Fraternities and sororities are social organizations found at colleges and universities. They’re often called Greek letter organizations because their names consist of two or three letters of the Greek alphabet: for example, Phi Kappa Theta. Fraternities are often portrayed in movies and television shows as sexist groups of young men who do little more than throw keg parties on the weekends while sororities are usually made out to be bands of young women who do nothing but shop and worry about their weight. Some of these stereotypes may have a grain of truth to them, but how much do you really know about Greek life?
Fraternities, or brotherhoods, are typically all-male organizations. Sororities, or sisterhoods, are comprised of women. These terms typically refer to social organizations, but there are some groups, such as honor societies and service or professional groups, that are also referred to as fraternities. Honor societies and service or professional fraternities have both men and women as members, which is why the term Greek letter organization has become popular in recent years.
Some Greek letter organizations were even established for religious purposes, but most social fraternities and sororities claim to be organizations which help their members “better themselves” in social settings.
If a Greek letter organization is present on a particular college campus, then that school has a chapter of the organization. Some chapters even have their own houses on campus where members can live, as opposed to living in the traditional dorms.
Many Greek organizations claim that they are service-oriented groups and chapters often do volunteer work or participate in fundraising activities for various causes, but it seems that the main purpose of the groups is in fact social: the old cliché about Greek parties seems to be an accurate one, although there are exceptions to every rule.
Some people choose to join Greek letter organizations because their parents did, or their older friends did, or they simply feel that it’s an easy way to make new friends when they get to college. It may not be as easy as you think, because most fraternities and sororities have strict recruitment procedures in place for potential new members.
Students who wish to join a social Greek letter organization normally go through a procedure known as rush, or sometimes Rush Week. Rush policies vary from college to college, and the procedures often vary based on the size of the school or the size of the organizations. Rush usually gives potential new members — who are most often incoming freshmen — and the fraternities and sororities the opportunity to meet each other and learn about each other.
After the rushing process is over, fraternities and sororities will make “bids” to the students that they would like to join their organization. Should a student accept a bid, they become what is known as a pledge, or a potential new member of the group.
Pledging a Greek organization takes a considerable amount of time and effort, as pledges are involved in mandatory meetings about the group and its history, as well as multiple social events. Typically, an entrance exam must also be passed before officially gaining membership.
A procedure known as hazing consists of embarrassing or harassing rituals that current Greek members force upon their pledges. Hazing is often done so pledges can prove their loyalty to the organization before becoming official members. It’s often considered an innocent rite of passage, but hazing is a crime in nearly all 50 states. Hazing is also outlawed on many college campuses because hazing activities often lead to extremely dangerous incidents, sometimes ending in health problems or even death. It’s been in the news quite a lot in recent months.
Greek organizations are not for everyone, and they have a few pros and cons.
On one hand, being in a Greek letter organization can be very expensive. There are mandatory membership dues and other various fees, including purchases of clothing which feature the group’s Greek letters. Fraternities and sororities can also very time-consuming. Chapters typically hold weekly meetings and other mandatory events in addition to occasional fundraising or volunteer activities.
On the other hand, Greek life can teach students about responsibility and time management. Fitting in a busy course load and all of the required Greek activities can easily fill your entire appointment book. It can also create a bond with people that you may not have met otherwise, and that social environment is very important to many people.
Greek letter organizations may also help you later down the line. Should you wind up interviewing for a job with someone that was also a member of your same organization that feeling of brotherhood or sisterhood might just kick in and help you get your foot in the door. Hey, you never know!
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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