Penn State Greek Life

This past Thursday, Penn State enacted sanctions on its Greek life, partially in response to the February death of fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. The sanctions include limiting the number of socials with alcohol allowed to 10 per chapter per semester, ending daylong drinking fests, eliminating kegs, and, very notably, halting the fall 2017 fraternity and sorority rush which will be postponed to the Spring. The restrictions also cite that there will now be a “strongly enforced prohibition of underage drinking”.

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A Penn State Fraternity Party, courtesy of odyssey online

The new university policy seems to have been much needed, possibly for a long time now. Before, the number of socials allowed for these chapters was 45. That is going out almost three times every week. If that is happening, it feels to me that other opportunities that students could take advantage of are being overshadowed by partying, and responsibilities are being neglected.

Furthermore, these sanctions have brought to light the national, highly controversial issue of whether the Greek system should remain at universities, with proponents and opponents of each side. It is no secret that a large part of fraternity life involves alcohol and partying to a very high degree. In fact, Greek life in popular culture seems to only fulfill the function of providing students with a pathway to binge drinking, partying, and other such shenanigans. However, this was never what fraternities and sororities were supposed to be about.

In fact, the first Greek letter organization, Phi Beta Kappa, was not only created for social purposes of companionship and camaraderie, but also met to discuss controversial topics and had principals that showed a strong moral center. Another early fraternity chapter Beta Theta Pi was crated at Miami university as a way for members to grow morally and intellectually. Evidently, these organizations have devolved to something much different than their original purpose in today’s society. And because of it, several people argue that they should not be part of Penn State University’s culture any longer.

But party culture isn’t something that is solely tied to the universities. Penn State was named the number one party school in the nation by University primetime in 2015. With only 19 percent of the university involved in Greek life, this party culture cannot be solely the fault of these organizations. There will always be State Patty’s day and Arts fest. College students will never stop partying. It is possible to take the perspective that Greek life even provides a vestige of containment that limits the amount that the parties affect the local community. If we didn’t have fraternities, where would the partying leak into?

Which makes me think, would it really be the best thing to eliminate them? Could they still have a positive impact on the university if they change their culture?

In my opinion, Fraternities and sororities do not need to be eliminated from our school. I will never be part of one, and for a long time I could see no benefit in keeping them, however merely eliminating them is too simple of an answer to a complex problem. Rather, I believe it is the culture of these organizations that has gotten out of hand.

Many of my friends involved in Greek life agree with me.  Pledges cited the ridiculous amount of alcohol that they were forced to drink, and the hours they had to do favors for higher-ups in the fraternity hierarchy.  Many pledges drop out of rushing these organizations because they believe it is having a severe impact on their health, grades, and even their social life. Hazing runs rampant despite laws and University policies explicitly banning it.

In my opinion, starting to put sanctions on the negative aspects of Greek organizations is the first stem in shifting their culture to once again have a positive impact on the university. They challenge the Greek organizations to highlight the volunteer work and philanthropy that they do, as well as prove that the support network that they provide isn’t just a social medium to drink alcohol. From this, fraternities and sororities will truly be something that benefits the University. They can continue to raise millions of dollars for THON. They will continue to have a higher graduation rate than other groups of students. They will continue to make higher donations to further better the university. This was the original goal of these organizations, and I think that most students agree that having this become the culture of something that they are part of would be much more satisfying than going out to drink three times a week.

As the role of Greek life shifts to dedicate itself towards the betterment of the University, I believe this will be the best form of containment for the party culture and binge drinking that plagues Universities. If they educate all of their members and spread awareness of sexual assault they can decrease the instances of these on campus. They can do impactful volunteer work. They can have a strong network of people, socially and professionally.  From this, fraternities and sororities may even decrease the amount of things that have made them infamous in the national spotlight today.

So, I think these sanctions, although poorly received, are not a bad thing. They do not aim to destroy the Greek life on campus, because there is some worth to it that shines through. And as fraternities and sororities begin to prove that this light can shine brighter, then the sanctions can become less and less stringent.

If the Greek system can successfully begin to shift their role in the university, they can overshadow the negatives that have overtaken their culture.  Maybe then philanthropic work of these organizations will be what make national headlines, student deaths from binge drinking and hazing.

However, as it stands, big changes still need to be made for the betterment of the University, and the students that attend it. The first step has been taken, and I believe that Greek life needs to begin to work with the university to accept responsibility for their unwieldy culture, and continue to make strides for the better.

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