The front-page story in The Seattle Times today about a University of Washington fraternity gone good got me thinking about my Greek experience and raised some questions. Can and should a fraternity take teenagers and let them go as balanced men? What about the fun?
A fraternity or sorority is a great way to make lasting relationships cemented around shared experiences. Fraternities are also great way to teach responsibility and community building. Teenagers and young adults find themselves suddenly responsible for balancing a house budget and keeping the place in a livable condition. Greek life also teaches college students how to interact with others in a more organized adult like setting. Peers not parents are now setting the limits. These strengths of Greek life are also its weaknesses. House budgets are abused, living quarters are filthy and the only limits are tolerance levels.
I saw a bit of both in my fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, at Washington State University. Which was good. Near the end of my time at Wazzu the fraternity tilted more toward the more dysfunctional. The house was shut down about four years after I graduated, but has since reopened.
Any time you have that many young people getting their first taste of freedom there are bound to be some problems. So why did my house and the old Sigma Phi Epsilon house described in the article fail? Does it have to do with how well parents have prepared their children for the world? Or a cycle that sees the fortunes of Greeks rise and fall? I can't answer that. I do know that a good purge is needed sometimes. I am sure that my old fraternity is doing much better financially and academically than when I was there. The new look Sig Ep is probably an upgrade, too. Are the houses as fun? Depends what one is looking for.
Fraternities should probably fall somewhere in between parent and a fun older cousin. Able to install the tools needed to be a responsible adult, while still having a good time before real life intrudes after graduation.
Respond to Ryan.