kappa Delta Rho chapter. Some were just of typical college age antics (males mooning a photographer), but others were of passed out girls (along with a very personal text message that should NOT have seen the light of day, let alone CNN).
Before that, the University Of Oklahoma’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon made headlines after a video of the group quoting a racist chant repeatedly went viral.
There have been incidents covered in the past few years, and there will likely be more covered in the coming months and years. These not counting the incidents that never make the news, or for that matter the deaths allegedly associated to hazing incidents or other fraternity activities (it is wikipedia, but its a place to start).
Being that a lot of these incidents involve both racist and sexist elements (in particular, sexual assault), and being the state of hyper awareness of both sexist and racist trends in society, these incidents are getting a lot of coverage. Particularly in the more feminist-biased progressive news sources of the internet (which at this point, is damn near all of them). There is not just coverage of the incidents, but many are now utilizing such incidents as a good reason to abolish the Greek system in its entity from colleges and universities of the US.
And an article “refuting” the last one (you be the judge):
I suspect that part of the reason irresponsible fraternities have hit the mainstream lately is because of mass incorporation of the internet and social media into the every day lives of the past couple generations. And also due to the fever pitch that both gender and racial activism has reached in American society today.
If I am perfectly honest, I can use this as yet another example of what you get when you fail to teach children from a young age, the risks that can be associated with what you post on the internet. I don’t think its bold to say that drunken debauchery is nothing new in the world of the fraternity or the sorority. But what is new is smartphones, facebook, instagram and many other platforms and devices that have now been seamlessly integrated into the everyday life of most people. A generation of children has grown up using these devices and services, often times in place of what would have been face to face activities for previous generations.
What has not yet caught up however, is education of exactly how risky these services can be, when the wrong photo or information gets out. As a result of that, we see everything from teen couples getting charged with sharing child pornography (for sharing nude photos), to some teens taking their lives after being a victim of online smearing campaigns based on some photo that should never have been leaked.
And many of these frat incidents go further by illustrating this problem in later years, with people apparently seeing no potential problems with being FILMED while singing an extremely racist chant, photographed doing offensive things, or just participating in social media groups that have questionable (or flat out illegal) photos of nonconsenting individuals.
Though technology is often times just a new platform for otherwise normal or past human interactions, in the case of the fraternities and the sororities of the United States, one wonders if the sexist, racial and otherwise irresponsible elements that are currently making headlines are a product of certain bad apples in the Greek orchard, or if the whole grove is rotten with various bias’s.
Many (particularly those on the progressive side that have a bias towards racial and/or feminist ideals) are making the case of it being a diseased grove, and thus the only recourse is to cut down all the trees (abolish the Greek system). But I hesitate to take that advice as presented, since many in that group tend to be very reactionary, calling for extreme action even in the absence of proof to an allegation. The ends justify’s the means.
I do not share such a, stark view of reality. I need more information to make a decision, as most (if not all) social issues are more nuanced then “This looks like this, therefore, THIS!”.
On this topic, one of those questions would be, is it a case of a few bad and notorious Fraternities and sororities, or is it a widespread (yet mostly hidden) problem?
Also, is it a problem that is a reflection of the background culture of the local area of the fraternity itself?
SAE in Oklahoma comes to mind for this.
Now do not misinterpret that statement, I am NOT saying that it justifies the racism that is present. However, it gives a reason why it is not surprising that such a problem would show up. It also would show that scraping the fraternity system in that instance would only be quashing one symptom of a far bigger problem.
I am not sure, what to make of this. I don’t know what side I should be on, being that I don’t have enough information to make any conclusive decision. But I am open to hearing your opinion (in the comments below).
What do you think?