Is the Greek system rotten?

Not a matter of 'good or bad apples,' but rather 'the orchard,' says one

Some critics are demanding an examination of the Greek system as a whole, following the recent rash of fraternity controversies, Franco Ordonez reports for The State.

Fraternities have made negative news in the past month for several high-profile indiscretions:

  • At Oklahoma University, a video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter members singing a racist chant went viral.
  • Members of the University of Michigan Sigma Alpha Mu chapter contributed to $400,000 in damages at a ski resort.
  • Members of Phi Kappa Psi's Washington and Lee University allegedly used a Taser in a hazing event.
  • Last week, a secret Facebook page run by members of Kappa Delta Rho at Pennsylvania State University that featured pictures of naked and unconscious women was discovered.

In the eyes of some observers, the recent events are endemic of deeper problems within the Greek system. "We really need to move the discussion away from good or bad apples and toward a question of what's going on with the orchard," says Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. Fraternities, he says, were created to protect status, wealth, and white power.

But supporters argue that the actions of individuals do not negate the positive contributions of the Greek system across the country.

The North American Interfraternity Conference, which represents 74 fraternities, reports its members volunteer millions of hours and raise tens of millions of dollars for nonprofits each year. Additionally, the group points to data showing, on average, fraternity members have higher GPAs than their non-member peers.

Professional pros and cons

For an undergraduate with little work experience, fraternity membership can serve as an example of civic engagement, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a job placement firm. But it can also be a risk.

"If you have people who are anti-fraternity when they were in school, then incidents like this might just reinforce their dislikes and may push people who are in the middle more toward the anti-side," he says.

When a new graduate applies for a job, companies carefully examine that student's list of activities, says Marc Bourne VP of Know It All Intelligence Group, an employment screening firm.

"We'd like to say in a perfect world that you wouldn't judge someone at a different campus based on what happened at another campus," says Bourne, adding, "However, we know that's not true. You hear of SAE and the first thing you think of is the incident of the chanting and racist remarks."

The Greek system has battled negative stereotypes for many years, yet interest in the system appears to be growing. A decade ago, just 8% of freshmen at public and 9% of freshmen at private universities said they were likely to join a sorority or fraternity, according to the Higher Education Research Institute. Today, those rates have risen to 15% and 21%, respectively (Ordonez, The State, 3/21).

The takeaway: In light of recent controversies surrounding fraternities across the nation, some critics are saying the entire Greek system must be examined.

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