"Delta Delta Delta, can I help ya help ya help ya?"—Saturday Night Live
Fraternities and sororities may have a reputation as being little more than party organizations, but there’s much more below the surface of these collegiate institutions. Frats and sororities are often organized around volunteer work, social service, and charity fundraising, and can have a life-long impact on their members. Read on to learn more about fraternities and sororities—both the benefits of membership and the seedy underside of Greek life.
Fraternities and sororities—also known as Greek letter organizations (GLOs)—are social and academic institutions operating at universities and colleges across the world, but most popularly in the United States and the Philippines. GLOs are often joined as an undergraduate, but membership continues for life, and alumni associations are often equally as important as college-aged activities.
GLOs are often single-sex organizations—fraternities admit men while sororities admit women, however, there are co-ed Greek letter organizations as well. Often, members will live together in frat or sorority houses, which are privately owned by the organization and are distinct from university dormitories. Some houses have upwards of 100 member residents. I'm sure they all take turns doing the dishes...
Before there were fraternities, there were honor societies. The first such society in North America to incorporate most of the elements of a modern fraternity was Phi Beta Kappa, founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1776. Phi Beta Kappa (ΦΒΚ) began as a debate club but quickly turned into more of a social organization.
You can thank Phi Beta Kappa for the convention of naming fraternities after Greek letters. ΦΒΚ stands for “Philosophia Biou Kybernētēs," which means “Love of wisdom is the guide of life.” ΦΒΚ expanded to other colleges, and spin-off groups adopted the Greek lettering system as well.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a sorority sister. Ginsberg was a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi when she attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 she became the first sorority sister appointed to the Supreme Court.
Phi Beta Kappa (ΦΒΚ) still exists today as an honor society open to both genders. Other notable members include fashion designer Betsey Johnson, feminist figures Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis, computer scientist/rear admiral Grace Hopper, plus former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, novelist John Updike, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
There are approximately nine million fraternity/sorority members in America (both students and alumni)—that’s 3% of the population. Roughly 750,000 of those are current undergraduate students. 800 campuses in the United states and Canada have GLO chapters.
Does your school have a fraternity or sorority you want to join? Most organizations accept new members through a two-part process, called rushing and pledging. During rush (recruitment), potential members attend social events to get to know more about their prospective GLO, and to let current members get to know then. If they want to join, they pledge, beginning a probationary period.
Frat houses are obviously known for their parties. More students engage in drinking at fraternity and sorority houses than any other on-campus venue or residence hall. According to the Harvard School of Public Health's College Alcohol Study, 75% of students living in fraternity and sorority houses were heavy drinkers, compared to 45% of students who lived in non-Greek housing and 35% of the overall student population.
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Sororities and fraternities drink more often and in greater amounts than their peers. According to the U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center, 75% of fraternity members engaged in heavy drinking, compared with 49% of other male students. Likewise, 62% of sorority members engaged in binge drinking versus 41% of non-sorority members. Shocking!
Warren Buffett—often called the “Oracle of Omaha"—is one of the most successful investors of the 20th century. Buffett is an Alpha Sigma Phi alumni; he was an active member during the two years he spent at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Buffett now has a net worth of $86.3 billion.
In an attempt to minimize sexual violence and exclusion, Wesleyan University declared that all fraternities would have to be co-ed, and all members must live in university-approved housing. This didn’t go over well at every frat—some went to great lengths to get around the rules (such as renting rooms on campus, but actually living in their frat house).
If your great-grandparent, grandparent, parent, or sibling was a member of a fraternity or sorority, they’d probably love for you to join too. GLO membership is a lifelong commitment, and family members of alumni are known as “legacies” and often get preferential consideration while joining. If you join a fraternity or sorority, your children would be considered legacies should they wish to join your GLO.
What do Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Jack Ryan and Rick Deckard have in common? They’re all characters played by Harrison Ford, who was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity at Ripon College.
Other members of Sigma Nu include Paul Rudd, Bob Barker, western novelist Zane Grey and Counting Crows singe Adam Duritz. Sigma Nu’s motto is “Excelling With Honor.”
Life in fraternities and sororities is often about more than just camaraderie and partying. The Greek system is the largest network of volunteers in the US, with members donating over 10 million hours of volunteer service annually. Furthermore, over $7 million is raised by greek organizations nationally each year.
Tau Kappa Epsilon (fraternity) and Alpha Omicron Pi (sorority) are the GLOs with the most chapters, with 290 and 184 chapters, respectively. By membership, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (fraternity) and Chi Omega (sorority) are the largest, with 304,000 and 300,000 members, respectively. That’s a whole lot of brothers and sisters.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter of the University of Arizona in Tempe was one of the most notorious frat houses in the country. In 2013, the chapter had its status revoked after a 20-year-old pledge was dumped outside a local emergency room with a Post-It note identifying him. According to reports, he had consumed over 30 tequila shots, and his blood alcohol was five times the legal limit and well beyond the bounds of safety.
Even though paddling is an illegal and antiquated hazing ritual, there are still sororities and fraternities that continue to break this law. These Greek organizations often beat the new members with wooden paddles as a form of hazing or punishment. Paddling often leaves cuts, bloody bruises and scars on victims and has even led to some young pledges being killed by lethal blows to the head and chest.
It's rather alarming, but some students who experienced hazing behavior in college do not consider themselves to have been hazed. Some view hazing as harmless pranks, and others don't consider themselves to have been hazed because they were never physically harmed. But any activity that humiliates, abuses or endangers them is considered hazing. Impact on victims of hazing can include PTSD, sleep disruption, anxiety, mental instability, and a decline in grades. 71% of those who endure hazing suffer from persistent negative consequences.
Research has shown that fraternity men are at greater risk for committing sexual assault due to their alcohol consumption, sexual outlook and group attitudes toward women. According to research from the journal Sex Roles, individual fraternity men are more likely to display objectifying images of women in their rooms, have supportive attitudes about rape and believe women want to engage in rough sexual acts even if they act disinterested.
Sorority members have a greater risk of being sexually assaulted in college than non-members. According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly a quarter of sexual assault victims on campus are sorority members. These women also face a higher risk for violence in dating relationships than other female students.
A US Government study showed that 70 percent of those who participate in Greek life graduate, while just under 50 percent of non-members graduate, and a 2014 study in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics saw that students involved in greek life do better overall academically.
There’s a correlation between frat/sorority membership success later in life as well. Out of the 50 largest corporations in the world, 43 are headed by GLO alumni.
Fraternity and sorority members are more likely to abuse prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin or Dexedrine than the rest of the student population. According to a 2004 article published in the journal Addiction, white fraternity members and sorority members had the highest rate of abusing non-medical prescription stimulants on college campuses.
It does appear that frat/sorority members do better in school and often go on to great success, but what does that mean for non-members? Some colleges and universities have gone so far as to ban Greek letter organizations outright as they are believed to be elitist and exclusionary. Oberlin College and Brandeis University have banned any organization that does not allow open membership to any student.
Critics of the Greek system also allege nepotism and favoritism for frat/sorority members later in life. Bloomberg found that frat connections were incredibly influential when seeking employment at top Wall Street financial firms. According to the 2013 report, secret fraternity handshakes were frequently used at meetings and appointments in these businesses.
Although there is not a firm count on the number of fraternities and sororities that engage in hazing in the US, there has been record of at least one hazing-related death on a college campus each year since 1970. And while hazing happens on sports teams, in military units and in gangs, fraternities tend to garner the most attention for their ritualistic and sometimes deadly hazing, typically involving alcohol, violence and reckless endangerment.
A 2014 Gallup poll of university alumni showed a link between personal fulfillment and Greek membership. Those who had been members of a fraternity or a sorority during their time as undergraduates reported a greater sense of purpose and better social and physical well-being than those who did not join Greek organizations.
Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx hosiery and the youngest-ever woman to grace Forbes' Billionaire list, was a member of Delta Delta Delta at Florida State University.
Women in sororities are more likely to have body image issues and to judge themselves on physical appearance than those who did not join a sorority. According to a study in the journal Sex Roles, research showed that first-year students who went through rush had greater signs of dysfunctional eating behaviors than those who did not rush, and body image issues continued for many new members.
The most famous fraternity house movie has got to be Animal House (1978). Starring John Belushi as John “Bluto” Blutarsky, the film was a send up of the hard-partying lifestyle fraternities became synonymous with. Animal House’s fictional frat, Delta Tau Chi, has become symbolic with the excessive buffoonery that gives modern-day Greek life a bad name. The film was based on director John Landis’ experience in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis, and producer Ivan Reitman’s time as a member of Delta Upsilon while at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Sororities haven’t been immune to the bitter sting of satire either. Films such as Legally Blonde (2001) and The House Bunny (2008), as well as the TV show Scream Queens have portrayed sororities as elitist and harmful, and their members as air-headed and shallow.
Many sororities are overseen by a body called the National Panhellenic Conference. The NPC gives oversight to 26 sororities, including sorority heavy-hitters Delta Delta Delta (Tri-Delta) and Chi Omega. The national organization provides stability and consistency between sororities, and represents four million women in the United States and Canada. NPC-affiliated collegians donate $5 million to charity, $2.8 million in scholarships, and 500,000 hours of volunteer work each year.
If your mind is a bit boggled by all the various Greek letters, you’re not alone. From the outside, it can be hard to ascertain what differences there are, if any, between fraternities or sororities. Much of the difference is on the ground—you’ll choose a fraternity or sorority based on the chapters at the school you’re attending based on the people and culture of that chapter.
Frats and sororities often have relationships with specific charitable organizations—Chi Omega supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation, for example, while Delta Gamma gives money to Service For Sight. On the ground, a chapter may prioritize local volunteer work or larger-scale fundraising—choosing a GLO is about finding the right fit for your personal goals and values.
Zeta Tau Alpha is the most generous sorority, having donated $384,039 to nonprofits in 2011, while Sigma Chi is the most generous fraternity. Nationally, the group donated $1,436,883 to the Huntsman Cancer Institute that same year.
The first man to walk on the moon was a fraternity man. Neil Armstrong took his fateful steps on the lunar surface on July 21st, 1969 as part of the Apollo 11 mission and he pledged to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Purdue University in Indiana just nine years earlier in 1960. He was also a member of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity.
63% of US Cabinet ministers since 1900 have been fraternity members. The number of US Supreme Court justices since 1910 is even higher—85%! Same with 76% of US Senators and 85% of Fortune 500 executives. Maybe there’s something to this whole fraternity thing after all!
Eighteen former US Presidents have been fraternity members. That’s 69 percent! Thomas Jefferson was the first fraternity man to serve as President—he was a member of the Flat Hat Club, a fraternity started at the College of William and Mary in 1750, a full 26 years before the Greek system would even be invented. George W. Bush was the last President to be a fraternity man, having joined Delta Kappa Epsilon while studying at Yale. Other frat men who have served as President include George H.W. Bush (also a Delta Kappa Epsilon, of course), Ronald Reagan (Tau Kappa Epsilon, Eureka College), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Alpha Delta Phi, Harvard) and Chester A. Arthur (Psi Upsilon, Union College).
The German Student Corps are the oldest academic fraternities in Germany, known as Studentenverbindung. 28 of the corps were founded in the 18th century, and two of them still exist today. They even incorporate some of the traditions from the time of their founding, including academic fencing duels with sharp blades while wearing only eye/neck protection, and hunting.
Louisiana State Police seized over $10,000 worth of psychedelic drugs from the Kappa Sigma frat house at Tulane University in 2013. After two 19-year-old brothers scored 107 grams of ecstasy from undercover officers, police busted the house and uncovered the stash, which included 57 tabs of LSD, 69 grams of mushrooms, 48 grams of opium, 22 grams of marijuana, 0.8 grams of cocaine, and 91 grams of DMT. That’s enough for one hell of a party!
Arizona State University revoked another fraternity’s affiliation with the school in 2014. Tau Kappa Epsilon threw a Martin Luther King Jr. themed party which featured mostly white students dressed in baggy jeans, bandannas, and blackface while drinking from watermelon cups. The public (and the school) found the party to be extremely racially insensitive to African-Americans, and Tau Kappa Epsilon was rightly disciplined. Racist parties thrown by frats have drawn ire in the news since.
Louisiana police arrested ten members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at LSU after a pledge died in a disgusting hazing ritual known as "Bible Study." The pledge was covered in mustard and hot sauce, then made to answer questions about the fraternity. Every time he got a question wrong, he was forced to drink 190 proof alcohol. The next morning, when he wouldn't wake up, he was taken to the hospital, but tragically he would never wake up. At the time of his death, his blood alcohol content was a whopping .495.
Long before he was famous, Mad Men's Jon Hamm was forced to leave Texas after he was involved in a frightening hazing ritual. Hamm and other members of the Sigma Nu called a pledge to the frat house at 2:30am, then proceeded to beat him with paddles, set his pants on fire and pull him around by the genitals with a claw hammer. An arrest warrant was put out for Hamm who left the university and returned to live with his family in Missouri. He eventually reached a plea deal with police a few years later, just before he began his acting career.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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