The term fraternity, often colloquially shortened to "frat," generally refers to all-male or mixed-sex student organizations at a college or university; the female-only equivalent is usually called a sorority, a word first used in 1874 at Gamma Phi Beta at Syracuse University. Before this, societies for either gender were called "fraternities." To this day, some women's organizations prefer to be called "women's fraternities." Outside North America, they are also referred to as "student corporations," "academic corporations," or simply "corporations."
Fraternities and sororities often use the Greek alphabet to depict their name. There are usually various initiation rituals for new member before he or she is accepted into the organization and entitled to the benefits that come with that particular fraternity or sorority. These can include a close knit group of friends, access to on campus parties, job placements after school with fraternity or sorority alumnus, and residing in the chapter house—housing usually given to them by the college or university.
The name of this type of organization implies that the members live and relate to each other as siblings, brothers or sisters, in a familial relationship. Indeed, one's student peers are like one's siblings, and many of these organizations specifically treat new members as younger brothers or sisters. However, in the fraternity or sorority there are no parents. The problems faced by these organizations, such as alcohol abuse and dangerous hazing activities, indicate that these "siblings" are still "children" in need of parental love and guidance.
The terms fraternity and sorority (from the Latin words frater and soror, meaning "brother" and "sister" respectively) may be used to describe many social and charitable organizations, for example the Lions Club, Epsilon Sigma Alpha, Rotary International, Optimist International, or the Shriners. The term "frat" is often considered to be derogatory, because of the relation to negative associations with fraternities in popular culture, which often tend to overemphasize the negative aspects of the organizations.
With few exceptions (notably "Acacia," "FarmHouse," and "Triangle"), the names of North American fraternities and sororities consist of two to four Greek letters, many times abbreviating a Greek motto. For this reason, fraternities and sororities are known collectively as a "Greek System" or "Greek Society" and its members as "Greeks." The use of Greek letters started with the first such organization, Phi Beta Kappa, which used Greek letters to hide their secret name.
Outside North America, college fraternity organizations are rare. A notable exception is the Philippines, which maintains a large fraternity and sorority system. Other countries with active fraternity-like organizations are the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany (the German Student Corps) and Sweden.
There are various types of fraternities: General (social), service, professional, and honorary. The most recognizable form of fraternity is the social fraternity. Most of these fraternities were founded on dedication to principles such as community service, academic achievement, and leadership qualities.
Unique among most campus organizations, members of social fraternities and sororities often live together in a large house or apartment complex. This can help emphasize the "bonds of brotherhood (or sisterhood)," and provides a place of meeting for not only the actives members of the organization but also their alumni. Chi Psi Fraternity was the first fraternity to use a house, or "lodge" as it is referred to by their brothers, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sigma Phi was the first fraternity to own a chapter house, which was previously located in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Alpha Phi was the first women's fraternity to have a chapter house.
For reasons of cost, liability and stability, housing is usually overseen by an alumni corporation or the headquarters of the fraternity or sorority. As a result, some houses have visitor restrictions, and some national organizations restrict or prohibit alcohol on the premises.
High school fraternities and sororities, or secondary fraternities and sororities, are social fraternities for high school-aged students. Most secondary fraternities, like their college counterparts, have Greek-letter names. They also each possessed a secret ritual and handshake and a Greek-letter name which, like college fraternities, was derived from the abbreviation of a secret Greek motto. These groups were identified by a coat-of-arms and members wore distinctive fraternity badges, or pins. Although there were countless local secondary fraternities with only one or two chapters, many secondary fraternities founded in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries grew into national organizations with a highly evolved governing structure and regularly chartered chapters in multiple regions. Most of the local chapters of these national fraternities were not tied to (or affiliated with) individual high schools but were instead area based, often drawing membership from multiple high schools in a given area.
Many fraternities and sororities are national or international organizations with chapters at individual schools. The organizations' headquarters or "Nationals" may place certain requirements on individual chapters to standardize rituals and policies regarding membership, housing, or behavior. These policies are generally codified in a constitution and bylaws which may be amended at conventions. Members of a such a fraternity or sorority may enjoy certain privileges when visiting other chapters of the same fraternity. Some fraternities and sororities are "local" and do not belong to a national organization.
Classification can also be made along religious lines, geographic extent, gender requirements (single-sex or co-ed), cultural or multicultural emphasis, and time of founding. "Secret Societies" are usually categorized separately from other types of fraternities.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society, founded on December 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is generally recognized to be the first Greek-letter student society in North America. By legend, it was founded by individuals rejected for membership from an older student society known as the Flat Hat Club. The Flat Hat Club, or FHC for short, was founded at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia on November 11, 1750, by six students at the College of William and Mary and thus has the distinction of being the first in line of the thousands of Greek-letter fraternities and sororities found on college campuses today. While it largely disappeared in 1776, a modern secret organization using the same name exists at the College of William and Mary.
The meaning of "FHC" is lost, but the group consisted of students who frequented the Raleigh Tavern as a social escape from academic rigors. They overheard tales about sailing on the high seas, politics, business, and gambling that were not taught in the classroom. William and Mary faculty discouraged these departures from their studies. Soon the boys met upstairs in a private room. To shelter themselves from scouts sent by the faculty, the boys invented a secret handshake, oath, and password by which they could identify themselves to each other.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society was formed as a forum to discuss topics not covered in the regimented classical education of universities of the era, lending the name "literary fraternity" to its type. Most students were well-versed in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; Phi, Beta, and Kappa were the initials of a secret Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernētēs = "Love of learning [is] the guide of life." In addition to its secrecy and selection of a Greek name, it also introduced a code of high ideals, secret rituals and handclasps, membership badges, and oaths that characterized later Greek letter societies.
As Phi Beta Kappa developed, it came to be a very influential association of faculty and select students across several colleges, with membership becoming more of an honor and less of a functioning society. The increasing influence of the society came to seem undemocratic and contrary to the free flow of intellectual ideas in American academia, and under great pressure, the undergraduate members at Harvard revealed the secrets of Phi Beta Kappa in 1831. Doing this actually provided a template for subsequent societies to follow in the years following. Phi Beta Kappa continues as an honorary society today.
The first general fraternity is considered to be the Kappa Alpha Society, established at Union College in Schenectady, New York on November 26, 1825 by John Hart Hunter. Kappa Alpha's founders adopted many of Phi Beta Kappa's practices, but formed their organization around fellowship, making the development of friendship their primary purpose. The Sigma Phi Society formed in March 1827, followed by Delta Phi in November. These three constitute the Union Triad.
Sigma Phi became the first "national" fraternity when it opened a satellite chapter at Hamilton College in 1831. The Mystical 7 at Wesleyan (1837) expanded to Emory University and the University of Georgia in the early 1840s, spreading the concept to the South, where for two decades before the Civil War, these kinds of organizations were called "Mystic Associations." The Mystical 7 was also the first society to initiate women as members. In 1833, the "Skull and Bones Society" was organized at Yale University among members of the senior class as a burlesque of Phi Beta Kappa. This spawned other similar secret societies that differentiate themselves from Greek-lettered societies.
Beta Theta Pi was founded at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in August, 1839, in response to the chartering of the west-most chapter of Alpha Delta Phi. Phi Delta Theta (1848) and Sigma Chi (1855), also founded at Miami University, emulated Beta Theta Pi's focus on establishing new chapters. These three constitute the Miami Triad. Zeta Psi, founded in 1847 at New York University, similarly pursued expansion. It was the first bi-coastal fraternity with its chapter at the University of California, Berkeley in 1870. It also became the first fraternity organized in Canada, with the chartering of its University of Toronto chapter in 1879.
Growth was then stunted by the American Civil War; though following the War, the system as a whole underwent phenomenal growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both in the number of organizations founded and chapters of existing organizations established. This was aided, in part, by the reopening of schools and the return of veterans as students. There was also a standardization of the forms of fraternity life, from the merchandise used by members, the calendar of events through the year, the processes of admitting members, and so forth, so that increasingly there was little need to explain or educate the public or new members about what a fraternity was.
Women's organizations also formed contemporaneously: the Adelphean Society (now Alpha Delta Pi) was established in 1851 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, making it the first secret society for collegiate women. The Philomathean Society (not associated with the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania) was also founded at Wesleyan College in 1852, and I.C. Sorosis (later renamed Pi Beta Phi) was founded in 1867 at Monmouth College, in Monmouth, Illinois. The Adelphean Society and the Philomathean Society did not take on their modern Greek names (Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu, respectively) until 1904 when they took on expansion beyond the Wesleyan campus.
Kappa Alpha Theta (January 1870) and Kappa Kappa Gamma (October 1870) are formally recognized as the first Greek letter fraternities for women. The term "sorority" was not yet in use, so the earliest organizations were founded as "women's fraternities" or "fraternities for women." The first organization to adopt the word sorority was Gamma Phi Beta, established in 1874 at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Alpha Kappa Alpha formed America's first Greek-letter sorority for college women of African descent in 1908 at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. is the first Latina-based Sorority in the Nation, established in December 1975 at Kean University in New Jersey. Alpha Pi Omega Sorority Inc. is the first Native American Sorority in the U.S., Founded at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1994.
Alpha Phi Alpha became the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity established for people of African descent when it chartered a chapter in 1906 at Cornell University. Phi Iota Alpha is the oldest intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity established for men of Latino descent when it was established in 1931 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), in Troy, New York. Phi Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc. became the first Native American Fraternity established and recognized by an institution of higher learning in the U.S., when it was founded at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke on Feb. 13, 1996. Phi Sigma Nu also created Hok Nosai the first Native American Greek Council in existence.
High school fraternities also began to spring up in various parts of the country. Some of the more successful high school fraternities included Delta Sigma (ΔΣ), Gamma Delta Psi (ΓΔΨ), Phi Kappa (ΦΚ), Phi Lambda Epsilon (ΦΛΕ), Phi Sigma Chi (ΦΣΧ), Phi Sigma Epsilon (ΦΣΕ), Sigma Phi Omega (ΣΦΩ) and Theta Kappa Omega (ΘΚΩ). Most of these once-powerful national groups have fallen apart after long term opposition from teachers and administrators beginning at least as early as 1906 and continuing through the 1920s when Glen Perkins called them "a problem recognized by all school men" and claimed that "no one familiar with boys and girls of high school age would argue in favor of [them]." Sigma Alpha Rho (SAR) (ΣAP) and Tau Epsilon Chi (TEX) are a Jewish high school fraternity and sorority respectively that are still active today. SAR was founded in 1917 in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while TEX was founded in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1921. These two organizations have proved a general exception to the rule of weak and dying organizations as they continue to provide valuable learning and life experiences today.
Most fraternities and sororities today maintain traditions which are generally symbolic in nature and kept as closely guarded secrets. These rituals most often encompass an initiation ceremony, but may also include passwords, songs, handshakes, and the form of meeting. Meetings of the active members are generally secret and not to be discussed without the formal approval of the chapter as a whole. There are two national fraternities which were founded as "non-secret" societies: Alpha Kappa Lambda, founded in 1914, and Delta Upsilon, founded in 1834.
For organizations with Greek letters composing their name, these letters can have a secret meaning, known only to initiated members. In the case of fraternities and sororities that have disaffiliated from a national organization, the Greek letters chosen for the name of the organization are often a derivation of the previous name (for example, Phi Tau is the former Tau chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa) and thus, while the name may bear some secret meaning, it also contains an exoteric meaning.
Fraternity and sorority houses are buildings used by fraternities and sororities for members of each organization to live and work together as a whole. In this way emphasizes the bonds the members share as "brothers" or "sisters." In addition to serving as housing, fraternity and sorority houses often also host social gatherings, meetings, and functions that benefit the community.
Fraternity and sorority houses are typically owned either by a corporation of alumni, the sponsoring national organization, or the host college. For this reason, such houses may be subject to the rules of the host college, the national organization, or both.
Due to the increase in widely publicized alcohol-related deaths on college campuses, many national organizations and host colleges have implemented "dry housing" policies in which the consumption and possession of alcohol is prohibited on house property. Some colleges make this policy conditional on overall grade performance. Because of residential requirements, some college campuses also prohibit members of the opposite sex on certain floors of fraternity and sorority houses.
The first fraternity house in America was established by the Chi Psi Fraternity in 1845 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The establishment was called a "Lodge" because of its resemblance to a hunting lodge. Chi Psi still refers to its "fraternity houses" as Lodges today.
Fraternity and sorority houses range in size from three to twenty bedrooms or more. They can usually be identified by large Greek letters or flags on the front of the house. The larger houses generally have a large meeting room and/or dining room, commercial kitchen, and study room. There is usually a lounge of some sort, access to which is often restricted to fully initiated members. Fraternities and sororities will also often maintain a chapter room, to which only initiates may ever be admitted and even whose existence may be kept secret. The walls of the house may be decorated with pictures of past chapter events, awards and trophies, decorative (or historic) paddles, or composite photographs of members from past years.
In some fraternities or sororities, only representatives live in the houses while in others the entire fraternity or sorority may live in the house. Other, larger fraternities or sororities may have more than one residence to provide housing for all of its members.
Fraternities and sororities often have a number of symbols by which they are identified, such as colors or flowers, in addition to a badge (or pin), crest, and/or seal. An open motto (indicating that the organization has a "secret motto" as well) is a public motto that is used to express the unique ideals and/or standards of a fraternity or sorority. Most symbols are built from the collective experience of the organization; paddle design, for example, is a highly meticulous and precise art for many houses.
An obvious symbol of a fraternity or sorority is their Greek letters. Often displayed in front of or on a chapter house, the Greek letters of a fraternity or sorority are the most visible means to distinguish themselves from others. They will also be worn on clothing as an identifier for recruitment activities or general exposure.
The process of joining a fraternity or sorority commonly begins with "rushing," or "recruitment." The term "rush" refers to the historical practice where students would hurry to join fraternities at the beginning of the school year, in a large part to find housing. "Rush" is usually followed by "pledging," or committing. Many fraternities and sororities have forgone the term pledge as part of their education process due to the negative association made by many people in the United States, and some organizations have completely eliminated both the term and process.
Recruitment may be done formally or informally. A traditional "formal recruitment" often consists of a period known as "Rush Week," or simply "Rush." Fraternities and sororities invite fellow students (often referred to as "potential new members" or "rushees") to attend events to meet current active members and learn about their organizations. Some prospective members may be referred to as "legacy:" someone who is related to another member of the organization. The formal rush week(s) may have limits imposed restricting the duration of contact between interested students and active members to ensure broad exposure, such as length and type of event or alcohol restrictions.
At the end of the formal recruitment period, the various organizations invite the visitors of their choice to "pledge" the fraternity or sorority. If the invitation, or "bid," is accepted, the student will be admitted to the house as a pledge until they are initiated as full members. A student may pledge only one fraternity or sorority at a time, and generally is not allowed to be initiated into more than one organization. This restriction usually only applies to other social fraternities and sororities, and does not bar a member from being a member or later joining professional, service, or honorary organizations.
"Informal recruitment," as the name suggests, is much less structured. New members are introduced to the fraternity's members and activities through friends and everyday behavior. Many campuses may have formal recruitment periods and also allow informal recruitment after the formal period ends.
"Deferred recruitment" refers to systems where students must have at least one semester's experience on campus before joining. This system is preferred by some campuses for the benefit of the potential members—by making sure the "rushees" have adjusted to the university environment before becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority, they are shown to have higher academic success rates and post-school job placement.
Requirements may be imposed on those wishing to pledge either by the school or the organization itself, including a minimum grade point average, wearing a pledge or new member pin, learning about the history and structure of the fraternity or sorority, nicknaming each other, or performing public service. The pledgeship period also serves as a probationary period in the fraternity or sorority membership process where both the organization and the pledge decide they are compatible and will have a fulfilling experience. Upon completion of the pledgeship and all its requirements, the active members will invite the pledges to be initiated and become full members. Initiation often includes secret ceremonies and rituals.
Fraternities and sororities have faced criticism in various forms, one of the most well-publicized being for "hazing." Hazing can be defined as the ritualistic harassment, abuse, or persecution of individuals in a group. In the case of Greek hazing, pledges may be required to complete meaningless, difficult, dangerous, or humiliating tasks. Because of the association of fraternities with hazing, schools such as Bates College started banning fraternities as early as the mid-1800s. One fraternity, Sigma Nu, was founded in opposition to the hazing taking place at Virginia Military Institute. Hazing began to be officially banned at the national and international levels of fraternities and sororities, is against many colleges' Greek Codes, and illegal in most U.S. states.
The North-American Interfraternity Conference requires anti-hazing education for members, as do most universities. Hazing can result in the revocation of the local chapter's charter and possibly expulsion of members from the national organization. While a report of hazing activity does occasionally appear in the news, for almost all fraternities and sororities in the United States hazing has been abandoned. For most organizations, hazing has been replaced with education and brother/sisterhood experiences.
Some critics accuse fraternities of an excess of power on campus, suggesting that these groups can bypass many disciplinary codes and statutes that students outside of these organizations cannot. Students have cited many instances that fraternities and sororities received lighter punishments for situations that students not in these organizations received harsh discipline. Many suggest that it is because fraternities and sororities have such a sway over the administration and social life of the campus that school administrators sometimes turn a blind eye to the happenings of fraternities and sororities.
The use and consumption of alcohol is another big issue in fraternities and sororities. Many groups participate in binge drinking, which is the consumption of a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time. Students have died from this practice, even in the company of other greek brothers and sisters. Sociologists suggest that alcohol is a point of bartering for fraternities and sororities, using it to draw people in and as a bribe to get others to serve the best interest of the organization.
Sociologists have also noticed that fraternities participate in the commodification of women. Fraternities are accused of using sex to lure in new recruits and attract people to parties, at the expense of invalidating women and merely using their bodies. Women are promised to new pledges as their reward for surviving hazing, and this instills a devaluation of women into those participating in these organizations.
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