There are a lot of iconic images of American college life familiar to international students, thanks to Hollywood, television and music videos. One is the Greek system, better known as fraternities and sororities.
The Greek system is uniquely American, and often an unusual concept for new international students. Fraternities sororities are student organizations and have been part of the American college scene for more than two centuries.
When I arrived in America, I knew nothing about them beyond what I'd seen in movies like "Legally Blonde," but I soon found that Greek chapters are a large part of many college communities. While not all schools have fraternities or sororities, their members can make up a fair chunk of the student population at certain universities.
Many international students are surprised to learn there isn't really anything Greek about them. Fraternities and sororities are described as "Greeks" because their chapters typically use Greek letters to name themselves, creating titles such as Sigma Kappa, Alpha Sigma Phi or Lambda Theta Alpha.
It can also be a surprise that there are a lot of these groups. UC—Berkeley currently has more than 50 recognized chapters, some with specific academic, professional or cultural associations.
If you're arriving at a U.S. college, you may decide you want to become a member, known as a brother or sister, of a Greek chapter. To do so, you have to get involved in the application process. This typically starts with an initial application week called "rushing," which takes place at the beginning of the fall – and sometimes spring – semesters.
Rushing typically involves visiting a number of Greek chapters, interacting with the members and choosing a selection of houses you feel like joining. If you want to join a chapter, do your research and really think about which will be the right place for you.
If you decide to sign up, the application process is a bit of a marathon. Current members of the fraternity or sorority decide which new members to admit to their chapter; if chosen, you become a "pledge" to a specific frat or sorority. If a pledge makes it through the initiation process, sometimes rumored to be intense, you becomes a fully fledged member.
International students should be aware that once initiated, being a member of a chapter is a very definite commitment. Frats and sororities have busy timetables and host a wide variety of social events throughout the college year, including charity fundraisers and parties in their sometimes elaborate houses and accommodations.
It's not something that can be done half-heartedly, so make sure you can balance the Greek life commitments with your other priorities.
If you're not into the idea of a social life bursting at the seams, that doesn't mean you should rule out involvement in the Greek sphere. There can be other benefits to joining a chapter, which can provide you with a valuable network of contacts for the future. You never know who might have been a member.
Many campuses also host business and professional fraternities and sororities. These organizations focus specifically on creating paths to careers, and assist student members in finding successful professions.
Once you've graduated from college, the business and professional chapters can also provide extensive alumni networks with all sorts of useful connections for later in life.
But you don't have to be a Greek to get a taste of the lifestyle. Even if you're not a member of a chapter, you can still show up to some open events, as many students do. On some campuses, Greeks are a considerable part of the college social scene for all students.
Joining a Greek chapter would be a sure-fire way for international students to experience a classic part of American college life and culture. Even so, it's by no means necessary to have a good time. Should you decide the Greek life is not for you, there will still be plenty of societies and organizations that will make sure you have an active social life on your college campus.
Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, is currently studying at the University of California—Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.Sauce from www.usnews.com
Officials at the University of Alabama are asking the national organizations of its 16 Panhellenic sororities to investigate claims of racial discrimination, after a high-achieving African-American student was denied acceptance from all chapters.
The university's student newspaper, The Crimson White, first broke the story Sept. 11, when active members from several sororities on campus spoke out, saying alumnae and chapter advisors prevented them from offering a bid to the student in question, either by intervening in the chapter voting process or in some cases threatening to withhold financial support if the student pledged.
Several students who spoke to the Crimson White said the student was an ideal candidate for any student organization: She was salutatorian of her high school, had a 4.3 GPA, and comes from a prominent family in Alabama. According to USA Today, the student is the step granddaughter of Alabama Circuit Judge John England Jr., who sits on the university's board of trustees, and the stepdaughter of state Rep. Christopher England, a Democrat.
"The Board of Trustees does not support the segregation of any organization at our institutions on account of race," said board President pro tem Paul Bryant Jr., in a statement. "We support the efforts of our administration to effect the change necessary to bring this principle to reality in the entire University of Alabama System."
University President Judy Bonner held a closed meeting with the campus's sorority advisers Sunday night to discuss the issue, and said in a statement that the university is working with the local chapters and national headquarters to "remove barriers that prevent young women from making the choices they want to make. "We are unified in our goals and objectives to ensure access and choice to all students, and to doing the right thing the right way," Bonner said in the statement.
But Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said fault lies with the sororities' alumnae and advisors, not the students."I believe if it's up to the students, the students are all for that. They are for selecting the best person, and I am too," Bentley told a local Fox affiliate. "I think it's absurd that you don't select the best person and that you would ever discriminate against anyone because of the color of their skin." Still, he said it is unclear what can be done to remedy the situation, as sororities and fraternities are private organizations that simply lease space on campuses.
"I think the universities can put pressure on it. I can speak out against it," he said. "I just believe you can choose someone on their character, on their qualities and it should have nothing to do with the color of their skin."
Sauce from www.usnews.com
For some people, being part of a fraternity or sorority is a major part of their college identity. Others pride themselves on being fiercely independent of the Greek system. Our experience has been somewhere in between.
JULIE: My husband and I were not members of a fraternity or sorority while in college, but many of our friends were. We generally saw it as being like most things—a mixed bag.
We left the decision about whether to join a sorority completely up to Lindsey. She'll tell you more about her experience, but we would have supported whatever choice she made. I can tell you that for me, as a parent—there were several considerations to having a child involved in Greek life:
1. Cost: This isn't something I had thought much about beforehand, but joining Greek life comes with some built-in expenses. Some costs we've incurred include a recruitment fee, house fees and dues, a sorority pin, a more extensive wardrobe, and social functions for both Lindsey and our family. Many of these are optional, of course, but some are definitely not. Altogether, we spent $3,258 on the sorority in Lindsey's first year.
2. Alcohol use: Excessive and underage drinking is a common problem on college campuses in general, but peer pressure to drink can be even higher within the Greek system. This is something that many students deal with when they go to college, and certainly is something worth discussing with your child before they decide to join a fraternity or sorority.
3. Limitations: It's easy to let the Greek system become your entire world. Living in a fraternity or sorority gives you a place to belong at college, but it can become limiting as well. Fortunately, Lindsey has become involved outside of her sorority, and that has proved rewarding for her.
LINDSEY: While going through sorority recruitment, I was definitely skeptical of the process and of the prospect of joining a chapter. Even once I pledged a house, it took me awhile to get used to the idea.
Now, a year later, I can say that I feel completely at home in my sorority, and that I am confident in my decision to go Greek. Here are some of the benefits to consider, as well as one disadvantage.
1. Connections: When deciding whether to go through recruitment, I was told by a family friend that Greek life is not the only way to meet new people, but it is one of the easiest ways. This is something that I have found to be unequivocally true. Being a part of a fraternity or sorority gives you an instant connection with a large group of people, and that network will continue to grow.
2. Events: At my school, being in a sorority or fraternity provides opportunities to engage in all kinds of events and activities, such as Homecoming Week, themed parties, serenades, philanthropy events, and theatrical productions. If these sound up your alley, I would definitely encourage you to consider going Greek. Keep in mind, however, that some of these things can become major time commitments.
3. Belonging: It sounds cheesy, but a sorority or fraternity can become a home away from home, just as a dorm, group of friends, or campus organization can. Especially since moving into the house, my sorority sisters are the ones with whom I share everything—failed tests, lazy Sundays, new jobs, broken hearts, and game days, to name a few.
Before you go through recruitment, however, consider whether you will be comfortable living in a house with 70 other women or men. It is definitely a new experience, especially since I didn't grow up living with sisters.
4. Stereotypes: It is undeniable that there are certain stereotypes associated with Greek life. There are people who will judge you for being in a sorority, or for which house you join. The important thing to remember is that each house has all types of girls, so you shouldn't put too much stock in those who make assumptions about fraternity men or sorority women.
This is also why I am such an advocate of being involved outside of your sorority. It can be just as rewarding to participate in activities that have to do with your academic focus or other interests.
Sauce from www.usnews.com
Because everything we see on TV is real, the national organizations for sororities and fraternities are up in arms over ABC Family's new show "Greek," Ohio State's Lantern writes. The show–which is not about big, fat weddings but rather debaucherous coeds with an affinity for stripping on front lawns and drinking too much tequila–has drawn criticism from sisterhoods like Delta Delta Delta, which condemns the program for promoting "the stereotypical and mistaken misconceptions about greek [sic] life." Fine, but let's back up here. This is on ABC Family? What? Sauce from www.usnews.com
Since 1825, all but three U.S. presidents have been members of a fraternity.
85% of Fortune 500 executives were part of Greek life. The first female astronaut was Greek. So was the first female senator. And college graduation rates are 20% higher among Greeks than non-Greeks.
Which begs an obvious question: Does being in a fraternity or sorority increase your chance for success?
Nine million college students are members of a Greek organization and whether they join to make friends, to build their resumes, to go to parties or to learn leadership skills, they each have an incentive to change some aspect of their life.
A common deterrent for joining are the sometimes-negative stereotypes associated with Greek life. Fraternities and sororities are often associated with hazing, drinking and partying. Since 1975, there has been at least one hazing-induced death per year across college campuses — and 82% of these have come as a result of binge drinking.
But hazing scandals make headlines — and fundraisers and philanthropy events generally do not. Historically, partying was not the reason to commit to Greek life.
In the 1820’s, less than 1% of white males went to liberal arts colleges and universities primarily trained their students to become ministers.
On November 25, 1825, five Union College students came together to form a private group to engage in educational debates and discussions.
Naming their fraternity the Kappa Alpha Society, members got together to prepare themselves for careers that their professors didn’t train them for, and to discuss topics that were not covered in class.
Fraternities were often referred to as “secret societies.” As these societies quickly spread to other campuses and the first sorority emerged in 1831, Greek organizations consisted of a network of supporters, with brothers and sisters vowing each other’s loyalty to the death.
Although Greek life has changed over time, students who take their membership seriously are still equipped with skills that can be used in their future careers. David Stollman, co-founder of CAMPUSSPEAK, said that Greek organizations can help students improve their leadership and interpersonal skills.
“I really see that there’s a great correlation between those skills being developed and the ability to be successful in any endeavor,” he said. “Not necessarily just famous-successful, like a president or CEO, but successful as a community leader or as a small business owner.”
What makes Greek life rewarding is that members are given the unique opportunity to interact with and lead their peers.
Sometimes members who don’t get along are forced to work together — skills that are vital in the post-college work force. And most importantly, members are given the chance to practice and fail in their endeavors, without losing their network of support.
“You get the opportunity to fail miserably and have brothers and sisters that love you and care for you pick you up and dust you off and challenge you to do it again,” Stollman said.
Curtis Burrill, American University’s Greek life coordinator, said sorority and fraternity membership teaches crucial social interaction skills. Making conversation with strangers and running weekly meetings are just two examples.
“If you can be the new member educator for 30 women, I’m probably going to hire you to run a team,” Burrill said.
Gaining from the tradition
But what makes Greek life any different from other on-campus organizations, like the debate team or a sports team?
“If you’re in the chess club, you don’t really have that 200 year history and the ritual and four million alumni,” Burrill said.
Although the university Greek advisor finds it unfortunate that particular members sometimes create negative stigmas through their sometimes-irresponsible actions while wearing letters, he still believes the negatives are outweighed by the benefits and that those who join for the right reasons will go far.
And social skills have been proven to take students down a successful path.
During his April 18 visit to American University, New York Times columnist David Brooks emphasized the importance of understanding others to become successful — a skill that former president Bill Clinton mastered and that all politicians have.
“What explains success in life, what should you actually be thinking about if you’re a college student?” said Brooks, “Well, you should think about IQ and studying and getting the skills, that’s obvious. But you should also think about traits like mindsight – the ability to look into other people’s minds and really tell what’s going on there. That’s the skill that politicians have.”
Students who join Greek organizations to build a network, make friends and develop leadership and social skills will likely graduate with useful qualities that could take them far. Students who join solely for the partying that Greek organizations are too often criticized for may end up leaving without much benefit.
“Unfortunately we all know people that wear letters and aren’t interested in the right kind of membership,” Stollman said.
And at the end of the day, it’s up to the students to define their reputations.
At least four sororities at the University of Iowa were duped by a man claiming to be a self-defense instructor, the Daily Iowan reports. The man, who called himself David Portnoy or David Parker, held self-defense demonstrations for hundreds of students for free but used the presentations to sell pepper spray to students for $18 a pop or $30 for three.
He claimed to be associated with Women's Safety Education Group, a Washington-based organization offering women's safety seminars, but the group has put a disclaimer on its site saying it had received complaints about a man and that he was not affiliated with the group.
In his presentations, the man talked at length about the history of the organization and his involvement with it and then spent another large portion of the hour pitching the pepper spray. He claimed he was a third-degree black belt and was described as "overweight and slightly balding."
"I kind of smelled a rat when he came," said one sorority member. "I thought it was strange he showed up without any pamphlets, business cards, or contact information." Sauce from www.usnews.com
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