Greek Life: Philanthropic or Party-Centric?

November 17, 2011

Political Theory

Every game day Saturday, as I walk along Hill Street from East Quad to marching band rehearsal, I’m greeted by swarms of students decked out in maize and blue chugging beer before kickoff. One of the Greek organizations on Hill St even had a sign on the front openly advertising football pregaming, a seemingly open invitation for underage drinking. Scan Facebook for a few minutes and you can almost always find a social fraternity event; I’ve yet to find one without a reference to beer, jungle juice, or themed drinks of some sort. As Naomi Martin points out, the superficiality can also be problematic and doesn’t reflect the good aspects of colleges nationwide. Then I remember how one of my friends at George Washington University is in a social fraternity; he does a lot of service projects, and their house hosts social events for the school community to raise money for worthy causes. When I see these two seemingly contradictory aspects of Greek life, the situation becomes very unclear. Everything seems to lead to the one all-important question: should universities support Greek life?

Established on campus in 1845, Chi Psi is the oldest fraternity at the University of Michigan.

Maybe we should. Universities preach toleration and claim that differences between students give the community strength;  if we follow this Locke-esque line of reasoning, we should not only permit Greek life but should embrace the positive facets of it. Greek life offers a different way of socializing, one that many of us aren’t familiar with; maybe the Greeks are doing something right, and we should tolerate their decision.  So maybe $2,000 pregames aren’t such a good thing, but philanthropic work certainly is, and a couple of my Greek friends also preach the leadership that they gained through their fraternities. Why, as a campus community, should be fail to endorse something like that, something that has the potential to empower the university as a whole?

I realize that not everyone agrees: Princeton, for example, has banned Freshmen rush and does not officially recognize any Greek organization. Under pressure to wash their hands of the negative parts of Greek life, Princeton chose to simply end the relationship between the school and these societies. Good decision? Perhaps. I know of one fraternity on campus that routinely spends around $2,000 on alcohol for football pregames; for organizations focused on friendship and service, that seems very wasteful. If Greek life was really all about helping others, they would simply give that money to charity or use it to help others, not just to get undergraduates drunk so they can scream “You suck!” rudely at the opposing team. Rousseau argues that creating a homogeneous society will bring peace and happiness to all; if we eliminate the Greek scene, aren’t we taking one step towards a happier society by making one outlying part become like the majority?

The implications of Greek life reach farther than the partying or community service probably ever could. If the university has the power to censor fraternities and sororities, it seems to follow that the school should have the power to control socializing in general; as the university is about academics, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with what appears to be an infringement on one sector of life. On the other hand, the University of Michigan has a reputation to uphold, and underage drinking is definitely not part of that picture. If the school wants to maintain its prestige, maybe the end of the Greek scene is long overdue. As a future graduate of U-M, I would like to know that future employers see my school not as a partying wasteland but as a seriously intellectual place, and unless the university disconnects itself from Greek organizations, the school will have to work harder to this end. It seems to me that the problem isn’t really as simple as stopping drinking vs. permitting everyone to live as he or she chooses; undertones of power, control, and toleration run through the whole issue. No matter what side we take, we must face some good and some bad.

What are your thoughts on this? Is Greek life a positive good, and can we reconcile these two different sides of it? But more importantly, how do we deal with situations like this where some favor it and others don’t? How do we balance the wishes of 18% (the approximate percentage of students involved with fraternities or sororities at Michigan) with the will of the university to uphold a longstanding tradition of excellence?



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6 Comments on “Greek Life: Philanthropic or Party-Centric?”

  1. mrau188 Says:

    Although michigan greek life does like to party it also endorses some of the most terrific philanthropic organizations. Michigan greek life supports less privileged people a heck of a lot more than the average student out on campus. When the average person is sitting in the library studying their organic chemistry book, I am bowling and playing Uno with people that have severe mental and physical disabilities because I am a part of greek life and I care about people that are less fortunate then me. Sure there are people out there that are in fraternities that never have supported a philanthropic even tin their entire life but that doesn’t mean that their greek organization hasn’t. With each fraternity comes a different organization that they donate money too, a lot of the greek community prides itself on the fact that they raise copious amounts of dollars for less privileged individuals. And sure you can go out and criticize these organizations for their extravagant football pre-games but they are the ones paying for those they aren’t taking that money away from people that deserve it that is money that they have earned/gotten from their parents to do what they want with it. I am all for raging and being philanthropic at the same time. When people are envious of what we as a greek community do it is really just more jealousy than hatred, don’t you think?

    • elotis Says:

      I am not in Greek Life, but I do have a lot of friends in the Greek system and I have never judged or criticized them for being in the system. However, I think you are making some bold statements and you should take some other factors into consideration. First of all, just because you are in Greek life and are doing philanthropic events, does that make you better than “the average person” that you are referring to in your comment? You do not have to be in Greek life to do volunteer work and I think that you are jumping to conclusions by saying that you are above the average person just because you are in Greek life. Hell, if I was studying for organic chemistry I do not think I would even have time to volunteer. But I pose a question for you: would you volunteer if you were not in Greek life?

      Also, this is not a jealousy issue. People who criticize the actions of those in Greek Life are subject to their own opinions based off what they see on gamedays, etc. I do not agree necessarily with their viewpoints, I have thoroughly enjoyed frat pregames and parties and I think that Greek Life isn’t strictly about partying. However, you need to get over the notion that people are “jealous” of Greek Life. You do not have to be jealous of someone in order to form negative opinions.

  2. danieltarockoff Says:

    I think both this post and the comment above me hold some pretty big stereotypes of the opposing arguments. Yes, Greek life is known for partying a lot. But so is any typical college student. Greek life is not in any way bringing down the value that a Michigan degree holds, so that shouldn’t worry you either. While underage drinking may be a problem, it’s pretty widely accepted under the Greek life rules, and its beginning to become more and more accepted over all. There are many arguments for lowering the drinking age, but I’m not going to get into those. I fail to see the point you make that underage drinking makes the philanthropic contributions of greek life worthless. It just doesn’t work like that. There are plenty of students who are not associated with Greek life, still party, and still contribute to charity. It seems that for you, Greek life’s negative connotation is making you draw irrational conclusions.

    On another note, there are many times when I’ve witnessed these two things coming together. For instance, many Greek life fraternities and sororities have hosted “bar” or “club” nights, where people can attend parties if they pay the entry fee, which goes toward a good cause. This combination of partying and philanthropy makes your argument kind of pointless. I don’t think Greek life is a bad thing, and I think there are many benefits you’re overlooking.

    • ianbaker2041 Says:

      To be clear, I am NOT opposing Greek life. I am a member of a coed service fraternity (definitely not your “typical” Greek society but a fraternity nonetheless), and we do a lot of good stuff. I was merely pointing out what seems to be a contradiction between the partying and the service. My fraternity does not party, so I can’t really say how you would reconcile these; that’s what I’m getting at.

  3. srbarron Says:

    As a freshman in the Greek system, I have experienced so many positive rewards. Yes the partying is fun and I love the social aspect, but Greek Life is much more than that. In just a few short months of involvement, I have made such great friends and learned a lot about the Michigan community as a whole. We have done philanthropic events raising money for organizations to benefit society. Additionally, the sorority has brought in workshops about career networking and other useful skills that I would not have learned nor attended had I not been involved in the Greek system. The Greek system makes a large university smaller and allows students to meet people with similar interests just like any club or organization. As a member of any organization, you participate in your activities and make connections. Usually student organizations focus on only specific topics where Greek Life is a much broader group giving you opportunities to become involved in much more on campus and give back more. Overall, Greek Life is definitely a positive asset to the university broadening the lives of many.

  4. marckarpinos31 Says:

    I personally disagree with a lot this post. I am a member of a greek organization so maybe my opinion is flawed but I really do not see the greek life at the University of Michigan undermining our ability to uphold an outstanding academic reputation. The University of Michigan was just ranked #14 in the world for all universities and a result I believe our academics speak for themselves.

    Additionally, Michigan has a very proud football tradition and part of that tradition in my mind is the buzz that is created each Saturday morning starting as early as 6 AM with the students. If the students, who are future alumni, aren’t excited about the team who will be excited about the team. The tradition will go out the window. As a result I believe that these pre-game tailgates play a vital role in the Michigan Tradition as well as bringing together students who may not come together on a regular basis. My freshman year roommate has come to almost every tailgate that my fraternity has thrown because he is not affiliated with greek life and it is a nice way for us to catch up.

    I also would like to say that my fraternity along with many of the other fraternities on campus hold at least one philanthropy event each year. The SAE mudbowl donated approximately 30,000 dollars last year, my fraternity holds a breast caner awareness charity event each year, along with many other events held campus wide. As a result I believe Michigan has created a better system than the other universities referenced. Michigan Greeks have learned to party, uphold a high academic standard, and give back to the community through community service projects and philanthropy events.

    As a result, to say that the 18% of students involved in Michigan Greek Life is bringing down the other 82% of students is really not a true statement. Michigan has an outstanding reputation world wide and Greek Life as the author alluded to is an great way to build leadership skills and even connections. I truly believe that Greek Life at Michigan is a positive and should in no way be outlawed.

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