Fraternities and sororities are often seen as vital to a strong post-graduate career, personal growth and lifelong friendships.
After leaving the comfort of home and embarking on the exciting collegiate experience, new students must confront several important decisions—what classes to take, what major to study, where to live…and whether to join a fraternity or sorority. Fraternities and sororities—the Greek system—have been a longstanding tradition at U.S. universities, and continues to function as one of the most powerful institutions in American culture.
Greek life has been a part of the U.S. collegiate culture for centuries, dating back to the late 1700’s, when a small group of students at the College of William and Mary in Virginia held secret meetings to debate controversial issues. Today, the Greek system has grown to over nine million active members and alumni, with over 120 nationally recognized fraternities and sororities that span nearly 800 North American campuses. Each fraternity and sorority offers its own distinctive culture and set of principles and traditions that can connect students with a newfound sense of community and belonging.
The recruitment process into the Greek system is known as “rush,” where fraternities and sororities welcome students to “pledge” or join each semester as classes begin. Greek houses hold several social events, inviting prospective pledges to meet other active members and to experience the chapter’s unique lifestyle. At the end of rush, the Greek houses offer membership invitations, called “bids,” to welcome new students who are considered a good fit to join.
Joining the Greek community is known to enrich personal growth, while connecting students to a larger social group with common interests, goals and values. It can also offer new students the opportunity to become more involved in academics, leadership and community service. The Greek system is consistently the largest network of volunteers in the United States, with fraternity and sorority members contributing over 10 million hours of volunteer work every year toward philanthropic causes. Greeks also boast of higher graduation rates and grade point averages (GPAs), and hold more student leadership positions throughout American universities than non-Greeks.
Despite its many noted advantages, there are some negative ideas and stereotypes that continue to haunt the Greek system. Nischal Nadhamuni, a freshman student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from Bengaluru, admits that he was initially skeptical of Greek life because of the undesirable depiction of fraternities. “I had no intention of joining the Greek system,” Nadhamuni explains. “Movies like ‘Neighbors’ had always shown such a terrible portrayal of fraternities, and it definitely made me apprehensive.”
The referenced 2014 comedy “Neighbors,” like “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) and “Old School” (2003) before it, stereotype fraternities and sororities by showing massive parties, excessive hazing and violent bullying as recurring themes dominating the Greek experience. Whether through such movies or real-life scandals like the March 2015 racism incident involving a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma, the Greek system is often disproportionately cast in a negative light.
When Nadhamuni arrived at MIT, however, he found that perception does not always mirror reality. After meeting several members of Phi Beta Epsilon during rush week, Nadhamuni decided to pledge the fraternity. “I was very surprised by the high emphasis on leadership and interpersonal skills; many of the fraternity events were actually team-building exercises,” he recalls.
“I was expecting to be put in some position of discomfort, but no such thing ever happened.”
In Nadhamuni’s case, “going Greek” opened new doors to a world that he would have never been exposed to otherwise. He hopes to pass down this lesson to other new students who may be unsure about being a part of the Greek system. “I would encourage students to consider the prospect of joining a fraternity or a sorority with an open mind; there is truly so much to be gained from Greek life. It is amazing to learn from people who have already done what I’m about to do.”
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.