TRIGGER WARNING: mentions of sexual assault, racial discrimination, & suicide
Sororities and fraternities are a huge part of student life for many college students. Across North America, there are currently over 1,500 sororities and fraternities operating on college campuses. Living in houses, rush week, group activities, initiation, and many other activities have been staples in Greek life for years. However, over the past few years, a lot of dark secrets have come to surface about the perils of Greek culture on college campuses. From pledges being pushed to suicide, to sexual assault, to deadly hazing incidents, what is supposed to be a fun, exciting, bonding experience between college students, ends in bloodshed for some. There have been many calls to abolish fraternity and sorority chapters across the United States. But will it solve the issue at hand? Is sorority and fraternity culture toxic? In order to answer these questions, we must see where they came from.
The first modern fraternity was Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1775 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Other fraternities followed suit, such as Sigma Phi, Delta Phi, Phi Upsilon, Chi Psi, Theta Delta Chi, all founded at Union College in Schenectady, New York. These fraternities and more are from the Kappa Alpha fraternity society, which is considered to be the oldest Greek interpretation of the modern social fraternity.
A vintage fraternity, photographed.
To create separation, fraternities are all-male organizations, and sororities are all-female organizations. The first sorority (originally known as female fraternities) began in 1851 with the formation of Alpha Delta Pi. The first inception of the modern sorority was Pi Delta Phi in 1867. However, there are some benefits to Greek life.
Benefits Of Greek Life
Here are a few pros of Greek life:
- Socialization. Fraternities and sororities are a great place to make new friends, explore new interests, and learn new things. You develop a bond with the members of your chapter.
- Alumni network. Chances are, if you're applying for a job or internship, you'll come across someone who was also part of your organization, which betters your chances at getting hired.
- Community service. Community is a large value in Greek life. Fraternities and sororities take part in food drives, charity events, and much more.
- Academic support. If you’re in an organization for your specific major, then you will find people with the same struggles as you and be a sort of support for those members. This can lead to higher test scores and overall improved academic performance.
A college sorority girl.
These benefits are great, and will look amazing on any application. However, since their inception, sororities and fraternities have had a mountain of controversies stacked up against them, so let's delve into what those controversies are.
Greek culture--what comes to mind when you think of it? Perhaps a sense of love, community, and family, but this is often not the case on college campuses, particularly for young women. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), 26.4% of females experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. In the research paper, "Socialization Among Fraternity Men and Sexual Assault Prevention" by Hope Brinkmeier, she states:
“There are numerous and substantial negative consequences of sexual assault on college campuses. Sexual assault can prevent students from being successful in their higher education. The victims’ academic performance may be compromised in a variety of ways due to sexual assaults. Students who experienced a traumatic sexual assault have lower academic performance and more absences than other students. This seems to be rooted in emotional problems growing out of the trauma, especially if they are not receiving psychological counseling. Survivors of sexual assault also had lower GPAs than their counterparts. In addition, sexual assault resulted in lower levels of college completion.”
What we can make of this is that college-aged students are more likely to be sexually assaulted, particularly on campus, and face severe repercussions. Unfortunately, these numbers aren't just statistics, there are real victims and trauma behind them. One such example was the October 2021 suspension of the University of Southern California fraternity, Sigma Nu, after reports made of sexual assault and tampered drinks came to surface.
Aside from sexual assault issues, another problem that many college students have with fraternities and sororities is hazing. Hazing is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as, "The imposition of strenuous, often humiliating, tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training and initiation." Hazing has been an issue in colleges for decades, but has become a more severe issue since the implementation of sororities and fraternities. The University of Maryland states, “Since 1970, there has been at least one hazing-related death on a college campus each year. 82% of deaths from hazing involve alcohol.
The first recorded incident of hazing involving sexual abuse occurred in 1983.” There have been many hazing deaths in fraternities, especially alcohol-related ones. A prime example of these kinds of tragedies occurring on college campuses was college freshman Danny Santulli. Santulli was only 18 years old when he was hazed while attempting to pledge to the Phi Delta Gamma fraternity at the University of Missouri. On the night of October 19, 2021, he was pressured by his fellow fraternity brothers to drink entire bottles of alcohol and force-fed drinks.
.Due to his intoxicated state, he fell over and hit his head. He sustained permanent brain injuries, and is no longer able to walk, see, or speak. His blood alcohol level was a staggering .486, six times over the legal limit. After the incident, the University of Missouri suspended the Phi Delta Gamma fraternity. Although Danny's life was forever altered because of the events that took place on that fateful night, he is one of the survivors. Many people think that hazing is an issue unique to only fraternities, but similar incidents occur in sororities as well.
In January 2017, 19-year-old college sophomore Jordan Hankins died by suicide after being hazed by her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters at Northwestern University. During the pledging process, she was reportedly subjected to financial exploitation and physical abuse, such as sleep deprivation and paddling. The abuse was so severe that it triggered her PTSD, causing her to suffer from severe depression and anxiety. She also started having suicidal thoughts which were communicated to her sorority sisters, yet nothing was done. Northwestern University launched an investigation into the incident and suspended Alpha Kappa Alpha.
On top of this, sororities and fraternities are also extremely expensive, causing as much as $3,000 a semester at some schools. This makes Greek life inaccessible to those who want to join, but don't have the funds to do so, making them inherently classist. If you think that the hazing, high cost, and claims of sexual abuse aren't bad enough, the final issue fraternities and sororities get a lot of controversy for is racial discrimination.
Fraternities and sororities were historically made up of exclusively white students. During the segregation era, sororities and fraternities were accessible to white students only. Though we’ve moved past this as a society, and are years removed from the Jim Crow era, there are still negative stereotypes about people of color being perpetuated in Greek life. In fact, there are many incidents of minority students being targeted in their sorority and fraternity houses due to their race, and white students allowing this prejudice and bigotry to grow in their chapters. One such instance was a 2015 incident where members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were caught on camera reciting a racist chant. Levi Pettit, led the chant, and made a public apology after being expelled from the university and having the chapter be shut down.
In April 2018, the fraternity Theta Tau was expelled from Syracuse University, after a student publication released a series of videos of fraternity members displaying racist, sexist, anti-Semetic, ableist, and homophobic language. As stated, there are a lot of issues regarding race and Greek life. The lack of inclusivity is astounding, considering the day and age in which we live in. Racism and bigotry run rampant in Greek life, leading Black students to create their own Greek life chapters. Sadly, these fraternities and sororities have their own issues in themselves. Because of all these issues and more, this has caused calls to abolish Greek life as a whole, but will that erase the years of trauma and oppression faced by members of these organizations?
Abolition: Is It The Answer?
There have been many calls to abolish Greek chapters on North American campuses, particularly in the United States. As a result of all the controversy coming to light over the past few years, college students have taken to social media to ignite a movement entitled, “Abolish Greek Life.” Which calls out the problematic history of Greek life and its classist and racist narrative.
In 2020, during a year of racial upset and accountability in itself, there was an Instagram account under the same name that went viral. These college students are looking to their universities to take action and take accountability for letting the injustice take place for so long, but is it the answer? While it would seem like the best one, it is one that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, a big reason being that Greek chapters are a source of income for universities. According to an article by Vox,
“Many of these fraternities and sororities have been on campuses for decades, and that’s led them to accumulate a strong alumni network that can be tapped as donors,” said Noah Drezner, a Columbia associate professor of higher education who researches alumni giving. “I would say that Greek alumni are disproportionately represented on trustee boards and in administrative positions.” It’s not in a college’s financial interest to anger or alienate their donors, he added.”
Essentially, these colleges are prioritizing monetary gain over human welfare, which is ethically wrong for so many reasons. Human life is continuing to be put at risk every day in these houses, yet not enough is being done. Families are hurting, lives are lost, and more emphatically, these institutions have blood on their hands for allowing to continue for as long as it has. Which continues into the final part of this article, the conclusion (and possible alternatives to joining a frat or sorority).
Fraternities and sororities are problematic for many reasons, and it would be best to avoid joining one, as they perpetuate bad narratives. With that being said, if you've read this article and still choose to join one, do so at your own discretion. Don't do anything you don't feel comfortable doing, and don't be afraid to leave if things get unsafe. But if you do feel turned off by the idea of joining Greek life, here are some alternatives.
- Join a club! Joining a club carries many of the same benefits and merits as joining a sorority, but it's less of a commitment, & not nearly as problematic.
- Volunteer. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or animal shelter. Volunteering is a form of community service, which you don't need a sorority or fraternity to do.
- Intern. Internships allow you to make connections in your chosen line of work, and give you the hands-on experience that sororities and fraternities can't give you.
To sum up everything stated thus far, in order to progress as a society, we need to acknowledge our faults, correct our mistakes of the past, and reform for a better tomorrow, or else we will rewrite history. It's okay to take lessons from yesterday, but let's not let it affect our tomorrow. This starts with the reformation of Greek life as a whole, and unlearning the racist & classist lessons that Greek life has taught for centuries. Once we can do that, it will be progress towards making college campuses a safe, inclusive, space for all.