Are Fraternities Really Like “Animal House”?

Question for all you guys who are newly minted freshmen this year: Should you join a fraternity?

A more refined question: Do you need to belong to a fraternity in order to have an enjoyable social life on campus?

I received a large number of sometimes impassioned answers to those questions in a recent thread I posted on the College Confidential discussion forum. The op-ed article that inspired my posting came from The Washington Post:

Time to dismantle fraternities and the sexism, rape culture and binge drinking they encourage

The opening sets the stage:

frat house

The buffoons of fratland intent on proving every rape culture thesis ever written struck again, this time at the University of Richmond.

“Tonight’s the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school. Let’s get it,” Bozo the Frat Bro wrote in an invitation to his Kappa Alpha rager last weekend.

“This is gonna be one for the books,” promised the invitation, emailed to nearly 100 people on campus, “so we’re looking forward to watching that lodge virginity be gobbled up for all. See you boys tonight.” …

toga Bluto

I am one of those “fathers” who sent his daughter away to college. I didn’t (or care to) know about any of the “one for the books” Toga parties that she may have attended, but she survives and thrives today despite the threats and gloom implied in this editorial.

I wanted to test the waters of opinion on the CC forum, since its plentiful and loyal followers are never shy to speak their mind. First, though a bit of perspective. I went Googling for the answer to my question, “Are college fraternities good or bad?” The first batch of returned links were heavily on the “bad” side. Check them out and see for yourself.

But, back to the CC forum posters …

I’m writing about fraternities again, as I have in the past, because I think it’s an important issue to be faced and decided by the majority of incoming college men. Sororities seem to get much less controversial press. Although Greek life for women can have its own behavioral issues, the national focus is definitely on fraternities.

Accordingly, I offer these varied reactions and opinions in order for high school seniors to begin thinking about college social life, and for parents who may some day face the challenge of advising their sons about the pros and cons of joining what may be a real life Animal House.

animal house 'Vette

Here are a few of the more thoughtful (or provocative) responses to my thread:

– … I totally disagree with the author’s statement that “Women are just finally speaking out about it now.” I was in college in the early 90’s and safety on & off campus for female students was a constant focus at the university I attended. There was an annual “Take Back The Night” event and it was full of female empowerment and all that good stuff. We spent PLENTY of time talking about it back then and that was 25 YEARS AGO. If students don’t want to participate in the college fraternity/sorority system, then they don’t have to. College students are not FORCED to attend frat parties.  

– While I agree that some frat activities are dangerous, I refuse to agree that all Greek life should be ended. It establishes a sense of camaraderie and belonging, which is very important for young adults’ mental health. It can also encourage positive study behaviors and success in college, career, and beyond. I know that you all might ignore this post simply because I’m only in the 8th grade, but that is a chance I am willing to take.  

– … OU students were horrified by the incident. It’s also worth noting that the person who took that video and sent it to a social justice group was a member of another OU Greek chapter who was shocked and appalled by that behaviour. As it stands, my sorority at the University of Oklahoma welcomes all races who want to join. The reality is, most potentials who come out happen to be white. We have non white members and obviously treat them the same as our white sisters, but you can’t get people who don’t rush in the first place.  

animal house speech

– Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did. But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. [A quote from the script of Animal House, the movie, where “Otter” (pictured above) addresses the disciplinary committee.]

– I think the premise of the article reeks of PC. The are fraternities and sororities of all types ; social, professional, service, white, black, mixed, straight, gay, etc, etc. and they are all private organizations. No one is being forced to join and as private organizations they can exclude/include whoever they want for whatever reason they want.  

– This is such a dumb article. Like honestly what prudes. Second, only people who want to get involved with frats get involved. Only people who want to pursue such a lifestyle have to “suffer” the power struggle. I honestly wonder what America is coming to. And those of you who think sex and drinking in college is a problem need to calm down. College is a time for experimentation, fun, and pushing the boundaries. 

– But drinking does contribute to violence, sexual assault, and death, which are huge problems on campuses. Not sure how we are going to allow alcohol and still solve those problems. I guess it comes down to people who believe alcohol use is inevitable and we should be looking at how best to manage it to keep kids safe, vs. people who believe that alcohol use should be discouraged on campuses, which would make campuses safer for everyone, but would not really help individuals who choose to drink off campus. I fall into the latter category. I think it’s outrageous that universities look the other way while enormous amounts of alcohol are consumed by students of all ages, with the predictable alcohol-related deaths and sexual assaults resulting.

– … One (partial) solution to all of this is to have more adult and/or semi-adult involvement in Greek life by encouraging graduate students to remain active (or join) and to encourage a return to hands-on faculty advisors of yesteryear, whose involvement isn’t to prevent drinking, but to prevent idiocy.  

college dorm party

– The problems with underage drinking and “rape” culture aren’t limited to Greek residences. The behavior is just as rampant in college dorms throughout the country, many in small colleges without Greek houses and many that are located in dry counties.  

– … both women and men drink a lot, but when it comes to perpetrators of sexual assault, most of them are men. That, to me, makes it clear that it’s not just the alcohol, but there’s a cultural difference when it comes to the way genders are being raised. I mean: “99% of people who rape are men”

If there wasn’t such a huge cultural difference between the raising of men and women the number would be *somewhat* closer. Obviously I want to make it clear I’m not advocating for women to rape more people (hopefully that’s obvious), but I’m just trying to point out the differences in child-rearing.  

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So, high school guys and Moms and Dads, whether or not you think fraternities should be “dismantled,” the decision about joining or not joining may turn out to be an important one for you. Speaking for myself, I was what they referred to back then as a “GDI,” translated (charitably) as a “Gosh Darn Independent.”

This probably related more to my strongly introverted nature than it did to my disdain for the alleged debauchery for which many fraternities are known. Thinking back to what I consider to be my “independent collegiate social experience,” I recall a number of episodes that may have challenged some of the rowdiest frats’ “fun” nights.

Thankfully, time, age, and — mostly — wisdom have saved me from encore performances. Life is just too short for that level of morning-after miseries.

What’s your opinion about frats? Let me know.

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