Post Classifieds

How fraternities and sororities operate needs to be reformed

By Gregory Koch
On March 12, 2014

Earlier this week, allegations surfaced that sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma and fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon engaged in hazing rituals that resulted in one student being hospitalized with a BAC of three times the legal limit. According to an interview with NBC, Hillary Holt and several other women were blindfolded and made to "lay on the floor and sizzle like bacon, hold our ankles, jump up and down" while being forced to drink mass quantities of alcohol. Both organizations have been suspended by the university. This is the latest in a national string of incidents that illustrates the cult-like qualities of Greek organizations, where members are forced to unquestionably obey the commands of the leaders.
 According to the website of the International Cultic Studies Association, one quality of a cult is that "the group displays excessively zealous or unquestioning commitment to its leader." Although most Greek organizations have more than one leader, their orders are almost invariably followed without question out of fear of rejection or worse. Indeed, the ICSA reports that another quality of a cult is that "questioning, doubt and dissent are discouraged or even punished." In the NBC interview, Holt said that she felt scared of what would happen if she objected to the ritual. At best, she would be rejected from the organization, and at worst, she would be subjected to some further punishment.
The ICSA notes that in cults, "the leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure." Fraternities certainly use peer pressure to force recruits to perform embarrassing or even dangerous tasks "for the organization."
Another quality of cults, again according to the ICSA, is how "the leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act and feel." Fraternity life is too secretive to know for sure if this happens at UConn, but pledges at other schools have come forward and said it happens at least in some places. In a Cosmopolitan article, former sorority member Tess Koman writes that from the time she pledged, she was "made to feel pretty terrible about any activity I was doing that wasn't sorority-related." Koman notes how pledges were constantly watched and had activities scheduled throughout the day, many of which conflicted with other obligations. She adds, "every night during pledging, we were on call. We were told to be totally accessible and not to do anything we couldn't drop immediately to get to the house." Koman's sorority attempted to totally control her life. Koman also noted that her school's counseling center takes on three times the normal number of students during fall pledging.
Furthermore, the very idea of calling people in an organization your "brothers" and "sisters" is eerily reminiscent of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, which most sources refer to as a cult. According to author Benjamin Wittes, "The Moonies have ... rendered meaningless a series of words connected to the family. The church refers to itself as "the family," and members call each other 'brother' and 'sister.'" Wittes goes on to say that the purpose of this mangling of words is to "appropriate to the church those words which people intuitively associate with loyalty, love and obedience." When Greek organizations copy the practice, it sends a message that loyalty and obedience to the fraternity is at least as important as loyalty and obedience to your family.
One more quality of cults is that "members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members." Many fraternities and sororities at UConn have their own residence halls in Husky Village, and most of the ones that do definitely encourage or even require members to live there, rather than in traditional residence halls with friends from outside the organization.
This is not intended to be a blanket indictment of all Greek organizations on campus. Some of them, particularly the ones that aren't typical "party" frats, are decent organizations that treat their members and the University community with respect. However, a few organizations, including the ones involved in the disturbing events recently, have developed a cult-like nature. Granted, forcing people to drink alcohol isn't as bad as forcing them to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, but it still very nearly killed one person recently. While a blanket ban on fraternities might not be the best solution, there needs to be significant reform in how they operate.  

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