By Ryan Carson
I hear a lot of discussion recently about whether or not the administration of Hobart and William Smith should allow first year students to rush fraternity and sorority organizations in the spring of their first year. Frankly, I’m indifferent to the idea. I say so in large part because I’ve attended two different schools in my undergraduate education. One university allowed for spring first year rush, while Hobart currently prohibits it. To me, there is a far larger question that needs to be addressed, regardless of when an individual can “go Greek”, the question that is dominating college campus across the United States is should a person actually want to join a fraternity or sorority.
In the interest of full disclosure, I spend two years at Denison University where I was not affiliated with any Greek letter organizations. After I transferred to Hobart & William Smith, I pledged the Alpha Alpha Chapter of Sigma Chi and was initiated into the organization in the spring of last year. I give my own history relating to Greek letter organizations in order for my readers to understand that I’ve been on both sides of the issue for extended periods of time and that insight has helped me craft my own opinion of Greek life.
I think the first thing an individual who wants to to join Greek life should realize is that no two Greek chapters are exactly the same, whether for better or worse.
Recently, I read an article in Bloomberg news which chronicled the number of reported negative incidents that occurred in fraternities and sororities just in the first half of 2015. Akane Otani and Jeremy Scott Diamond, the authors of the Bloomberg article state, “In just the spring semester of 2015, 133 fraternity and sorority chapters at 55 U.S. colleges were shut down, suspended, or otherwise punished after alleged offenses including excessive partying, hazing, racism, and sexual assault.”
Those numbers, for me, are both staggering and deeply personal. Last semester, when I was pledging my fraternity, news of Timothy Piazza’s death at the Beta Theta Pi of Penn State was breaking. I remember having to have a difficult conversation with my family, as they, like any concerned parents with a son pledging a fraternity, called me. I had to reassure them that my organization, my individual chapter, was different in that we have a zero tolerance policy on hazing or abuse.
I think for me, the Piazza case and the subsequent conversation that I had to have with my family is fundamental to what I want to convey. In my experience, no two chapters are the same. Just because one chapter has a positive or negative reputation does not mean all chapters or members of that organization reflect that stereotype. To put it bluntly, while I think some chapters do live up to expectations, I don’t think all chapters or organizations do. It is up to you, as an individual to decide if a chapter, and the people in it express respectable values (brotherhood/sisterhood, community service). If they do not, despite me being Greek now, I would tell you not to join.
The second thing I want to convey to men and women looking into Greek life is that the most important reason a person should join a lettered organization is that you need to be able to see the people in the organization constituting a family for you.
I understand that every organization has different standards of admittance, rules for what types of people the organization is looking for. Some fraternities and sororities are more community service orientated and look for that in an individual, while others hold themselves to higher academic standards and expect those wanting to join to hold themselves to those higher G.P.A standard as well. On the flipside, I’ve heard a number of various reasons (that I view as flawed) as to why people want to join lettered organizations. From various connections that Greek letter organizations provide after college in the form of jobs and internships to hearing that individuals want to join solely because they are legacies in individual organizations, I do not belief that those should be the primary reason for joining.
I became apart of Sigma Chi at Hobart College because the member of that individual chapter became my friends when I had none after I transferred in my junior year. They were able to give me a grounding and support system here at Hobart to make me feel at home in ways I never did at my old university. Without them, I could not have advanced in ways that I have in my life without their guidance and help. My point here is simple, if you want to join a Greek letter organization, you should join solely if you believe the the individuals in that organization are the type of people who can both help you grow as a person, and be your support system/ family when you need it.
In my opinion, I believe that when people hear that I’m a member of Greek life, they assume that I always support the Greek System. This could not be further from the truth. In this piece, I’ve tried to convey the deep structural flaws that I see in the system whether that be hazing, self-serving reasons for wanting to join lettered organizations, or the family worries about fraternities or sororities. Despite these flaws, I do have hope. I would not be the person I am today without my organization. If someone was to ask me if they should “go Greek”, I’d say it is their choice, and it is on them to both join for the right reasons and make sure that their new brotherhood/ sisterhood reflect their values.