Wild Facts About Fraternities and Sororities

October 14, 2023 | Eva Blanchefleur

Wild Facts About Fraternities and Sororities

"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.

1. What Are You Talking About?

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.


2. How's It All Work?

GLOs are typically gender-specific organizations—fraternities welcome men while sororities welcome women, however, there are also Greek letter organizations that welcome both genders. 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...

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

3. Old Tradition

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. 

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

4. Frat Nomenclature

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

5. The Notorious R.B.G.

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

6. ΦΒΚ

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

7. A Huge Brotherhood & Sisterhood

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsFlickr,Phi Beta Kappa

8. New Recruits

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsFlickr,Grand Valley Fraternity and Sorority Life

9. The Place To Party

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 Study, 75% of students residing in fraternity and sorority houses were heavy consumers of beverages, compared to 45% of students who resided in non-Greek housing and 35% of the overall student population.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsFlickr,Stefan

10. Binge Drinking

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!

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

11. Oracle Of Omaha

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. 

Famous People FactsGetty Images

12. Equal Opportunity

In an attempt to minimize inappropriate behaviors and exclusivity, 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).

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

13. Legacy

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.

Online Dating FactsShutterstock

14. Brother Han

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.

Harrison Ford factsStar Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Lucasfilm

15. Excelling With Honor

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.”

Bob Barker FactsGetty Images

16. Doing Good

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.

Teachers Moment of Hope factsShutterstock

17. The Biggest

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

18. Dark Side

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 ingested over 30 shots of the Mexican beverage, and his blood intoxication level was five times the allowable limit and well beyond the bounds of safety.

William Randolph Hearst factsPixabay

19. Through The Haze

Despite the fact that paddling is an antiquated and banned hazing ritual, there are still fraternities and sororities that persist in not respecting this prohibition. These Greek organizations often beat the new members with wooden paddles as a form of hazing or punishment. Paddling often results in cuts, bloody bruises and scars on victims, and some young pledges have even lost their lives due to severe blows to the head and chest.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

20. Undeserving Victims

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

21. Bad Judgement

Research indicates that fraternity men are more likely to commit assault because of their high consumption of beverages, intimate perspectives, and collective attitudes towards women.  According to studies, it is noted that fraternity members are more likely to display images that objectify women in their personal spaces. They also tend to hold affirming views towards aggressive interpersonal actions and believe that women desire to participate in harsh activities, even when they show a lack of interest.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

22. At Risk

Sorority members are at a higher risk of encountering unsafe situations in college than non-members. According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly a quarter of misconduct incidents involving non-consensual contact on campus involve sorority members. These women also face an elevated risk of encountering harmful behavior in dating relationships compared to other female students.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsPixabay

23. An Upside?

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. 

Class Clown Stories factsShutterstock

24. Long-Term Benefit

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. 

Quit Job Interview FactsPxHere

25. Performance Enhancement

Fraternity and sorority members are more likely to misuse prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin or Dexedrine compared to the rest of the student population. According to a 2004 article published in the journal Addiction, white fraternity members and sorority members showed the highest rate of non-medical prescription stimulant misuse on college campuses.

Priscilla Presley FactsShutterstock

26. Open For All

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.

Fraternities and Sororities Facts Wikimedia Commons

27. Brotherly Love

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.

Did I Stutter FactsShutterstock

28. Too Many

Although there is not a firm count on the number of fraternities and sororities that engage in hazing in the US, there has been a recorded incident annually since 1970 of at least one individual losing their life due to hazing-related activities on a college campus. While initiation rites are present in sports teams, defense groups, and street factions, fraternities often attract the most attention due to their ritualistic and occasionally lethal initiation tactics, typically involving substance misuse, aggressive actions, and careless misconduct.

Snapped Back At Bully FactsShutterstock

29. Meaning Of Life

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.

Online Friends FactsShutterstock

30. Spanx You Very Much

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.

Seth Rogen Films FactsWikimedia Commons

31. Body Image Issues

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 published in a particular scholarly journal, research indicated that first-year students who participated in rush exhibited more signs of dysfunctional eating behaviors than those who did not participate, and body image issues persisted for many new members.

two young women having fun and eating pizza in sitting on a couchKoolShooters, Pexels

32. House Of The Animals

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsAnimal House ,Universal Pictures

33. What’s Good For The Gander…

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.

student wearing backpacks and walking in a college campus

34. Big Sister

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikipedia

35. What’s The Difference?

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.

Fraternities and Sororities Facts Pxfuel

36. Giving Back

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsFlickr,Grand Valley Fraternity

37. Most Generous

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.

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikimedia Commons

38. First Frat Boy In Space

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.

Neil Armstrong factsGetty Images

39. Cabinet Of Brothers

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!

Fraternities and Sororities FactsWikipedia

40. Fraternity Leader

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).

President George H.W. Bush And Barbara Bush.Getty Images

41. Old Customs

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.

Old mansion of a students' fraternity near an old palace in Heidelberg Germany

42. Bad Behavior

In 2013, Louisiana State authorities confiscated over $10,000 worth of psychedelic substances from the Kappa Sigma frat house at Tulane University. Following a transaction with two 19-year-old siblings involving 107 grams of ecstasy from covert operatives, law enforcement conducted a raid on the premises, revealing a trove of illicit substances. The cache contained 57 doses of a potent hallucinogenic, 69 grams of a certain psychedelic fungi, 48 grams of a powerful narcotic resin, 22 grams of a popular herbal substance, 0.8 grams of a notorious white powder, and 91 grams of a powerful psychedelic compound. A collection like that indicates a party of epic proportions!

Tulane University logo on campusUniversity of College, Shutterstock

43. Insensitive

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, along with the school, deemed the party to be exceptionally insensitive towards African-Americans, hence the appropriate disciplinary action taken against Tau Kappa Epsilon. Frat parties exhibiting discriminatory behavior have been drawing negative media coverage.

Fyodor Dostoevsky factsShutterstock

44. Bible Study

Ten members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at LSU were apprehended by Louisiana law enforcement after a pledge lost his life during a distasteful 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 answered a question incorrectly, he was compelled to consume 190 proof spirits. 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 demise, the level of intoxicating substances in his blood was an alarming .495.

Eating Sins FactsShutterstock

45. Hamming It Up

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 Sigma Nu members summoned one of the pledges to the fraternity house at 2:30am, then initiated him by assaulting him with paddles, igniting his trousers, and painfully dragging him around using a claw hammer on a sensitive part of his body. 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 agreement with law enforcement authorities a few years later, just before he started his acting career.

Elisabeth Moss FactsGetty Images

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37

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