The New Fraternity Culture The New Fraternity Culture After drinking from a keg of beer stashed in the basement of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house at the University of Michigan last December, a group of pledges stripped to their boxer shorts and lined up, ready to endure their next torturous test of brotherhood. As two other fraternity members watched, a pledge educator pointed what he thought was an unloaded BB gun at the pledges various body parts. He was simply trying to scare them. When he approached the seventh student in line, the educator pointed the gun downward, two inches away from the pledges penis, and fired. Unexpectedly, a pellet shot out (Reisberg A59). Fraternities have been in existence for over a century. They were established to nurture pride, leadership, unity, and commitment (Nate 18). Although some fraternities still embrace these values, this does not make up for the dangerous behavior that most fraternities engage in.
Alcohol abuse has become far too large of the college social scene and fraternities are its most publicized defendants. Rowdy keg parties have replaced the values and ideals that were once the basis of fraternities, as binge drinking becomes the core of their brotherhood. Each year on campuses throughout this country, binge drinking causes students to suffer academically while risking their health and safety, as well as that of the rest of the campus community. Contrary to the many members firmly entrenched in the fraternity culture, several national fraternities are trying to dispel this image. They have devised programs which emphasize academic development, leadership, and community service, while at the same time taking the focus off alcohol and hazing. The first of the Greek-letter societies, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded on December 5, 1776, with the aims of creating a scholastic, inspirational, and fraternal society.
The founders of Phi Beta Kappa named friendship, morality, and literature as essential characteristics. Laws provided for a reverent opening and conduct of meetings, encouraged sobriety, and demanded ethical ideals superior to those manifested by a rival society (Voorhes 8-12). The growth of the system was gradual, for it was not until 1825 that Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi, and Delta Phi were established. The decade of the thirties produced another trio of fraternities: Alpha Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon, and Beta Theta Pi. The period preceding the Civil War witnessed the establishment of most of the remaining general fraternities of present larger extension (Nate 18-38). Oliver Wendell Holmes, a student at Harvard in 1859, captures the immortality of loyal friendships and high ideals in a message to his classmates: Then heres to our boyhood, its gold and its gray! The stars of its winter, the dew of May! And when we have done with our life-lasting toys, Dear Father, take care of Thy children, thy boys.
The founding of the fraternities was at the hands of men who set up high life-ideals for themselves and those who would come after them. The more recent years have strengthened the chapters through the development of their national organizations and a more direct alumni co-operation (Nate 60). As fraternity chapters grow stronger, they are slowly losing sight of their fundamental purpose. The values and ideals that once served as the basis of fraternities have been replaced in some chapter houses by excessive drinking and brutal hazing practices. Through the new fraternity culture, binge drinking becomes interwoven into college life.
The Federal Substance Abuse Prevention reports that undergraduate students currently spend $4.2 billion a year on booze far more than they spend on their textbooks. An advertisement being run in college newspapers by VivaSmart, an online textbook seller, actually features the headline, More on Beer, Less on Books, accompanied by an explanatory text that begins, We know you have better things to do than blow your money textbooks (Miller 1). This message promotes and legitimizes a college drinking culture that according to the Surgeon General Antonia Novella is spinning out of control (Elson 64). In a survey of students at 140 colleges by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health, forty-four percent of students reported binge drinking, which the study defined for men as consuming five or more drinks in a row within the previous two weeks, and for women as consuming four or more drinks in a row (Wechsler 2). According to the survey, eighty-six percent of fraternity house residents engage in binge drinking and fraternity members were also more likely to state that drinking and partying are more important activities (Wechsler 1674). Ryan Fellman, a junior at Emory University and the treasurer of Kappa Alpha, says, being in a fraternity is all about having a house to have parties and the social funds to do it right (Reisberg A59).
Fewer students now seem inclined to pay hundreds of dollars in dues to be part of a system that has a reputation for physically abusing its pledges and in some cases, endangering members lives with excessive drinking. After hitting a record of about 400,000 undergraduates in 1990, fraternity membership has plunged as much as thirty percent in the past decade (A59). The secondhand effects of binge drinking jeopardize the scholarly and collegial environment that administrators and faculty attempt to create for their students. Forty-one percent of academic problems stem from alcohol abuse, ranging from missed courses, poor grades, failed classes or dropping out altogether. Twenty-eight percent of the students who drop out of school do so because of the influence of alcohol (Last Call 3). According to another survey performed at the Foundation for Academic Standards and Tradition, fifty-six percent of all students say that the pressure to drink adversely affects their schoolwork (Zogby 1).
When students drink heavily, their health and safety is put at risk. Many college students are not aware that the effects of their drinking may have long-lasting consequences. According to researchers at Duke University, teenagers who drink heavily are often susceptible to serious brain damage and increased memory loss later in adulthood (Binge Drinking 3). Even more detrimental are the fatal accidents that occur as a result of alcohol abuse. In 1998, a student at the University of Michigan died when she fell out of her dormitory window after drinking too much alcohol (Reisberg 5). There have been a number of alcohol related deaths associated with fraternity hazing.
Many believe that hazing in fraternities is nothing more than silly antics and harmless pranks like those remembered from the 1980s hit comedy Animal House. The realities of hazing are dramatically different than the humorous images many people associate with the term. Since 1971, fifty-four fraternity members have died from hazing on U.S. college campuses (Schubert 1). Twenty- …