It's one of the first really tough decisions that young students must make after they show up on campus -- a choice with ramifications that can be felt in all facets of college life, but most specifically in the oh-so-important social sector. It's a decision that has both made and broken many a man. When it comes to fraternities, the big question is: To join or not to join?
I chose to join when I was in college, in Hanover, NH, and it was a good decision. The fraternity sports leagues were competitive, the hazing was minimal and the refreshments were cold. But it wasn't an easy decision and fraternities are certainly not for all students. In fact, a few frats probably shouldn't be for any students at all. (The Omega house comes to mind.)
Looking back on my frat days, I've put together a guide of four positive and four negative attributes of fraternities for students who are stressing over whether or not to join.
Brotherhood: This is always a positive when you are surrounded by a large number of colleagues your own age. You form a bond, an understanding that goes beyond simply being friends. You revel in each other's idiosyncrasies and develop an identity as a member of a group.
Farm animals: A shared experience can only take a group of impressionable young men so far. At a certain point, a boy has to draw the line. Farm animals, whether feathered or hooved, are a sign that this fraternity might not be right for you. My advice would be to run out of that house quickly. Generally speaking, humans can run faster than sheep.
Libations: College can be an awkward time for many kids. Conversations don't really flow that easily, especially when you don't possess a firm handshake and can't look someone in the eye. Ah, but add a little social lubricant and, as the French say, "Voila!" Suddenly, you can't shut up and she can't stop smiling and, oh my God, you're dancing and kissing and...God bless libations. They'll make a man of you yet.
Paddles: Certain equipment is only appropriate under specific circumstances. For instance, paddles are perfect for various forms of ping-pong, canoes and Kadima -- the game you play with a blue rubber ball on the beach. Paddles are not meant for fraternities. They're meant to intimidate, to remind brothers of the potential for corporal punishment if they happen to step out of line. So instead of saying, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?" Just say, "No, thanks."
Inter-fraternal rivalries: Nothing brings out the best in a bunch of guys like a little competition. Whether it be flag football, pong, karaoke or chess, frat rivalries allow students to rise to new heights. Nothing says "I love you" like a well-thought-out prank. So the lug nuts were removed from your fraternity president's car. What are you going to do about it? You're going to re-route the town traffic through the offending frat's parking lot. Good boy. Now, I'm not condoning stealing, kidnapping or other barbaric acts. I'm talking about rivalries that fuel a clever and witty competitive spirit.
Brands: As a rule of thumb, brands are for animals. My friend's father received a brand on his thigh when he joined his fraternity and now, over forty years later, it looks like nothing but a chunk of scar tissue. Long-term thinking says that fraternal branding is about as good an idea as running through an invisible fence with the dog collar on.
Formals: This might be the most superficial reason to join a Greek organization, but it is also the most convincing. Formals are the best thing since the invention of the wheel. You finally have a reason to go talk to the girl in English class that you've had a crush on. Plus, there's always someone in the frat who is willing to try a backflip on the dance floor. Oh yeah, make sure you also try the punch. It'll make you dance.
Peer pressure: Listen, with all the new and possibly life-altering decisions you'll be making in college, the last thing you need is more pressure, especially pressure laid on thick by your own peers. Be very, very wary of it. Just because there are a lot of peers standing around chanting your name and they're all bigger and older than you, that doesn't make them right. Hot peppers are not meant to be snorted. Cat food smothered in mustard and topped with a raw egg is not meant for human consumption. I don't care if everyone wants to see you eat it. It ain't right.
So there are a few guidelines. Obviously, the decision to join a fraternity will still be difficult for most of you. That's good. It should be. One should never underestimate the importance of a good social scene, but there are some things that are not worth enduring, too.