Fraternities in College

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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