Greek Like Me
September 11, 2015 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Anytime fraternities come up on Metafilter a lot of people express confusion as to why anybody would join. This essay, in addition to be well written and insightful in general, does a really good job of answering that question.
posted by COD (55 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Before we go forward, a quick trip back: On freshman move-in day in August 2004, I showed up to my dorm wearing the same clothes I'd worn to my construction job

[...]

Greg, though. Greg was put together. He had the right clothes and the right hair and the right words for everything. He'd spent the summer working as a lifeguard, listened to music I didn't know existed, and his body was chiseled. Just chiseled. He was also kind, despite the fact that I embarrassed him every time we went out in public.

[...]

Despite my homely appearance—my first year of college I looked like someone who fed at the dumpster behind a McDonald's and got dressed while fleeing a burning building, and I wasn’t much better in year two—they wanted me.


Paging Dr. Sedgwick.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:09 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was going to read, but that first sentence turned me off. My definition of "boys" must be different from this guy's.
posted by SkinnerSan at 1:10 PM on September 11, 2015


"I told him I was DTF—down to frat."
posted by pos at 1:10 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


You're really missing out, Skinner. This is a great piece--much better than it presents itself at the beginning.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by sciatrix at 1:12 PM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think what some of the initial comments are maybe missing is that what he's really talking about is an intense need to belong which is real and can be valuable. If we don't find a way to give people healthy groups, they find unhealthy groups.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:13 PM on September 11, 2015 [37 favorites]


A friend is travelling around the world to find himself - and before doing so, spoke of his alienation from "those frat people" to me. This I found strange, since he was a member of one, I think the same one his grandfather was in.

It's said that human societies are fractal in composition, and the strangest research shows this to be surprisingly literally true in the picture of the adjacency matrix of the largest social networks (cf. stochastic Kronecker graph), but I've often thought that this implicates that there exists strong lacunae in this ever-densifying social matrix.
posted by curuinor at 1:17 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Perhaps this is my American individualism speaking, but, no, we need to teach people not need to need groups so much.

I've always felt that people who want to join fraternities or sororities were especially broken in some way that presents as an intense need to belong that lingers well past high school. That is, I don't consider it valuable, but pathological. This doesn't really change my opinion.
posted by smidgen at 1:22 PM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think what some of the initial comments are maybe missing is that what he's really talking about is an intense need to belong which is real and can be valuable. If we don't find a way to give people healthy groups, they find unhealthy groups.

A particular frat may or may not be a healthy group, I suppose, but nothing in this article persuades me that frats in general deserve the presumption more than other kinds of groups.
posted by Flexagon at 1:26 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


A particular frat may or may not be a healthy group, I suppose, but nothing in this article persuades me that frats in general deserve the presumption more than other kinds of groups.

That wasn't even remotely the point of the article, though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


smidgen: It is not an essential fact of Americanness to be ruggedly individual. I often think of this when people claim that East Asian people are more communal in nature, because I think this is a surprisingly contingent claim.

A. de Tocqueville, in 1835, said this of American communalism:

I do not wish to speak of those political associations with the aid of which men seek to defend themselves against the despotic action of a majority or against the encroachments of royal power. I have already treated this subject elsewhere. It is clear that if each citizen, as he becomes individually weaker and consequently more incapable in isolation of preserving his freedom, does not learn the art of uniting with those like him to defend it, tyranny will necessarily grow with equality.

Here it is a question only of the associations that are formed in civil life and which have an object that is in no way political.

The political associations that exist in the United States form only a detail in the midst of the immense picture that the sum of associations presents there.

Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate. Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.


The exsanguination of this strand of American life is amply chronicled in R. Putnam's Bowling Alone, though its causes are of course uncertain, but it was a continual and living thing until about the 70's. Fraternities, as well as the Elks, the Freemasons, the Lions, the Scouts, the PTA, the union, the church, and so on.
posted by curuinor at 1:29 PM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


...an intense need to belong which is real and can be valuable.

That's totally fair.

But it's also about codifying permissible same-sex attraction by making the price of admission debasing and brutalizing one another and themselves. I mean:

Nor was eating Walker the dumbest thing I would do in my two-year stint as a frat boy. The contenders for that honor include the night I gave myself a frat brand with a heated coat-hanger; the night I discovered I could head-butt clear through drywall; the night I chased that kid up the house wall while wearing a luchador mask, only to watch him fall, then have a seizure

Ugh.

Perhaps this is my American individualism speaking, but, no, we need to teach people not need to need groups so much.

The odd thing is that frats aren't a huge thing on Canadian campuses. Yeah, they exist, but they are typically a marginal campus presence. My personal sampling may be skewed, but up here, at least when I was in university (aka college), they were largely the objects of scorn, or at least suspicion, for precisely the reasons smidgen mentions. Then again, I've never been one of the cool kids, so.

They actually seem a very American phenomenon from this Canadian's point of view.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:30 PM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Some staggering percentage (70%? 80%?) of members of congress were members of fraternities or sororities. Likewise, most C-suite executives at major companies were in frats. as such, there are very good material reasons to join one - you get to network with the evil shitheads who control everything.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I am not someone who has ever asked why people join Greek organizations but sure, this essay certainly answers why he did. I don't think he can (or is trying to) speak for everyone, but yeah, of course it's born of a familiar and understandable human desire to belong. Most of my closest friends did so during undergrad and I benefited from the social opportunities that created. I was lucky to go to a small, nerdy liberal arts school that mostly managed their mostly loved and well-behaved frats and sororities but even we did not escape terrifying reports of assault, battery, and sexual violence throughout my four years.

My problem is not with men becoming brothers or specific frat activities. I don't even particularly care if consenting adults want to do stupid, dangerous things to themselves and each other, though I agree "hazing" complicates what it means for a naive 18 year old to consent. My problem is with the culture of violence and rape that frats help propagate and until these organizations take responsibility for who represents them, whether it's a few bad apples or not, then I think all of the explaining where it comes from ain't for shit.

I have a little brother, and when we were kids, I beat the shit out of him. It wasn't even good-natured. Did he ever doubt my love for him? Maybe. But over time, he came to accept that someone who loves him could also physically hurt him. That violence was one of our languages. Fraternities are inheritors and incubators of this same psychology.

That is a fucking horrifying thing to say and if the explanations for why frats do some of the terrible things they do is to basically say, "well, that's how boys are/are raised," well then, fuck that. Do better.
posted by juliplease at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2015 [41 favorites]


Perhaps this is my American individualism speaking, but, no, we need to teach people not need to need groups so much.

I've always felt that people who want to join fraternities or sororities were especially broken in some way that presents as an intense need to belong that lingers well past high school. That is, I don't consider it valuable, but pathological. This doesn't really change my opinion.


You are welcome to feel this way, but it is not true for everyone.

My brother is a great, smart, compassionate, amazing guy (he is now twenty-eight). In his senior year of high school, he was captain of the football and lacrosse teams. The summer after my first year of college, between his sophomore and junior years of high school, he lit a match, blew it out instead of running it under water, threw it away in a trashcan which had some tissues in it, and my parents' house burned down. He was a very, very sensitive young man (he is still very sensitive) and he felt massive, MASSIVE amounts of guilt for this, even though no one blamed him but himself.

His presence on the football team was unbelievably important to him. He doesn't care that much about football and only played one year in college (he switched to rugby) but boy did he care about being on that team. Knowing that people cared about him and that he had peers and friends who accepted him and didn't judge him was immensely, immensely important. He ended up writing his college essay about being on that team and, ultimately, was president of his fraternity in college.

He and I are super different; at least one high school teacher literally didn't believe we were related. He also is now, and was then, a just phenomenal guy and I am so hugely, immensely proud that he is my brother. Part of this is that, yes, he needs to belong, and I think that is one of the things that makes him good and kind. I, conversely, am now and was in high school more of a loner and, in retrospect, I was not nearly as kind a person as he was and I am still not although I try very hard. Fraternities/sororities were NEVER going to be the right choice for me (my college barely had them) and there are a lot that are completely, entirely awful and problematic and not okay, but I respect what they can be at their best, which includes a loving network for really good people who do well with a little extra support.

I totally respect having problems with fraternities and sororities (I have lots of problems with many aspects of them myself), but there is a reason they exist, and telling good, kind, sensitive young men and women that their need to belong, which is a pretty natural human need, is pathological seems like something that is going to make people hurt instead of creating more ways to support people who need it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:40 PM on September 11, 2015 [36 favorites]


Hazing is not peculiar to frats (although the dangerous kind one finds at American universities might be). A buddy of mine hazed me (in retrospect, pretty gently) at my first job until I proved my worth to him. In a conversation we had about it later, I asked why he did that, and he replied that not only had he had it done to him, both in the private sector and academia, but the men (and they were all men, of course) who did it to them had also had it done to them. Thirty years after he initially asked and got no good response, my buddy surmised it was partly a way to test the hardiness of new group members, and partly because it had always been done like that.

To be clear, he didn't get hazed at a fraternity of any sort: my buddy had endured hazing in med school, while getting an masters in electrical engineering, and in the software industry of the late 70s–early 80s. I think the only reason he didn't get it in the entertainment industry was because he was too old to be hazed effectively by the time he entered it.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:42 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just to follow up, in many ways I am super not-comfortable defending fraternities (seriously not a position in which I ever thought I'd find myself and I feel a bit skeezy about it) but I think at the very least it's worth considering that they exist because they feel a need some people have and, considering that this need exists, it would be great if we could have emotionally healthy support networks, especially for young people out on their own for the first time.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that groups can provide transformative learning experiences and all sorts of things that one doesn't automatically glean from simply having a wide social network.

However, this article underscores the importance of raising boys to be self-aware, as well as able to understand the ways in which patriarchal values ultimately fail them. Fraternities can thrive, as demonstrated, on a sense of male invincibility - from parents, from administrators, from police, from rape accusations, from lethal overdoses, from psychological disorders, etc. From accountability. From painful yet instructive growing experiences. From adulthood, by extension. On more than one occasion I have heard fraternity alums say that their frat-house days were the best days of their lives, before the drudgery set in.

So as long as men are raised to believe and invest in definitions of masculinity that are existential meat-grinders, fraternities will continue to be vectors of destruction rather than strong support networks that foster growth and productive self-awareness.
posted by Ashen at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I agree with SkinnerSan (although I did read the whole thing). I'm keeping my experiences and opinions about Florida university fraternities to myself, but the usage of the word "boy" throughout this piece rings super weird.
posted by easement1 at 1:55 PM on September 11, 2015


Just to follow up, in many ways I am super not-comfortable defending fraternities (seriously not a position in which I ever thought I'd find myself and I feel a bit skeezy about it) but I think at the very least it's worth considering that they exist because they feel a need some people have and, considering that this need exists, it would be great if we could have emotionally healthy support networks, especially for young people out on their own for the first time.


Agreed. My brother and I both went to (the same) medium-sized state school where we were from out of state. Neither of us are "Greek" type people, but we both ended up joining (non-Panhellenic) Greek organizations-- his was a Jewish frat, mine was centered around music. I think in both cases it was part of a want to carve out a space for ourselves in a place far from home where we didn't know anybody else.

So that's part of it, and as others have mentioned, networking can be huge. Especially, say, if you're a member of a underrepresented group, and you can end up using your network to do some real change in the world.

So, yeah. Calling those who join Greek life "pathological" makes me uneasy.
posted by damayanti at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


damayanti: Neither of us are "Greek" type people, but we both ended up joining (non-Panhellenic) Greek organizations-- his was a Jewish frat, mine was centered around music.

Out of curiosity, were these fraternities more of a special interest or major-oriented groups, as opposed to the social fraternities that usual spring to mind?

In my experience, the social fraternities took themselves waaaay too seriously as opposed, say, to the engineering fraternity who didn't act like a bunch of lunkheads and welcomed women and the non-jock frat stereotype.

My hometown also had the last gasps of high school fraternities, which were often worse lunkheads in their own right.
posted by dr_dank at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2015


One contemporary theme I've been thinking about for a while has been this:

Once there was modernism. Then came postmodernism and institutional critique. And neoliberalism sprouted naturally from postmodernism, because fractured groups are vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.

To me it seems that the natural next step is a recreation of better institutions*. The creation of such institutions had better coexists with the cultural technology (but not the culture of politics) of institutional critique, because the alternative seems to be a return to reactionary conservative pre-postmodern style institutions. We can't wait though. The threats of climate change and inequality demand new institutions that support positive actions from ordinary people.

And similarly tear down fraternal organizations if you like, but don't think that that in itself answers the evils they have done.

It's not enough to take something away, you also have to answer the void that remains.

*And yes I'm assuming that anarchism is not an option. Roughly (but not entirely) for the same reasons I think that neoliberalism thrives in the dissolution of certain kinds of institutions.
posted by tychotesla at 2:19 PM on September 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


aw man I am tempted to get a sock puppet account just so I can favorite that twice, tychotesla.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:24 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]




> I've always felt that people who want to join fraternities or sororities were especially broken in some way that presents as an intense need to belong that lingers well past high school. That is, I don't consider it valuable, but pathological.

Pointing at other people and calling them broken and pathological is easy and fun, and best of all, it makes one feel so good about oneself and one's own choices in life!
posted by languagehat at 2:56 PM on September 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


Is it really mysterious why young guys join fraternities? Especially in places where the greek system is a dominant part of student social life? There are a few sticking points that kept me from even considering it personally but that doesn't mean I can't understand the appeal - plus I've known some good men who were frat boys once.

Regardless I liked this mostly because of his uncommon honesty about the dynamics of male homosociality.
posted by atoxyl at 3:03 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


This article could have been so different. "I wasn't particularly interested in Greek life, so I took a few minutes to look at the rate of participation at different colleges I was interested in, and then I chose a school where I could have a happy, functional social life without having to join a fraternity. The end."
posted by hydropsyche at 3:05 PM on September 11, 2015


My mother told me that she joined a sorority at Berkeley (1961) because there was no space in the dorms.
posted by brujita at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2015


Perhaps this is my American individualism speaking, but, no, we need to teach people not need to need groups so much.

We must change the rules of Team Individualism America!
posted by srboisvert at 3:39 PM on September 11, 2015


I think that teaching a person not to need groups is a lot like, as my grandpa would say, teaching a mule to go without eating; it's not difficult but it does leave you with a dead mule.

It is desirable to make organized social groups less tribalistic and exclusive, to transform them so that they curb rather than encourage the morebtoxic expressions of masculinity, and so that they foster better coping and bonding mechanisms than binge drinking and ritual violence, but getting rid of them entirely is not achievable and not even remotely desirable. Just telling people to stop being so dang psychologically dependent on their peers for support is short sited and a good recipe for a lot of depressed and lonely people.

As for the article itself, I felt that it was a really good exploration of why young men seek out these organizations even when they are well known for unpleasant and self destructive behaviour. It's not purely irrational; if you have any kind of trouble getting access to healthy companionship and social/emotional/psychological support, then joining a structured organization that provides even some of those things could very easily be the wisest decision.
posted by bracems at 4:11 PM on September 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


As mandolin says, frats aren't that common in Canada. I was in the next best thing - a marching band that has a well deserved reputation for drunkenness, sexism, and general boorish behaviour.

And yet 10 years later I am at the cottage of somebody from the Band who wasn't even there in an overlapping year with me, but we became friends through other members and he does an annual guys' weekend. There are so few ways to meet people in a new city, especially when you're working hard hours starting a business, that I need this camaraderie.

And the reality is that now, removed from our loutish few years, most of the guys attending are some of the most thoughtful and caring people I know. I can talk about the problems that come out of anxiety and panic spirals with the other lawyer in the group, and - and this is important - I don't have to couch it in tough guy posturing, but I can be openly vulnerable. I couldn't do that with even the other lawyers in my area. I can't trust them.

Frats are one of the biggest perpetuating forces of rape culture and a host of other problems that stem out of toxic masculinity. They also have the potential to be a strong force in fighting against it. Imagine a network of elite institutions nationwide where men can be vulnerable and do mutual emotional care! Fuck I'm tearing up just thinking about that.

although that may be because I'm wrecked on whiskey because hey, guys cottage weekend.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:58 PM on September 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think that teaching a person not to need groups is a lot like, as my grandpa would say, teaching a mule to go without eating; it's not difficult but it does leave you with a dead mule.

QFT
posted by thetortoise at 5:20 PM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


While I wasn't in a fraternity I did live in a pretty (in)famous student co-op, which did have a tradition of getting really fucked up that many of us did our best to perpetuate and a history which included the occasional promising young person dying or being permanently damaged in the process. Since it was co-ed, with membership very large and not exclusive beyond existing/senior residents getting first crack at a spot, it was culturally different from greek organizations in some important ways. Frats of the sort described here seem to have this particular kind of insane masculinity - not to say the co-op wasn't the site of sexual assaults - and a sense of elitism and to subsume individuals to the institution in a stronger way. I think these aspects of frat culture - not coincidentally pretty much a comprehensive list of the aspects that did not appeal to me - are very important to understanding that culture and its effects on members and the community. But the bit about the collective sense of invulnerability, and about how people react what something terrible happens and the illusion is dispelled, rings some bells.

I came back to this thread to write something about being a peripheral member of a scene with just enough distance that you do see a bad end coming, but it still doesn't quite feel real. And then the inevitable tragedy happens (but maybe not quite the way you expected) and everyone covers their own asses and you wonder if things would have turned out better if people were less worried about covering their own asses and people grieve and people say things like "this is a wakeup call, you know?" and then it brings negative attention to the whole house, jeopardizing its continued existence as such and that seems so unfair and you almost want to blame the person who was hurt for ruining it for everybody else or hate his mother for trying to blame the rest of us but I mean it's her fucking kid and a lot of people kind of just want to forget about it. But that's really about as much as I can put together my thoughts about that right now.
posted by atoxyl at 5:37 PM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


This was probably the most accurate, vivid portrayal of Greek life I've read. Except for the suicide, fish-eating, and luchador masks, it's uncannily similar to my own experience. That said, I've learned that trying to defend the Greek system (or parts thereof; not even the staunchest Greek defends the whole system) to people who are no longer in college is not only futile, but pointless. Even if you do somehow change someone's mind, it doesn't matter, because that person is never going to significantly interact with the Greek system again. So I agree to disagree. I had a great experience as a member of a fraternity, and I know some others did not.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:02 PM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some staggering percentage (70%? 80%?) of members of congress were members of fraternities or sororities.

As of January, the average age of House and Senate members was 57 and 61, respectively, which means your average Senator graduated college about 1976. They would've started in '72. Since last of them are male, one would assume many of them were receiving college draft deferments, which ended in 1973.

What's a great way to ensure college success so you don't flunk out and have to face the draft? Deep social connections. What are the most obvious deep social connections on campus? Yeah.

But set that aside for a second. Of the 535 members of Congress, the biggest commonality in profession is education -- "100 members have worked in education, including teachers, professors, instructors, school fundraisers, counselors, administrators, or coaches (85 in the House, 15 in the Senate)."

Since the legislature is so dysfunctional, we have to ask, how do we keep these people out of school?

:-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:09 PM on September 11, 2015


Not all social fraternities are like the one in the article. I was repulsed by the hazing and conformity in the fraternities at the (huge Big Ten) university I went to. I later heard of and joined a fraternity that was reestablishing itself after being inactive for twenty six years.

We thought of ourselves as the anti-fraternity, as we abhorred hazing, groupthink, and the macho culture most fraternities adopt (when we wrote our constitution and by-laws, we expressly forbade any form of hazing). In truth, we were more like Revenge of the Nerds. We drank a lot and partied, but that was about it, aside from some drunken escapades. I have no idea what image we projected, as our main concerns were getting established and expanding our membership.

But yeah, this article pretty well sums up what happens in most fraternities.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 7:10 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also was in a fraternity at a large Big 10 school. I was also in one that had recently been reorganized by National and thus didn't have the institutional history of hazing and shenanigans. Nobody there had "always done it that way." However by my senior year we were pretty much a mainstream fraternity, worried about the number of sorority events we could line up and our standing in the inter-fraternity intermurals. Looking back its kind of surprising how quickly we abandoned the un-fraternity attitude and tried to fit in. We didn't haze, but our parties were completely out of control and we did our fair share of stupid stuff.

It was a hell of a good time and some of those guys are still my best friends. I've never understood the "networking" aspect of it. Maybe the fraternities at Dartmouth are a shortcut to Wall Street, but a fraternity in the Big 10 is just a house with a bunch of guys that mostly like each other, and then after they graduate go their separate ways.
posted by COD at 7:47 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never understood the "networking" aspect of it. Maybe the fraternities at Dartmouth are a shortcut to Wall Street, but a fraternity in the Big 10 is just a house with a bunch of guys that mostly like each other, and then after they graduate go their separate ways.

I was a GDI and I totally understand the networking aspect. Every place I've worked I've observed people benefiting from their previous membership in a sorority or fraternity; why else would it appear on resumes? At my current work place, the fast friendship (and good assignments) I saw happen between the new guy and senior management, which was kind of puzzling because there are better candidates for these assignments than the new guy with more seniority, seems to be related to their previous membership in the same national organization. Oh wait, half of management, who have hired each other, were part of that organization...and they give 'honorary status' to the guy who was a member of a different one, because at least he was in a frat. (Yes, they discuss this in front of the rest of us like an inside joke.)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:21 PM on September 11, 2015


Every place I've worked I've observed people benefiting from their previous membership in a sorority or fraternity; why else would it appear on resumes?

Interesting. As Lemurrhea posted upthread, here in Canada, that wouldn't be a thing, AFAIK. Unless it was a very specific connection to someone, it's not something you'd include. In fact, it might work against you in a "WTF, is this Animal House or something?" kind of way. Just an interesting cultural difference.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:27 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Re atoxyls comment and the comments about the possibility to build something out of frats...
At least one US student co-op was formed by taking over a feat house that shut down. Co-ops also address the need of cheaper housing that frats can provide. though they also can be troubled if poorly managed.
And they have a national organisation to support them, plus a long history of building equity (first interracial college housing in the US, and some first of women escaping the infantalising university controlled housing (at UBC) back when their off campus housing was investigated for appropriateness.
Also interesting to me was that student co-ops offered to buld housing for students at UBC and were turned down, but they let frats do so the next year. Probably because frats were seen as having arts in charge through their associations, while the co-op was student owned and operated.... OK, ending my co-op sawhorse.
posted by chapps at 9:47 PM on September 11, 2015


Thought the piece was beautifully written - and reminded me of a time when my male friends meant so much to me. My best friend was in a frat - and I think he had a great time. I was not in a frat, and was kinda a moody outsider. But we loved each other as only best friends could - and were there to support and be present. Even now - it's friends from this time in my life that I am most emotionally open with, even when we have not seen each other for long periods of time. Not such a bad thing really.
posted by helmutdog at 11:43 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mod note: One comment deleted. Totally fine to argue with the idea that frats "take responsibility for who represents them" but doing that with an explanation that this is like racism is a massive derail.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:12 AM on September 12, 2015


My problem is with the culture of violence and rape that frats help propagate and until these organizations take responsibility for who represents them, whether it's a few bad apples or not, then I think all of the explaining where it comes from ain't for shit.

No group of people owes it to you to help you understand them as individuals. If you are the one who insists on seeing a group of people for the bad apples, then you are the one with the problem.

Sometimes, it takes work to recognize the humanity in others. You might want to ask yourself why you're unwilling or unable to do that work.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:19 AM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not maligning Every Single Frat Boy Ever or stripping them of their humanity to say that US frats have a huge and perhaps disproportionate problem with rape and self-destructive behavior. They do, and the work being done to document and detail those problems is thorough.
posted by Ashen at 7:24 AM on September 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


//Every place I've worked I've observed people benefiting from their previous membership in a sorority or fraternity; why else would it appear on resumes?//

I've been out of college for 25 years and I've never seen it. I've seen Harvard grads get favoritism from another Harvard grad, and I got a higher starting salary out of college because my school was on the "A" list for the company that hired me. I've never seen anybody give a damn about a fraternity, beyond its usefulness as evidence of leadership or involvement in extracurricular affairs while you were in college.
posted by COD at 7:36 AM on September 12, 2015


It's not maligning Every Single Frat Boy Ever or stripping them of their humanity to say that US frats have a huge and perhaps disproportionate problem with rape and self-destructive behavior. They do, and the work being done to document and detail those problems is thorough.

It's very hard to know that the problem "disproportionate" because there are so many confounders. Are the people who join fraternities and sororities predisposed for other reasons to problematic behaviours? The same logic can be applied in any group that exhibits any correlation with any negative statistic. And for all these statistics, you can find confounders that complicate the analysis.

Earlier in this discussion someone mentioned the prevalence of fraternity alumni in government positions. Someone might argue that fraternities help train people for leadership positions. (Many fraternities have leadership programs and retreats.) Other people will argue that it's all due to unfair networking advantages. Other people will argue that there's a confounder of affability.

The point is that you cannot simply say "the correlation is well documented" and draw any causal conclusions.

Even if some exhaustive and convincing study with appropriate controls drew negative conclusions about fraternities in general, I don't agree with stereotyping the individuals in fraternities. With what right can anyone rebuke others to "take responsibility for their bad apples"? It is tantamount to seeing the individual for the group, which is at best lazy thinking. I think it's sad for the stereotyper because it cuts you off from a large group of people that you might learn from. What would motivate you to do that?

Some people in fraternities would say that it's just rejection in response to rejection, which is very sad.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:55 AM on September 12, 2015


Both of your comments are obviously based in the premise that fraternities should be entirely removed from context and treated like any other group or, like in your second most-recent comment, disenfranchised communities. You are incorrect.
posted by Ashen at 7:55 AM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even if some exhaustive and convincing study with appropriate controls drew negative conclusions about fraternities in general, I don't agree with stereotyping the individuals in fraternities.

Yeah, me neither. And I didn't. Perhaps my comment wasn't as clear as it could be, but the entire first half was an effort to acknowledge that there are amazing people in these organizations. Stances like yours seem to say we can't criticize the groups because there are some awesome people in them. That is exactly the problem I have with the Greek system: there is a blatant, public, defensive unwillingness to acknowledge the ways they are part of the problem. All of those great individuals can and should do better.
posted by juliplease at 9:06 AM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is really a masterful piece of writing. Thoughtful, evocative, beautifully written.
posted by delight at 9:33 AM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even if some exhaustive and convincing study with appropriate controls drew negative conclusions about fraternities in general, I don't agree with stereotyping the individuals in fraternities. With what right can anyone rebuke others to "take responsibility for their bad apples"? It is tantamount to seeing the individual for the group, which is at best lazy thinking.

I've looked back through this thread and can't find the stereotyping you are talking about. Some people are talking about a culture of rape and hazing in frats that is extensively documented and goes pretty far back in U.S. history (I've read books talking about fraternities in the early 20th century that brought this up). If people were talking about, like, reviewing applications for a job and tossing them out because someone had fraternity service on his resume, I would see your point, but it's not what I see in this conversation.
posted by thetortoise at 9:34 AM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lazy thinking: Correlation doesn't equal causation... and therefore there's nothing to see here, everything is fine, move along, folks.
posted by juliplease at 9:37 AM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why does the US have more frat houses than Canada? It's mainly about partying and liquor laws.

http://www.timescolonist.com/why-the-u-s-has-so-many-more-fraternities-1.2051687
posted by binturong at 11:32 AM on September 12, 2015


I really liked this piece and I thought it illuminated a key draw of fraternities/sorrorities: community and belonging.

I went to a school without a Greek system, and it was one of the things that drew me to the school. And I enjoyed my college experience greatly, with pretty much the exact amount of partying and youthful foolishness I desired.

But a few weeks ago, I was talking to a coworker about all the traveling she's been doing with her husband. She's been out of town almost every weekend this summer. Weddings, mostly. She told me that it's because her husband was in a frat and now all his "brothers" are getting married. That really struck me - he graduated almost a decade ago, but that community is still strong enough that they still all go to each other's weddings. Granted, a summer of going to a wedding every other weekend sounds kind of awful, but it's cool that the community has remained so strong.

This article could have been so different. "I wasn't particularly interested in Greek life, so I took a few minutes to look at the rate of participation at different colleges I was interested in, and then I chose a school where I could have a happy, functional social life without having to join a fraternity. The end."

In TFA, he says that he was on scholarship. It's quite likely that this is the best school that he got into and could afford. Also, not every 17-year-old applying to colleges is able to perfectly forecast what will make him or her happy in college. Jeez.
posted by lunasol at 7:05 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You yourself said that you were not interested in Greek life and chose a school accordingly. So did lots of other people. Jeez.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:05 PM on September 12, 2015


One of the biggest sticking points for me is the single-gender nature of the large majority of fraternities. I never had any personal interest in that environment, and couldn't figure out why anyone else would either. Then I figured out I was trans, so at least that made a little more sense.

There are broader issues - male-only social organizations support the gender pay gap by enabling networking for men in places where the female equivalent is not as strong or well respected. Which is probably the last thing on a lot of people's minds when it comes to feminist issues with frats, but it irks me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:09 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


You yourself said that you were not interested in Greek life and chose a school accordingly. So did lots of other people. Jeez.

I was lucky enough to have two options that were affordable and one which had a culture better-suited to my personality. Not everyone has that option.
posted by lunasol at 11:03 AM on September 13, 2015


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