Friday, February 25, 2011

College fraternities raise ethical questions


By Wanda Deffenbaugh, ORSS(T)

25 Feb 2011 (ACNS) - Mention a college fraternity, and the first image in the minds of many is a drunken collection of oversexed college men as seen in movies like Animal House. While fraternities typically claim to be about the character development of young men, the behavior of their members and of the organizations in general often raise questions about the true ethics of such programs. Fraternities in general have suffered problems that would be expected when such young men, barely more than children, are put in control of the local chapter frat house. Excessive hazing, even sometimes resulting in severe injury, psychological damage, or even death have occurred, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.

The '80s and '90s were known in the fraternity world for their out-of-control nature. A former member of Phi Kappa Sigma (aka "The Skull House") Alpha Nu Chapter at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) stated that things were well beyond wild there in the 1990s to the point that he would not consider it a worthwhile organization. Another student spoke of drunken parties he claimed to witness at the Phi Kappa Sigma house in which underaged drinking was allegedly promoted. Similar allegations were made against the Chi Phi fraternity by a student who witnessed freshmen pledges allegedly being required to supply alcohol, as well as apparent heavy promotion of underaged drinking. This same student witnessed a party at the Chi Phi house in which two police officers were standing outside the door, apparently blind to what was going on inside. Other fraternities at numerous universities have been expelled, suspended, or otherwise disciplined for excessive and underaged drinking. The matter was apparently so significant that some fraternities seemed to realize that they had better clean up their act or risk the future of their organization. The national office of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity instituted the so-called "Dry Skulls" policy, making it against the rules to possess or consume alcohol in the fraternity house.

Even ignoring the issues of drinking and hazing, the question still remains as to whether or not fraternities in general truly serve the purpose that they claim to serve. Critics of the "Greek System" in general say that fraternities are simply "buying friends." Indeed, while members of fraternities may forge lifelong friendships, there is no reason why those same individuals cannot make lifelong friends outside of a fraternity. Perhaps fraternities prey on the insecurities of young freshmen just arrived at college who have not, of course, yet developed a social network. Along these lines is the criticism of the recruitment process, saying that it is called "Rush Week" because they attempt to rush you into joining before you really have time to think it through.

Fraternities also are criticized for being nothing more than party organizations rather than service organizations. Their main purpose is social, and while they may engage in some charity or service projects, this cannot be used to mask their negative aspects. For example, Phi Kappa Sigma purports to be "Men of Honor," yet their earlier apparent drinking problems hardly lend credence to that theory. Neither did some of their apparent recruitment practices. One legacy reported that he was denied entry into the fraternity for apparent reasons of religious and other discrimination. Attempts to handle the matter with the national office were reported to be unsuccessful.

No organization is without its problems. Campus organizations, even fraternities, can be good experiences for students. However, all such organizations have a responsibility to behave in an ethical and legal manner in their recruitment process and in how they treat their members, new and old. For example, one fraternity, Delta Upsilon, is reported to have a "no hazing, no secrets" policy to help deal with these issues. Perhaps the other Greek Societies on college campuses should take a lesson from them.