Last Saturday, I was in my friend’s car coming back to campus after having lunch together when we were passing “The Hill,” a place near University of Colorado at Boulder where most fraternities and sororities have chapter houses.
We were passing by one fraternity house and there were a few guys outside, clearly drunk, holding up a sign that read: “You honk, we drink.” As we were passing by, I asked myself if Greek life has any meaning for Millennials.
Greek life has been around since the first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded in the College of William and Mary in 1776. Since then, 123 fraternities and sororities have been established, flouting over 9 million members.
While drinking is a prominent feature in Greek life, as I saw last Saturday, many fraternities and sororities do wonderful things. According to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, over $21.1 million was raised by 75 international and national fraternities in 2011-2012. For Millennials who want to have fun in college and to give back to the community, joining a Greek organization may be a way to serve the community and have fun.
Greek organizations also have a list of distinguished alumni. College fraternities and sororities have produced 85% of Supreme Court Justices since 1910, 85% of Fortune 500 executives, 63% of all US cabinet members since 1900 and 18 US presidents (69%) since 1877.
Being a member of a fraternity or sorority can be a good way for Millennials to connect with recruiters who may be alumni of the Greek system.
Unfortunately, there is a darker side to Greek life. You may have heard from the Atlantic that some chapter houses have been scenes of sexual assaults and hazing that sometimes has lethal results. Binge drinking is also associated with Greek life, despite the potentially deadly side effects.
In 2013, a Georgia Tech student sent an email telling his Phi Kappa Tau brothers how to “lure your rapebait.” That student was not an exception to the rule; in a study published by the Journal of Interpersonal Violence shows that fraternity men are three times more likely to engage in “sexually aggressive acts” than non-fraternity men.
It’s not just all-male fraternities who deserve a critical eye. Recently, an email from the Alpha Chi Omega chapter at the University of Southern California was leaked. The document revealed the intense physical requirements female recruits needed to meet. Among those requirements were being thin, having one’s hair styled a certain way and absolutely no glasses.
Of course, not all fraternity brothers are rapists, nor are all sorority sisters superficial. Many students can have a wonderful experience in their chapter houses, but that experience can come at a high price.
In a New York Times article released this October, sororities can rack up expenses from housing costs and pledging fees to spending hours of time doing mandatory events and meetings that can be physically, financially and emotionally draining. The sisters better not be late or miss the events; many sororities have a fine system which can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the bill, unless members have a valid excuse.
Is Greek culture relevant for Millennials? Maybe, but only if they change their ways. Fraternity brothers and sorority sisters need to overhaul how they conduct themselves, with measures like curbing alcohol abuse, having pledges take mandatory classes on rape prevention and being more selective of new members.
Greek life has been a strong part of higher education. If it wants to continue to be a useful institution, it is necessary that they reform themselves- or risk becoming obsolete drinking houses.