Frats under fire: looking past Greek life’s controversies

By Theodore Kortenhof

Greek life is a hot-button topic today, both on college campuses and in the media. At Lawrence, this is no exception. While Lawrence does not claim the same number of Greek organizations as other, larger schools, the presence of Greek life at Lawrence is noticed by all. As a member of Lawrence’s Greek system, I acknowledge that Greek life has its share of problems. However, I believe that Greek life is a fundamentally good institution.

Greek life as a whole is a controversial topic. Of late, mainstream media has not been kind to it. Much of this negative attention has been fairly earned, but news sources tend to focus on the evils of Greek life while glossing over the good things that it accomplishes. These portrayals do not accurately represent the entirety of Greek life.

The Greek organizations at Lawrence have all courted scandal at some point. While many of these offenses are old enough to be irrelevant, some are recent occurrences. This makes the general opinion of Greek life on campus mixed. Often, the nature of any given incident dictates how long it will be remembered. Issues of drunken debauchery are generally quickly forgotten, while offenses like sexual misconduct take more time to forget.

It is far from uncommon to hear about Greek organizations gone awry. A list of recent incidents here would be superfluous. A simple Google search of “fraternity scandal” brings up numerous examples of Greek organizations gone wrong. They have a long and dark history of offenses, including hazing, assault, elitism, racism and drunkenness, among other, more heinous charges. This history continues to this day.

Despite this, condemning all Greek life is a step too far. The ill actions of a few members of Greek organizations do not accurately reflect the majority of their members. While misconduct by any individual should not be excused, criticizing an entire institution for actions of the few is unfair.

Beneath the frenzied media attention garnered by the latest scandals, Greek life is an institution that has much to offer young men and women. At its heart, Greek organizations are social groups focused on bringing young people together through the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood. In this, Greek life helps to foster connections between peers — connections that can last a lifetime. Additionally, Greek life helps to introduce its members to a network of alumnae and alumni, helping students move beyond their education, and into careers. Greek life thrives on the noble goal of connecting people.

Philanthropy is another area where Greek organizations excel. The majority of Greek organizations encourage their members to give back to their communities. The Greek organizations on Lawrence’s campus are no exception. Last year, the Lawrence University Volunteer and Community Service Center reported that of all the organizations on campus that recorded volunteer hours, three of the top four were Greek organizations. Additionally, the only organization on campus to complete over a thousand hours of volunteer service was Kappa Kappa Gamma.

On top of friendship and volunteerism, Greek life often offers academic benefits as well. Most Greek organizations have minimum academic standards for membership. This encourages members to maintain academic standards and work towards scholastic goals. It is also often the case that the members of Greek organizations come together to help each other thrive academically.

Before coming to college, I never expected to join a Greek organization. Throughout high school, I was of the opinion that fraternity life was not for me. However, upon arriving on campus my freshman year, I met people involved in Greek life and realized that most “frat bros” are really normal people. So, I decided to test the Greek waters, signing up for an e-mail list at the activities fair. I have yet to regret the decision.

While I am at times ashamed of the actions of some people involved in Greek life, I feel that I have been profoundly affected by Greek life at Lawrence. My fraternity is my support net. They are my friends when I am lonely, my cheerleaders when I need a boost and my guardians when I need help. As someone living 2,000 miles away from home, it is a big comfort to have someone close at hand who I consider a brother, and count on like I count on my family.

Greek life is one of the staples of my education. It provides for me a home away from home. I understand that Greek life is not for everyone. Not everyone is interested in, or has time for a Greek organization. However, to those with an open mind, Greek life can have major benefits. If you are anything like myself, you might not even realize that Greek life may be right for you. So don’t be shy, give it a shot. What is there to lose?