At many schools, it may seem that the exciting action is all taking place in fraternities or sororities. And, believe me, these clubs go to a lot of trouble to make non-members feel excluded. The phrase PDI, meaning “pretty damn independent” was maliciously coined by fraternity brothers to describe students who decline to play the mind and war games that some such organizations are known for.
Fraternities and Sororities trace their ancestry back to ancient Greece. That’s why most such clubs have names that are some combination of Greek letters, like Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Pi Kappa Alpha. The tradition of having fraternities and sororities on campus is referred to as “Greek life.”
Most big universities have some form of Greek life, though the practice is banned at some private schools. Many religious schools, such as Wheaton College in Illinois, prohibit the formation of fraternities and sororities on the grounds that such organizations are not aligned with Christian values.
The advantages of joining a fraternity
Fraternities, more than sororities, sell the idea that the friendships you make with your “brothers” will last a lifetime and provide a network of future business associates that will help you succeed in business.
And this may be true–for some fraternities. For instance, at ivy league institutions, sons and daughters of the wealthiest and most powerful families do routinely join in on Greek life.
The advantages to fraternity or sorority membership are pretty obvious going in. It’s an opportunity to meet friends, go to a lot of parties, plan parties of your own, and participate in other social events,
Fraternities and sororities provide an instant network of people who, in theory, have your back. If you are falling behind academically, you should be able to ask your fraternity brothers for help. There is a good chance that, in a large fraternity, there is someone who can tutor you in math or chemistry, making it more feasible to pass or even get good grades in a difficult class.
Fraternities and sororities help some students make the transition from living at home under your parents’ rules to living more independently. Such Greek organizations give you friends and older peers who will, if asked, hold you accountable for accomplishing the goals you had in mind when you applied to college.
Fraternities and sororities may be most useful to students who are a little shy. Greek social gatherings will get you out of your dormitory room. And, with instant brothers and sisters, you will always have someone to go to an event with.
Disadvantages of Greek life
What’s not so obvious are the disadvantages, and many students soon find themselves over invested in Greek life. Here are some things you should carefully consider before you pledge:
If you think hazing is over, think again. While many campuses have cracked down on membership trials that involve outright violence and risk of death–with various degrees of success–nothing stops the fraternity big wigs from humiliating and verbally abusing you for the many weeks of your initiation. The complete destruction of your self respect is the goal of the membership process. If you tend to bridle under insults and attempts to degrade you–if you don’t think that kind of thing is really funny–this is probably not the activity for you.
It is unlikely that you will learn any valuable skills or knowledge sets beyond chugging. Unless you are in a small specialized fraternity, for instance one related to music, you will learn nothing from your investment except how to party heartily.
If you join up, use common sense
Fraternities and, to a lesser extent, sororities are notorious for gobbling up so much time, that members let their courses slide. Soon, grades drop, courses don’t get completed, and, before you know it, you’ve flunked out. Don’t let that be you.
I know one young man who spent most of his four college years in elected positions within his fraternity. But he didn’t complete enough coursework to finish a degree. Now, having squandered four years in college, he works as a waiter in a restaurant.
Have his fraternity connections helped give him a leg up professionally or in business? Nope. He’s on his own.
It is particularly important for Greek brothers and sisters not to make a bad impression on their professors or non-fraternity members. Some fraternity students show up to class hung over and looking like zombies, unprepared and slow as sofa cushions, when they show up at all.
Professors really do not want to hear that you need to miss a class or hand in a paper late because of some dumb sorority activity. There’s major dissonance on how they see your sorority and how you see it. You think that attending the awards banquet is the most important thing in the world. Your professor thinks it is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard of. Almost any excuse would be better.
Mind the drinking
This might be a good time to note that, in the United States and other countries, drinking before the age of 21 is illegal. There are good reasons for this. An eighteen year old brain is not fully developed and lacks the impulse control that comes a few years down the road.
It may sound priggish, but developing a heavy drinking habit in college is not good for your future. Not everyone finds they can just sober up and turn responsible when they turn twenty-two.
Some people can’t stop binging, and long-term damage from alcohol is really nasty. You’ve heard of liver cirrhosis, but did they tell you that it comes with brain damage that looks a lot like Alzheimer’s and water retention that will make you look terminally pregnant with triplets? Beer-based and binge-based fraternities, in particular, need to be avoided.
The big thing that fraternity brothers have in common is that they belong to the same fraternity. Do you really want to make friends this way? Or would you rather belly up to the harder task of finding people with whom you have something real in common? Admittedly, the second way is harder, but you end up with friends that do more than drink.
Stay safe in your club
Many universities have put rules in place to restrict the number of people who can gather in one place at one time. This will definitely change the way that fraternities and sororities operate. Meetings may be held virtually, rather than in person.
In conclusion, joining a sorority or fraternity is something that students should carefully consider. There are both pros and cons. Be sure you are making the right decision for yourself and not just caving to peer pressure or joining up to please your parents or to impress your friends back home.