Students weigh in on fraternity stereotypes

Students weigh in on fraternity stereotypes

Photo Credits: ANDREA GONZALEZ / AGGIE FILE

A closer look into the reality of fraternities behind their stereotypes

Undoubtedly, various stereotypes — including negative stereotypes —  are associated with fraternities, fraternity brothers and even their houses on college campuses across the nation. 

“The experience that I’ve had with guys in Greek life was always pretty good,” Chris Pettit, a second-year political science major said. “Most of the guys are nice and friendly. But I have a friend who doesn’t see frats so positively. He had a negative experience with a few of those guys. He was at a party (he wasn’t rushing) and got into an altercation with a few guys. They were being overly aggressive with him and really intimidated him.”

GreekRank is a website devoted to designating different fraternities to a limited selection of reputations. For example, Pi Kappa Alpha at UC Davis, known as Pike, has been designated by many students as “top house” and also holds a reputation of being the “good looking” and “party animal” fraternity.

“The most common stereotypes are what the media portrays,” Nick Elliott-Smith, a fourth-year political science and philosophy double major said. “Binge drinking, hazing, misogyny, toxic masculinity, […] I think those are the more common ones that I’ve heard. I think there are a lot of tragedies that occurred in recent years and I think that a lot of the times, there is some truth behind [the stereotypes]. There are some horrible people out there that do wear Greek letters and I do not condone that.”

Elliott-Smith is the president of the UC Davis Interfraternity Council (IFC), as of Winter Quarter of 2019 and a member of Sigma Chi. These stereotypes are, more often than not, associated with social fraternities, all of which belong to a single council: the Interfraternity Council (IFC). Most social fraternities at UC Davis, 19 to be exact, belong to the IFC. Davis IFC is governed by their campus executive board, which is in charge of managing fraternity affairs, communications, finance, activities, recruitment and discipline. 

 One of the tragedies Elliott-Smith mentions, as stated above, is the hazing incident at Pennsylvania State University where a pledge died during an intense hazing ritual for Beta Theta Pi. Timothy Piazza, the pledge, drank large amounts of alcohol as a part of the hazing ritual and became unconscious. The other brothers in the fraternity failed to immediately call for medical assistance and, by the time they did, it was too late. Piazza died in the hospital the next morning. Surgeons found that he had a ruptured spleen and multiple brain injuries. 

In a community like Davis, where nothing this severe has happened in recent memory, it may seem like incidents of tragic proportions are rare, however, they do occur. “Eighty percent of fraternity members report being hazed,” according to an article in The Atlantic. “It’s not an aberration; it’s the norm.” 

Elliott-Smith assures that hazing like this does not occur in the Davis Greek life community. According to UC Davis’ Constitution of the Interfraternity Council, “each Member chapter shall develop recruitment events, materials, and activities that are: a. Value based; b. Alcohol-free and illegal substance-free; c. Generally in good taste; d. Not derogatory, degrading, or slanderous.”

“I can’t really say that there is truth behind [these stereotypes] in our community,” Elliott-Smith said. “Davis has a very unique environment. People come here for an academic education, it’s not really a social school. So for a lot of the stigmas attached to the fraternities [here], I really do not find any true value within my own council.”

Michael Bengard, a first-year agricultural and environmental education major and brother of Phi Delta Theta, explained to The Aggie why he joined his fraternity. 

“I felt pretty comfortable there and I liked all the guys,” Bengard said. “It just felt right.”

Bengard comments on the legitimacy of different stereotypes and reputations associated with different fraternities.

“Some houses attract different guys that you could say reflect the stereotype,” Bengard said.

One of the reasons why men join fraternities is to build connections and network with alumni. Fraternities are also meant to benefit members both while they are in school and post-graduation. 

“People see frats as a place to mess around and blow off school, but it’s actually meant to help you with school,” Bengard said. “It’s helped me a lot, and there’s a lot of good things that can come out of it. It’s not all about partying.”

Beyond the brotherhood, IFC fraternities work closely with the Collegiate Panhellenic Association, the equivalent of the IFC for sororities. IFC fraternities and Panhellenic sororities often coordinate various social events with one another, including formals and exchanges. The two organizations also work together on community projects and philanthropy projects. 

“Panhellenic and IFC function as completely separate entities,” said Erin Love, a third-year history and psychology major, who serves as the Panhellenic president at UC Davis. “Due to the friendships between our members, and the similarities of the structure of our councils and the chapters that they consist of, partnering with each other to work on projects expands the scope of people we can reach and sometimes makes events more fun.” 

Some members of Greek Life feel that the community service projects they participate in go unrecognized most of the time. 

“I think that what the media misses a lot of time is the good that we do in society, within our respective communities,” Elliott-Smith said. “A lot of times, what we do for our community becomes completely ignored because there are a lot of horrible people out there that wear Greek letters and they commit these atrocities, and it completely robs the value of what we commit to doing for our communities.”

Love responded to the ‘frat boy’ stereotype, saying based on the fraternity members she has interacted with in Davis, “the stereotypes would not be an accurate description.”

“Stereotypes are tricky because as soon as you say they aren’t true, someone will typically do something that proves to be right,” Love said. “I think that the term ‘frat boy’ has a really negative connotation, which in some cases, it has been earned, but that referring to them as ‘fraternity men’ aligns more accurately with their ideals and helps to promote within themselves that they are better than those stereotypes. The men that I work with/am friends with are hardworking, intelligent and driven individuals and shouldn’t be labeled as anything else simply for joining an organization that encourages those positive attributes.”

Written by: Linh Nguyen — features@theaggie.org