Correction: The original version of this article published on September 19 contained an error. John Belushi starred in the movie “Animal House.”
From John Belushi as the embodiment of excess in “Animal House” to Van Wilder’s escapades as a full-time socialite, pop culture tends to portray fraternities as bastions for unmotivated misfits, a university’s elitist underbelly more concerned with male chauvinism than studying Charlemagne.
Not only is this portrayal overly myopic and stereotypical, it has had the unfortunate effect of distracting from and obscuring the many benefits of going Greek.
New to UCLA, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the swarms of unfamiliar faces, an insignificant nine-digit ID number unprepared for the frantic pace and sheer size of Los Angeles.
Joining a fraternity helped make UCLA feel like home. The community and support can be invaluable in navigating the road from freshman year to commencement.
The Greek system provides a network of academic support. Whether in the form of advice from older members about classes to take, professors to avoid or the comfort of always knowing someone in your class to study with, members are encouraged to succeed in their academic endeavors. Having a group of peers who understand you and your goals exerts a healthy pressure to stay on track.
The fact that average fraternity and sorority GPAs are higher than the UCLA average for men and women, respectively, attests to the success of the system in supporting academics.
The Greek system also encourages students to get involved on campus. Joining a fraternity or sorority introduces students to a network of people, each with their own experiences and advice about where and how they got involved on campus. This makes it easier for students to sift through the options available and get involved in groups that fit their interest.
The Greek system also provides valuable lessons in accountability and cooperation. Each house is internally governed, leaving the handling of finances, upkeep, recruitment and day-to-day issues in the hands of its members.
This shared responsibility demands accountability, as each member represents the organization at large and must answer to a group of respected peers. There are leadership opportunities, providing members valued skills to succeed in the job market and beyond.
Perhaps this helps explain why almost half of all U.S. presidents were members of fraternities.
I couldn’t talk about the benefits of joining a fraternity without mentioning the lifelong friendships that develop. The first couple weeks of school, I doubted whether UCLA would ever feel comfortable. Growing up north of San Francisco and having never been to Los Angeles, adjusting to the pace and culture of the city was difficult. Three years later, Westwood is my home thanks to a group of friends that feels more like family.
It’s true that a fundamental purpose of fraternities is social networking, but is this such a bad thing?
Being exposed to such a wide range of opinions and personalities promotes self-discovery and builds social skills indispensable in everyday life. Greek life doesn’t detract from the 16 hours the average student spends each week in class. But it can sure provide opportunities to enhance the other 152 hours.
Most fraternities throw parties, which may not be to everyone’s liking and certainly contributes to the negative stereotype. A lot of students come to college having partied in high school and expecting an active social scene. For others, college provides the first opportunity to party and experiment with alcohol, and some simply choose not to at all.
It all comes down to personal choice. To villainize and attempt to control fraternities as a group because one disagrees with individual choices amounts to imposing supply-side solutions to what is essentially a demand issue.
Learning, in a fundamental sense, is the understanding gained through success and failure, experience and self-reflection. The most valuable lessons in life cannot be learned in a classroom, for no textbook can teach you more about yourself than interactions with family, friends and the world around you.
Greek life provides a platform for self-discovery and fosters a connection to UCLA that lasts long after graduation.