Two weeks ago, I went to a big party, celebrating the birthday of a mutual friend. Next door, three guys were relaxing in their living room, taking a break from the crowds. As the minutes passed, there came a knock on their door. A few men showed up, members of a local fraternity, demanding that the location of one of the party guests, that according to rumor, had in some way wronged a member of their sister sorority. Without explanation – or warning – these men proceeded to assault a good friend of mine as he was escorting them outside. He was sucker punched by guys who were so drunk that they, in the throes of their righteous indignation, not only assaulted the wrong guy, but did so in the wrong house. Classy.
Did I expect more of our Greek system? Hell no. I’ve always been a loud opponent of fraternity life, convinced that it was an exclusive club that, rather than let in the brightest and best, purposely let in men of different (and lowly) aspirations – men with weak character, unable to hack it on their own without dozens of other, similarly weak companions to share the load of college life.
This is only partially accurate. The fact of the matter is the Inter-Fraternity Council, with leaders like Joel Winston (sic), has spent a great amount of time and money improving the way their system operates. They run clinics and informative meetings, and monitor Greek-run parties, to discourage the behaviors that fraternities and sororities are notorious for.
Notorious. There is no need for a scientific analysis of the Greek system; frats have spent the past half-century earning their disgraceful reputation, and done so with an enthusiasm that is only exceeded now by their desire to escape that same status.
Undoubtedly, there will be a small flood of e-mails waiting for me after this is printed, demanding an apology. I have a number of friends who are involved in the system, and often lament the negative attitude many harbor toward the Greeks. Does the Greek system get a bad rap? Absolutely. Greek life tends to attract abuse from all directions, much of it unfair and unearned. But this institution deserves no sympathy, least of all an apology. Who apologizes for the trash, festering and rotten, littering the grass and walks surrounding the Michigan Union after weekend binges? Who apologizes when GHB finds its way into the Kool-Aid in the chapter room? They demand my kind words, but will surely be the first to exclude me from their functions, and the last to apologize for their missteps.
The reforms taken up by individuals like Winston, laudable as they are, amount to squat insofar as my friend’s nose is concerned, broken so badly he may need surgery. Ever-evolving but unable to escape the nature of their existence, fraternities remain at the core, bastions of male superiority, privilege and ignorance. These characteristics, though mellowed by years of reform, are nonetheless an immutable facet of Greek life. The same rituals and traditions continue. Pledges are still hazed and abused, all in the name of making a few friends. Outsiders are still ostracized, as if those “worthy” of brotherhood had something more to offer. And the proudest tradition of all, the Greek party, continues with the same drunken zeal that it did thirty-years ago.
Will this archaic system stand fast against the march of time? With any luck, no way. With dwindling recruiting classes, and its prestige all but gone, what could possibly draw students willing to drag themselves through the mud of pledging? Desperately, the Greeks throw up the false promise of “brotherhood,” “tradition,” and “community service.” Those thinking about joining a fraternity and sorority should think twice before buying that steaming load. I can assure you, brothers don’t come in solo cups, date rape isn’t considered community service and traditions shouldn’t include locked doors and a ping-pong paddle. You want brotherhood? Visit mom and dad. You want tradition? Start one. You want community service? Volunteer. Otherwise, stand back and watch the past catch up to this old boys’ club, burning by its own match and its own kindling. No need for water – just let it burn.