Years of reading stories about hazing scandals, collective date rape and cruel separatism finally got to me. Long removed from the college fraternity system, I nonetheless decided that the only meaningful protest I could express was to cut my ties completely.
No, I won’t divulge the Latin words (or their English translation) that the three Greek letters stand for, but, frankly, who would care if they knew? I have one close friend from my college days, a fraternity brother who probably feels as disenfranchised as I do.
At the state university we both attended, enrollment had reached 15,000 then (perhaps double that, by now), so it would have been possible to spend four years as a matriculated student and live an essentially solitary college life. Social brotherhood. That was the singular appeal of those many Greek-letter associations back when I was a freshman.
Could I have succeeded socially without the fraternity crutch? I wonder. I also wonder why I wasn’t brave enough to be thus challenged—to try and find an agreeable social milieu outside the judgmental fraternity system.
Yes, fraternity membership promised not only a place to live (for a price) but also a built-in social structure—parties, exchanges, outings, etc. It also offered instant brotherhood. We clasped arms and sang of it in one of our many anthems. But did any of us really believe it?
In my senior year, having acquired some on-campus responsibilities, I asked permission to become a so-called “inactive member.” My status was resented by more than one of my brothers, but I didn’t care. I only wondered then, as I do right now, why it took me so long to realize the absolute folly of fraternity brotherhood and the unhealthy separatism it engenders.
I remember “Hell Week” at the conclusion of my pledge semester. I knew it would be a demanding exercise—in group humiliation and punishing physical work. But I was determined to endure it, to finally achieve that vaunted status of “brother.”
I also remember some of the hazing we experienced—one episode, in particular. While a number of brothers stood around smirking and chuckling, we pledges were asked to drop our pants, take out our penises and masturbate.
That should have been my cue, the moment when I said, “That’s it, gentlemen,” pulled up my trousers and bravely walked out. But I didn’t. None of us did. But some of us did wonder, perhaps too discreetly, why we’d want to enter the brotherhood of men who would so eagerly inflict such humiliation on us.
Two years later, as a senior member, I was privy to a session focused on potentially blackballing two members who had joined our chapter from Canada. They were terrific guys, in my judgment—intelligent, amiable, honest—and I felt closer to each of them than I did to most of the brothers who attended that meeting.
The session lasted long into the night, as brother after brother rose to recall some incident that had confirmed, at least for him, that neither of these men was worthy enough to continue membership in our chapter. After the final vote was taken and the deed was done, I should have simply walked out—and perhaps left my pin behind as I did so. My view of fraternity life had been irreparably tainted; there was nothing of value left in the stamp of brotherhood to retain my interest or association.
I didn’t leave, though eventually I did withdraw from active membership. And in the years ahead, I did shudder at stories emerging from myriad college campuses about hazing incidents, drunken orgies and other social atrocities. And each story only heightened the shame I felt for having been part of what is essentially authorized on-campus apartheid.
I wonder, today, if any fraternities have focused their collective energy on social issues—on collaborating with local charities…on being big brothers to youngsters in disadvantaged neighborhoods…on developing traditions of community involvement rather than separatism…of extending helping hands to local people in need.
Instead, the Greek-letter organizations I know of traditionally turn inward, totally, and I think it profoundly anti-social and unhealthy.
I’m glad that fraternity pin of mine no longer sits, unworn, in a top dresser drawer. My only regret, right now, is that I didn’t have the balls to sign my name and my affiliation to the brief note that accompanied my carefully wrapped return package. If I’d done so, I’m sure I’d have felt even better.
Photo: Arallyn! / flickr
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