Another Fraternity Death Raises Old Concerns
When it comes to Greek life, you probably either have a negative opinion or a positive one. If you have a positive attitude toward fraternities and sororities, you associate them with friendship, community, and traditions. If you’re more cynical, you might think that these organizations are nothing more than a culture of elitism and exclusion, with a dangerous interest in hazing rituals and excessive drinking.
So which viewpoint is right? In all likelihood, neither opinion is 100% correct.
What is Greek Life?
Fraternities and sororities are social organizations at colleges and universities. In these organizations, students live together, often in a large house off-campus. Because of this setup, they approach everything with a familial camaraderie. Chapter names incorporate letters of the Greek alphabet, like Alpha, Gamma, Phi, and Zeta. This is why it is often referred to as Greek life.
The first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, dates back to 1776. It began as an organization for members to freely discuss intellectual topics. In the early years of Greek life, fraternities served primarily as intellectual groups. Later, they branched out to include parties, socials, and volunteer work. Sororities, drawing their name from the Latin word for “sister,” became more common in the late 1800s, and today, many sororities are just as well established and respected as older fraternities.
It’s true that sororities and fraternities are an integral part of American collegiate history. In top Greek organizations across the country, students learn the values of philanthropy and networking. They also embrace local and diverse traditions, and build lifelong friendships. Fraternity literally means “the state or feeling of friendship or mutual support of a group,” and when organizations embrace this ideal, it can be a great thing. Many former fraternity and sorority members speak very highly of their organizations, and continue to benefit from the connections, friendships, and instilled values of their house.
However, the culture has some dangerous downsides.
The most controversial criticism of sororities and fraternities usually involves hazing. Hazing is an initiation process, in which new members of an organization perform strenuous, demeaning, or dangerous tasks. Sometimes, hazing rituals are nothing more than practical jokes. A new member might have to do some kind of complicated chore, or find items on a scavenger hunt. Other times, the rituals are far more dangerous. Students have been throw off bridges, left on railroad tracks, or ditched in the middle-of-nowhere and told to find their way back to campus. Hazing might also involve drinking copious amounts of alcohol, or subjecting new recruits to violent beatings.
The latest hazing death comes from Pennsylvania State University. A sophomore member of Beta Theta Pi died after consuming a life-threatening amount of alcohol and then falling down a flight of stairs. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, but none of his fraternity brothers called for an ambulance. Now, the fraternity is shuttered and eighteen members face charges including involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and evidence tampering.
Excessive alcohol consumption is the second biggest issue within sororities and fraternities. To be fair, alcohol use is a problem among many groups of college students, not just members of Greek organizations. However, Greek life is often heavily associated with irresponsible drinking. This is in part due to wild parties, rituals, and the need for conformity.
Like hazing rituals, alcohol abuse is often ignored until something goes seriously wrong. Earlier this year at University of Connecticut, a fraternity faced repercussions after a student died following a fraternity party. The student, a 19-year-old woman, had been drinking at a fraternity party before she somehow fell asleep, or passed out, against the door of a fire station. When the station received a call, the doors opened, and the young woman was run over by the firetruck. It’s unknown why she was in that situation, but her blood alcohol level was .25%, which is extremely over the legal limit. Six members of the fraternity are charged with alcohol-related offenses, including serving alcohol to minors.
These incidents do not necessarily mean that all fraternities or sororities are immoral, reckless, or dangerous. However, they certainly raise concerns about the culture. Greek life — and college life in general — is fun, but dangerous hazing and excessive drinking needs to stop.
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