Sororities and fraternities are options for many college students with both pros and cons that allow for a personalized college experience
By Alex Keller, ‘14, Jane Eskildsen, ‘15 and Sarah Shroyer, ‘15
As 2013 UA alum Katie Hosket walks across the campus of The Ohio State University, she proudly wears a sweatshirt with her sorority’s Greek letters spread across the front. She thinks back to “rush” last fall, a week filled with frantic house hopping and socializing.
With approximately 50,000 students attending OSU, Hosket said students can feel disconnected from the rest of their peers. A problem she solved by joining Kappa Delta.
By joining the Greek community, Hosket eased the daunting task of meeting new people.
Today, fraternities and sororities, for men or women, respectively, are social organizations for undergraduates at most colleges across America. These organizations and their lifestyle are referred to as “Greek life,” because their names consist of Greek letters.
For some students, a deciding factor for prospective colleges is if the school has a large Greek community. With frequent parties, lasting friendships and a well-balanced academic career, joining a sorority or fraternity is something to which many high school students look forward as part of their college experience.
While many positive aspects can be found in joining a fraternity or sorority, there are also some dangers that students face after becoming part of the community.
The responsibility of living in an unsupervised environment brings a new level of independence for college students, but this freedom comes with the potential for injury. UA alumni share some of their positive and negative experiences with Greek life, including how they have handled the extra independence.
Fraternities and sororities have managed to attract one out of every eight college students, according to “The Business of Frat,” an article written by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic in February 2014. Hosket explained what drew her to Greek life.
“There are so many pros, I can’t even name them all,” she said. “Honestly, being in a sorority or fraternity makes you such a well-rounded person.”
The opportunities that come with the Greek community tend to catch the eye of many high school students who are planning to attend college. As senior Jack Bebinger continues his college search, he is strongly considering certain college details, such as fraternities.
“Fraternities can be very positive in my mind,” Bebinger said. “You have this group of guys you get to be around and can basically be brothers with.”
Bebinger’s feelings towards Greek life are similar to those of 2012 UA alum Colin Corna. Now a sophomore at Miami University, Corna admitted that before he pledged he was hesitant. He knew that Greek life was prominent at his college and soon found that joining a fraternity was in his best interests.
“I firmly believe that college should be as fun as you can make it, and in the short time that I have been a brother in my fraternity, I have met people who will be my friends for life,” Corna said.
Being a part of the Greek community also motivates students in their academic career. For example, in 2001, OSU implemented a policy that requires prospective members to obtain a 2.5 minimum quarterly and cumulative GPA and earn 12 university credit hours before joining a sorority or fraternity.
This requirement allows for students to learn how to balance school work and outside commitments. According to Corna, the requirement also provides good incentive for those in the Greek community to continue doing well in school.
Another large part of Greek life is involvement in philanthropic events. Each sorority and fraternity has its own connection to a special cause.
2011 UA alum Maggie Beck is now a junior at Miami University. Her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, helps spread awareness and information regarding breast cancer.
Beck found the philanthropic side of Greek life to be beneficial both for the community and for connecting with her sorority.
“My favorite part about being in a sorority is having a reason to be around my friends all the time,” Beck said. “We all go to philanthropic events together.”
Beck and Hosket agree that Greek life is a great way to stay connected with the rest of the community and with each other.
“I joined Greek life because it’s something bigger than myself. I’ve always been someone who loves being active in my community,” Hosket said. “I love everything that the Greek community stands for.”
Although many fraternities and sororities have made positive impacts on the lives of college students such as Hosket, others cannot say the same.
UA 2013 alum Hannah Benjamin, now a freshman at OSU, is a friend of Hosket’s. Both attended the rush week activities, but for Benjamin, Greek life was not the best fit.
“They’re super expensive,” Benjamin said. “For me, personally, paying for a sorority was not the best choice.”
The prices Benjamin faced ranged from $1000-2000 per semester, an amount that would hinder her plans of traveling abroad next year. These fees cover housing, social events, philanthropic endeavors and insurance.
In a GreekChat article Cindy Stellhorn, Vice President for the sorority division at MJ Insurance, admitted that insurance was not cheap, at least not for fraternities. According to Stellhorn, fraternity members are charged $145 to $280 each, compared to the $25 to $35 sorority members must pay.
The rise in fraternity insurance costs was partly due to an incident in 1985 resulting in a lawsuit that altogether cost approximately $21 million after a fraternity student was severely injured.
After the decision of this lawsuit was reached in 1989, liability insurance became not just difficult to afford but also to get. Some insurance agencies dropped fraternities’ coverages as a result of fraternities earning the spot as the sixth worst insurance risk in the country, just ahead of toxic waste removal companies, according to Flanagan’s story in The Atlantic.
Fraternities were forced to find alternate forms of self insurance, leading to the creation of the Fraternity Risk Management Trust. The amount of money in the trust funds has always been vague; however, in her article Flanagan estimated the amount at $1 billion.
According to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, after the 1989 incident, an estimated 600,000 students per year reported being assaulted by an intoxicated Greek student; of these, 500,000 cases involved injuries, and 70,000 involved reports of sexual assault.
There was also an estimated 1,700 deaths that occurred among college students each year due to alcohol, according to a CIC briefing for the Council of Big Ten Presidents & Chancellors. This number caught the eye of numerous colleges and even sparked the idea for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 1999.
As drinking became a recognized problem among college students, Greek organizations came up with two main ways for those of drinking age to participate in liability-free drinking, a system devised by the Fraternal Information and Programming Group (FIPG). The first was to hire a third-party vendor who would sell drinks and to whom some liability would be transferred mostly for properly determining whether the alcohol consumer is of age.
Another way to reduce liability when drinking was to have a “Bring Your Own” (BYO) event, in which the liability for each bottle of alcohol resides solely with the person who brought it, with attendance limits and lists that could provide witnesses if an accident were to occur.
BYO events allow only six beers or four wine coolers per person. At the door, each person is checked for previous alcohol consumption to determine if a reduced alcohol limit is required. If the person does not finish their beverages, they can retrieve them the next morning if they are not disposed of previously.
As long as the drinking policies are followed, Greek students are permitted to use money from the trust fund in the event of a lawsuit.
If the FIPG policy is violated, the possibility of using money from the trust fund is no longer available. According to Flanagan, before students know it, their parents are paying for the damages and injuries as a part of their homeowners’ insurance.
While the high prices of insurance may have been initially reassuring to the parents of Greek students, in the case of an accident, Flanagan’s article states that it is highly unlikely they will receive any benefit from the insurance coverage.
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Despite the particular liabilities associated with the Greek community, students in sororities and fraternities continue to defend their legacy. Corna said that while fraternities and sororities can have problems with drinking, it should not ruin their overall image.
“Dangers of fraternities are present, but it should be noted that the culture isn’t necessarily to blame,” Corna said. “Any large collection of college students living together are subject to dangers like alcohol abuse.”
Both positives and negatives exist in Greek life; the decision of whether or not to “Go Greek” must be determined by considering what is in the best interests of each individual.
Greek life offers long-lasting friendships, community-service experiences and academic incentives. On the other hand, the choice to experience college as an individual, free from the commitments and fees associated with Greek life is the right for others. Benjamin said either choice can make college an amazing experience.
“Greek life is for some people; for others it’s not. It’s definitely not the only forum to make friends in college,” she said. “You can still have an amazing college experience as long as you get involved.”
Image Caption: Current UAHS students debate whether joining the Greek community is a good choice. With consequences such as violent hazing, a high financial cost and dangerous parties, students wonder if the positive aspects are actually worthwhile.
Image by Sasha Dubson