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Entries in fraternity (1)

Wednesday
Oct192011

My child is interested in a fraternity/sorority. What should I do?

As your college children return for break, you may be seeing them with clothing embroidered with Greek symbols.

The chances are excellent they have chosen to participate in a fraternity (typically single sex male, often called frats) or sorority (typically single sex female), or a so called Greek Letter organization.

If you were never in one of these organizations, the closest analogy is a club….a club where all the members share similar values and establish lifelong friendships.

Most Greek Letter organizations have a selection process.  Organizations governed by the National Panhellenic Conference or the North-American Interfraternity Conference typically have a “rush week”, consisting of events intended to let the members meet others with interest.   At the end of “Rush” organizations give “bids”, or invitations to membership. This can be a stressful time for someone desiring to participate in a Greek Letter organization; not receiving a bid at all, or only receiving bids from less desirable organizations, can create personal conflict.

One a bid is accepted, there is typically a pledge period, culminating in an initiation.  Being in a Greek Letter organization exposes the new member to the “secrets” and “rituals” of the organization, and for a long time initiation was a thinly veiled hazing event like Kevin Bacon experienced in the 1978 movie, Animal House:

Greek Letter initiations have been toned down dramatically by all National/International organizations due to strict anti-hazing directives/laws.

Here is how one Greek Letter organization, Zeta Psi, captures it on their home web page:

Policy on Hazing

Zeta Psi Fraternity prohibits hazing in any form.  Hazing is an action taken or situation created, whether on or off University or Chapter premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.  Hazing is also considered to be the creation of a situation, which results in or might result in mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule, including involuntary servitude, often called “personal favors.”  Both individuals and organizations may be held accountable for such activity.

Report suspected hazing to: 1-888-NOT-HAZE.

Alcohol abuse is another concern.  Here’s a video from the North-American Interfraternity Conference reinforcing positive actions around hazing and alcohol:

While there are studies on the impact of Greek Letter organizations on academics, my personal experience and of children I’ve observed suggests the benefits of Greek Letter organizations are in non-academic areas:

  • Lifelong friend & support networks – after 30 years, I am friends with my fraternity brothers, and am acquaintances with others I went to school with.
  • Leadership – many on campus organizations are run by Greek Letter members.
  • Learn how to run a house – most Greek Letter organizations have budgets, many have their own large houses they have to keep up and repair.   Most local agencies (fire, board of health) check the houses multiple times a year.
  • Social – Parties, yes.  Events (like rafting, spelunking, and other group activities.)  Charities (always.)

What should a parent do?

  • Be supportive, and do not freak.
  • Learn about your child’s Greek Letter organization, using Google as your helper.  Most National/International Greek Letter organizations have detailed websites, with some “locals” (also called Chapters) having their own.  Each Chapter has its own unique customs; while they all share a heritage each chapter evolves.  If asked to attend an event, please do so…as the members (or “actives”) take time to prepare.
  • Don’t ask about the “secrets.”  They are supposed to be kept “secret!”  They are passed down in rituals over decades and centuries.  Besides, if you knew the ritual handshake what would you do with it?

If your child doesn’t enter Greek life, it’s OK too.  College is about academics and life, and this is a decision point.

What’s your view and experience?