I know it hasn’t been a week since my last rant (ok, folks, it’s been a whole day), but seeing as I am new here, I do have quite a bit to rant about, and this is a topic that has been on my mind for quite some time. In nearly every classic college movie, every stereotypical college scene, there are a group of men who walk around campus wearing shirts and sweatshirts with two or three greek letters on the front: Delta Chi, Sigma Alpha Mu, Kappa Sigma, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Beta Sigma Beta, Zeta Beta Tau…the groups go on and on. An aura of mystery surrounds these young men–what they did endure to wear the letters they are wearing, what unspeakable acts have they had to commit to be part of the Greek life? Why are there such negative stereotypes surrounding them? Today I will tell you what it really means to be a fraternity brother.
Everybody’s heard the stereotypes long before they get into college. Ask anybody in college what comes to mind when they hear the word “fraternity,” and one will see a very common theme emerge: “Beer.” “Drinking.” “Booze.” “Sex.” “Date.” “Rape.” “A**hole.” “Party.” “Beer pong.” “Hazing.” Ok, I can see where a lot of these come from. Yes, fraternities, for the most part, hold parties. But then again, don’t most college houses hold parties? I know at the institution I attend, the University of Pittsburgh, the surrounding area is full of houses of college kids hosting open parties at their houses, some every single weekend. What makes fraternity parties different? Don’t date-rapes and drugs exist at plenty of other parties as well? I will tell you what the main reason is that people direct such hatred towards fraternities. As my friend Yoda put it, “Ignorance leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate.” Fact of the matter is, the people that spread these stereotypes do so only because they are not in a fraternity, and decide that the people who are in it are deserving of this hatred.
I will admit to being a person who spread such lies for a good portion of my freshman year in college. I believed that people who joined fraternities were doing so because they couldn’t make friends otherwise, so they had to pay for people to like them. I imagined them doing horrific, unspeakable acts to each other, shaming themselves only so they could feel like part of a group. This was until I became part of the Greek community myself, almost as an accident. I was invited to a rush event of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu, a large national fraternity boasting over 60,000 “Sammies” across the country, and went mostly for the free food, but I discovered something else–a good group of guys. Friendly, personable, and outgoing, the Pitt Sammies were more interested in who I was and who I wanted to be than if I wanted to join their group. I realized as I got deeper and deeper into the Greek community that most fraternity brothers were of the same mindset–they were looking for a group of like-minded individuals to hang out with and share their lives with. There is something deep about the idea of brotherhood, and I’ve found that I grew closer to my brothers in two months of pledging than I did in years with some of my other friends–and never once was I ever pressured to do something I was not comfortable with.
As for idea of paying for friends–isn’t that what joining any club is? Yes, fraternities have dues, but that’s to pay for a lot of the events we host. Parties are part of it, sure, but like I said before, that doesn’t make the Sigma Alpha Mu house any different from the houses around it. I paid for the opportunity to be involved in date auctions, to tour the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, to participate in Greek Week and host rush events to meet other Pitt people, to travel to other Sammy chapters and to “foster and maintain…a spirit of fraternity,” as the Sammy creed so eloquently puts it. I will admit as my initation drew near, I began to get nervous–this is what all the fuss is about. I’m about to be initiated into an organization, and this is the part that scares everybody away. Will I be branded? Locked in a coffin? Whipped with metal chains? Of course not…this is about joining a brotherhood, not some secret cult. Obviously I can’t say here what the Sammy initiation consists of, but there is certainly no corporal punishment involved. At the end of it I emerged with a new understanding about these brotherhoods, and I believe that most people should look at them the same way. I’m not saying that everybody should join a fraternity–it’s certainly not something for everyone–but just to approach them with an open mind.
As a final note, I asked a few of my friends who are in fraternities across the country to tell me what came to mind when they heard the word “Fraternity,” and almost everybody gave me the same word first: “Brotherhood.” It was what followed, however, that would surprise most people: “Loyalty.” “Trust.” “Tradition.” “Philanthropy.” “Bond.” “Friendship.” “Helping people.” Next time you see a man walking down the street in his letters, please don’t scoff at him and call him a frat boy. Call him what he is–a fraternity brother–and maybe even talk to him about why he joined the Greek community. If you were as ignorant as I was, you’ll be shocked at the answers you’ll hear.