The Secret Inner Life of Fraternities

When I entered college, I was pretty sure I wanted nothing to do with fraternities. They seemed out of control, grotesque, immature and whole bunch of other adjectives I didn’t consider myself.

But when Rush came around (a period in the beginning of each year when fraternities throw events to recruit new members), it seemed like a good opportunity to get free food outside of the dining halls and meet new people.

A few houses were exactly what I’d expected but, others impressed me. They were clean, well-stocked and, most importantly, their fraternity brothers broke through my preconceived notions of them.

At the end of Rush, after connecting with several brothers on a genuine level, I was given a bid to Phi Kappa Theta (dubbed Ski Lodge at RPI) and pledged that fall. It was the beginning of a long, demanding journey, not just through pledging but for my entire time as an active brother.

What I learned and gained from Greek Life is expansive and deep. It is the one single thing I felt sorry to cut short when I dropped out of school.

Yet fraternities continue to be misunderstood and it's extremely hard to communicate what’s so unique about them.

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What I’ve realized is that each fraternity has an inner and outer self that are each very distinct from one another.

What most people see is the outward self of a fraternity. The two forms this comes in are philanthropy and parties. Philanthropy is great, but parties are exciting so they get all the attention.

Attention from students when one is being planned and attention from administrators when one doesn’t go as planned.

And although philanthropy is, without a doubt, an incredibly important part of Greek Life, I think too often it's shown off as the reason why fraternities are “Ok after all” - why we’re worth keeping around.

I don’t believe this is true. Fraternities are incredibly valuable even overlooking philantrhopy because of their inner selves.

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The beauty of a fraternity is that it is a totally raw community. Here, I mean ‘community’ not in the ideal sense, but the real sense: a cross-section of society living together, coping with genuine struggles and relying on each other throughout it all.

Imagine the number of issues that occur in your own household of, say, 2-6 people. Now imagine what they’d be like in a home of 40 college-age guys. Cooking, cleaning, arranging plans, settling disputes - and on top of that dealing with delicate issues like rush, pledging and adapting to constantly changing expectations from school administrations.

The fact that the whole process has to include a range of strongly opinionated people with very different perspectives, backgrounds and values is precisely what makes fraternities so worthwhile. Resolutions must happen for life to move on in the house so people learn how to deal with each other, how to have a discussion, delegate tasks, etc.

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Sometimes I feel as if this ‘inner-self' theory I have is a bit selfish. Shouldn’t the best thing about a fraternity be its philanthropic endeavors?

But perhaps this misses the point of a fraternity: to take guys in a transitionary state of their lives and mature them into individuals that can themselves, for the rest of their lives, be assets to their fraternal community and then to the greater communities they’re a part of.

I believe that the positive ramifications of this goes far beyond any aspect of fraternities' outer selves, that they are much more likely known for.


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