What Could Happen If Colleges Closed Down Fraternities and Sororities?
I did not participate in Greek life in college though I knew many people who did. Those people told me that fraternities and sororities were fun. They were groups that could live together largely unsupervised by the university. Brothers and sisters could meet others (usually the opposite sex) more easily, especially at a larger school. I would never argue either point. But I did not want to go through a pledge process to make new friends. I have to presume that many other college students do not. Fraternities and sororities do not comprise the majority of the undergraduate student body at many colleges.
If you often come to EducatedQuest you are likely aware of the less attractive aspects of fraternities and sororities that have been raised in the media. These include exclusionary practices, hazing, incidents of defamatory postings on campus buildings and online, underage drinking and more seriously injury and sexual assault. The compilation of incidents, combined with the wealth and legal resources of the national organizations, makes me want to consider what might happen if fraternities and sororities were to simply disappear. That’s somewhat unrealistic at many schools.
Fraternities and sororities provide housing, often for fairly large groups of students. Individually and collectively, they are socially important at many schools. They can run many activities for the benefit of a larger student body than a college’s student affairs office has the time to run. Further, the act of decertifying a social fraternity or sorority has costs and possibly legal consequences for a college when the organization has no record of doing anything in violation of a college’s policies or local and state laws.
But suppose a college could change its policies and state in print that fraternities and sororities would not be recognized student organizations on campus. Would their community see fewer incidents of exclusion, bad behavior, crime, injury and sexual assault on campus?
It depends. Here are some reasons why:
Fraternities and sororities do not always need to be national or be recognized by a college. I am aware of incidents–the outcome of the Duke Lacrosse case was one example–where local fraternities have been established in housing off campus. A college’s disciplinary authority, as well as its protection, does not usually go beyond the campus. If an unrecognized local Greek organization living off campus caused trouble, their consequences of their actions fall under the local police. The college, like it or not, goes along for the ride, sharing the embarrassment with the police and local government. Not to mention that the parents will blame the college for not preventing incidents before they happened.
Larger groups that share a house do not need to be fraternities and sororities. There is nothing stopping any group, when a college permits students to live off campus, from forming a “house,” as long as there is a landlord willing to provide a home and the local zoning permits group occupancy. Visit Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and you will see how this works. The authority of college administrators does not extend beyond “consumer and consumer protection information” for off-campus dwellings. And, as is the case with locally established fraternities and sororities, The college, like it or not, goes along for the ride when there are problems, sharing the embarrassment with the police and local government. Not to mention that the parents will blame the college for not preventing incidents before they happened.
College administrations would need to take more responsibility for housing their students. Many college towns limit the number of “unrelated people” who can share an apartment or a house. These ordinances are intended to help local governments avoid the problems that colleges experience with large-group housing situations, including fraternities and sororities. These ordinances actually help to keep fraternities and sororities on campus in communities where students want an alternative to a residence hall but cannot afford to share apartments or homes off campus. If a college, especially a very large university, wanted to close down all of its fraternities and sororities, it will still need to offer housing to replace them, and it would need to maintain those buildings. It would be irresponsible for a college administration to throw students into a local housing market that might be too expensive or have too many unscrupulous landlords.
College administrations would need to work harder to deal with restlessness. Imagine a college that is located in an isolated place. It has neither fraternities nor sororities. It cannot allow all of the students to have cars, not that all of the students could afford them. The college town offers little for students to do when they want to take breaks from studying, and the college cannot expect its students to study for every waking minute they are on campus. The student affairs professionals, especially those who work in residence life, cannot work every second of their lives. They have to study, if they are still in school, and they have to sleep. A college culture that is more similar to a military academy works only when the students enter prepared to accept it. Given all of these issues, a college administration would need to create a culture of student leadership and offer a wider choice of on-campus living and social options for its students. The easiest way to manage a very large group–and the population of even a liberal arts college qualifies as one–is to divide it into smaller groups, much like active and reserve duty military personnel are organized. In order to do this better a college will need to collect more money in student fees from parents and students. Substitute that fee for the dues charged by fraternities and sororities and assess it on every student on campus. However, fee increases are quite unpopular on the financially strapped.
Colleges would have to get more students off campus for their education. As I mentioned before, the best way to work with a large community is to divide it into smaller ones. Colleges become more effective at doing this when they can send more of their students away for study abroad, cooperative education and internships, and study away at other colleges or US-based programs. College students have to be more responsible for themselves when they go away from campus.
College administrations would still need to consider their judicial process vs. due process. Students who commit crimes in this country are innocent until proven guilty. College administrations cannot be expected to prevail in court rooms if they rush to judgement or deny due process rights to their students. They can, for example, separate an alleged student criminal, from the student body through a suspension, even to the point of keeping that student out of the classroom as long as there is a means for the student to keep up with their work. But the college administration must also be prepared to either make restitution or face legal challenges if the student is proven innocent.
Given these points I could argue that the disappearance of fraternities and sororities on college campuses could make colleges more expensive for all students, not just those who were members of Greek organizations. I could also argue that the problems that fraternities and sororities have caused on college campuses would not completely go away. They would only happen elsewhere.