I had not given a thought to this until recently, but I’ve been a few schools that have neither a football team nor social fraternities with houses. Drew University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Skidmore College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) have no recognized Greek life. In addition, some Jesuit schools that I have visited including Loyola-Maryland, Saint Josephs University and the University of Scranton have neither fraternities nor sororities nor football teams.
I never considered pledging a fraternity when I went to Rutgers. I’m was not and I am still not a party person. I didn’t like the living or work arrangements (cleaning, cooking) at some of the houses. And I did not want to be on the hook for dues if I decided not to live in the house.
But I also knew several people who liked being part of a brotherhood. They liked the parties, too, I’d imagine.
Yet I appreciate that I also had the choice to participate or not participate in the Greek system. Students who go to a school that has no fraternities do not.
The same is true for football, only I like to go to the games. I never saw every Rutgers home game when I was in college, but I’ve been a season ticket holder for the past nine years. I missed only one home game over two seasons when I went to grad school at the University of Illinois. The Fighting Illini played in the last game Bear Bryant coached for Alabama (the ’82 Liberty Bowl) during my first year there. They won the Big Ten title during my last semester, but lost the Rose Bowl.
When the Fighting Illini are winning Memorial Stadium is packed. Fans are reminded that the place is the “House that Red Grange Built.” It opened in 1925 with Red, aka “The Galloping Ghost” and “The Wheaton Ice Man,” leading the Illini to a win over Michigan. But when the Illini are losing the place is a mausoleum. The fair-weather fans find something else to do. I’m quite sure they appreciate the choice.
Without football or fraternities colleges must rely on campus programming and clubs, including the other intercollegiate spectator sports, to bond a community. It also helps to have winning teams to spark interest. It also helps to have a good location. You can take a bus or train from Mahwah, where Ramapo is located, into New York City. Same is true from Madison, where Drew University has been since 1867. You can reach Washington D.C. within an hour by car from UMBC or St. Mary’s. All five of these schools have campus programming that takes their students to the larger cities off campus. House parties fill in for fraternity parties when students can live off campus. Not all schools want to risk serving alcohol to minors on campus. And interestingly, all of the these schools are, with access to a car, close to the nationally-popular suburban shopping, eating and drinking options.
There are fewer worries that students are recruited exclusively for sports without regard to their academics. Student-athletes also live with the rest of the students; there are no athlete’s apartments or residence halls. They use the same workout facilities as everyone else, though there may be hours when they get privacy. There ‘s less concern about “subsidizing” athletics, though I don’t buy that argument. Whenever a school lets people see a sport for free someone is covering the costs.
There are also fewer concerns about hazing, that a brotherhood will make life hellish for pledges. There is also less concern about discrepancies in wealth. I’ve been to schools where fraternity brothers lived in homes that looked like mansions; other houses existed to remind me why wood is no longer the choice for home exteriors. I’ve seen quite a few nice cars in fraternity driveways. Being in a brotherhood helps at schools where on-campus parking is nearly impossible.
Fraternities have also been an important part of the history of many schools. Residence halls, on-campus apartments, theme houses, learning communities are living concepts that today’s college students take for granted. But these did not exist in great numbers on most campuses until the 1960’s. The housing decision was typically to live in the “dorm” or a nearby rooming house for a year, pledge during the freshman year, then move into a fraternity or sorority house or live off campus from the sophomore year forward. The schools did not take as much responsibility for housing their students as they do now.
I’ve been on numerous campus tours with parents and students. The existence, or non-existence, of football or Greek life is a question asked every time. I’ve kept silent when those questions are asked; it’s the student ambassador’s job to answer them and sell their school.
However, if someone asked me away from a campus, I would tell them to let their son or daughter take an extended visit, stay in a residence hall and talk to as many students as possible. Give them a chance to see how they’re most likely to make friends. Some college-age students like the idea of being part of a brotherhood or cheering en masse for the football team. Others don’t care about either. After monetary considerations are addressed, parents should allow their students to make the choice on their own.
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