Luetjen, Part Three
As to the latter, at times we succeed, at times we have failed, but I am convinced that the commitment to ensure that our members live up to our standards and ideals will prevail. Many of the fraternities and sororities at the University of Washington have been on this campus for 100 years or more and they will continue to exist so long as there are alumni members who are committed to preserving the standards and ideals of these organizations, and so long as there are young men and women who desire to be a part of organizations that contribute to their educational experience.
It is the perception of the public where fraternities have achieved the least success. Too often the stereotype "Animal House" image is still associated with fraternities. Too often the report of a misdeed by an individual or group is attributed to a fraternity as a whole. Fraternity members often blame the media for only reporting the bad and not the good. But right or wrong, that's life. In fact, this perception problem can be attributed to three primary sources. First, blame should be placed on the individual perpetrators, but not as members of a fraternity, or as UW students, or as football players, or as any other category. When institutional blame is called for, the undergraduate and alumni members of the fraternity and members in the Greek system are to blame if they do not address the source of the problem. Such was not the case in the hazing incident described above. There the Greek system held the chapter accountable.
The third place to lay blame is at the feet of outsiders who either excuse the bad behavior because "they're just a bunch of frat boys" or who refer to all fraternities and their members as "just a bunch of frat boys that haze and abuse alcohol." Guess what? These people are a big part of our problem. This generalization of our members merely encourages the wrong people to join our fraternities and it lowers the standard by which our members believe society will judge them.
We must demand that acts of individual irresponsibility and/or immaturity become the responsibility of the individuals. We must expect that the fraternities live up to the standards of conduct that their literature proclaims. We, who are alumni members of a fraternity, must demand that our chapters act in such a way that we can all be proud to say we are Greeks.
For my part, I must admit that I have been extremely fortunate in my fraternal experience. I joined a fraternity comprised of so many wonderful individuals and outstanding leaders, both young and old. In these past 20 years, I have been witness to many successes of the fraternities at the UW and around the country. It has been a rewarding and valuable experience. Without question or hesitation, I can say I am proud to be a Sigma Chi and an alumni member of the Greek system at the University of Washington.
Douglas A. Luetjen, '80, is a business lawyer in Seattle at the firm of Bullivant Houser Bailey PC. While at the UW, Luetjen was a member of Sigma Chi, and after graduation he spent two years in Chicago working for the Sigma Chi Foundation. He also has served as a member of the Sigma Chi international board of trustees and was a founding member of the UW Alumni Interfraternity Council.
Cross, Part Three
Certainly not every fraternity is an Animal House and not every frat boy acts like those we see on MTV's "Spring Break" specials. Yet even the best-behaved frat members pay a price for their membership: By their very nature fraternities breed conformity and homogeneity, characteristics that are antithetical to what I believe college is about. Going to a university is not just about memorizing chemical compositions or 16th century English literatureit is instead a place we learn to think critically for ourselves. In this way, the Animal House slogan has some rough truth: A university may be the last place many young adults find the freedom to challenge established beliefs and social mores before their careers begin. For that reason, I hope my own son spends his time in college attempting to debunk established theorems and testing the patience of his professors rather than pounding back Big Gulps of Michelob at the nightly house kegger.
There may have been a purpose for fraternities and sororities in the early part of the 20th century, when rural students found themselves attending college far from home, and when these haughty mansions were extensions of university social life. But whatever purpose the Greek system once had, its place within institutes of higher learning is questionable today. "A system that promotes racist, sexist attitudes is antithetical to the spirit of what college is supposed to be," says Dartmouth Professor Agnes Lugo-Ortiz. "Quite simply, the Greek system is antiquated, a remnant of the past."
When my father attended college in the 1950s on the east coast, he pledged to a frat. On a recent trip to Pullman, he and I drove by a WSU frat house whose lawn contained enough beer cans to keep a recycling plant in business, and he commented, "That's the fraternity I belonged to back in Virginia." Naively, I asked my dad, "Do you ever go in there and share with your fellow frat members or alums?" My father didn't have to respond with wordsthe raise in his eyebrows was enough to tell me how much fraternities have changed in 50 years, and how distorted their once admirable franchise has become.
Charles R. Cross, '81, was editor of The Daily in 1979. He was editor of The Rocket from 1986 to 2000, and is the author of four books, including the recently published Heavier Than Heaven, a biography of Kurt Cobain (Hyperion Books, 2001).