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Fraternities and Sororities

 

Fraternities and sororities (known as "Greek" organizations) have been a part of the American college and university system since the 1700s and are present to varying degrees on campuses all over the country. These groups were established to enhance scholarly endeavors and encourage student participation in activities outside the classrooms. Fraternities and sororities today are a bit of a bone of contention, both lauded for their charitable activities and criticized for their sexism and elitism. Important things to remember when you are thinking about whether or not to join is that you can't believe everything you hear and the decision is yours to make.

The Greek system offers potential members (pledges) a number of advantages and disadvantages. You should carefully consider your options before you decide to make what can be a lifelong commitment. Don't do anything because everyone else is doing it. Part of your new independence is the opportunity to make up your own mind about things. You're in college now--do some research before you decide to pledge or not to pledge. Talk to people to learn about their experiences inside and outside the Greek system. And if you decide to pledge, check out the different Greek groups to find the one that will fit you best.
Some of the advantages of participating in a fraternity or sorority include having an instant social circle, the opportunity to do charitable work and a network you can use later in life. If you choose the right fraternity/sorority, you will find a group of people with interests, experiences and priorities similar to yours. Some of the friends you make in college you will have for the rest of your life.

Greek organizations were founded on the principles of scholarship, leadership, service and brotherhood/sisterhood and continue to contribute a lot of volunteer hours and money to a variety of charitable causes. Fraternity and sorority members have the opportunity to be involved in service activities benefiting a variety of community groups. Some Greek organizations are also opening up to different groups, especially gay and gay-friendly men and women. After graduation that network of fraternity and sorority members can continue to offer you help and support.

The Greek system also has a number of disadvantages. Sexism is still rampant among many fraternities and many Greek organizations are still elitist in their membership and other policies. Statistics also indicate that fraternity members are likelier than other students to engage in potentially harmful binge drinking. And even though most major Greek organizations have active anti-hazing policies, pledge activities can still be unpleasant and embarrassing. Joining a fraternity or sorority can also be a costly proposition, requiring the payment of dues and a number of unexpected expenses. Spending all your time with your brothers or sisters can also keep you from making other friends outside the Greek system and exploring viewpoints different from your own. This is true of both "traditional" and newer "left of center" Greek organizations. College is a time to learn and explore as you move towards your post-school life, so you might not want to limit any of your social options.

Some terms you should be familiar with:

  • Bid: Formal invitation to join a particular fraternity or sorority
  • Chapter: The local group of the larger national organization
  • Function: Social activity with another Greek organization
  • Fraternity: Greek letter organization (women's fraternities are more popularly known as sororities)
  • Hazing: Any demeaning or potentially injurious initiation activity-forbidden and actively discouraged by most major Greek organizations
  • Initiation: Formal ceremony and requirements to become a member
  • Pledge (also known as "new member"): Member of Greek organization who has not yet been initiated
  • Pledgeship (or "new member program"): Period leading to initiation
  • Rush: Recruitment period

  • Joining a fraternity or sorority is a decision that is entirely up to you. Taking on such a commitment if you have a heavy course load could be hard on your grades, so you need to take that into consideration. It could also help you with the discipline necessary to do well in your academic work. The most important thing is to think about what, if anything, you want out of a fraternity or sorority and how to get it. And remember that Animal House and the Skulls are movies, not reality. Check things out before you commit to anything and talk to people with different perspectives to get an idea of what the Greek system is really about and whether you want to be a part of it.

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