When I initially looked at colleges, I avoided “Greek” schools like the plague. Full disclosure: I never envisioned myself joining a sorority. I didn’t want to be a fake, cookie-cutter zombie in a glorified cult that charged its “sisters” obscene amounts of money to remain members of their “families.” That never appealed to me. Yet, here I am. One year ago, I decided to attend a school that was 40% Greek. Three months ago, I took part in Panhellenic Recruitment. One and a half months ago, I was initiated into a sorority. So, what changed? What spawned this complete about-face? Simply put: facts.
The news media lives for clickbait, shocking stories that ensure articles will get more views. While these stories are eye-catching, they are not always accurate. One example of this is a 2012 article by Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone. In the article, enticingly named “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses,” Reitman recounts the story of Andrew Lohse, a since-expelled member of the Dartmouth chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Lohse recalls:
“I was a member of a fraternity that asked pledges, in order to become a brother, to: swim in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omelets made of vomit; chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; drink beer poured down fellow pledges’ ass cracks… among other abuses.”
If Lohse’s account seem a bit extreme, that’s because it is. Contrary to what the news media suggests, Lohse’s experience is far from the norm. At many Greek organizations, pledging is not a period of breaking the morales of one’s supposed friends. I have gone through the sorority pledge process myself and I have male friends who have taken part in the fraternity pledge process. None have reported such traumatic levels of physical, emotional, or psychological torture. That being said, while I was fortunate enough to experience no hazing whatsoever, I have friends who have reported undergoing various degrees of hazing, but they were much tamer than anything the news media portrayed (i.e. a PNM class hot dog eating contest as opposed to burying pledges alive). While I am not trying to discredit Lohse’s claims, I can candidly say that I have never witnessed nor heard of any affiliated students or their pledges being forced to “have sex with a frozen turkey.”
So, why do these eye-catching news stories matter? For me, they provided a one-sided, inaccurate portrayal of the Greek System that initially turned me off from anything fraternity- or sorority-related. Since moving to Elon and talking to my friends who are affiliated, I began to gain a broader perspective and appreciation for the Greek System. I’d like to think my friends are smart, kind-hearted people; they would not actively bully younger students or continue to pay dues to an organization that permits such actions. Essentially, a few anomalies can taint the name of all Greek organizations, but the vast majority of Greek organizations are worthwhile for an individual to join.
Fraternities and sororities are often portrayed by the news media as solely social organizations whose members are always too drunk to maintain the grades they did as unaffiliated students. However, that is a myth that, like my initial, close-minded view of Greek Life, can be rebutted with facts. A 2015 study conducted by the Journal of College Student Development found evidence that “for students who entered college with the highest levels of need for cognition, fraternity/sorority membership contributed positively to growth.” In other words, Greek membership has actually boosted some students’ academic performances. Even affiliated students who are of lower cognitive levels manage to keep their grades fairly constant compared to their unaffiliated peers. In a separate, 2011 study for the Journal of College Student Development it was discovered that, “although many educators perceive fraternities and sororities as anti-intellectual organizations, fraternity and sorority members in [a study of 11 liberal arts institutions] did not differ from their unaffiliated peers on the educational outcomes explored.” In other words, fraternity and sorority members experience no detrimental effects of affiliation on education and even report a positive impact in some instances. Personally, my grades have improved slightly since joining my sorority. My sorority boasts the highest GPA of all the Greek organizations on campus. It holds members to high academic standards, has a minimum GPA requirement, offers incentives to study, and provides sisters with tutors if they are struggling. This environment has positively contributed to my learning experience.
In addition to academic improvement, fraternity and sorority involvement has been proven to increase leadership and mentorship opportunities as well. Though the news media often portrays affiliated students as non-stop partiers who ruthlessly haze each other senseless, this is far from the truth. Once PNMs are initiated into their respective fraternities or sororities, they are granted a “big brother” or “big sister.” In a 2015 study for the College Student Affairs Journal, Mary-Catherine McClain discovered that “having a ‘big sister’ or ‘big brother’ major mentor could … be powerful in promoting the vocational identity and career decision-making self-efficacy of chapter members.” Having a positive mentor to look up to can shape a young student’s college journey and provide integral guidance to help him or her succeed in life. Moreover, taking on the role of the “big” can prepare older students for leadership roles. Personally, my big has gone above and beyond to help me adjust to college life. She’s a shoulder to lean on, someone to receive advice from, and someone I can count on to surprise me with two dozen chocolate chip cookies (my favorite) at 10 p.m. after a long day of stressful exams. Being independent for the first time in college may incorporate a learning curve for some, so it is reassuring to know that there are always “bigs” looking out for you.
Although I am in sorority, I am not necessarily pro-Greek Life; I’m more pro-objectivity. I cannot definitively say all Greek organizations are great, but the majority of them are certainly not as bad as the news media makes them all seem. There are some organizations that fit Lohse’s stories, but they are outliers. Everyone is different and every Greek organization offers a slightly different experience. It is important to talk with people around campus, research organizations, and get down to the facts. If a student learns the hard facts about a fraternity or sorority and believes he or she aligns with its values, then by all means he or she should give it a try. An individual should join Greek life if, based on the facts, it is an environment he or she would thrive in.