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Surprising Science

Scholarships and Solo Cups: The Risks and Rewards of Fraternity Life

As researchers investigate the broad scope of anti-Greek litigation, the country is left to wonder “are fraternities more trouble than they’re worth?” Finding the answer requires a glimpse into America’s Greek Life culture.

What’s the Latest?

In February, The Atlantic published a powerful and revealing article about frat culture penned by Caitlin Flanagan. The piece, titled “The Dark Power of Fraternities,” was the culmination of a yearlong investigation that focused on prevalent patterns in the broad pool of litigation brought against fraternities and their members. It’s both fascinating and horrifying; I recommend you give it a read if you haven’t already (though reserve a solid chunk of time to get through it).

An article posted last week on InsuranceNewsNet rekindles the conversation about fraternities and risk. The phrase “fraternities and risk” can refer to two different topics that exist in duality with each other. 1) Do you run a risk when you associate with these organizations? 2) How do fraternities manage their own organizational risk?

What’s the Big Idea?

Full disclosure: I was a fraternity member during my undergrad and received a major award from the national council upon graduating (so you can imagine how much of the Kool Aid I drank). I attended a smaller school without official frat houses so my experience differed from the norm, but the wisdom allotted to me through years of reflection has led me to realize I took a great risk when I invested myself in fraternity life. I was fortunate not to have run into a situation where I was liable for instances of bad behavior by my fellow members. As is the case with almost every fraternity, the values espoused in charters and handbooks were treated more like guidelines than rules — like 65 mph speed limits on an expressway where no one drives below 80.

Still, I can attribute a lot of my personal successes to the connections (and friends) I made during my fraternity experience. There are still plenty of benefits in going Greek, but the decision has to be buoyed with knowledge about the specific group you intend to join. Any fraternity, sorority, firm, or company that ignores its core values puts itself at major internal and external risk. Some Greek organizations do their best to abide by the tenets of their creed. Other don’t.

That said, one major affliction shared by fraternities in both boats is an unhealthy drinking culture. In Flanagan’s article, she details all the instances of fraternity litigation she could find; every single one involved alcohol. Even more unsettling are the systems put in place by the national bodies of the most powerful organizations to shift blame and prevent plaintiffs — often female victims of sexual assault — from obtaining financial compensation. 

Binge drinking and sexual assault aren’t problems exclusive to fraternities; they’re issues sordidly entrenched in American college culture (and often treated as routine rather than as the crises they are). But there exists an insular kind of hive-mind mentality within fraternities that augments egregious behaviors and beliefs. It’s that sort of organizational softening-of-inhibitions that makes good fraternities risky and bad fraternities dangerous.

Read more at Insurance News Net

Photo credit: Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock


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