No other aspect of college life has captivated America’s morbid fascination more than fraternities, organizations veiled in an aura of mystery and elitism that offer society an easy scapegoat for the problems that have tormented universities for decades, if not centuries. A recurrent portrayal of fraternities consists of a group of men whose mantra is “you only live once,” which allows them to commit and encourage all sorts of mindless actions, just for the sake of enjoyment. Whether innocuous or pernicious, fraternities’ actions have had an overwhelmingly negative spot in newspapers and television, where news about hazing, racism and sexual misconduct are abundant, while the efforts of Greek organizations to help the community have been diminished or entirely ignored to favor stereotypes.
This became evident when California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (SLO) president Jeffrey Armstrong suspended two of the university’s three Greek Life councils after a photo depicting a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity whose face was covered in black paint sparked a series of on-campus demonstrations against racism and cultural insensitivity. Though the actions of Lambda Chi Alpha were insensitive, they do not justify the suspension of the guiltless. For that reason, one-sidedness toward Greek Life should end, because not all members behave so irresponsibly.
Among the reasons that Cal Poly SLO’s administration provided to vindicate the suspension of dozens of Greek organizations were the aforementioned hazing, racism and sexual misconduct — or in oversimplified English, same old same old. The spokesman of the university later added that the “Greek culture as a whole is broken” and “Too many people have been hurt by the actions and by the failures to act of Greek organizations at Cal Poly.”
Interestingly enough, the generalized Greek Life suspension does not seem to be about correcting possibly unruly social organizations, but about protecting certain positions within the college administration. During the protest held at Cal Poly SLO, several students were demanding the resignation of President Jeffrey D. Armstrong due to alleged “lack of action from the university to combat racism,” as some students told KEYT, KCOY and KKFX News.
Similar situations occurred in 2016 and 2015, when student protests forced the resignations of Ithaca College’s and University of Missouri’s presidents due to racist incidents on their campuses. These events marked a shift in campus power, as now students could hold the administration accountable for their inaction in combatting grave campus issues. Furthermore, in a Wall Street Journal article, Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn — two higher education writers — expressed that for the “first time in decades students have forced out the head of a major American university,” a trend that has continued ever since.
What better scapegoat for campus problems than a bunch of hormone-driven “cool” kids torturing their livers with undetermined amounts of alcohol and literally partying until oblivion, right? This is a typical misconception about fraternities; however, they are not designed to party, but rather to create a sense of community and, most importantly, belonging. During fall 2016, I was a disoriented transfer student trying to find his place at UCI, but when I approached the booth of my social fraternity, I knew I had found my place at UCI.
Fraternities and sororities, contrary to other clubs, demand that their members be active in society and positively contribute to it. Almost every week, fraternities and sororities, along with other on-campus organizations, help charities and other organizations create awareness on certain social issues. For example, some fraternities and sororities partner with medical foundations to save lives by encouraging people to become organ donors. At least once a day, any student can spot a fraternity or sorority member proudly wearing the letters they have earned, which symbolize their role in the community. However, when some Greek Life members misbehave while representing their organizations, they are defacing the values of the brotherhood or sisterhood that they wow to be part of.
Whenever a news article about unruly fraternity members appears, people would complain about the behavior of all fraternities because of their seemly mysterious practices. Indeed, fraternities and sororities have mysterious traditions that, to some people, can resemble a cult, but that is not the case. The mystery that surrounds Greek organizations is well-founded, as they try to protect their identities from dubious characters that might want to cause harm, in the same way one would not expose family traditions to strangers. Even the word “fraternity” refers to family as it literally means brotherhood, and “sorority” sisterhood.
The dangerous cocktail of careless fraternity members, growing student power, administrators fearing unemployment and the apparent obscurity of Greek organizations to the public have given fraternity culture a negative reputation, although only a few bad chapters or members have truly earned it. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo’s decision to suspend organizations that didn’t commit any racially insensitive actions is unfair since it stereotypes fraternities. Still, Greek Life members, especially those belonging to fraternities, must be more conscious about their actions and their subsequent consequences. On the other hand, the stereotyping of fraternities has to end, because not all members party or drink alcohol. If you are not convinced, take the word of this teetotaller indifferent to parties, and member of two fraternities.
Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.