Academic journal article College Student Journal

Moral Development in Fraternity Members: A Case Study

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Moral Development in Fraternity Members: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Research on the effects of Greek life on college student moral development has generally concluded that membership in these organizations does little to enhance moral development. However, this qualitative case study of one fraternity found otherwise. A fraternity at a large Midwestern university was studied. The fraternity (given the pseudonym "Alpha Alpha") was chosen based upon information gathered from student affairs personnel at the university. Multiple sources of information were used in this study (documents, interviews, observations). The data collected provided support for Alpha Alpha's reputation as a positive influence on members' moral development. Four major themes emerged from the data collected: (1) recruiting quality students, (2) upholding house tradition and reputation, (3) emphasizing moral development, and (4) encouraging community service. This case study provides useful information for colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities, and college student affairs professionals, especially those working in Greek life.


Some educators have argued that colleges and universities have a social responsibility to contribute in any way they can to the moral development of students (Bok, 1988; Evans, Forney, & Guido-DiBrito, 1998; Mathiasen, 1998; Thomas, 2001). The role of colleges and universities should be to assist these students by making them cognizant of these issues and giving them the opportunity to explore their own beliefs in a non-threatening atmosphere.

What impact do colleges and universities have in the moral development of their students? Pascarella (1997) said that it is "generally agreed that American higher education has a clearly defined role in developing individuals who can both think and act morally" (p. 47). Research during the last 30 years has shown that moral development is an important outcome of the college experience (Mathiasen, 2002).

Chickering (1969) said college students moved through seven "vectors" which contribute to the formation of identity. One of these vectors, labeled developing integrity, concerned moral development. The college experience forces students to shift from a literal belief in the absoluteness of rules and norms to a more personal, relative view. Questioning the way things are and how they should be, students see the world as very complex and that context is important when judging or explaining events (Astin, 1993; Perry, 1970). Principles are developed about what students see as, not only right-wrong, good-bad, but also as fair, just, responsible, compassionate, and caring.

Greek life and moral development: An overview

Attending to the moral development of all college students has been a difficult and complex issue for most colleges and universities. Even more daunting has been addressing this in traditionally closed student living groups such as fraternities and sororities. Greek-letter organizations constitute a visible and powerful part of student culture. At most fraternity initiation ceremonies, new members are challenged to be of good character and to be loyal to the other members of the society (Owen, 1998; Slivinske, 1984).

These organizations are under greater scrutiny than ever before, by both higher education and the general public (Rhoads, 1995; Rhule, 1999; Whipple & Sullivan, 1998). There has been significant negative publicity about these organizations. Reports of incidents involving hazing, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual assault, discrimination, ethnic/cultural insensitivity, and poor scholarship have often overshadowed the Greek organizations' positive efforts in campus involvement, community service, charitable fund-raising, and philanthropy (Earley, 1998; Nuwer, 1999). Movies such as Animal House (1978) and Revenge of the Nerds (1984) badly portrayed fraternity life and current MTV reality shows such as Sorority Life and Fraternity Life, continue to propagate this bad image. …

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