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Greek Life: Camaraderie or Coercion?

Image Courtesy of Dwight Torculas, YouTube

By Anna Harvey

It was an early Sunday morning. Outside my dorm, I heard speakers blaring and screams of freshmen as they marched across East Campus, proudly carrying aloft Greek letters and wearing the brightest neon outfits one could imagine. The day began rush week, one of the busiest days for James Madison University (JMU) undergrads.

While I was a freshman at one of Virginia’s top party schools, I quickly discovered that if a student does not plan on entering a fraternity or sorority, they are out on their own. Students who did not initially join a sorority or fraternity eventually decided by the end of the semester to join a service frat and would routinely come back later drunk from functions. 

One of the most vivid memories I have was my college roommate calling her mom and asking for the thousand dollars necessary to be a part of her sorority, Tri-Sigma. 

Oftentimes, for most sororities and fraternities, a student has to “pay to play,” or essentially give money (typically $400 or more a semester) to their frat or sorority in order to join.

While students have been trying their best to fight stereotypes and dangerous activities associated with fraternities and sororities—“These hands don’t haze” was a popular slogan of my roommate’s sorority—certain elements within these stereotypes still exist. My roommate may not have been forced to climb into a trunk with a bottle of alcohol and drink it all before emerging, but she was forced in front of the chapter to do or say certain things that she felt were embarrassing. She would be stressing for hours on memorizing every member’s name—which was a requirement in order to be admitted—instead of doing essential studying for her Biology major. Yet her sorority was one of the best-behaved on campus. 

One of my other Honors hallmates who joined an unaffiliated frat nearly died within the first two months of the semester. Later in the year, self-declared atheist members in my hall would be cutting t-shirts into crop tops to go to the Jewish fraternity on campus. 

It is essential to note, however, that many fraternities are not always party-oriented. Several of these fraternities include law fraternities, service fraternities, and honors fraternities. While of course many of my peers at JMU chose to enter the frat with the sole purpose of partying at functions, not all students use these frats as such. 

While it often does not get labelled as such, however,  many big state schools’ fraternities and sororities slowly become the only—or the most celebrated—means of having a social life on campus. Going out every weekend (especially during football season) and blacking out every night are deemed necessary to bond with your peers. 

Rather than existing as a part of the college experience, the partying associated with fraternities and sororities becomes an essential and primary reason to go to school. The concept of paying hundreds of dollars in order to make friends who look and behave just like yourself is one that is not only outdated for 2021, but is also very toxic. 

Sororities and fraternities can dress themselves up as good, wholesome organizations that provide camaraderie and charitable projects, but under the surface, they often embody an unhealthy culture of conformity, forcing their members to fit certain standards in order to be accepted into the community. Sororities and fraternities today have come far from the noble standards of many of their founders, and it is time to end their exclusionary practices and to expose the thinly-veiled party culture they endow upon their universities.

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