EDITORIAL: Greek life fails to live up to its own values

Facade of sibling-hood used in predatory ways

It truly is frightening how cruel humans can be when given the green — no, yellow — light to do so.

Greek life, better known by their gendered monikers “fraternities” and “sororities,” is a great example of this. The ethos of higher education has been categorized as one of open-mindedness and tolerance. 

The second you herd a few dozen college students into a fraternity or sorority house? All that acceptance goes out the window. You find yourself mandated to follow the house rules, unless you enjoy getting brutally hazed or discarded. 

At large schools like Rutgers, students often find themselves as social refugees for their first couple weeks, months or longer. Unless each individual newcomer takes calculated initiative, they can easily find themselves lonely and friendless. 

Many solve this issue by joining clubs or getting involved with other activities, but for the most insecure of the bunch? They gravitate toward greek life. 

That is not to say everyone involved with greek life was initially insecure, but if they were not when they decided to join their fraternity or sorority of choice, they certainly are during the pledge process. 

The general process of joining greek life goes as follows: Students will attend “bid” events, during which the interested students will have dinner with, watch sports with and, of course, drink heavily with the members of their prospective fraternity or sorority. 

After a few bid events, the house’s brothers or sisters will narrow down their pool of potential members, handing out “bids” to the students that they want to continue the process. The students then choose to accept or deny their bids. Should they accept, they begin what is called the “pledge” process.

Pledging is the point when the grotesque membership process kicks into full gear. The remaining students, known collectively as the “pledge class,” are now expected to be fully subservient, and are forced to meet at the chapter’s house at the whims of the members. And, of course, drink heavily.

Often times, drinking is just an aspect of the hazing and abuse that pledges endure. Sometimes, following drinking, they will have to perform strenuous physical activity, and sometimes they will have to perform humiliating or potentially dangerous acts. Regardless, the constant is alcohol, and lots of it.

Why do students subject themselves to this? The answer seems to lie in insecurity and low self-esteem. Students desperately want to be adorned the title of “brother” or “sister,” and are willing to denigrate themselves with acts of utter masochism in order to get it. In a very real sense, greek life preys on insecure students.

Once embedded in greek life, students find themselves pinned inside an echo-box of one-upmanship, constantly trying to show the other members how “hard” they are through the cruelty inflicted on pledges, which is quite pathetic. The implications of this widespread brutality are not only dangerous, but murderous. 

Rutgers student James Callahan died in 1988 after attending a fraternity party, with drinking cited as a factor. Luckily, Rutgers embarked on an initiative to “curb” fraternities immediately afterward, so the school did not have to deal with these issues anymore. 

Except in 1991, a meager three years later, when two of its fraternities were suspended for unrelated violations, including branding pledges, infringing fraternity-set alcohol policies and sexual assault. 

Except in 1998, when “after seeing chapter membership drop, liability insurance rates skyrocket and grade point averages linger around or below the University-wide averages,” administrators decided to make fraternities substance-free. 

Except in 2003, when fraternity members were involved in a violent brawl. 

Except in 2010, when sorority members were accused of violent hazing. 

Except in 2015, when Rutgers temporarily shut down fraternity and sorority parties after numerous alcohol-related issues, including the death of a student.

And, finally, except in 2017, when a first-year student was hit by a train after leaving a fraternity party. His mother said, “We are looking for answers ... Somebody at that fraternity knows something.”

Rutgers’ attempts to tame the ever-igniting flames of greek life have been complete and utter failures.

This is not an indictment of every single fraternity and sorority on campus, nor all of their members. Smaller houses tend to be more focused on the actual intentions of greek life, which is to foster a tight-knit community of brotherhood or sisterhood. 

The larger, more audacious sects of greek life tend to be the ones with perverted interpretations of what it means to be a sibling. 

Members of greek life do give back to their organizations and communities at a high rate, which is definitely noble, though groups that do not routinely harm students do as well. An easy way to clean up the reputation of greek life is for chapters to focus more on charity, and less on vulgarity. 

While it would be easy to blame the University for this, and while their grip on greek life is weak and feeble at best, the appropriate analogs to change this twisted normalcy lean on the students. The Office of Fraternity & Sorority Affairs is powerless to do anything unless somebody speaks up or dies.

By not reporting serious violations, all pledges, brothers and sisters are complicit in the injuries and deaths resulting from their abuse. 

It is not brave to stay silent. It is not brave to take continuous demeaning abuse with a smile. It is not a sign of weakness to “rat” on a fraternity or sorority. 

The truth is, it is cowardly not to speak up. Until members of greek life can act with the slightest semblance of personal responsibility and dignity, there is no reason to expect change.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority   of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff. 

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.

Support Independent Student Journalism

Your donation helps support independent student journalists of all backgrounds research and cover issues that are important to the entire Rutgers community. All donations are tax deductible.