Greek life suits some alumni and turns off others

October 18, 2017 — by Rahul Vadlakonda

Two months ago, during a hazing ritual, students at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Pennsylvania State University dropped an unconscious fraternity member down the a flight of basement stairs, causing him massive head trauma and killing him.

The death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza put yet another stain Greek life’s tattered reputation.

Despite such episodes, thousands of college students continue to join fraternities and sororities each year, including many alumni, while others reject these groups as outdated, elitist or dangerous.

As one example, Class of 2014 alumnus Kevin Jiang, who attends the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, joined a fraternity during rush week his freshman year.  

He remembers new members, or “rushees” participating in activities such as basketball, pool and so-called personal sessions to see if the new members were a match for this lifestyle and with other members.

Each fall, college freshmen “rush” fraternities and sororities, hoping to make it through the often difficult selection process.

Jiang said that he joined his fraternity to try out something unfamiliar.

“The biggest thing for me was I wanted to try something new in college,” he said. “College is a fresh start where you can challenge yourself entirely.”

Fraternities and sororities can come in all shapes and sizes. Jiang, who is a part of a smaller fraternity called Lambda Phi Epsilon, said his feels more like a brotherhood.

Another type of group known as professional fraternities has other advantages, such as resources members may use for jobs and connections.

Class of 2016 alumna Alice He, who now attends Johns Hopkins University and is part of the co-ed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, said that even though she is a pre-med major, she “wanted to see what business was like.”

Joining her fraternity, He said, has presented another side of college, as she has gotten to know people much better.

“I feel like I would not have found the deeper connection that I have with all of the friends I have now,” she said. “When you are in a fraternity, you really do get to know people in your fraternity once you are pledging.”

Another benefit to being in Greek life, according to Jiang, is networking.

“I would not have met as many people outside of my school [if I did not join] and I do not think I would have changed as a person if I just stuck to [who] I was from high school,” Jiang said.

Class of 2016 alumnus Aditya Vempaty, who attends   University of Southern California, offered a different perspective. Like the 26 percent of undergraduate men and 27 percent of USC’s students who are involved with Greek life, according to US News, Vempaty sought to join a fraternity, only to leave the next day. He said he did this because he saw that members had to “completely set aside ego and accept a scripted social hierarchy just on the basis of someone being in the frat for longer.”

Vempaty added that many people opt to skip Greek life because they don’t like the atmosphere frequently associated with it.

“I think people have this negative shallow perception of Greek life that’s fueled by hazing and incident stories, so they associate that with Greek life as a whole,” Vempaty  said.

Another Greek life abstainer, Class of 2016 alumnus Zachariah Lichtenberg, now a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said that he did not join a fraternity was because he would be required to go to “all their events and keep a certain reputation.”

Lichtenberg said that the initiation process was also a factor in his decision.

“The initiation process takes a lot of effort and requires you to do different things depending on the fraternity,” he said.

Guidance counselor Eileen Allen, who was a part of Greek life while attending Cal Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, said that the institution is one that serves to be a platform that she said “can be a great way to get involved and make new friends.”

According to Allen, many Greek chapters tend to have a component associated with community service while also still being a social group.

In her experience, Allen said that as a part of her sorority, she encountered many opportunities to bond with her fellow members, as well as her community around her.

“I know through my sorority, we did a ton of fun community service events, theme parties, formals and there was also a lot of opportunity for leadership,” she said.

Although Greek life worked in her case, Allen acknowledged the more negative sides that sometimes crop up. She said some chapters taint the overall reputation of the Greek life and need to be reined in at the regional or national level.

In Jiang’s view, though he knows of the horrific events that have happened in some chapters, there is far more to Greek life than the few but highly publicized incidents suggest.

“[The controversial events] do not represent the Greek [life] community as a whole,” he said.