YOWELL: Connecting the media, party culture and Greek life

Fraternities are often times synonymous with social life in college, and that may be the problem

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Fraternities have systematically been given the upper hand and a great deal of power when it comes to parties.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

The existence of Greek life on American campuses is long-standing and these organizations often dominate the social scene at many colleges. Fraternities and sororities recruit hundreds of thousands of members across the nation every year, pledging to instill values of service and leadership in its members. And while that may be true, fraternities in particular face a unique and difficult obstacle — college party culture. Fraternities have been engulfed in a culture of partying that emphasizes the importance of alcohol, drugs, sex and fun. To top it off, nothing is off limits and almost no rules apply. This becomes extremely toxic when mixed with underage students, an endless supply of beer, dangerous hazing stunts and a seemingly unbeatable culture that supports it all.     

This phenomenon can be seen at U.Va. where 35 percent of the undergraduate population belongs to either a sorority or fraternity chapter. Amazingly enough, the students involved in Greek life accomplish astounding goals, such as completing more than 38,000 hours of community service, raising over $223,000 for philanthropies and maintaining a GPA of 3.350 all in a single semester. 

Yet, what is missing from that list is the hundreds of parties thrown, thousands of beers drank and countless pre-games attended. Partying has become a dominant feature of fraternities, and by extension college life. It is this party-crazed phenomenon that has dangerously shaped the expectation students have for their college experience. 

This is partly due to the fact that the media has changed the perception incoming students have on college, which can be seen on social media accounts like Barstool. However, it doesn’t stop there. The party centric way of life finds its way into hit movies like “Neighbors” and “Superbad,” which are just highly circulated examples that emphasize the idea that college-aged students should party all day and night. Thus, they do. In fact, “We’re here for a good time not a long time,” is a famous Colin McRae quote that has since been repeated by role models Drake and Big Sean, and it can now be heard up and down Rugby, under the streetlights of the Corner and in the dining halls as students recount the events of the night before. 

As a result, many students come to college with hope that they will have the opportunity to party harder than ever before, and that opportunity is often presented very quickly. At the University, it happens when students return for fall semester and the infamous Block Party takes place. This is many students’ first taste at the party culture that has overrun Greek life, and they often get caught up in the whirlwind of alcohol, loud music and dancing bodies, unknowingly adding to the problem. To top it off, first-year students, possessing an immense amount of newly-gained independence, are actively seeking to socialize in college, and thus, these incoming students become the newest victims to a four-year, party-centered craze. It is this urge and demand to party prompted by societal expectations of what college students should be doing that has placed fraternities in a powerful position. 

When all of these factors are  coupled with the American binge drinking phenomenon, a dangerous combination is created. Students consume enough alcohol to put them at the legal limit, or often times much higher, in a short time frame, leaving them extremely inebriated. Nearly 2,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 die every year from excessive alcohol intake, and that number is steadily rising. Additionally, students suffer academically, experience more incidents of sexual assault and are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder when exposed to binge drinking on campus. Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, attributes most of this to outside forces, saying "Drinking to excess is often given favorable treatment in the media, and in social groups," much like college fraternities. Therefore, when introduced to a steady supply of alcohol and a desire to fit into these groups, students give in to societal pressure and join a disastrous party-centered culture.

Fraternities have systematically been given the upper hand and a great deal of power when it comes to parties. So, while this situation appears to be circumstantial and is at no fault of the fraternities, it is now the responsibility of said fraternities to ensure that what takes place in these parties is welcoming, safe and hopefully legal.

Therefore, fraternities should treat their relationship to parties with the same level of accountability as they do their other obligations. After all, they are one of the sole suppliers of college party culture and have a duty to uphold for students across the nation who demand a college life like that of “American Pie” characters. However, in order to be above the stereotypical, neglectful and damaging party image created by the media, fraternities should not only be held to this level of accountability, it should also be enforced by both fraternity organizations and the schools they reside at. Because it is not enough to simply acknowledge the problem, schools should take steps in order to ensure fraternity houses are providing safe and welcoming environments for students who walk into their party-crazed homes. Party culture is not unbeatable — it just needs to be addressed.

Hailey Yowell is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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