Fraternity Failure? Negative accusations emerge nationally

Across the country, fraternities continue to make headlines for the wrong reasons. In January, members of the University of Michigan chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu trashed two ski resorts, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. In March, a series of public embarrassments took place. A former member of the Pennsylvania State University chapter of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity exposed that the fraternity was running Facebook pages dedicated to hazing rituals, drug deals and images of naked women who appeared to be passed out. A pledge book written by the members of Pi Kappa Phi at North Carolina State University was found to have included racism, sexism, transphobic slurs, pedophilia, discussion of rape and more. A video surfaced of a racist song sung by the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) from the University of Oklahoma. And the list goes on.

Some, like junior Allyson Blake, weren’t so shocked about the emerging accusations.

“I don’t think it’s a shocker,” Blake said. “I’m sure it’s something that’s gone on, and now it’s just surfacing.”

Others were more surprised, specifically about the extent of the allegations.

“I knew that there had been dangerous hazing pranks and stuff, but I didn’t really know about the [Pi Kappa Phi] book or the racist implications,” junior Kat Taylor said. “I never really associated the two, but it’s very disappointing. I don’t really expect the best from fraternities already, but that lowers my standards even more and disappoints me a lot.”

Many question why there has been such a recent surge of negative allegations in the news. Some believe that an increase in social media has played a role.

“I don’t know that fraternities party more overall now,” said social studies teacher Roddy Story, who was in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at UNC-Chapel Hill. “It could be that because of social media, there’s more documentation of it. I think every fraternity is going to throw some parties, but I think a lot of fraternities also do make positive contributions to the community through community service and things like that.”

Hannah Boaz, a recent Northwood graduate and member of the Kappa Delta sorority at East Carolina University, predicts further change regarding

Greek life over the next few years.

“I know of some situations that happened [at ECU], and guys really don’t know when to stop,” Boaz said. “I think when you have a big group of guys like that, it’s even worse, and they just kind of work off of each other and get worse and worse as the years go by in terms of what’s acceptable…. I think that in 15 years, Greek life isn’t going to exist anyway. It isn’t what it used to be. It used to be about connections and actually having the legitimate relationships with each other, and it’s a more commercialized thing now.”

Hannah Holloway graduated from Northwood in 2014 and is a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority at Indiana University. She acknowledged both the positive and negative aspects of fraternities.

“I think society publicly associates them with a group of guys that are irresponsible and don’t do anything but party,” Holloway said. “[People think that] all they care about is girls and living in a huge house without a care in the world. Positively, they’re a group of guys that are brothers; they’re all there for each other. They’re very philanthropic. I know here at Indiana they all have to do philanthropy every year, and I know recently one fraternity raised over $80,000 for a cancer foundation. And they’re all very studious; Greek life has some of the highest GPAs on campus.”

This is supported by a compilation by the North-American Interfraternity Conference of campus-submitted NIC Academic Report forms for the 2012-2013 academic school year. The All-Fraternity GPA was 2.912 compared to an All-Male GPA of 2.892.

Holloway continued to discuss her positive experiences while involved in Greek life.

“[In high school] I definitely associated it more so with the negative side,” Holloway said. “I didn’t think I would want to be a part of it… and I didn’t want to party all the time, and I didn’t want my grades to go down. Now that I’m in it, it hasn’t been like that at all. There’s no pressure to do anything you don’t want to do, I haven’t been hazed at all or anything, my grades are great, I’m making so many friends and it’s definitely changed my whole point of view on Greek life.”

Brandon Edwards, a recent Northwood graduate and a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at N.C. State, had similar sentiments. His fraternity was formed in 2014 and promotes diversity and acceptance.

“My fraternity is different than the way you would traditionally see a fraternity…. In high school, I was definitely like, ‘That isn’t for me; I won’t fit in,’ and then I met the guys from my current fraternity,” Edwards said. “It revolves around being different from the rest of the fraternities. We respect people and their rights and individuality.”

Holloway also acknowledged the multiple negative allegations.

“I’m definitely aware of it, and I know it’s out there,” Holloway said. “It’s definitely a huge concern, and I totally don’t approve of it, but I think social media and television really portray Greek life and fraternities in a negative light. With the chanting and everything with SAE, it’s such an unfortunate situation, and I totally don’t agree with it, but at the same time, I think people just want to hear the negative side, and they don’t really focus on the positive aspects.”

Junior Davis Wells, who plans on participating in Greek life in college, agreed.

“I don’t think the majority of them are like that,” Wells said. “There are always going to be bad people and racist people, but I don’t think that really is a good way to define fraternities.”

Students had many different opinions in relation to the discovery of the Pi Kappa Phi pledge book so close to home.

“I think it’s almost a good thing that stuff like that has surfaced to show that, yeah, you hear all these things in the news, but it’s actually here at home, and it’s an issue that’s so close,” Blake said.

Senior Nolan Brown had a slightly different perspective on the impact of the book.

“It’s weird that something like [the pledge book] is happening so close to home,” Brown said. “I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit, but something could be done about it. I just personally think it’s not as big of a deal as they’re saying. It’s not like they did all that stuff; it just happened to be written down and happened to be found.”

In light of the allegations, some colleges have made changes regarding Greek life on campus.

“We’ve actually had several things happen this year, and with Greek life they kind of keep an eye on you to where you can’t really socialize like you used to,” Boaz said. “Parties are kept to a minimum, or they’re very well monitored. They watch you the entire time to make sure you’re not doing anything bad. I think it can definitely decrease the number of bad things that are happening, but it also annoys people, and they try to make more trouble.”

Some sororities at Indiana University have taken a different approach.

“Here, we are constantly being told, ‘This is what sexual assault is. This is what you should do if it happens to you’ or what you should do to prevent it from happening,” Holloway said. “Since I’ve been in a sorority, I’ve had to take classes on alcohol and rape and stuff like that, so I’m aware, and I know how to prevent it and how to help someone in that situation. I think it’s definitely a concern, but I think it helps that my sorority is so good at trying to prevent that from happening by making people aware that this stuff is out there.”

Story explained the importance of recognizing that these allegations don’t define entire groups or Greek life as a whole.

“Whenever you’re thinking about groups of people, whether it’s an athletic team or a fraternity or a grouping by gender or race, it’s easy to judge everybody based on the behavior of a few people,” Story said. “I think we need to be careful.”

– By Becca Heilman