Greek Life Surviving
Since Greek Life originated, the organizations have been met with vehement critics, but it is good to understand that Greek Organizations are involved in so much more than merely extracurricular activities. They have become a way of life.
Greek Organizations have been fighting for their existence for centuries and throughout all sorts of hardships. Sure, member and chapter numbers have been fluctuating over time, but Greek Life has survived all major periods of chaos and tragedies such as the Great Depression, The Civil War, The Revolutionary War, World War I & II, The Vietnam War, and the upheaval and turmoil of the 60’s & 70’s. Through the years, we’ve seen several attempts by universities and state governments to shut Greek Life organizations down or disband them, but the fraternities and sororities have survived, and are sure to continue to do so.
What exactly are Fraternities and Sororities?
Fraternities and sororities are organizations that were founded to enhance the academic, professional, and social interests and skills of its member students and alumni. These Greek organizations are predominantly associated with universities and colleges. The majority of fraternities and sororities have adopted Greek letters for the representation of their organizations, and therefore they’re generally labeled ‘Greek Letter Societies‘, or just ‘Greek Organizations’.
Fraternity versus Sorority
The word ‘fraternity’ is derived from the word ‘frater’, meaning brother in Latin, but the word ‘fraternity’ is also used to describe organizations of women, not only those comprised of men. During the 19th century, both men’s and women’s groups were referred to as fraternities since in those days that was the only existing word for describing this type of organizations. Probably this is so because originally the majority of these student organizations were established by men.
In 1882, though, the Gamma Phi Beta women’s organization at New York’s Syracuse University started to refer to themselves as a ‘sorority’, as suggested by their adviser, a Professor of Latin, who thought that the word ‘sorority’ would suit the organization far better. The word ‘sorority’ is derived from ‘soror’, which means sister in Latin. At that time, however, quite a few women’s organizations were already legally and officially incorporated, so it was impossible for them to change their names. So today, several of these older women’s organizations are labeled ‘sororities’, though in their official titles, they still carry the word ‘fraternity’.
The First Fraternity
The first fraternity was Phi Beta Kappa. It was established in 1776 as a ‘secret’ organization. In 1831, however, the fraternity’ secrets and bylaws were disclosed. Some fraternities still keep their constitutions and traditions secret today, and some fraternities have chosen to publish them openly. Many fraternities have ceremonies and initiation rites that they borrowed (or modified) from historical items such as Christian and Jewish scriptures, ancient Greek or Roman Literature and Philosophy, Freemasonry forms and codes, the Military, Chivalry traditions, or Enlightenment Science and Romanticism. Fact is though, that today, these items don’t hold the importance that they were having previously, and the role of ‘The Classics’ has become less common and less important. Consequently, the rituals’ meaning that often formed the basis of these fraternities started to fade and are unknown to current members. This lack of tradition knowledge and understanding caused many fraternities to become dependent on theatrical ceremonies rather than a more profound and deeper meaning that was essentially lost. It is said that during this period ‘Hazing’ originated.
Most fraternity and sorority organizations come with symbols, badges, or crests that are only available to their members, though there is one exception to this strict rule. There is the tradition that the sweetheart of a fraternity man may be allowed to wear the symbol or letters of the fraternity, though men are traditionally not allowed to wear their sweetheart’s symbol or letters.