Alpha, Beta, Gamma: Modern-day Greek societies have moved beyond strictly academic pursuits. Many are now used as social, honorary and professional groups that promote a variety of ideals. | SUPPLIED PHOTO
Students getting ready to begin their college careers may soon find themselves pondering how to ingrain themselves in their new communities. College presents opportunities to explore new interests and hobbies and make new friends in the process. One of the more popular ways students assimilate into campus life is by joining a Greek organization.
Some students have gotten their first perceptions of Greek organizations from movies such as “Animal House” and “Old School,” but such depictions of Greek life are not entirely accurate. Greek organizations such as fraternities and sororities date back hundreds of years, when the organizations were largely social associations formed in European universities. When colleges were founded in North America, many of the traces of student organizations and independence were not incorporated into modern-day learning. Students eventually set off to form their own groups to debate and discuss current events and literature that was not part of their college curriculum. Some met in secrecy, while some schools supported the freethinking of these clubs.
One of the first American schools to establish a college society was the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where the Phi Beta Kappa Society was founded, setting the precedent for naming North American college societies after Greek-letter initials. Other societies soon began to form under the basis of literary debates and other educational merits, such as the Chi Delta Theta group at Yale. It was not until the Kappa Alpha society, the first general Greek letter fraternity, was formed at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., that the focus of fraternities turned from being merely academic to more socially-oriented.
Many fraternities for men, and later sororities for women, began as localized Greek societies unique to particular schools. However, Sigma Phi, another fraternity formed at Union College, became the first Greek organization to establish a chapter at another college, making it the first national Greek organization. Today many Greek organizations have national reach.
Modern-day Greek societies have moved beyond strictly academic pursuits. Many are now used as social, honorary and professional groups that promote a variety of ideals. Greek life encompasses many traditions. Some organizations keep their constitutions secret, while others advertise their goals and traditions in an effort to gain new membership. Original Greek societies based initiation rites on ceremonies borrowed from historical accounts, philosophy and literature. As time went on, many of these classic rites were abandoned and fraternities created their own ceremonies. Some believe this is when hazing was established.
New members are inducted into Greek organizations in different ways. Some are given formal invitations initiated by current members. Many others are recruited through campus events and Greek weeks. In the past, such weeks were known as rush, and some schools still refer to them as such. The word “rush” comes from the period when Greek societies rushed to get to incoming freshmen first, luring them away from other organizations. Some organizations need to keep chapter houses full, while commuter schools may not have such large Greek presences on campus. Either way, fresh recruitment is needed every year in order to keep organizations alive.
According to information published by www.stateuniversity.com, a school and university directory, more than 10 percent of all college students are members of a Greek-letter society. In the early 21st century, more than 5,500 chapters were on 800 campuses throughout the United States and Canada.
Generally, Greek organizations can be good places to meet new people and partake in various activities, including sports, parties, community service projects and academic concentrations. However, fraternities and sororities have long been marred by poor public image due in part to hazing and parties that got out of control. Many schools have attempted to reform Greek organizations to improve Greek life and shift
the focus from partying and destructive behaviors to more noble pursuits.
New college students may want to learn about Greek organizations on campus. Fraternities and sororities can be a good way to expand social and educational horizons while at school.