Fraternities in College

Parent Q&A

  • Fraternities: pros & cons, how to choose

    (1 reply)

    I'd love to hear from parents whose sons have joined college fraternities.  My son will be going to college next year and has heard positive things from friends who started this year, though they've only got a few months experience at this point.  I've always had a somewhat negative opinion--immature boys egging each other on to do stupid things and get drunk way too much, with questionable attitudes toward women--though it's based on old experience and little first-hand information.  But in principle I can see some advantages, especially for kids who can benefit from having things like structured study time and help from older kids who understand how things work, as well as a built-in social group. 

    Looking back, how would you judge your sons' experience?  Any tips on how to get information up front about what different fraternities on a particular campus are like?  Can you get enough info to at least know which ones are at the Animal House end of the spectrum?   Thanks!

    My son is a sophomore at UCLA and became a Sigma Chi pledge the first week of freshman year. He lives in the frat this year. He has loved his experience and wouldn't give it up for anything. It has given him a social group of people he really likes, has increased his confidence, and has brought out a more assertive side of him. From what I hear they are called "the gentleman of the row" (but do they all say that?). I think they have a service orientation. He says that there was no forced drinking and that pledges had to do things such as give up a meal swipe, provide gum, or clean up after parties. On at least one night, they stayed up all night and had a scavenger hunt. I personally think they do way too much drinking and have so many requirements that my son is often exhausted. (He is also an engineering major and is involved in two other demanding clubs.) I worry about the drinking, and have my fingers crossed that he will survive it.  I had a relative involved in SAE at UCLA recently. I was more worried about the stories I heard from his pledge period. What we did was talk to my son at length before he went to college about the pros and cons. He had asked us to do this since my husband was an SAE in college. We talked about the dangers of drinking, the signs of overdrinking, consent, sexuality, bystander syndrome etc. We check in with him about this from time to time. The university also does its own training on this at orientation and online before he started, He also attended a frat training on these topics. My son is a good communicator overall.  Although I'm sure I am not hearing everything, he has been able to talk to us about his school experience in general and frat in particular. I think they do do stupid things (that can be fun for them) and there probably are some archaic ideas about women (which I hope my son is able to discredit) ---the danger is of a toxic male environment-- where one can not have feelings, or limits or authenticity. I don't think my son is experiencing this. It is an important time for him to sort out his values on this and find his place among all these influences. And I encourage him to be able to verbalize where he stands on it. We are white and I want him to be able to find a positive white, male identity that is not apologetic, nor defensive, lost or violent. Im not sure a frat is the best place for that, but it is a part of his picture and I am working with him on it, judiciously as he goes along. 

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Oct 2008

My 18 years old son just went to his first year of college last month. He called me and said he wants to join the fraternity. He knows I don't like the idea, but was hoping I will change my mind and support him instead. He is very outgoing and easy to make friends, but not very mature. I have heard so much negative things about fraternities and am now worried he will expose himself to more risks as well as not focusing on studying. What shall I do? Is there any positive side of fraternity? Please advise. Thanks. Anon


A lot depends on what the specific college is--what is fraternity life like there, what percentage of students join, is this a party school. Ask him to tell you about the fraternity--why does he want to join, what are the different fraternities like, etc. Talk to him about the downsides of fraternities. Be firm about grades. Tell him that if he really wants to join, he could, but he can't live there for the first two years until he has shown that his grades have remained strong. And if his grades show a sharp decline at any time, he will have to quit. And most important: He must pay for the cost of the fraternity. If he's aware of all the issues and is using his own money to pay the fraternity dues and promises to keep his grades up, then it should be his decision. However, thinking about all the issues may cause him to reconsider. That's all you can hope for. Anonymous


My college boyfriend (UC Davis) was in a fraternity. He and most every one of his fraternity brothers has turned out to be great men. I believe that if your son is going to 'get in trouble' in college, the fraternity would not be the only place to do so. Dorms are full of drinking etc. College campuses are much more proactive about anti- hazing etc these days. Just warn him that if the group of young men ask him to do something he knows is wrong, perhaps they are not the group with whom he wants to be associated. Lasting friendships are often formed out o fraternities and sororities. good luck.. anon


Obviously our media plays to the purient side of frat life, because that is (somewhat) fantasy and what sells. That said, some pretty purient stuff happened at parties at a friend's frat at UCLA. I was in a sorority because my family wanted me to be. I didn't drink or use drugs and avoided functions that featured that sort of stuff. I had lots of friends and activities outside the sorority house. The good parts of sorority life were that I roomed with girls I would never have chosen to be with off-campus. I learned tolerance and formed some lifelong friendships. They rewarded us for good grades. There was a lot of goofiness (panty raids, guys waking you up at night to come downstairs for hot chocolate), but in general, it was pretty harmless. And, if you met someone you were interested in, and they were in the Greek system, someone in your house would be able to give you the inside scoop. At a really big college, like a UC, a frat or sorority gives you a group of people to hang with and to have things in common with. A lot of similar drinking/drugs/sex goes on in the dorms, and perhaps more anonymously, so don't think you will be protecting him by keeping him out of the frats. Once you send him off to college, it is largely out of your hands. You just have to hope you have good communication now and keep it open. former Sorority Girl


My brothers were both in fraternities at Cal. Their closest friends, even today, are their fraternity brothers. Despite the bad reputation that fraternities have, and I expect a lot might be true, there are still a lot of great guys in fraternities. Both the best men in my brothers' weddings were fraternity brothers. They network together after college and find each other jobs. There seems to be a real closeness that develops in the different fraternities. There was a lot of drinking that went on, mostly with the freshmen and it was mostly beer. I'm not sure what that's like now. The houses at Cal look pretty gross and run down, I'm not sure what they're like inside. I think both of my brothers' grades would have been better if they had not been in fraternities, but they gained lifelong friendships. Maybe they could have done the same thing in a dorm, I don't know. Most of the fraternity guys from my brothers' fraternities at Cal have gone on to become stable and successful professionals. Karen


You are quite right to feel concern. Last year a student engaged in a hazing ritual in order to join one of Cal's fraternities arrived in my teaching assistant's class very drunk and proceeded to throw up and pass out in class. She couldn't rouse him and had to call the campus police. I know of kids who have died by drinking too much in hazing rituals, and I have talked to others who have engaged in racial slurs, vandalism, etc. But not all fraternities are like this. I would tell your son explicitly what your worries are and then I would tell him that you are going to research the fraternities at his school. You can do this on-line by searching for the names of the fraternities to see if there are any negative articles about their activities, whether on your son's campus or elsewhere (many fraternities are national). But an even better, more direct way is to contact the campus police (if there is a campus police force) or the local police and ask about the fraternity. If your son understands that you take very seriously the dangers of fraternity life, perhaps he will police a bit on his own. But do by all means try to guide him. There are some very bad apples out there. a professor


We went through exactly the same thing when our son wanted to join a fraternity. I was horrified at the prospect of ''hazing'', his living in a drunken party house, etc. First I went to his university's web site and read the rules for the fraternity and sorority houses there. It stated that there was a very clear ''no hazing'' mandate. That assured me some, as I felt there was some leverage if I found out about any hazing. Next, my husband called on an acquaintance in the campus police department at our son's university and asked what she knew about the particular fraternity. She had nothing negative to report, so we hesitantly allowed him to rush. He is in his third year now and I have to admit that overall it has been a positive experience. The ''men'' in his frat all have similar majors so are taking or have taken the same classes. That helps with textbook sharing and study groups. Our son has held several different responsibilities in the house and is currently president of his chapter! We have had large groups of his ''brothers'' stay at our house when they've come to football games at CAL and I must say they are just great! Frat Mom