Have Fraternities Run Their Course?

Robert Igbokwe For many college freshmen this fall, joining a sorority or fraternity seemed crucial to social success at their new university; if you didn’t have a brother or sister, maybe you wouldn’t have much of a social life at all. And although many are aware of the hazing and segregation that occurs in these groups, they’re sure that they’ll find the perfect community. However, finding this “perfect community”, especially when deaths in fraternities are on the rise, is easier said than done. In fact, in the last four weeks, two deaths caused by forced alcohol consumption were reported, and according to Quartz, an online publication, there has been at least one death caused by fraternity and sorority hazing each year since 1969. This slew of reports from universities around the nation concerning the increase in fraternity and sorority deaths has caused many to question the future of Greek life in the education system. Fraternities, although presented as opportunities for bonding and encouraging service, have long been associated with illegal drinking, sexual assault, and racial segregation. Fraternities rose to popularity during the late 1960s, which also marks one of the most violent and controversial periods of recent American history. The causes of these deaths have expanded, too. Stephanie Saul, a writer for the The New York Times, says that if a fraternity death isn’t caused by alcohol poisoning, it was likely the result of sexual humiliation, physical violence, or suicide, for instance. Universities have tried for over a century to limit these occurrences. Ivy League Institutions such as Brown and Princeton have banned participation in “secret societies”, and Penn State has created a multitude of new rules meant to reform Greek culture and make such groups more inclusive. But these efforts have often failed and one of Penn’s “reformed” fraternities was recently shut down after the death of 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza who was forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. The question many are asking now is: Have fraternities run their course? To some, the answer is a definitive yes. But others still see the benefits that fraternities have, and note the philosophies of generosity and bonding that resulted in the first fraternities. One could compare this situation to the controversy surrounding Project Week at Latin. In the past, students have taken advantage of the school provided experience (particularly with Out-of-Town trips where the drinking age may be lowered) to engage in behavior that breaks school rules. This issue almost resulted in the removal of Out-of-Town trips for the incoming freshman and so on. However, the school has chosen to maintain this pillar of life at Latin, yet still emphasizes the consequences of misusing the opportunity. Whether this method will work is to be seen. It should be noted that the two situations are not identical, and that although underaged drinking during Project Week is problematic, it has yet to be proven deadly. The school’s reaction to misbehavior during Project Week, though, illustrates the variety of options that institutions have when dealing with problems like this. Regardless of your take on the situation, the deaths of students like Timothy Piazza, Maxwell Gruver, Andrew Coffey, and so many others just this year cannot be ignored. A solution has to be achieved for this growing dilemma because, unlike many of today’s problems, these deaths can be put to an end. The solution, unless students’ abuse of freedom ceases to exist on this level, may be to eliminate fraternities as a whole.]]>