Fraternities and sororities are social clubs that are a prominent aspect of campus social life at many colleges and universities in the United States. Chinese students should be aware of the pros and cons of these organizations, in part because they are such a dominant feature of American university life. Fraternities are generally all-male clubs, and sororities are all-female; however, you may find some organizations that welcome both men and women as members.
These clubs are generally known by a set of two or three Greek letters, such as Phi Delta Pi or Sigma Alpha Epsilon. For this reason, you will find references to “Greek life” on campus. In some cases, the organizations are affiliated with a national organization that has a “chapter” or branch on many college campuses. In others, the fraternities and sororities may be local, existing nowhere else in the country. Many fraternities and sororities have their own houses on or near the campus, where a portion of the membership lives, and which serves as the meeting place for members. At some universities, students will also take their meals at their fraternity or sorority houses. On other campuses, however, the organizations exist without having a physical space for the members to congregate.
Fraternities and sororities often revolve around the shared interests of their members. Some tend to attract members from sports teams. Others are more related to the arts, or revolve around particular academic interests. There are fraternities and sororities for different ethnic groups, too. African-American organizations are generally quite strong. There are Asian-American fraternities and sororities, too, and there is a national organization that unites them: the National APIA Pan-Hellenic Association (or NAPA: http://www.napa-online.org/.) According to NAPA, there are now 65 different Asian-American fraternities and sororities in the US, with over 420 individual chapters around the country.
Some Chinese students should consider joining a fraternity or sorority. Many serve as a social hub of the campus. They can be a great way to meet American students, to learn about American culture, and to form some deep and lasting friendships with other members of the organization. Many fraternities and sororities also sponsor a wide variety of philanthropic activities, performing volunteer work or raising funds for charities. They can also be places to develop leadership skills, as each organization has a variety of committees and activities, and often you will find friendly sports leagues in which the different organizations play basketball or soccer against each other. Many Greek organizations will host guest speakers, invite professors to lecture, or sponsor other academic activities. According to a University Wire news service story in 2002, 75 percent of the U.S. Congress and four out of five executives at top Fortune 500 corporations have fraternity or sorority connections.
Other Chinese will want to avoid these organizations altogether. On many campuses, fraternities especially can be known for excessive alcohol consumption and anti-social behavior. Sororities suffer less from this problem.
Why is important for prospective Chinese students to understand the role of fraternities and sororities on a college campus? First, since you will be choosing a campus that will be your “home” for four years, and since you will want to find ways to integrate into the social life of the campus, you need to know how big a role fraternities and sororities play on campus. At some universities and colleges, the social life is completely dominated by the large parties hosted by these organizations. On other campuses, only a small minority of students participates.
By looking the percentage of students who belong to fraternities, you can get a sense of the relative importance of these organizations on a campus. However, keep in mind that this statistic alone does not tell you anything qualitative about the kinds of sororities or fraternities available, whether or not they have a reputation for anti-social behavior, or whether they are more oriented toward academic activities and community service. Again, fraternities and sororities can offer great opportunities to get to know your classmates.
If you’d like to learn more about these organizations and their role in American university culture, you can check out the entry at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraternities_and_sororities ) . Another good resource is this article at the website, “Life in the USA”: http://www.lifeintheusa.com/education/fraternities.htm . Be sure to check out the NAPA website, too (see above).