Inside Greek U.: Fraternities, Sororities, and the Pursuit of Pleasure, Power, and Prestige

By Jarvis, Robert M. | Journal of Law and Education, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Inside Greek U.: Fraternities, Sororities, and the Pursuit of Pleasure, Power, and Prestige


Jarvis, Robert M., Journal of Law and Education


INSIDE GREEK U.: FRATERNITIES, SORORITIES, AND THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE, POWER, AND PRESTIGE. Alan D. DeSantis. UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY, LEXINGTON, KY. 2007. 264 PAGES. $40.00. CLOTH. ISBN-13: 978-0813124681.

Reviewed by Robert M. Jarvis*

Researchers are beginning to take notice of college fraternities and sororities, the "Greek" organizations that are a staple of student life on many campuses.1 One of the latest to do so is Alan D. DeSantis, a communications professor at the University of Kentucky.2

DeSantis's book is the product of years spent interviewing (in both formal and informal settings) hundreds of Greeks to find out how fraternity men and sorority women view themselves and each other.3 The results are as fascinating as they are disturbing. And for the uninitiated, the text provides a handy "crash course" in the customs and practices of daily Greek life.

Still, DeSantis's book would not be germane to this journal were it not for the increasing number of lawsuits being brought by and against Greek organizations,4 a boom that legal scholars have been trying to explain for years.5 Now, we have an answer, although as a layperson DeSantis does not realize what he has found.

After a brief description of the Greek system, DeSantis frames his inquiry around sex: who wants it, who provides it, and how the pursuit of it affects the self-image of Greeks. Everyone, it seems, is rigorously dieting, working out, and dressing up to enhance their chances. And in this community, no one who is overweight, unattractive, or otherwise less than physically perfect need bother going through "rush," the process fraternities and sororities use to select new members.

DeSantis is so interested in the role sex plays in Greek houses - creepily so at times - that he never strays from it for more than a few pages. And to make sure readers get the full picture, he recounts the stories he has heard word for word, with no detail too explicit or kinky to be left out. Thus, we learn that gay sex is abhorred (except when it involves two "hot" women), oral sex has taken the place of the goodnight kiss, anal sex has become a common method of birth control, and vaginal intercourse remains the ultimate goal, although any female who "gives it up" is considered a "slut" and forfeits all hope of getting a marriage proposal, which nearly every woman in the book claims to want.

Given its tone, DeSantis 's work reads more like an erotic thriller than an academic analysis. Indeed, as I made my way through it, I often found myself wondering how tilings would turn out for the different interviewees, who, because they are identified only by tiieir first name and Greek affiliation, come off more like fictional characters at an orgy than real students trying to earn a degree.

DeSantis manages to include enough references to generate a respectable number of notes, a decent bibliography, and a serviceable index. Still, the overall result is akin to sitting around a fraternity or sorority house on a Friday night, having a few beers, and shooting the breeze. By quoting his subjects verbatim and not trying to clean up their language or censor their thoughts, DeSantis provides a vivid look into how Greeks are spending their time and what they are thinking about, which is, depending on the moment, sex, the opposite sex, or how to get sex with the opposite sex.What DeSantis really does, however, is show that Greeks today are much more competitive than their predecessors (indeed, viciously so). He attributes this to 9/11, which has made them more fearful, and to the way their parents spoiled them, which has produced in them a startling sense of entitlement. The result is that fraternities and sororities are going about their myriad activities with unprecedented fierceness. And this "take no prisoners" mindset has, in turn, made them much more willing to break rules and much less likely to back down when caught doing so. …

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