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Tags: fraternaties

In Defense of Fraternities

row of fraternaties

Fraternity Row, or Frat Row, is the stretch of 114th Street where a lot of Columbia University fraternities and sororities are located. On the right is Beta Theta Pi and next to it, on a brownstone, is Kappa Delta Rho. (Dreamstime)

Paul F. deLespinasse By Tuesday, 25 August 2020 08:20 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Seeking "diversity," some liberal activists have long sought to abolish college fraternities (and, sometimes, sororities.) Recently, even some former fraternity members, as the New York Times put it, "are working to kick their organizations off campus." 

These students may have rightly exited their particular organizations. But they shouldn't generalize their experience and demand extermination of all fraternities.  

As a college undergraduate, I was a militant independent and would have agreed with today's critics. I even wrote to the college newspaper poking fun at Greek groups. Their membership drives, I noted, were appropriately called "rush," implying hasty and precipitous action without due thought. 

Friends, though, were fraternity members, and one of them asked for advice. This was in the early 1960s. He had discovered that his national fraternity's charter still had a racial exclusionary clause. Should he get out, or remain and work to remove this clause? I urged him to stay, but he decided to withdraw.

Ironically, 20 years later a fraternity at Adrian College, where I was on the faculty, invited me to become a member. Normally my reply to such an invitation would still have been "No, thank you," just plain "No," or possibly "Hell no!" But the guys hit me at a time when I was severely depressed. Uncharacteristically, I accepted.

Happily, this fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, was one whose national organization had never had a racial exclusionary clause. 

The initiation ceremony was dignified. I found it an unexpectedly emotional experience which helped me understand what John Wesley meant when he remarked that his heart had been "strangely warmed."   

The brothers soon elected me chapter adviser. 

During six years of intense involvement I discovered that fraternities have considerable educational and social potential. Like most people, the brothers were mixtures of good and bad qualities, I suggested mildly that if they imitated each others' good qualities, we would have the most wonderful fraternity on the planet. If they imitated each others' bad qualities, the place would be worse that the fictional fraternity in Animal House — a recent comedy we had all enjoyed watching.   

I suspect this fraternity was the closest thing some members had ever had to a real family. It was a place where they could find acceptance, respect, nurture, friendship and brotherly love, and where they could say what they thought and felt.

Fraternities may be less important at small colleges than at large universities where students can easily get lost in the shuffle. Even at Adrian, though, I think they added something to the college experience.

Fraternities may lack some kinds of internal diversity (for example by excluding women, who, however, have sororities.) And some may not be very diverse racially, despite the disappearance of racial exclusionary charters, since a few active members can veto new members and some may do so on the basis of race.

But this is an inherent possibility with voluntary associations, which are created by mutual consent of the members, and other fraternity chapters will recognize a great possible member when they see him and look beyond race in doing so. 

Fraternities are not for everybody. Colleges should encourage development of other kinds of small living groups — perhaps including coeducational ones — which can offer some of the same benefits, like the independent men's group to which I belonged as an undergraduate at Willamette University. Different kinds of organizations will enable more students to find a campus home in which they feel comfortable, in the absence of which many may drop out. 

Given the potentially good experience fraternities and sororities can offer members, why deny everybody the opportunity to join one because some people do not approve of them? Those who don't approve of Greek groups are always free not to join one.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan oregon, and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.

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Seeking "diversity," some liberal activists have long sought to abolish college fraternities (and, sometimes, sororities.)
Tuesday, 25 August 2020 08:20 AM
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