It’s all Greek to me

The University was right to demand that fraternities prematurely end their pledging processes

The University issued an ultimatum last week, calling on all fraternities to initiate their pledges by 6 p.m. Sunday or risk repercussions from the University and the Inter-Fraternity Council. The University expressed that this demand was not in response to any ongoing investigations into reports of criminal behavior by the fraternities. Regardless of the reason for its ultimatum, I celebrate the University’s effort to rein in the pledging season.

Pledging fraternities at the University is an exciting, wild — but also secretive and somewhat troubling — affair. I cannot claim to know any of the specifics of what goes on during the pledging process. Even IFC president Jake Pittman, a third-year College student, admitted to local news outlets that “we don’t know what goes on within the walls.”

But we have all heard stories, and the ones I have heard are rarely positive. In addition to the word-of-mouth tales that are passed around, some attention-grabbing controversies about fraternity hazing at the University in recent years illustrate how out of control parts of this process can get.

Omega Psi Phi, part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, was investigated last year for a hazing incident that involved a beating that led to a student suffering damaged ribs. Zeta Psi had its notorious run-in with the law when one of its 2011 pledges was hospitalized after ingesting dog food, matzo balls, gefilte fish and soy sauce. Now, one fraternity is under investigation, with four other investigations pending, and the fraternities have been forced to end their pledging season because of what Dean of Students Allen Groves called “colorable reports of hazing and misconduct.”

This dark picture is not the face the fraternities at the University wear. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life’s FAQ page addresses questions about alcohol and hazing by saying that such organizations are “expected to comply with the policies and regulations concerning alcohol that are outlined by the University,” and that the University “does not condone hazing in any form.” Show those answers to a fraternity brother, and I bet the most common reaction would be a chuckle. According to the IFC’s website: “At their core, all fraternities value the ideals of scholarship, leadership, service, and brotherhood.”

Sadly, the reality is much different than all of these official messages, at least for several fraternities. Friends of mine who have pledged have told me — albeit possibly in an embellished form — of the uncomfortable and degrading activities in which they had to take part. That is not leadership. Classmates of mine fall asleep during their classes, asking for notes afterward, explaining that pledge activities kept them up late into the night. That is not scholarship.

Fraternities do contribute in service — they host numerous charitable events, and serve as a great means through which to communicate such events. Furthermore, fraternity brothers form tightly knit groups, and many of those friendships will last long after college. I am not in a fraternity, nor do I ever plan to be, but I acknowledge that fraternities and Greek life in general are important aspects of the University and are important means of networking for many students who benefit greatly from joining.
Regrettably, these positive aspects are often overshadowed by the more negative ones I have already mentioned, especially when those negative characteristics come one after another, as they have this year.

Fraternities — and again, I refer to the fraternities that have failed to live up to the ideals officially expressed — need to stop placing so much emphasis on the demeaning pledging practices that they mistakenly feel cultivate “brotherhood.” Such practices are detrimental to student health, to the wider perception of fraternities and to the broader good that many fraternities can, and often do, accomplish.

Fraternities have faced scandals and investigations before and have ultimately failed to bring about the changes that would prevent such issues from arising again. The University’s move, then, is most welcome, as it represents a larger movement to shift the fraternities away from the prolonged harmful practices of this year and past years. Fraternities should take notice, and use this moment to make efforts to repair the disconnect that currently exists between their practices and their stated ideals. By doing so, they can hope to move past the harmful image they have recently been creating for themselves.

related stories