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What Is a Fraternity?

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by Boston College
June 10, 2024
8 min read
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Imagine stepping onto a college campus for the first time, the air buzzing with excitement and possibility. Amidst the sprawling lawns, historic buildings, and bustling student centers, there's a unique institution that promises camaraderie, personal growth, and lifelong bonds--a fraternity.

More than just a social club, a fraternity is a brotherhood built on shared values, mutual support, and a commitment to community service. It's a place where lifelong friendships are forged, leaders are made, and unforgettable memories are created.

But what is a fraternity, really? Why do thousands of young men choose to join these storied organizations every year? To help you understand what joining a fraternity entails and what you can expect, I’ll discuss essential aspects of college fraternities and what they offer.

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The Greek System

The Greek system refers to a network of fraternities and sororities, which are social organizations that emphasize community, friendship, and personal development among their members. The Greek system began in 1776 with the founding of the first Greek letter organization, Phi Beta Kappa, at the College of William & Mary.

It was created as a place for students to discuss events, university issues, and studies outside the strict academic environment. These early fraternities, kind of like secret societies, provided a sense of belonging and support for students at a time when college life was especially isolating.

Today, there are over 1,500 Greek organizations across various universities in the US, and they also exist in some Canadian universities. With time, fraternities began to adopt their own rituals, symbols, and traditions, which emphasized brotherhood and camaraderie. These attributes not only strengthened the bond between fraternity members but simultaneously created a sense of identity and belonging within the larger college community.

While the Greek system includes both fraternities and sororities, it's worth noting that Phi Beta Kappa is an esteemed academic honor society in the United States. Unlike traditional fraternities or sororities, Phi Beta Kappa focuses on high academic excellence, standards, and intellectual distinction.

Related: What Is a Sorority?

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The Basic Structure of a Fraternity

A fraternity consists of several chapters, similar to sorority chapters, and each particular fraternity represents a branch of the organization on a specific campus. These chapters are governed by national headquarters and regional bodies that establish guidelines and provide support for organizing the fraternity.

Every chapter has its own set of officer positions, which includes roles such as president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. Students are specifically chosen for these positions to ensure the smooth operation of the fraternity and provide members with leadership opportunities.

College fraternities are renowned for cultivating a sense of brotherhood among their members, emphasizing social, academic, and community-focused activities. You'll notice they use Greek letters as their symbols, and each one has its own unique set of letters, mottos, and traditions.

These include: 

  • Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) 
  • Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) 
  • Delta Tau Delta (Delt) 
  • Phi Delta Theta (Phi Delt)
  • Theta Chi 
  • Lambda Chi Alpha (Lambda Chi)
  • Kappa Alpha Order (KA)
  • Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike)
  • Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) 
  • Sigma Chi

The list of fraternities above is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons more out there, each with its own unique vibe and traditions.

The Process of Joining a Fraternity

Joining a fraternity is a pretty big decision, one that will affect your four years at college significantly. In order to become a member of a fraternity, you have to first go through an extensive process. The selection process is, in other words, recognized as rushing and pledging. Prior to making any decisions, it is best to fully understand what you are getting yourself into.

Rushing

Rushing, also known as recruitment, is the first step to becoming a fraternity member. "Rushees" is a term used to describe students interested in joining a Greek organization. Throughout the recruitment process, these students, or rushees, engage in various social activities designed to give them insight into sorority or fraternity life.

During the rush period, potential new members have the opportunity to explore different fraternities and find the one that aligns best with their personal values and interests. It is a time for both the fraternity members and potential new recruits to get to know each other and determine if there is a good fit for membership.

After rushing, interested individuals may be offered the opportunity to pledge, a period during which they undergo initiation rituals and bond with their future fraternity brothers. In any pledge you participate in, these rituals should strengthen the sense of brotherhood and not harm or demean you in any way.

Pledging

After rushees decide which Greek organization they want to join and are accepted, they become pledges. As pledges, they participate in more exclusive events to familiarize themselves with the goals and traditions of their prospective fraternity or sorority.

The selection process varies across schools and chapter members. During this time, potential members have the opportunity to learn about the fraternity's history, values, and traditions while also forming connections with current members.

The Role of Initiation Rituals

Initiation rituals have been a vital tradition for fraternities for years. They serve as a rite of passage, marking the transition from pledging to full membership. What specifically occurs within these initiations varies between fraternities but is marked by previous actions. They often involve ceremonies and symbolic gestures that reinforce the shared values and ideals of the fraternity.

These rituals are a time-honored tradition that dates back to the early days of fraternities. They symbolize the commitment and dedication of new members to upholding the principles of the organization. Through these rituals, new members are welcomed into the fraternity's brotherhood and become part of a long lineage of members who have come before them.

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Social Aspects of Fraternity Life

Fraternities are most well-known for their social activities, such as parties, mixers, and philanthropic events. These activities help foster a sense of belonging and create lasting connections among members.

Oftentimes, frats will host events with sorority members. It is a great moment to interact with more people and even get involved with those who are a part of sorority life.

Moreover, the social aspect of fraternity life extends beyond the walls of the fraternity house. Many fraternities are required to participate in community service projects, charity events, and volunteer work, giving back to the community and making a positive impact on society.

Academic Support within Fraternities

Contrary to common belief, fraternities put a huge emphasis on academic success. Many fraternity chapters have programs and set reinforcements in place to promote study habits, tutoring services, and resources for academic enrichment.

It also isn't uncommon to see fraternities host professional development events. Many will invite guest speakers, host academic workshops, and organize study groups to facilitate a culture of learning and intellectual growth among their members.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Fraternity Membership

Fraternities offer numerous benefits to their members, but they aren't perfect. There are, of course, negatives to the situation that are worth your consideration as well.

Personal Growth and Leadership Opportunities

Joining a fraternity is a huge positive in motivating immense personal growth and leadership experiences. You have the chance to develop aspects of your communication, teamwork, and organizational skills through various opportunities within the organization.

As you become more accustomed throughout the years, you will naturally learn a lot from your teammates, who will guide you through future years.

Moreover, fraternity membership can lead to the development of a strong support system that transcends past college. People recall fraternity bonds to be lifelong friendships, providing a network of individuals who share common values and experiences.

Networking is also a significant advantage of fraternity membership. Brothers often rely on each other to gain access to a wide range of professional opportunities and connections after graduation.

Potential Challenges and Controversies

By this point you may have seen the long list of benefits with fraternities yourself, but it is crucial to acknowledge the potential challenges and controversies associated with them. The greek organization has come under a lot of scrutiny for instances of hazing, excessive partying, and exclusionary practices. They have garnered a terrible light due to their mistreatment of initiated members.

However, it is important to note that not all fraternities participate in such activities. Many fraternities actively work to address these issues, implementing strict policies and educational programs to create safer environments for their members.

It is essential for individuals considering fraternity membership to thoroughly research and understand the values and practices of the specific organization they are interested in joining. Learn to separate fraternity brothers by the Greek letters they stand for. By being informed and proactive, potential members can make a decision that aligns with their personal beliefs and goals.

Fraternities in the Modern Context

Fraternities have come a long way since its origin and have been called to address issues of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement. As more have spoken out against the injustices faced in fraternities, brothers have been forced to comply.

Diversity and Inclusion in Fraternities

Fraternities have historically faced criticism for their lack of diversity and inclusion. Efforts to address these concerns have led to the creation of multicultural fraternities and the implementation of policies aimed at fostering diversity within traditional fraternities.

Many fraternities have now shifted gears to actively promote inclusivity and cultural understanding, organizing events and programs that celebrate different backgrounds and perspectives. Similarly, women's fraternities, a.k.a. sororities, are also actively promoting inclusivity in sorority membership among their sorority members. Schools will often require fraternity houses and sorority houses to abide by strict regulations to hold them accountable.

Fraternities and Community Service

Community service is a fundamental aspect of many fraternities. Members often engage in volunteer work, fundraisers, and philanthropic events that benefit the surrounding community.

These efforts not only contribute positively to society but also allow fraternity members to develop a strong sense of civic responsibility and contribute to the betterment of the communities they serve.

In addition to community service, fraternities also actively collaborate with local businesses and organizations to support economic development in their communities. In fact, more intimate schools will collaborate with small businesses to provide mentorship and resources to aspiring entrepreneurs, helping to stimulate growth and innovation in the local economy.

fraternities

Frequently Asked Questions About Fraternities

Do fraternities have academic requirements?

Most fraternities have minimum GPA requirements for membership to ensure that members are succeeding academically. Additionally, many fraternities offer academic resources such as tutoring, study groups, and scholarships to support their members' academic endeavors.

What is the cost of joining a fraternity?

The cost can vary widely depending on the fraternity and the campus. Typically, there are membership dues that cover expenses such as social events, housing, and national organization fees. Some fraternities also offer financial aid or payment plans to assist members with these costs.

When do most students join a fraternity?

Most students join a fraternity during their first or second year of college. Freshmen often participate in "rush" or "recruitment" at the beginning of the fall semester to quickly integrate into the campus social scene and build networks. Alternatively, some join in the spring semester after adjusting to college life.

Sophomores also frequently join fraternities, having had more time to understand which organization aligns with their values and interests. Although less common, some juniors and seniors may join, often due to transferring schools or developing an interest in Greek life later in their college career. The timing varies based on university policies and individual fraternity recruitment schedules.

Curious to learn more? Keep up to date on critical information regarding college life, university campuses, and student finances on our Scholarship Blog.

Boston College
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About Fiza

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She graduated from Boston College, majoring in Applied Psychology and Human Development and Computer Science.

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