Should we get rid of the college Greek system? | The Tylt
Should we get rid of the college Greek system?
According to TIME's Lisa Wade, concern about fraternities is nothing new. In 1863, a group of college presidents "described fraternities as a 'plague' and 'un-American.'" Wade expands:
Young rich men invented “social” fraternities to isolate themselves from their middle-class peers, thumb their nose at the religious values of their professors and wrest control away from the administrators who set their schedules, curricula and objectives.
As would be expected, the result of this invention has been poisonous. Not only does the Greek life further an elitist system on college campuses, but so-called "traditions" have become so extreme, that some students have lost their lives as a direct result of yielding to pressure to follow such customs.
Wade describes the death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza during a fraternity party put on by Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi chapter. Piazza "fell twice down the stairs after being instructed to drink what a forensic pathologist called a 'life-threatening' amount of alcohol." She writes:
In the aftermath of Piazza’s death, Penn State’s president wrote a heart-wrenching open letter. He detailed the facts about Greek life: excessive drinking, high rates of sexual assault, hazardous initiation rites and fatal accidents. He also listed the well-intended and genuine efforts by Penn State to change Greek culture — efforts that don’t seem to be working — and wondered if the right answer is abolition.
To Wade there is only one solution to ending this kind of tragedy: abolish Greek life on college campuses.
Despite these tragedies, some claim the good fraternities and sororities do not get nearly enough media attention as the bad. Nevertheless, the good exists. According to CNN's Alexandra Robbins, fraternities, in particular, maintain the "goal of making their brothers 'better men' as helping them to become better people." Surely, the goal of making each other better through brother or sisterhood is one to be commended.
Robbins reports on her experience speaking with fraternity brothers:
They believed it was their responsibility to hold brothers to high standards of tolerance and cooperation. They were able to create a subculture in which members were rewarded for being good guys...They encouraged members to open up to each other and to give unconditional support. Some students told me that their fraternity friendships and accountability saved their lives.
Centuries of corruption hide behind the veil of Greek life on college campuses. Not only has the system influenced the spread of power in business and politics in the real world, but it has also resulted in the unacceptable abuse of college students. As The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan bluntly puts it:
Lawsuits against fraternities are becoming a growing matter of public interest, in part because they record such lurid events, some of them ludicrous, many more of them horrendous. For every butt bomb, there’s a complaint of manslaughter, rape, sexual torture, psychological trauma.
Flanagan refers to Bloomberg News’s David Glovin and John Hechinger's reporting, saying that since 2005, "more than 60 people—the majority of them students—have died in incidents linked to fraternities." She expands:
...a sobering number in itself, but one that is dwarfed by the numbers of serious injuries, assaults, and sexual crimes that regularly take place in these houses.
After a yearlong investigation, Flanagan concludes that fraternities are "mightier" than universities themselves–a dangerous truth that the country must face.
But if you ask many of the current members of fraternities and sororities, they will likely tell you that the friendships they've found in Greek life are unique, and therefore something to be protected. Mic's Teddy Bommarito explains four key benefits of the Greek system, including camaraderie and academics. Bommarito writes:
Although the word “camaraderie” is a cliché defense of fraternities and sororities, the bond that is created between members as a result is certainly visible, durable and genuine; the relationships between brothers and sisters are bonds that last a lifetime.
Furthermore, the Greek system includes organizations beyond the traditional fraternities and sororities you might be thinking of from TV or movies. Multicultural Greek organizations prioritize diversity and understanding through the mission of promoting justice. The National Pan-Hellenic Council, formed at Howard University in 1930, contains nine historically African American, international Greek fraternities and sororities and promote unity, educational progress and cultural uplift. There are also service-oriented Greek organizations, whose express mission is to perform community service.
There's no question that the Greek system is in grave need of reform, but it would be a shame to ignore the great unity that has come to fruition as a result of the system itself.