October 3, 2003

Pros of fraternities outweigh cons

The word "fraternity" turns off many new students. But Greek life fills a niche in a balanced student's life that universities in general (and this one in particular) do not satisfy. Every fraternity and sorority offers its own package of values, community, and activities that you should take seriously.

Many brothers felt reluctant to join at first. I came to this school adamantly set against associating with frat life and its stereotypes. I only recognized months later that my most decent, studious, respectable friends were members of various fraternities. I pledged one frat for three weeks, found I didn't fit there, and finally settled into Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp).

"It's a recurring theme: the reluctant Greek member, vaguely surprised and embarrassed by—and yet proud of—being in a fraternity or sorority," wrote alumna Carrie Golus in the October 2002 University of Chicago Magazine. Her article looks fairly and comprehensively at the history and destiny of Chicago Greek life. "At a school where being Greek is not a mark of status and belonging but its polar opposite, the ambivalence is understandable."

Are all fraternities the same? The lofty buzzwords in their mission statements, left over from a bygone era, do sound the same. Our Greek organizations promote "useful citizenship" (DKE), "balanced leaders" (SigEp), "honesty" (AEPi), and "the advancement of justice" (DU).

But don't let their mission statements mislead you. Every Greek organization at the U of C has its own character, which sometimes deviates from its national organization's ostensible mission. Draw your own conclusions. The students whom Golus interviewed must have felt that "Phi Gamma Delta attracts football players and other jocks, Phi Delta Theta brothers are preppy, Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers are serious and conservative." These particular rumors deceive—I think we SigEps pursue our mission statement to be "balanced men."

Rumors deceive, but they're built on facts you can research. AEPi is a Jewish fraternity promoting Jewish life, to the delight of Jewish parents. APO is a coed community service frat. Students who deliberately wish to distance themselves from a "serious Chicago" stereotype may choose to pledge DU, which is memorable for running a Moose Party for student government—two years ago its platform was "Keg in the Reg." (New students: you will shortly come to appreciate the need for a keg in the Reg.)

Meanwhile, Golus reports that "conservative or not, SigEp is also widely known for two things that are actually true: it's dry and antihazing." A decade ago it developed a "balanced man" program to distinguish itself from "traditional" fraternities. I admire this program because it dispenses with the demeaning practice of rushing and pledging. All the brothers met me over a few weeks, then sat down together and voted me in. New brothers set personal goals, which they fulfill to attain Sigma, Phi and finally Epsilon status. While there's no pressure to rush through these goals, the system nurtures personal growth.

Are all fraternities the same? Clearly not.

Do your research. You can find Greek organizations' websites at collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/level3.asp?id=364. See Golus's article at magazine.uchicago.edu/0210/features/geeks.html.

You can find the fraternity or sorority that is right for you. You will feel a sense of belonging. You will forge life-long friendships. You will meet like-minded people. I, for one, would be proud to be represented by any SigEp brother.