From the moment I had heard about the existence of fraternities, I never wanted to join.
My distaste for Greek life didn’t come from bad experiences from family members or friends. It was from my ignorance and based on what I had heard from the media. Growing up in a town with a population of roughly 840 people, I didn’t have a great perception of what the daily life of a Greek student looked like.
I thought that being in a fraternity was only for the wild-party type of person. Being the follow-the-rules, don’t-do-anything-bad type of person, I thought being in a fraternity would make me quite the hypocrite.
When I came to Purdue, I avoided fraternities. Whether or not people want to acknowledge it, a drinking and hazing culture exists around fraternities and their parties.
A devastating accident involving a Penn State student earlier this year has reignited the question of the need of Greek organizations. Timothy Piazza was participating in a pledge initiation for his chapter of Beta Theta Pi when he drank too much, causing him to eventually fall down a staircase.
Some of his brothers moved him to a couch, according to news reports and videos, where he tried to stand but fell repeatedly, sometimes on his face. The next morning, after one of his brothers called 9-1-1, he was pronounced dead.
The only thing that surprised me more than his death was the fact that he was a part of Beta Theta Pi, my fraternity. As a senior, I am the vice president of programming.
His death made me start thinking of bigger questions: What does this mean for Beta Theta Pi nationally? Could this ever happen to one of my brothers here? As a leader, am I doing all I can to make sure my brothers are safe and responsible?
Hazing tragedies happen frequently within Greek organizations, which is actually one of the reasons my fraternity was suspended on campus in 2012. Incidents like these reinforced my perception.
In the second semester of my sophomore year, Beta Theta Pi caught my attention.
When I talked to some of their members at Meet the Greeks, I could tell that house functioned a little differently than the others. When some of the members told me about themselves, they weren’t just rambling about statistics, but they were showing me proof.
They told me about their successes, their philanthropic and community service goals, and what it meant to be a “man of principle.” After a couple of rush events (and seeing the house that had just undergone over a $2 million renovation), I decided to join.
My values aligned with theirs. I wasn’t joining the organization to make friends, to find a girl, or to party. No, I was joining because I knew who I was and what the fraternity strived to be.
This new Beta wasn’t like the one that was kicked off campus in 2012. It had a focus, a mission, that its members had to live by. That mission was something that I saw myself a part of as I wanted to be involved in the greatness they were going to create.
What the media often fails to mention are the countless community service hours or the philanthropic donations that fraternities and sororities give every year.
If a student wants to maintain a high GPA, he or she may consider becoming Greek, as these houses hold members to various grade standards. In some cases, fraternal GPAs may even be higher than the all men’s average on campus.
Lectures about how to drink responsibly, how to deal with sexual abuse and how to implement members into the fraternity without hazing are offered, and sometimes required, by Greek houses. It is not as if colleges are throwing all these young adults together and telling them to have fun.
The intellectual growth within these communities is amazing as well. Not everyone in the house shares the same major, common interest or goal in life. Despite the differences, when one goes through the initiation process, the men or women who were once new members, called “babies” or “pledges,” become brothers or sisters. Not only do you live with them, but they are like family to you.
But Greek life isn’t for everyone. I have seen many people, some of them friends, join Greek organizations for fun or because they needed something to do, and nothing good comes of it. Their experience becomes nothing more than a social escapade.
Like anything else valuable in the world, you have to work for it. It is when you can find the balance between having fun and working hard that you will find the most success.