Stay Away From Frats

Donald Kephart was not impressed by the “who f***ed who” conversations every Wednesday. A 2011 graduate of Dartmouth, Kephart joined Beta Alpha Omega as a soph­omore and quit after one year. In these weekly meetings, brothers would tease each other for embarrassing moments during the weekend by giving each other “awards.” “The ‘award’,” Kephart said, “might go to the brother most likely to take a freshman girl back to his room or most likely to hook up with a fat chick.”

The institutions are purely social, he said. Rarely were there intellectual discussions. Rarely did he see genuine charity. “People want to fit in and feel like they belong,” he explained. “A fraternity is a safety net, a place you can make home without worrying: ‘will I be able to make friends.'” He called dues and other expenses “paying for friendship services. You make an investment in a social circle.”

Many students at Colgate, as at Dartmouth, make friends through groups. Some may join an athletic team, others an aca­demic club. But these extracurricular groups, Kephart explained, help students grow.

In the Outing Club, which Kephart found much healthier, you hike and ski. In the physics club, you discuss physics. Athletes strive to better themselves as athletes.

“Frats are about drinking and hooking up,” Kephart said. Many of the students attracted to Greek life, he described as “self-interested and hedonistic. They might suck at life,” he continued, “but anyone can be a frat-star.”

Why does the school support these institutions? Keph­art says that Greek organizations are merely “established cliques…I think the school shouldn’t recognize them. They don’t foster growth in any exclusive way.” They do the op­posite. He warns first-years that with membership comes “financial burdens, threatened relationships with those outside of the organization and compromise of your own morals – there’s a dominant mentality in a Greek organiza­tion; you don’t want to alienate yourself. If you criticize the organization you’re in,” he continued, “it’s not appre­ciated.” There is no room for self-reflection. In a group, members are expected to obey.

Hazing, which is prevalent on this campus, is an ex­ample of this conformity. Students are taught to do as the upperclassmen say.

They are humiliated. They are degraded. Once they have been leveled, they are finally embraced by the brothers or sisters and are stamped with the group’s seal. “John is a Theta. Kelly is a Kappa.”

A Greek organization, Kephart concluded, will never harbor intellectual growth. He was part of Beta Alpha Omega’s first pledge class.

“It was an opportunity to shape the fraternity into a more intellectual space with less drinking. It was sup­posed to go beyond the social connotations of other frats.” They remained dry for two quarters. But “once alcohol was allowed, the frat became identical to the other frats on campus.”

The same is true of Colgate’s fraternities as well as sorori­ties. Life tends to revolve around the consumption of Keystone Light, and although it is “fun,” as so many have said, it insults the effort other students put into exploring the real questions students ought to explore: what is the importance of learning? What does it mean to live the moral life? What would I like to do with my life? These questions, which define the core of classes like Challenges of Modernity and Legacies of the An­cient World, are often laughed at. Rarely do students seriously consider these issues. “They are not real,” students seem to say. “They are only academic, and they will not matter once I leave this institution.”

Greek organizations defend their legitimacy through the language of charity and community building. “Philanthropy,” Kephart said with confidence, “is surface level. They’re paying lip service to those ideals.” What percentage of Greek members go on to pursue humanitarian work? Websites like Greek Speak and Greek Facts boast that “eighty-five percent of the Fortune 500 executives belonged to a fraternity.” Fraternities and sorori­ties are for the wealthy elite, for those of us who would like to feel good about participating in Pumpkin Carving and then go on to work for companies like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, which serve the opposite purpose of charity groups.

Money, it seems, has prevailed over education. It is difficult for a school to challenge Greek alumni. They help us build large buildings. They help us deepen our career services. But they stunt real education. They perpetuate a system of self-selection, a system by which those in the upper class will remain in the upper class and so will their children. They condemn those who question authority. They are about conformity and ostracize those who challenge the status quo.

First-years, stay away from frats. Stay away from so­rorities. They’ve already started categorizing you. They’ve had meetings and they’ve begun sorting you into groups. They will ask you to come down as prospective members. They will expect you to entertain them, to bow to whims and demands, and to engage in a demeaning process of obsequious behavior. They will judge you based on your looks, your money, social skills and your elitist pedigree. They require you to market yourself according to their criteria of what it means to be an acceptable fraternity or sorority member.

They require you, like culture at large, to become a com­modity. The ethic of Greek life is no different from the ethic of corporate culture. It mocks the goals of a liberal arts education and robs you of your individuality.