What comes to mind with the phrase «student brotherhood»? Awesome parties with a bunch of alcohol, drugs and sex, based on the comedies about life in colleges, like American Pie, Greek, etc. However, is the whole essence of the brotherhood really in the love of alcohol and merriment? It is such an interesting and huge topic that you can even write an essay and get your high grade. At the same time, this topic is quite difficult, so let us figure out what brotherhood really is!

College Brotherhood

Closed Society

The point is that even the Americans themselves do not always understand what hides behind the letters of the Greek alphabet in the names of brotherhoods and sisterhoods (a student fraternity or sorority usually has three Greek letters in the name, like Gamma Phi Beta or Phi Beta Kappa). There are a lot of forums where future students try to decide whether they should become members of the brotherhoods or not. As it turned out, there is nothing surprising in such uncertainty, due to the aura of secrecy hanging over these student associations.

What is really happening within the walls of the brotherhood is known only to its members who are reluctant to share any insider information with the journalists, telling only the most common information to the curious ones. Nevertheless, according to the information that reaches the ears of the general public, the audience is divided into two large camps in their attitude towards this phenomenon. Some believe that the brotherhood is the core of student life, an integral part of the university culture. The second camp accuses the fraternity of all the troubles of the students, of the destruction of the moral standards and values of the youth.

Arguments for Fraternity

  • Brotherhoods make student life full of fun by organizing many parties and different events.
  • Fraternities help newcomers adapt to the student environment, make new friends and acquaintances, deal with studying and even meet their love because all brotherhoods maintain very close relations with the sisterhoods.
  • Networking is probably the most important advantage of the brotherhoods. Membership in the brotherhood is not only about the parties, but also mutual assistance, even after the graduation. Brothers help each other in finding a job placement and partnership very often. In the modern world, where, as they say, the communication and relations are vital, this option can be considered a tremendous advantage of the brotherhoods.
  • Fraternities and sororities are the unions of students based on different criteria, interests and goals. For instance, there are so-called professional fraternities like Pi Tau Sigma, which unite those who specialize in mechanical engineering, help them develop in this area and find a job.
  • Housing for members of the brotherhood is often held by former brothers with a stable income so that their followers can live under the same roof.

There Is Nothing Good There

  • Members of brotherhoods and sisterhoods are great drinkers; they are the first in this activity.
  • In many brotherhoods, there is a tradition of introductory tests – hazing. Everyone who watched youth comedies probably saw those funny episodes, in which the newcomers passed a series of tests to become a member of the brotherhood. In movies, this all looks rather ridiculous, a tribute to the traditions, but life is much crueler and sometimes such trials end very badly. Since 1970, in one of the colleges in America, one person dies while passing these tests at least once a year.
  • Girls from sisterhoods often suffer from the discontent with themselves because of the cult of model appearance. The place in the hierarchy of the sisterhood largely depends on the appearance. Sisters harm themselves with many improper diets in pursuit of the ideal body more often than other students.
  • Friendship in brotherhoods is bought because being a part of the brotherhood is impossible without membership fees, even if you meet all their demands.

Here are the main arguments for and against such groups. However, we need to dig a little deeper to decide whether students need such organizations at all.

Sisterhood Members

Where Do the Roots Grow from?

Students are active people; they always liked to unite, so the first student brotherhoods appeared along with the first universities in Europe, if you look very deep into the history, then you will see that the first sororities appeared with the first ancient Greek schools. Then, this tradition migrated to America together with the Pilgrim Fathers, more precisely – with the founders of the first US universities. However, in 1776, a guy named John Heath failed when trying to become a member of two such brotherhoods, namely two «brotherhoods of Latin letters» (the club of Flat Hats and the Please Do Not Ask group). John did not lose his head and on December 5, 1776, founded the first brotherhood of Greek letters – Phi Beta Kappa Society, where he took over the presidency without too much modesty. From this brotherhood, all the modern brotherhoods of Greek letters conduct their genealogies.

What About the Ladies? Go, Sisters!

We would like to say that the girls did not lag behind in the organization of women’s brotherhoods (that is how they were called first), but it is not so. In America, the first sisterhoods were organized in the middle of the XIX century, almost a century later than the first male brotherhoods appeared. However, considering the patriarchy of the society of that time, this is not such a big gap. The current erasure of gender boundaries has not bypassed the sisterhoods, as well as the educational institutions in general. Now, the word «brotherhood» quite often means any student organization of Greek letters, regardless of the gender of their members. Nowadays, mixed living of guys and girls in the same building is a common case – just on the different floors or just in different rooms.

Not Just in America

It is interesting that not only American students are able to unite in communities. In Europe, there are analogs of the student brotherhoods that are called student corporations. The first corporations appeared in the XIII century at the University of Bologna. They still exist, but their impact on the life of students, in comparison with their overseas colleagues, is very low. For example, in the present-day German-speaking countries in Europe, less than one percent of the students take an active part in the activities of such corporations. It is also worth noting that the first corporations of the Russian Empire appeared in the beginning of the XIX century. They existed only until 1918 when they were ruthlessly crushed by Komsomol, which was many times more superior to all bourgeois-capitalist brotherhoods – in 1977, the Komsomol consisted of over 36 million Soviet citizens aged 14-28. Of course, it is not right comparing them because the Komsomol united youth in general, and not just all students. Moreover, it was aimed at much more significant tasks. However, Komsomol stopped its activity in 1991. Speaking about the modern post-Soviet space, it is difficult to highlight at least one dominant type of student self-organization.

Friendship for Sale

Cool parties, the organization of various holidays, competitions and events, philanthropy (yes, the fraternities are even engaged in charity) and much more are very good things. A great place to make friends, is it not? It may seem so, but only if your wallet allows you to do this. The cost of membership in brotherhood or sisterhood depends on the specific association and university, but the average price is somewhere between $2000-4000 per semester. Moreover, this is not counting the cost of the studies, which is not affordable to all people in the United States. Of course, this amount includes accommodation and meals, although the latter is often of dubious quality. It is the financial side of the fraternities, their accessibility only to the elite class that causes strong indignation in the American public, much of which is not happy with the tradition of buying friends. However, under the conditions of a market economy, even such a developed purchase-and-sell relation can, apparently, be engaged even in the sphere of friendship.

Student Party

Hell Week

In December 2008, a young man of 18 years named Carson Starkey, a student of the Caltech, died during the entrance examinations to one of the largest and most famous brotherhoods – Sigma Alpha Epsilon. The cause of death is alcohol poisoning. The tests showed that in his blood, there was five times more alcohol than is permissible when driving a car. Starkey drank a cocktail of rum, beer and Everclear – the strongest liquor in the world with a pure alcohol content of 75-95%.

Starkey’s example is not the only one. A large number of recruits suffered during the «hell week», when the elder brothers were testing the newcomers in a variety of ways. Hell Week is a week of tough tests for brotherhood beginners when they pass all sorts of trials in order to prove their strength and fidelity to the brotherhood. However, sometimes, as in the case of the young Starkey, the leaders of the brotherhoods cross the permissible boundaries.

It is the hell weeks that are the main problem of all fraternities, and this problem is really serious. Most of the brotherhoods have banned this kind of testing, and in most states, they are banned by local legislation. Apparently, in practice, these laws act just like the laws which prohibit the drinking of alcohol and smoking cigarettes for people under 18 years old.

Generalized Conclusion

The tradition of a student fraternity of Greek letters is quite in the spirit of American society. This kind of socialization with membership fees and strength tests is probably well suited to the Western worldview. Brotherhoods and interest clubs accompany citizens from their birth to the old age. It is in our blood.

The following facts also speak in favor of the brotherhoods of North America:

  • 48% of all presidents of America and 42% of all senators were members of the fraternities;
  • 85% of the largest US companies are managed by the fraternity members;
  • 75% of congressmen were in the brotherhoods;
  • The first female senator was a member of the sisterhood.

Moreover, the researchers at the Gallup Institute believe that they have derived a good life formula after college, and members of the fraternities and women’s clubs are more predisposed to it than other students.

In general, over almost 300 years of its existence, the fraternities have become a controversial socio-cultural phenomenon, being a part of the American society and one of the most important and visible aspects of student life.


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