Education Encyclopedia - » Education Encyclopedia

Social Fraternities and Sororities - History, Characteristics of Fraternities and Sororities, Reforms and Renewal

college fraternity greek campuses

The American college Greek-letter societies, consisting of fraternities and sororities, remain a popular form of association for students on college campuses in the early twenty-first century. Known as the oldest form of student self-governance in the American system of higher education and called perhaps the clearest example of a student subculture, fraternities and sororities have been a force on college campuses since 1825. The fraternity or sorority ideal cherishes and embraces all of the characteristics of a campus subculture: residential proximity through the chapter house, transmission of norms and values to the membership in a concrete and systematic way, a history of longevity, and social control for conformity. Artifacts, symbols, rituals, and shared assumptions and beliefs add significantly to the shared initiatives of scholarship, leadership development, service to others, and fellowship among members.


The American fraternity traces its genesis to the emergence of literary societies in the late eighteenth century. Debating and literary societies, whose names evoked memories of ancient Greece, emerged as purveyors of forensics, but their main contribution was that they were primary social clubs contrasting with the bleak campus dormitories. The elaborate lounges and private libraries they maintained outstripped those operated by colleges. As quickly as the literary societies filled the curriculum vacuum of the early college student, the fraternity emerged to fill the social needs of the more independent college students.

The need for a distinct counterpart for women became evident early on college campuses, especially in women's colleges. For many years, societies for young women bearing Greek and classical names were common at women's colleges and academies and were organized similar to fraternities. The first fraternity for women was Alpha Delta Pi, founded as the Adelphean Society in 1851. Sororities were chartered as women's fraternities because no better word existed. In 1882 Gamma Phi Beta was the first to be named a sorority.

From the beginning, the norms and values of fraternities were independent of the college environment. Since the founding of Kappa Alpha at Union College (in Schenectady, New York) in 1825 as the oldest secret brotherhood of a social nature, fraternities developed with different personalities and histories on each campus. The trappings of an idealized ancient Greece were added to those of Freemasonry to create secret societies dedicated to bringing together young men who were seeking conviviality. Members historically met weekly in a student dormitory room or rented facility for social and intellectual fellowship. To fight the monotony of mid-nineteenth-century colleges, fraternities institutionalized various escapes of a social nature.

In the 1890s the chapter-owned house became a reality and gave a physical presence to the fraternity movement. Supported by prosperous and influential fraternity alumni, the chapter house relieved the need for housing on many campuses. The popular German university model of detachment from the student replaced the English model of providing room and board. Colleges and universities began to shape college life rather than oppose it, and the institutions reluctantly began accepting the fraternity system.

As more and more fraternities occupied their own houses, their interest shifted from intellectual issues to that of running and sustaining a chapter house. The chapter house had great influence upon fraternity chapters. The increasing prominence of the chapter house in the 1920s illustrates the power of this social movement on most colleges and universities. The total number of fraternity houses in the nation increased from 774 in 1920 to 1,874 in 1929, and the subculture was strengthened at state universities, where half of the students belonged to a fraternity by 1930.

To keep the chapter house full, current members instituted a recruiting method to secure new groups or classes of new members. New students were "rushed" or recruited to become new initiates, commonly called "pledges." Once affiliated, the new pledges were soon put to work doing menial chores and running errands for upperclassmen. This was the beginning of the most troubling and reviled custom, hazing. Old-fashioned hazing generally was punishment for household jobs not done; it was left to later generations to introduce road trips, asinine public stunts and practical jokes, and forms of psychological and physical discomfort.

After surviving the Great Depression and World War II, fraternities returned to campuses in full and more diverse force. As American higher education became more democratic, the fraternity movement confronted the discriminatory nature of its membership polices. Slowly, Greek organizations began to admit members more reflective of the college-attending population. Fraternities and sororities saw great growth during the time between World War II and the Vietnam War. The war in Vietnam and the cultural changes that followed had a negative effect on fraternities. Their traditional and historic loyalty to the college was in direct contrast to social movements of the time. As in the past, fraternity and sorority membership rebounded. During the period between 1977 and 1991 students joined at a greater rate than at any time in the system's history.

The name of fraternities and sororities is usually composed of two or three Greek letters, such as Sigma Pi, Delta Zeta, or Phi Kappa Theta. These letters represent a motto, known only to the members, that briefly states the aims and purposes of the organization. The affiliated branches of the Greek organizations at other colleges are called chapters; they are organized by states or regions and often are designated by a Greek letter, such as Zeta Chapter of Sigma Pi. These chapters are organized under the banner of the national or international organization and are governed through an assembly of delegates and managed through a central office. Incipient chapters are called colonies until they reach full chapter status on new campuses. Almost all Greek organizations publish a journal and maintain close contact with alumni. Many have their own educational foundations.

Characteristics of Fraternities and Sororities

Fraternity and sorority leaders prefer to use the term general fraternity when describing what are commonly called "social" fraternities. General fraternities and sororities can best described by the umbrella group or coordinating association to which they belong. These organizations are the National Interfraternity Conference (NIC), which represents sixty-six men's groups, and the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), which represents twenty-six women's groups. There still remain many local fraternities and sororities on college campuses that boast of long traditions and have never affiliated nationally. Professional, recognition, and honor societies that use Greek names are organized separately and can include general fraternity members.

It is estimated that more than 10 percent of all college students are members of a Greek-letter society. After hitting a record of more than 400,000 undergraduates in 1990, fraternity membership in the year 2000 in sixty-six national fraternities was estimated at 370,000 and is slowly increasing. In the early twenty-first century, there are more than 5,500 chapters on 800 campuses throughout the United States and Canada. National data suggests that women's sororities are healthy, with membership in the twenty-six national sororities exceeding 300,000 and the size of the average chapter on the increase. There are 2,913 chapters on more than 630 college and university campuses. Membership in local fraternities and sororities adds significantly to this total, and there are more than 10 million alumni members of Greek-letter societies.

Men's general college fraternities are mutually exclusive, self-perpetuating groups, which provide organized social life for their members in colleges and universities as a contributing aspect of their educational experience. They draw their members from the undergraduate student body. Women's general college sororities are primary groups of women at colleges and universities, which, in addition to their individual purposes, are committed to cooperation with college administrators to maintain high social and academic standards and do not limit their membership to any one academic field. Both fraternities and sororities provide unusually rich out-of-class learning and personal development opportunities for undergraduates.

Fraternities and sororities offer an organized and varied schedule of activities, including intramural sports, community service projects, dances, formals, and parties. The NIC and NPC make convincing arguments that Greek organizations benefit the sponsoring campus, stipulating that students who affiliate with a fraternity are more likely to remain in school and that alumni affiliated with a fraternity make significantly higher donations to the school. There is strong research to back up these claims. Affiliating with a fraternity or sorority enhances the development of mature interpersonal relationships, facilitates the development of leadership skills, teaches teamwork, fosters interchange of ideas, promotes values clarification, and can facilitate the development of sense of autonomy and personal identity. On isolated campuses, Greek organizations may provide the only social life.

Underlying the whole experience is the ritual that is exclusive to each fraternity or sorority. While often incorrectly associated with illegal and immoral hazing activities, a fraternity or sorority ritual is the solemn and historic rationale for an organization's existence. The ritual is often presented to new members during a serious churchlike ceremony where new members learn the underlying meaning of their respective organizations. Because of the esoteric nature of most Greek-letter societies, usually only members attend these ceremonies. The conflict between these stated ideals and the behavior of undergraduate members on campuses have caused confusion and lack of support for the fraternity system. From the 1980s into the twenty-first century, both constructive and destructive relationships have brought mixed results for fraternities on a number of campuses.

Reforms and Renewal

Many college administrators have sought to limit the role fraternities play within the social life and have taken a hard stand against illegal hazing and the use of alcohol among Greek members. Sororities have escaped most of the criticism because of their more adamant commitment to scholarship and service, stronger alumni intervention, and encouragement of campus oversight. A variety of concerns have been raised about fraternities, including that they encourage narrow social and academic experiences for members, have restrictive membership policies, practice hazing, discriminate on the basis of sex, perpetuate stereotypes about women, and wield too much power over social life. Also, there are allegations that racism, violence, and discrimination still exist. Most unfortunately, alcohol-and hazing-related deaths have occurred at fraternity events.

Reforms of the Greek system on college campuses, especially concerning fraternities, range from the complete abolition of fraternities and sororities to investing new personnel and increased resources into improving and enhancing Greek life. Attempts to make fraternities and sororities coeducational have not been successful, and even the U.S. Congress has expressed the belief that colleges should not act to prevent students from exercising their freedom of association, especially off-campus and on their own time. Some colleges have allowed fraternities to remain as approved student organizations but have forced them to separate from and close the chapter house.

Fraternity and sorority administrators agree that the abuse of alcohol is a contributing factor to hazing and is usually the cause of other destructive Greek problems. They have joined college and university trustees and administrators in taking a strong stand against hazing outrages. National fraternities and sororities are spending thousands of dollars educating and developing alternative programs. Hazing is one of the biggest problems facing fraternities and some sororities, who in the past never considered mistreating their pledges. Now every fraternity and sorority has stringent prohibitions against the practice. Members have been expelled and chapters have been closed when charges have been substantiated. Most states have antihazing legislation, and some make it a felony to practice dangerous or degrading activities against pledges or members.

For Greek organizations, especially fraternities, to survive and prosper, undergraduates must take the bans on hazing and alcohol excesses to heart. National officers and students continue to clash over efforts to transform fraternity culture, and many resist any changes that threaten the social aspects of Greek life that originally attracted students to affiliate. At the same time, much has been accomplished. Sororities are addressing eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, and several fraternities have devised pledging programs that emphasize academic development, leadership, and community service while de-emphasizing hazing and alcohol.

Altering Greek life obligates colleges to provide attractive alternatives for housing, dining, and social functions. Many campuses are increasing Greek life budgets and taking an active role in supporting Greek life and the cultural changes that are necessary to strengthen the experience. Fraternities and sororities, quintessentially American student organizations, remain a positive social option for college and university students in the early twenty-first century.


ASTIN, ALEXANDER W. 1977. Four Critical Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

ASTON, JACK L., and MARCHESANI, ROBERT F., eds. 1991. Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities, 20th edition. Indianapolis, IN: Baird's Manual Foundation.

HOROWITZ, HELEN L. 1987. Campus Life: Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

NATIONAL PANHELLENIC CONFERENCE. 2000. Annual Report. Indianapolis, IN: National Panhellenic Conference.

NUWER, HANK. 1990. Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing. Atlanta, GA: Longstreet Press.

RUDOLPH, FREDERICK. 1962. The American College and University: A History. New York: Knopf.


Social Organization of Schools - American Public Schools in Context, The Purposes of Schooling, Defining Organizations and Bureaucracies [next] [back] Social Cohesion and Education - Background: Social Cohesion and Development, Social Functions of Education

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago


Vote down Vote up

about 7 years ago

Dear Sir / Madam,

I pay my gratitude and exchange my thought on social reformation to accelerating your mission through system, process and technology to establish prosperity,humanity,justice ,liberty, trust , integrate and peace among country people and world people through below links.



Hope you will treat it positively.

With regards

Madhu Sudana Parida











Vote down Vote up

over 7 years ago

For Greek organizations, especially fraternities, to survive and prosper, undergraduates must take the bans on hazing and alcohol excesses to heart. National officers and students continue to clash over efforts to transform fraternity culture, and many resist any changes that threaten the social aspects of Greek life that originally attracted students to affiliate. At the same time, much has been accomplished. Sororities are addressing eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, and several fraternities have devised pledging programs that emphasize academic development, leadership, and community service while de-emphasizing hazing and alcohol.

Read more: Social Fraternities and Sororities - History, Characteristics of Fraternities and Sororities, Reforms and Renewal - College, Fraternity, Greek, Campuses, Hazing, and Students

Vote down Vote up

over 6 years ago

Present Day Idolatry Right under Our Nose

In Exodus 20:3-5 God says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself any idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

Let’s focus on a couple of words in that scripture so that we can take that and build on it. The word “idol” is defined as a person or thing that is adored and highly esteemed. The word “worship” means to revere, adore, or pay homage to someone. By these definitions secret societies, fraternities, and sororities are idols. Why? Because these organizations are praised, adored, and highly esteemed so much that it literally takes the place of God himself in people’s hearts. Don’t believe me? How many people you know have ever been to a party or step show hosted by some Greek organization on a Saturday night, and because you were so tired and sleepy Sunday morning you didn’t get up and worship God in his house? Or how many Christians in secret organizations find the time to make step practice, meetings, or lodge gatherings, but don’t witness to someone about Christ or study His word? My first point is that secret societies such as Greek fraternities and sororities are idols to themselves and to people who long to be a member of them.

In ancient Greece and Egypt, especially around the times of the Old Testament, the inhabitants of these regions worshiped idols or false gods. We all know them because they made us learn about them in grade school: Cupid, Zeus, Athena, Ra (sun god), Hades, etc. Demonic forces have used places like these for thousands of years to promote idol worship because they know that idolatry puts a barrier between the participant and God. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places.” So this means that demons use people to establish their antichrist agenda, by antichrist I mean anything opposite of the word of God, in the Earth.

My second point is that demons used the founders of secret societies and Greek/Egyptian organizations to create a stronghold for young people for years to come. How do I know that demons did this? Because demons always work against the word of God, that’s their job. Man wouldn’t purposely do something against God’s word unless they were deceived or influenced by unclean spirits, just as Eve was deceived by Satan. For instance, a form of idol worship in the Old Testament was to play music, dance, and chant in order to get their god to hear them. This is denoted in Exodus 32:19 when the children of Israel danced around the golden calf as Moses was away speaking with God, and in I Kings 18:26 when the prophets of idol god Baal danced, chanted, and marked themselves around an alter to try to prove their god was stronger than the Lord. Corrupt kings in the Old Testament, such as Nebuchadnezzar, would force people to pledge their allegiance to the idol god that the king set up for himself (Daniel 3). Hmmm… sounds familiar? Today organizations play music, dance, and chant to the Greek and Egyptian gods. You might think that they are dancing for fun, but I’m trying to show you where that activity originated. They give you line names derived from false Greek Gods like Ares, they encourage you to tattoo and brand yourself like the false prophets did, they also require that you pledge your life, your faith, and your trust to your brothers, sisters, and the name of their organization. People listen, demons don’t change and God doesn’t change. What demons did in the Old Testament thousands of years ago they’re also doing today. If idolatry was not pleasing to God then, do you really think it’s cool now because some community service gets done, or because their national leaders say it’s good for all members to go to church and claim to believe in God? Don’t fool yourself. This truly is present day idolatry right on our campus, and God demands that it stops now!!!

The Anti-Christ Agenda

What do I mean by anti-Christ agenda? No, I’m not talking about the person called the Anti-Christ described in the book of Revelation. I’m talking about the mindset and doctrine that he represents. Let’s go to some examples in scripture to show what I’m talking about. Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a riotous brawler; and whoever errs or reels because of it is not wise.” Hosea 4:11 says, “Harlotry (fornication) and wine and new wine take away the heart and the mind and the spiritual understanding.” So from the word of God we see that beer (wine) and strong drink (liquor) take away spiritual understanding and those who indulge in the consumption of these are not wise. But what do the organizations promote? Thirsty Thursdays, dollar drinks, free drinks, and special drinks that only that organization can make. On top of that, poor folks pledging are killed every year from alcohol poisoning and we, the church, say nothing. This conflicts with the word of God.

I Corinthians 7:9 says, “But if they have not self-control (restraint of their passions), they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be a flame [with passion and torture continually with ungratified desire].” Organizations continuously promote an atmosphere where fornication and other perverse sexual acts are encouraged with multiple partners across the campus. They hand out condoms, give seminars on safe sex, condone and promote homosexuality, and in some cases spread STDs. Students just coming to this university fall victim to the hype that surrounds these organizations and as a result deliberately disobey God’s commands. This also conflicts with the word of God.

In Matthew 22:37 Jesus says, “And He replied to him, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and your entire mind (intellect).” In order for us to love Him we must obey His commandments. Organizations encourage members as well as potential members to dedicate all their time and efforts to their success. These organizations want you to study their history, attend their seminars on Wednesdays during Bible study, do everything they ask, and sacrifice your entire life so that they can continue to prosper. If all your time is committed to this organization, how can you serve the Lord with everything you have? This is the third and greatest conflict with the Word of God.

A Proclamation from the Lord

As an ambassador for Christ (II Corinthians 5:20) it is my responsibility to boldly proclaim the will of God to this campus and to let people know that the grace of God is infinite. As I close, I want to point out the difference between sin and iniquity and how those words are related to this topic.

Sin is anything that is against the word of God, while iniquity is intentional sin. Now that I’ve shown you through the word of God that following, involving, supporting, and wanting to join fraternities, sororities, and other secret societies are a sin, I bring to you a bold proclamation from the mouth of God.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20, says “I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you that I have set before you life and death, the blessings and the curses; therefore choose life that your descendants may live. Any may love the Lord your God, obey His voice, and cling to Him. For He is your life and the length of your days that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 28:15 says, “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee.”

Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago


Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago


Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago


Vote down Vote up

over 4 years ago


Vote down Vote up

over 7 years ago

Hi im a 21 year old girl and i do lots of things im a graet lawyer and i adchive my goals i never give up i keep trying in till i stop im a great roll modeal but i hop you adsepted for who i am!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Vote down Vote up

almost 2 years ago


Vote down Vote up

almost 2 years ago