Luetjen, Part Two
By the mid 1980s, our existing chapter house was unable to adequately house all of the members. From 1982 until 1988, Sigma Chi alumni and undergraduates committed themselves to the complete renovation of the Chapter House. The result of this $1.2 million project was the completion of one of the largest fraternity chapter houses on campus, capable of housing nearly 100 young men. And as part of the fund-raising for this project, the Sigma Chi scholarship fund grew to more than $200,000.
But my fraternity is not alone in its commitment to improving the lives of its members and being a positive influence in the community. For example, the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity undertook a Rose Bowl Football Run from Seattle to Pasadena which raised $24,000 for the Curtis Williams Fund. Nearly every fraternity and sorority at the UW raises thousands of dollars each year for charitable purposes, and many have wonderful tuition assistance programs. All of these chapters provide opportunities for leadership development by their members. It is no coincidence that all but eight U.S. presidents since 1856 have been regular or honorary members of a college fraternity. And studies show that 85 percent of the Fortune 500 executives are fraternity members. In every walk of life you will find successful individuals who have had positive experiences in their college fraternity or sorority.
But what about the problems regarding fraternities which we hear about all too often? The response to these problems is what really tests the fraternities' commitment to their ideals. Recently, members of a fraternity at the UW were accused of hazing several of their new members with the advice and assistance of their undergraduate and alumni leaders. This situation involved institutional problems as well as lapses of individual judgment. Therefore, the Interfraternity Council (which acts as the "Chamber of Commerce" for the fraternities at the UW) investigated the charges of hazing. After a review of the evidence, a unanimous vote was reached to expel the offending fraternity from IFC membership. For this commitment to the IFC's ideals and standards of conduct and because of the leadership exhibited by both alumni and undergraduate officers of the UW Greek system in handling this matter, I am proud to be a member of the Greek system at the University of Washington.
Nearly all national college fraternities and sororities were founded on ideals and standards of behavior that respectable members of society would applaud. Contrary to the public's perception, the vast majority of the fraternity leadership, both undergraduate and alumni, are committed to these standards. The difficulty however is two-fold: influencing the public's perception of the value of fraternity membership and directing the behavior of the membership to live by these standards.
Cross, Part Two
The UW hasn't been immune. In January 1998 a young member of Delta Kappa Epsilon committed suicide, allegedly after a six-day hazing ritual. Other local headlines have been so bizarre as to sound like something out of a John Belushi nightclub monologue. Remember when a sheep was discovered in the basement of UW frat used as part of a hazing ritual?
I grew up in Pullman, where my father is a professor, and this certainly shaped my views of fraternities. One of the few positive things I can say about UW frats is that they seem like amateur drinkers compared to their Wazzu brethren, where partying binges recently have been often followed by night-long riots. Some WSU frats made peace with the university by banning drinking from their houses. In practice this has simply meant that their parties have shifted to private annexes, thus giving the whole neighborhood the appearance of Mardi Gras every Saturday night.
Fraternity members are certainly not the only college students who drink and party. I managed to do a bit of both myself in dorms and occasionally even at frat houses. But there is a major difference between a weekend college party and a lifestyle centered around intoxication. What scares me the most about the fraternity system is that by its nature it creates a "pack mentality" that encourages young men toward extremes of behavior that a single individual on his own wouldn't be capable of. Within this group-think, there begins a sense of privilege and entitlement that is the precursor to violence, and of course, the inspiration for the Animal House T-shirt slogan. Most of the time these powerful forces of conformity result only in drinking to excess but far too often they end in date-rape, violent crime, and, tragically, death. A recent scandal within Dartmouth's Greek system developed when a fraternity circulated a newsletter describing members' sexual escapades and promising "patented date-rape techniques" in a future issue. Another controversy at the University of Alabama erupted when it was discovered that since the university's desegregation in 1963, not a single black student had ever been offered membership at a sorority or fraternity.
I wish I could say that the Greek system at the University of Washington was above these social blights, but unfortunately this is far from the case. Though UW sororities are relatively free of violent hazing, they are equally guilty of the party lifestyle that marks frat life. While the buildings along frat row still sport remarkable architecture which bespeaks tradition, any casual observer will also notice legions of beer cans and the remnants of a culture that suggests it is entitled to break rules (the rule broken most often, of course, is the law against underage drinking).