By Mia Lane

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9 million students are currently engaged in Greek life across America, and those numbers show no signs of decreasing. But what does it mean to be in a fraternity or a sorority? Fraternities and sororities are typically social organisations in university, and they often come with lifetime affiliations. Members of the same fraternity or sorority develop close relationships, and have rituals and traditions that supposedly promote leadership, responsibility, and brotherhood. To many, the term ‘Greek life’ is associated with red solo cups, ridiculous initiation rituals, and excessive partying, but its roots are wildly different.

The whole concept of ‘Greek life’ emerged from a love of learning and a desire to be enriched outside the classroom. Just years after the first universities were established, students formed societies, eager to gather and discuss matters outside the strict curriculum, and to express themselves more openly. These organisations developed over time, and members began to rely upon one another for more than just academic pursuits, close friendships were formed. One of these organisations became the first Greek letter organisation (Phi Beta Kappa), founded at the College of William and Mary, by John Heath in 1776. Heath’s goal was to create a serious academic group, who could debate controversial issues in secret during the American Revolution. Many of the traditions in fraternities and sororities today can be traced back to Phi Beta Kappa: Greek and Latin mottos, law codes, badges, and elaborate initiations are all concepts that are closely tied with Greek life now. But what’s changed?

Obviously, given their increasing demand, joining a fraternity or a sorority must come with its benefits. Greek life breeds friendships that last for a lifetime, and the lifelong position one holds in that fraternity or sorority provides numerous networking advantages, and an extensive support system. Somewhat surprisingly, fraternities and sororities are also famous for their contributions to charity: each year, members of these associations contribute hundreds of hours and dollars to community service events.

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Having grown up watching TV and movie characters thriving in fraternities or sororities, it can seem like an appealing prospect. The glamorisation of Greek life in the media and Hollywood is extensive - just take a look at ‘Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising’, ‘Legally Blonde’, and ‘90210’. Sororities and fraternities are depicted as incredibly fun and exciting places to spend your college years.

But brotherhood and sisterhood come with a cost. In recent years especially, a shadow has been cast over Greek Life, and its reputation has been tainted by stories of underage drinking, partying, and hazing. The media has exposed ugly truths about Greek Life in college that universities have endeavoured to keep under wraps. In 2017, 4 students died as a result of hazing incidents, at Louisiana State, Penn State, Florida State, and Texas State. These tragedies have caused these universities to suspend Greek activities, but headlines continue to emerge, including those accusing fraternity members of sexual misconduct. A study conducted (ironically) by the College of William and Mary found that fraternity members were three times more likely to commit rape than other men in college. An email sent by a fraternity member at Georgia Tech in 2013 included details of how to ‘lure rapebait’.

But despite this negative press, there was a 2% increase in freshmen that expressed interest in Greek life in 2016 from a 2015 survey. The benefits of Greek life are clear - but do they outweigh the turbulent social environment? Is ‘going Greek’ worth it?