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College life: the future for fraternities

Tuesday, August 4, 2015 - 10:53am

With our small town about to be convulsed into the intricacies [and traffic] of fraternity and sorority rush in the lead up to the fall term, the Chronicle of Higher Education raises an important, timely question: Is there a place for fraternities on the modern campus?

In some ways, they appear a relic of a bygone era, in which college was largely the purview of white, well-off men. It's no surprise, critics say, that these homogenous, secretive groups with vaguely defined membership criteria regularly get themselves into trouble. The first widely publicized Greek hazing death dates back to the 1870s, and reports of misogynistic, racist, and homophobic acts — often fueled by drinking — have dogged fraternities ever since.

Fraternities also have a lot to recommend them. Greek students tend to be more active on campus than their classmates, and, supporters say, well-managed chapters foster leadership, facilitate service, and provide healthy camaraderie. A disproportionate number of elected officials and heads of major companies have gone through the fraternity system. And most members shun the extreme behaviors that get dozens of chapters in trouble each year.

The source of backronyms from their very beginnings, the first student societies in pre-Revolutionary America were actually Latin-lettered fraternities, with their Greek cousins established with Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 and others developed with chapters at other campuses along the lines of the Masonic lodge concept.

But as the article lays out quite clearly, with the limits as well as new goals and aspirations of higher education today, is the Greek system an anachronism? It's an open question, easily prejudiced and heavily dependent on perspective, difficult to quantify and important not to base on anecdotal evidence. Like anything in our current society, rather than spurn this discussion, Greek system advocates owe themselves and the campuses that sponsor them a duty to make the case for their place, thier existence, on the university campus today.

Image: Temple of Athena Nike (no relation), via wikimedia commons.

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