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Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Positive Implications of Greek Membership

The AFA (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors) conference is happening right now (11/28/12) in Indianapolis.  There are great programs on expansion, creating change, advising local organizations, restorative justice, masculinity and feminism, social justice and other great topics.  What there aren’t are any programs like the one I’m going to propose for next year.  “Apologize for nothing: addressing the negative impressions of Greek life without accepting them.”

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An article in the Michigan Review details the results of the research done by James Turner at UVA who, after examining the mortality rates of 1150 schools found that for every 100,000 students there were just over 6 suicides and just under 5 alcohol deaths. (Note:  They say “alcohol-related traffic deaths” in the article so my rephrasing may be misleading.  If, as is likely, they specifically mean these types of deaths then when you add alcohol poisoning and the other alcohol deaths then I would imagine they eclipse the suicide rate.  Since the gist of the article is that suicide is the #1 cause of death for college students, that wouldn’t make sense. I’ve therefore made the assumption that they mean “alcohol” deaths.) This got me to thinking about the things I used to discuss with my colleagues on the student crisis teams, and the impact being Greek has on the at-risk students.  Since I’m not in grad school, I’m not going to do actual research studies (although if you do want a great thesis topic, feel free) but I thought I would post my thoughts and invite anyone who knows more to comment.

  1. Alcohol/dependency issues. I think there’s no doubt that Greeks have more students that are assessed in the “dependent” range for alcohol than their non-Greek counterparts.  I do not know if the same is true for drugs, but I assume that it would actually be drug dependent.  For example, I would not be surprised to hear that Greeks smoke more weed, but I would be surprised if they did more psychedelics or abused more pain medication. That being said, they drugs they do use may make them higher users of “drugs” in general. WINNER: Non-Greeks. That being said, I would be REALLY interested in comparing the alcohol consumption and drug use on campuses without Greek life (e.g. Bowdoin, Brandeis, Middlebury) with schools that have Greek life.  I suspect that the actual consumption rates would be similar and in which case I’d have to say “Tie,” but I can’t prove that.
  2. Depression/Suicide.  I think that Greeks are clearly the winners here. No matter how you feel about the types of connections people make in their fraternity/sorority, the fact remains that once you join these organizations you are rarely alone.  You are usually sharing meals and running in the same social circles as a large group of people you like, so I would expect that there is a lot more “dude, what the f*#k is wrong with you” type of intervention than there would be in traditional male relationships. I can actually think of dozens of examples of fraternity men and sorority women supporting their brothers and sisters through disease, parental death, and other situations, and have heard from students directly that they wouldn’t have “made it through” without their brothers or sisters. WINNER: Greeks!
  3. Violence (non-dating):  When you hear of a student writing manifestos, buying guns, or doing other crazy stuff that necessitates a threat assessment, it is almost never a member of a fraternity or sorority.  In fact, find me one example without the word “loner” attached to the description of the student and I’ll be stunned.  WINNER: Greeks!
  4. Inter-Personal Violence (e.g. sexual assault, dating violence, stalking.)  I think the literature makes it pretty clear that Greeks have a higher incident rate for sexual assault (both as perpetrator and victim) but I would bet that stalking is lower mostly because of the ease of intervention both for the perpetrator (“dude!  Let it go.”) and the victim (“That guy’s a freak.  I’m taking you to the police.”) (That bet is based in nothing, so please feel free to correct me with actual data.)  At schools with Greek life I’d have to probably say WINNER: Non-Greeks, but again the difference is narrow (and when you compare numbers of actual students I’ll bet there are more INCIDENTS among non-Greeks) and where there is no Greek life I would be interested to know once again about the actual incident rates to see if there are fewer per capita.
  5. Missing Students. Students occasionally get fed up and “disappear” for a while, usually by staying with a friend or taking a small road trip of some kind. Usually a parent will then call campus police after not hearing from their kid and file a campus missing persons report which triggers a pretty specific (and potentially lengthy) administrative process.  As with the depression/suicide category I would bet that there are many more of these among non-Greeks for the same reasons.  WINNER: Greeks!
  6. Campus Retention and Graduation. This isn’t a crisis matter, but another big issue on campuses is retention.  One of the biggest selling points I see on Greek Life websites is that membership in Greek organizations make a student more likely to complete their college degree. (see, for example http://arizonagreek.orgsync.com/benefits) WINNER: Greek life!

So what’s the point?  College administrators are quick to point out the areas of Greek life where the members are higher risk than non-Greeks, but I can’t think of a single upper administrator who has stood up and said “While drinking may be a bigger problem in the Greek community, membership in a fraternity or sorority decreases the likelihood that a student will drop out, be overwhelmed with depression, or commit suicide.” I’m not saying that you have to be Greek to have a happy and healthy college experience, but I encourage all or you to challenge your administrators, newspaper editorials, or anywhere else that tries to polarize people into “Pro” or “Anti” Greek camps.  Constantly remind everyone that the things that people use to vilify Greeks are also true for non-Greeks while the positive aspects of being Greek are not easily replicated in traditional residential situations.  Schools push co-curricular involvement to get a student vested in the college and the college experience, but completely disregard these benefits so they can talk about “hazing” and “binge drinking”–like that occasional aspect of Greek life is the ONLY purpose of Greek life. It isn’t, and I encourage you to refuse to accept that it is.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Believe the Hype: Positive Implications of Greek Membership

  1. Sean Parker on said:

    I don’t think these phenomenon you surface should be bi-partisan. I think the reason Greeks get a bad rap is because they have a quantifiable identity. Fraternities don’t make people drink (except rare hazing events.). More often these are social choices people would make otherwise. But because membership is quantifiable, critics can point fingers at a collective identity. Take the Catholic Church. Do they have pedophiles? Indeed. But any more than non-denominational? We’ll never know because they are divided. Yet the Catholic Church, like fraternities, gets attacked because it has an identity.

    So, I see your point, and agree in part; but I don’t see it as Greek vs. non-Greek as much as labeling and social branding.

    • Hey Sean-

      I agree. The point of this entry was really to respond to the messages and sound bites that are given when a school cracks down on “Greek Life.” I believe, and have written other posts about, that administrations focus on Greeks because it is easier than addressing a real problem that cuts across a campus. You mentioned drinking and make a good point that there is rarely forced drinking by a fraternity, yet if you listen to the comments of administrations and read the anti-Greek comments in the articles you will see nothing by a perpetuated idea that ALL Greek life has to offer is a place to drink, rape, or be raped. My point was even if you take away the leadership development, philanthropy, and networking there are benefits to being in a fraternity or sorority that surpass (or at least match) the programmatic efforts in non-Greek communities. I hope that makes sense.
      Thanks for your comment!

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