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Greek Life on Campus: Fraternities and Sororities

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You will have many opportunities to get involved on campus. The Greek system may be something that interests you. Most colleges and universities have fraternities and sororities. You may have noticed them or at least the Greek letters of their name. Sororities are for women; fraternities are for men.

Whether or not to join a fraternity or sorority rests on individual preferences. Despite its popularity on many campuses, the Greek system eludes a single description that everyone agrees on. Those who belong to fraternities and sororities seem to enjoy their social, academic, and personal benefits. Those who aren’t members may appear indifferent to the Greeks, or they may dislike the system’s selective nature and perceived excesses.

Most fraternities and sororities are national or international organizations with chapters at individual schools. The organization or “Nationals” may place requirements on local chapters to standardize rituals and policies regarding membership, housing, or behavior. . Some fraternities and sororities are “local” and do not belong to a national organization. Classification can also be made along religious lines, geographic extent, gender requirements (single-sex or co-ed), and cultural or multicultural emphasis.

Most fraternities and sororities today maintain traditions which are symbolic in nature and closely guarded, this is called their Ritual. Rituals may include initiation rites, passwords, songs, and handshakes. Meetings for active members are generally confidential and not to be discussed without the approval of the chapter as a whole. Fraternities and sororities often have a number of symbols by which they are identified, such as their Greek letter, motto, colors, or flowers.

Members of social fraternities and sororities sometimes live together in a large house. This helps emphasize the “bonds of brotherhood (or sisterhood)” and provide a meeting place for the members of the organization and alumni. For reasons associated with cost, liability, and stability, housing is usually owned or overseen by an alumni corporation or the national headquarters of the fraternity or sorority. As a result, some houses have visitor restrictions. Some national organizations restrict or prohibit alcohol on the premises.

The process of joining a fraternity or sorority commonly begins with “rush”. During rush, potential members visit various Greek houses to meet members. Rush week usually consists of events and activities designed for members and potential members to learn about each other and the organization. Rush usually happens sometime during the first half of the school year. Students who participate in rush are known as “rushees". There are generally two types of rush – formal and informal.

Formal rush is more organized and structured. On most campuses, formal rush is dry – there is no alcohol served. Rushees are divided into groups and assigned a rush counselor. Your rush counselor will accompany your group to each of the houses that you are going to. Rushees first attend first round scheduled parties where rushees spend a specified amount of time at each of the houses. Your rush group meet the active members. The president, rush chairman, or a prominent member of the fraternity will talk to the rush group as a whole explaining what their particular organization is all about. After these first round parties are over, the rushees should have visited every house.

After first-round formal parties, informal parties may be held. The informal parties are a chance for the rushees to go back to the houses they liked and spend a longer amount of time. This is a chance for you to find out more about the fraternity or sorority without having a set time limit at each house. Remember, you are evaluating Greek organizations just as much as they are evaluating you.

After the first round parties (formal and informal) are over, the fraternity or sorority will begin inviting people back. You will receive a list of which houses invited you back. From this list you will decide which invitations to accept and which invitations to decline. The second round parties consist only of going to the houses you choose. Second round parties are a lot like first round, but longer in length. This gives you more time to learn about the organization.

Next are pref parties. Again, you visit the house and spend time with its members. After these parties, rushes will sign pref cards. These cards list the fraternities whose pref parties you went to. You then rank the fraternities in the order of who you would like to pledge.

Next is bid day. This is when rushees receive a bid from the fraternity or sorority that they selected, as well as the fraternity or sorority that selected them. This can be emotional if you are rejected by the fraternity or sorority you’ve chosen. After bids are received, formal rush is over. This is often the most emotional part of rush—It is possible not to receive any bids. After receiving bids, formal rush is over.

Informal rush has no schedule. All responsibility lies on your shoulders. It involves going to the houses for parties and activities and meeting the members on your own. You may be offered a bid if they decide that you are someone who holds the same ideals as they do. Not as many bids are offered during informal rush, so competition may be tight.

Most organizations have a period of “pledgeship” before extending full membership.The pledge period is a trying time. It is meant to prove if one is worthy of being a member of the fraternity. Pledges often have heavy demands placed on their time. Upon completion of the pledgeship and all its requirements, the active members will invite the pledges to be initiated and become full members. Initiation often includes secret ceremonies and rituals.

Requirements may be imposed on those wishing to join a sorority or fraternity. These requirements are established by the school or the organization itself. Requirements may involve maintaining a minimum GPA, wearing a pledge pin, learning about the history and structure of the fraternity or sorority, and performing public service. The pledge period also serves as a probationary period in the membership process where both the organization and the pledge decide if they are compatible.

Greek life can be very rewarding, but it is also a significant investment in time and money. It may not suit everybody’s personality. Before joining, make sure Greek life is a commitment you can and want to make. Some of the benefits of joining include:

  • Fun – After joining a fraternity or sorority, you’ll have more social opportunities than you ever dreamed possible.
  • Friendship – Greek life provides an easy way to meet people, make friends, and join a community. Membership is for life, so these opportunities are ongoing.
  • Housing opportunities – Housing can be scarce on some college campuses. Fraternities and Sororities provide another option for housing.
  • Networking opportunities – Although unfortunate, most job opportunities come from who you know, not what you know. Who you know will not be limited to your campus, but will include alumni and national members.
  • Leadership opportunities – Greek membership offers opportunities in the local chapter, your school’s Greek council, and even at the national level. This is great resume material.

There are some perceived disadvantages to going Greek. These include:

  • Time commitment – Rushing and pledging are time consuming. Once you are a member, you will be expected to participate in social events, philanthropic activities, meetings, and other obligations. In some ways, Greek is a lifestyle, not just a leisure time activity. Be honest with yourself about how much time you are able and willing to commit.
  • Money – Along with initiation fees and dues, you will have expenses for things like social events and formal attire. Expenses vary by school and chapter.
  • Image – Negative stereotypes about Greek life are abundant. Some people judge fraternities and sororities harshly. They may judge you the same way if you are affiliated.
  • Need for willpower and balance – All college students face temptations – alcohol, sex, and partying in general. If you go Greek, it’s likely these temptations will be present all the more. Do you have the willpower to have fun in moderation and achieve balance in your obligations?
  • Insularity – Sometimes Greek groups can become isolated from the rest of the campus. Meeting lots of different kinds of people can be one of the most rewarding parts of the college experience – sometimes (not always), Greek life can deter this.
  • Academic concerns – Some Greek organizations promote academics, some don’t. Make sure the fraternity or sorority you choose does.

When the public thinks about fraternities and sororities, the subjects of hazing and alcohol use usually arise. Hazing can be defined as the ritualistic harassment, abuse, or persecution of individuals in a group. Examples of hazing include, but are not limited to forced drinking of alcohol, forced physical activities (pushups, running, etc.), forced eating or drinking (usually things people would not normally consume), etc. It is pretty much being forced to do something that violates you as a human being. Hazing is illegal in most U.S. states. Members of Greek organizations are required to complete anti-hazing education. Hazing can result in the revocation of the local chapter’s charter and expulsion of members from the national organization or university.

Numerous studies have shown that members of fraternities and sororities drink substantially more alcohol than nonmembers. They also experience more of the problems associated with alcohol abuse – serious illness, violence, and sexual assault. 86% of men and 80% of women who live in fraternities and sororities are binge drinkers. Fraternities pay a high financial price for these problems, spending nearly a third of their annual budgets on legal liability and insurance costs. One out of every four insurance claims filed by fraternities was the result of a death, paralysis, or other serious injury linked to hazing, sexual assault, or other behavior associated with heavy drinking.

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