Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on October 27, 2008


typewriter10          So I toyed with the idea over the weekend of throwing the readership a curveball, and writing a post about the merits of the standard four-year college program versus the benefits of following the Van Wilder 7-year plan (“You can’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive.”), but, as expected, today’s lesson will instead be the definitive Dr. Wizard Guide to Greek Life.  (“Toga! Toga! Toga!”)  Curveballs aside, let me start with this: Greek Life on America’s college campuses can be as diverse as the various lives lived by the Spartans and the Athenians, and the results for individual participants going through Rush can be as bloody as the Iliad or as beautiful as Helen of Troy.  The secret is to know what you’re getting into, and what it is that you’re looking for, before you get started.  Write that down.

          Now, in this instance, I should be clear about my own personal bias.  I grew up in a family with two parents who strongly championed their own Greek experiences; I spent four years as an active member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the nation’s largest fraternity; and I still participate in fraternal alumni networking.  My memories of undergraduate life tend to highly romanticize the four years I spent wearing paraphernalia with Greek letters attached, and tend to include very little that is not associated with my own Greek indoctrination.  But, among the many jobs I have had as I’ve worked my way through academia, I’ve also spent two years as the Assistant Greek Advisor at Truman State University, and during that time I was at least partially responsible for removing one fraternity from campus for blatant disregard of anti-hazing rules.  Greek life at its best offers friendship, a lifelong network of people you can call on for favors, and massive philanthropic enterprises that spread community good-will.  Greek life at its worst fosters elitism, exclusivity, meat-headedness, date-rape, homophobia, and…for lack of a more accurate descriptor…bitchiness.  In this lesson I will attempt to give you an overview of the widely variant ways you might be able to use Greek life to your advantage, a survey of the different organizations that approximate Greek participation, and a template for finding a group of people with whom you would like to associate and whose friendship will not embarrass you in the future.

          Contrary to popular opinion, not every social fraternity is an Animal House, and not every sorority circles the fat on their new members with red magic marker in some archaic, belittling hazing ritual.  While nearly every social Greek organization sponsors parties where alcohol is served, most also sponsor responsible sober-driving programs – and, more importantly, the social function is only one aspect of the modern American Greek city-state.  In fact, the most important benefit to be derived from Greek affiliation is the ability of the fraternity and sorority to make the transition from home life to college life smoother by offering a sense of community, enforced study hall, academic mentoring, and an active faculty advocate to help address problems.  During my freshman year, not only did I learn valuable lessons in time management during pledge season, but when I came down with a terrible case of strep-throat, 500 miles from home, Dr. Roger Festa, our fraternity’s advisor, was able to contact my professors, arrange for other students to take notes for me in my classes, and deliver three cases of Gatorade to my dorm room.  Students without these resources are often left to fend for themselves.

          It is for this reason that, over the course of the last 15 years, Greek students have begun to outperform non-Greek students academically on many college campuses and have tended to matriculate in much higher percentages than their non-Greek counterparts.  Furthermore, the advantages to be gained from Greek affiliation do not stop at graduation.  In a country where most jobs are attained with the help of a friend on the inside, it’s beneficial to have hundreds of alumni looking out for their younger “brothers” and “sisters.”  For instance, for years there has been a direct pipeline from my fraternity to the bond trading department at A.G. Edwards in St. Louis.  In a job-market where things are tight, it’s nice to have that advantage.

          Still, I’d like to stress in this lesson that it is not only the social Greek organization that is able to provide these benefits, but also a number of professional fraternities, co-ed service fraternities, and campus religious houses.  While alternate options are limited at some smaller schools, like Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri – where over 90 percent of the student body is Greek in the traditional fashion, most larger schools offer a number of these specialized fraternal organizations that approximate traditional Greek Life but cater to a more individualized student population.  From what I’ve seen, and from what I’ve learned while talking with students, the experience of being actively involved in Delta Sigma Pi (the nation’s largest business fraternity), Alpha Phi Omega (the nation’s largest service organization), or a house similar to the University of Illinois’s Koinonia (which literally translates to “communion by intimate participation” – a great descriptor of fraternity life) is much the same as being involved in the type of Greek organizations that are mentally associated with the Toga.  The idea is to have someone behind you who cares about whether you make it successfully through college or not, and who will intervene on your behalf if your life begins to implode.  So much of the advice here at Dr. Wizard is about following your own path through life, and it is advice in which I firmly believe, but that doesn’t mean that you should always have to go it alone.  If life is about finding your own country road to drive down with the windows cranked down and The Raconteurs cranked up, think of your fraternity or sorority as being the Verizon network.  No matter how far from civilization’s beaten path you travel, they’ll always have your back.

          So, if the driving question of this lesson is the Hamlet-inspired “To Rush, or Not to Rush,” I’d advocate that you give it a shot.  Worst case scenario, you visit with the members of all of the different houses, and decide it’s not for you.  (And please do not commit to joining a group with whom you are uncomfortable – this never ends well.)  Perhaps the better question is this: How do you find the group with which you’d like to be associated?  Well, the first thing you must do is worry very little about what is perceived to be cool, and common sense should dictate that you steer clear of fraternities where the brothers pump you full of alcohol and talk about “all of the bitches you’ll get to fuck.”  Rather, as you go from house to house, get to know the graduating seniors and ask yourself whether or not these are the types of people who you want to be like when you graduate.  If they are, you can be pretty certain that the Greek organization to which they belong has done a good job of selecting people who came to college with potential like you and of offering them a quality environment in which to grow.  The bottom line is that if you feel comfortable with the people who have gone before you, it only makes sense that you’ll most likely feel comfortable with the person you will someday become.  Among my closest friends, I still count three members of my pledge class.  One graduated at the top of his class from Duke Law, one is a high school football coach in California, and one is the Controller of a Fortune 500 company.  More importantly, they are all the type of people who I would trust to be the Godfather of my children – and that says a lot.  Did we do some things that were stupid during college?  Of course.  Could we have found the same support network in another venue.  It’s certainly possible.  But don’t write off the Greek system just because you’ve heard stories of its checkered past, or just because you’ve seen Animal House.  If you’re open to its many possibilities, you will find your college experience greatly enriched.

         Toga! Toga! Toga!

14 Responses

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  1. Karen said, on October 27, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Dr. Wizard, as a member of the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi that is currently searching for a job, I can confirm what you’re saying about the benefits of having an alumni who can help move a resume to the top of the pile. Great post!

  2. Chris said, on October 27, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    And as someone who wasn’t involved in any such organization, I can vouch for how horrible it is to move to a new city with no contacts and try to make yourself known. Current count – Month 5 a no job…

  3. UVA Mike said, on October 28, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Here’s a second on the “don’t join a fraternity that you’re not comfortable with” idea. My first semester, I spent 6 weeks as a pledge in one of UVA’s “deutschebags with BMWs” fraternities before dropping out. And Thank God that I did. The next year, I took a broader approach to rush, and ended up joining a house full of guys that I actually like. During rush, visit everyone.

  4. Mike Honcho said, on October 28, 2008 at 2:40 am

    This is a pretty fucking idealized tribute to Greek life. What about the “elitism, exclusivity, meatheadedness, date-rape, homophobia, and bitchiness” that you so cleverly mentioned then just glossed over?

  5. Greece Lightning said, on October 28, 2008 at 3:38 am

    While this is better, it goes without saying that Halterman and Verby would have been more appreciative of a post about the 7-year Van Wilder plan…or, as they like to refer to it, the standard college experience.

  6. Barry H said, on October 28, 2008 at 4:37 am

    Verby and Halterman? Inside jokes are hilarious! I’m really looking forward to being a part of one someday.

  7. UVA Mike said, on October 28, 2008 at 4:50 am

    @Mike Honcho: I don’t think Wiz is trying to cleverly gloss over the possible negatives. If you’d actually read the entire post before commenting, you’d see that this is an entry about how to join an organization thats good for you, not a defense of every single chapter on every single campus.

  8. The Uncle Jesse Fan Club said, on October 28, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    I’m a big believer in going Greek in the non-traditional way. Listen kids, you should all grow your long, die it black, wear shirts with the top four buttons unbuttoned, and eat nothing but Pitas, Hummus, and Olives while you are in college.

  9. the marquette 6 said, on October 28, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    MS – we are breathlessly awaiting your response…

  10. Vjatcheslav said, on October 28, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    A little detail: Greeks generally didn’t wear toga’s. That was something for the Romans, but those Romans who actually were important in history (or were just members of the rich classes) often spoke Greek.

  11. Wingal said, on October 29, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Good post. It should be noted, too, that every school’s Greek community is different. Although I went Greek at my undergraduate institution, I know I wouldn’t have at some of my friends’ schools. We also held Rush in the Spring semester, so that people weren’t really “buying” friends; you already had a group of friends established, so there was no real pressure to join a house. I think more campuses should consider that, actually…

  12. Jonesin' For a Collegiate Fix said, on October 29, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    You know who looks like he is in a fraternity? McLovin – when he is in that picture when he’s grinding on that red-haired chick. That’s the way all the house parties were in my frat. Taking home scandalous chicks to do the dirty…beer bongs until you vomit on the bushes outside…and the cops showing up just when the party gets rockin’…the good ol’ days.

  13. Greece Lightning said, on October 29, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    That’s Greek Life, baby. McLovin is one of those kids who comes in Fogle and comes out awesome. And by the way Wiz, is that the cover of a Rush album? What are you, from Canadia now?

  14. UVA Mike said, on October 29, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Canada. You know your country sucks when your greatest exports are Bryan Adams and Molson Ice.

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