The Effects of Fraternity and Sorority Membership on the College Experience Fraternities and sororities have been part of the collegiate experience for most of American higher education’s history. What once were literary and debating societies are now social and service-oriented organizations that are a traditional part of the American collegiate culture. As interconnected as Greek-letter organizations and higher education may be, continued cases of hazing, high-risk drinking, social prejudices, and other related issues have caused many to question the outcomes of fraternity and sorority membership and if they support those of the academy.
Furthermore, much of the recent debate concerning fraternities and sororities is whether or not they complement a co-curricular learning experience. As asked by Nelson, Halperin, Wasserman, Smith, & Graham (2006), “Are these organizations merely an anachronism, propping up outdated notions of class, gender, and racial segregation or can they offer students a rich learning experience” (p. 61)? Research and publications based on questions like these, particularly those surrounding issues of academic performance, have yielded inconsistent conclusions (Nelson et al. , 2006).
As a result, rather than provide American higher education with an absolute answer as to whether or not fraternities and sororities play a positive role on campus, these studies have brought into light the positive attributes as well as the challenges that face the national fraternity and sorority community. McClure (2006) urges that when assessing Greek-letter organizations, that the differences between traditionally White organizations and historically Black and other culturally-based fraternities and sororities are noted, particularly when analyzing the role of same-race peer support groups.
When addressing the myth that same race organizations, particularly Black Greek fraternities and sororities, serve to further segregate the involved students, Moran, Yengo, & Algier (as cited in McClure, 2006, p. 1040) state that “these ‘ethnic enclaves’ scale down a large campus in order for students to deal with it more effectively. ” Consequently, culturally-based organizations such as historically black fraternities and sororities provide communities that lead to decreased isolation, increased retention, and increased closeness to each other, their cultural heritage, and the institution (McClure, 2006, p. 044). A study by Nelson, et al. (2006) assessing fraternity or sorority undergraduate students who identified as Caucasian found that “fraternity or sorority membership has a positive effect on persistence to graduation: 90 percent of fraternity/sorority members compared to 70 percent of non-affiliated students were enrolled during their senior year” (p. 70). Findings such as these and others like it have suggested that although fraternity and sorority affiliation may or may not effect GPA, membership does play a positive role in institutional involvement.
Stereotypes and media portrayals of the typical fraternity and sorority lifestyle depict members as being frequent binge drinkers, academically inept, and corrupt. Though generalizations such as these discredit the contributions to leadership, service, and academics fraternity and sorority members are involved in, there is convincing academic evidence as well as well-documented cases to suggest that Greek affiliated students tend to binge drink well above the average college student.
A study by Strano, Cuomo, & Venable (2004) found that 52% of fraternity and sorority members had three or more binge drinking experiences in a designated two week span as compared to 18% of non-affiliated students. Also, 59% of non-affiliated students reported having no binge drinking occurrences whereas 21% of the Greek student population reported having no such occurrences during the same span of time.
Greek affiliation coupled with increased binge drinking occurrences appear to influence gambling tendencies as well. According to Rockey, Beason, Howington, Rockey, & Gilbert (2005), “Male Greek-affiliated students had a higher prevalence rate of probable problem gambling than male non-Greek-affiliated students, 14. 8% and 5. 4% respectively” (p. 80). Furthermore, fraternity and sorority members may also be at a higher risk for dating violence.
Davis and Liddell (as cited in Schwartz, Griffin, Russell, & Frontaura-Duck, 2006) suggest that this increased likelihood is due to “sorority and fraternity members…to have conservative attitudes to male and female roles, included but not limited to endorsement of male-dominant, female-submissive gender roles. (p. 91)” In conclusion, the question higher education should be asking is not whether or not we should have fraternities and sororities on our college campuses, but rather how can they be further developed into a positive growth outlet for the involved members.
With academics and administrators looking for ways to extend the learning experience beyond the classroom, there is no sense in not looking at Greek-letter organizations as a possible part of the equation. However, several challenges lie ahead if fraternities and sororities are to realign with their original mission statements. Greek-letter organizations must continue to develop their strengths and address their challenges. College and university administrators as well as Greek advisors should see themselves and act as resources to the fraternity and sorority community rather than moderators.
Also, fraternities and sororities at the national and alumni level need to play a proactive role in developing policies and practices that will result in quality leaders and high-achieving students that represent their organizations on college campuses throughout the country. When these stakeholders come together and work toward a tradition of acceptance, academic achievement, and responsibility, then they can expect to no longer be questioned about their purpose and existence, but rather will be met by an atmosphere of cooperation seeking to utilize fraternities and sororities as a means to increase the value of the collegiate experience.
McClure, S. M. (2006). Voluntary association membership: Black Greek men on a predominantly White campus. The Journal of Higher Education, 77(6), 1036-1055. Nelson, S. M., Halperin, S., Wasserman, T. H, Smith, C., & Graham, P. (2006). Effects of fraternity/sorority membership and recruitment semester on GPA and retention. Oracle, 2(1), 61-73. Rockey, D. L., Beason, K. R., Howington, E. B., Rockey, C. M., & Gilbert, J. D. (2005). Gambling by Greek-affiliated college students: an association between affiliation and gambling. Journal of College Student Development, 46(1), 75-87. Schwartz, J. P., Griffin, L. D., Russell, M. M., & Frontaura-Duck, S. (2006). Prevention of dating violence on college campuses: an innovative program. Journal of College Counseling, 9(1), 90-95. Strano, D. A., Cuomo, M. J., & Venable, R. H. (2004). Predictors of undergraduate student binge drinking. Journal of College Counseling, 7, 50-63.