Despite Actions of Okla. Students, Fraternities Have Some Important Aspects

By Thomasson, Dan | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

Despite Actions of Okla. Students, Fraternities Have Some Important Aspects


Thomasson, Dan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


No one should excuse, diminish, defend or make light of the deplorable racist remarks of the University of Oklahoma undergraduates that may cause repercussions and possible reforms in fraternity behavior on campuses across the nation.

That having been said, it is important to remember some important aspects of college fraternities and sororities.

First, they are discriminatory by nature. They are made up of young men and women of similar compatible cultures and attitudes who bond together to enhance the social and academic aspects of their higher education experience - to give those who are away from home for the first time a family like experience. Being "organized" presents an empowering sense of privilege and belonging. It is a highly selective process.

My father's boyhood in the early 1900s in a rural setting was not easy but he found solace and camaraderie in his college fraternity and remained loyal to it the rest of his life. My own experience in fraternity life was short lived when I decided being hazed and demeaned for nine months in a chapter with a long history of drunkenness and mistreatment of pledges was a bit too much. I broke it off despite the fact my mother, sister and brother and uncle were all "organized."

Second, fraternal characteristics are self perpetuating. Each new class is enrolled by those who already are members and the result often is a reflection of the chooser's likes and dislikes. So a tendency for a certain type behavior is passed through generations. What is particularly troubling about the scandalous action in Oklahoma is that it is not just an incident triggered by too much alcohol but a deep seated attitude that stems from earlier upbringing.

Even more worrisome is that 50 years after the great Civil Rights' achievements much of them bolstered by college activists this intolerance appears to be growing in our colleges and universities, offering challenges to what we naively like to think of as an age of enlightenment in racial relations.

Third, the Greek system is for the most part a product of the 19th century and it retains some of the fundamentals of that time. It's major players were founded just before or after the Civil War. Two national fraternities - Sigma Nu and Alpha Tau Omega - actually were founded as a direct result of the war when cadets from Virginia Military Institute, were forced into private housing in Lexington, Va. …

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