Fraternities and sororities

While the terms fraternity and sorority may be used to describe any number of social and charitable organizations, including the Lions Club, Epsilon Sigma Alpha, International and the Shriners, fraternities and sororities are most commonly known as social organizations of higher education students in the United States and Canada, though there are fraternities throughout the rest of the world as well (for example, the German Student Corps). Fraternities are all-male or mixed-gender; the female-only equivalent is called a sorority, a word coined by Gamma Phi Beta in 1874. Consequently, there exists some all-female fraternities which were named before this, such as Alpha Phi, founded in 1872. Fraternities and sororities are also referred to as student corporations or academic corporations, or simply corporations.

With few exceptions (notably "Acacia", "FarmHouse" and "Triangle"), the names of fraternities and sororities consist of two or (usually) three Greek letters. For this reason, fraternities and sororities are known collectively as the Greek System, and its members are known as Greeks. The use of Greek letters started with the first such organization, Phi Beta Kappa, which used Greek letters to hide their secret name.


The purposes and types of fraternities

There are various types of fraternities: social, service, professional, and honorary fraternities. The most recognizable (and cliched) form of fraternity is the college social fraternity, as lampooned by John Belushi in the film Animal House (co-written by Chris Miller, an Alpha Delta Phi alumnus from the Dartmouth Chapter). Most of these fraternities were originally founded on dedication to principles such as community service, sound learning, and leadership qualities, though some have become purely "social". In response to the developing stereotype of excessive alcohol use in fraternity life, some fraternities today are alcohol-free (referred to as "dry"). Apart from the use of Greek letters, the common theme among all such organizations is the building of friendships and "brotherly" or "sisterly" bonds through shared experiences and efforts.

Structure and organization

Ritual and secrecy

Most fraternities maintain a ritual system that is highly symbolic in nature and kept a closely guarded secret. Some signs point to common ancestry in both sorority and fraternity ritual, but most are likely derived from Masonic order ritual. Other "fraternity secrets" may include passwords, songs, handshakes, journals and initiation rites. The notable exception is Delta Upsilon, founded originally as anti-secret in 1834, and is the only international non-secret men's fraternity.

Meetings of the active members are generally secret, and not to be discussed without the formal approval of the chapter as a whole.

The fraternity house

Uniquely among most campus organizations, members of social fraternities and sororities often live together in a large house or apartment complex. This serves two purposes. First, it emphasizes the bonds the members share as "brothers" or "sisters". Second, the house serves as a central location for the events and administration of the fraternity. Because of the unique nature of this setup, the individual organizations themselves at their respective schools are known as "houses". Professional, academic or honorary societies rarely maintain a permanent housing location, and some may be barred from doing so by their national organization.

A fraternity house can usually be identified by large Greek letters on the front of the house, advertising the name of the group. Depending on the size of the house, there may be anywhere from three to twenty bedrooms or more. The larger houses generally have a large meeting room and/or dining room, commercial kitchen and study room. There is usually a lounge of some sort, access to which is often restricted to fully initiated members. Fraternities will also often maintain a chapter room, to which only initiates may ever be admitted and even whose existence may be kept secret. The walls of the house may be decorated with pictures of past house events, awards and trophies, decorative (or historic) paddles, or composites of members from past years.

It should be noted, at many large universities, it is traditional for many fraternities to enjoy the use of large, Victorian style mansions on campus. Penn State is an example of a school with many large fraternity houses which are architecturally impressive and notable. In more modern times, some university administrations have sought to seize or buy out fraternity houses and convert them into academic use. This ends the use of the house for social purposes and helps curb overall binge drinking on campus.

For reasons of cost, liability and stability, housing is usually overseen by an alumni corporation or its respective national fraternity organization. As a result, some houses prohibit members of the opposite sex from going "upstairs" or into the individual bedrooms. Other houses may impose a curfew or "open door" policy. Furthermore, some national organizations restrict or prohibit alcohol in the house at any time.

Joining a fraternity or sorority

During a period known as "Rush" or "Rush Week", fraternities and sororities invite fellow students to attend events at the house (or on-campus) and meet the current members of the organization. At the end of this period, the house invites the visitors of their choice to "pledge" the fraternity. If the invitation, or "bid", is accepted, the student will enter a period of pledgeship. A student may pledge only one fraternity at a time, and may never pledge a second fraternity if they have already been initiated into another one. In general, this restriction only applies to social fraternities/sororities, and does not bar a member from being a member or later joining professional, service, or honorary fraternities/sororities.

Pledge requirements for each house vary, and some houses have eliminated pledgeship entirely. However, common requirements usually include wearing a pledge or new member pin, learning about the history and structure of the fraternity and the local chapter, performing a service of some kind, and maintaining a deferential attitude toward current members. Upon completion of the pledgeship and all its requirements, the active members will invite the pledges to be initiated and become active members.

The pledgeship serves as a probationary period in the fraternity membership process where both the fraternity and the pledge make sure that they have made the right choice. Almost always, after a pledge has been initiated they have a membership in the organization for life. Those pledges who demonstrate their commitment to the organization and its members are initiated, while those who demonstrate little-to-no effort and/or cause divisions and conflict are dismissed. Occasionally, however, houses will invite anyone who completes the program to become active members, in order to maintain their numbers (and survival).

Starting in the mid to late 1990s, the terms "Rush" and "Pledge" were generally replaced with "Recruitment" and "New Member" respectively. Change is slow in the Greek world, and the use of older terms is still fairly common among the chapters. Some schools and National Offices use the newer terms.

Hazing issues

Hazing is the organized, ritual mistreatment of new members of a group. It can be physical, psychological or both.

Historically, hazing as we know it now did not come into widespread existence until after World War I. Soldiers returning from the war re-entered colleges, and brought with them the discipline and techniques learned in boot camp. However, roughness toward young recruits has a long history. One fraternity, Sigma Nu, was founded in opposition to the excessive hazing taking place at Virginia Military Institute after the Civil War.

The activities which devolved into modern hazing originated as legitimate team-building techniques; some are still used today in the US military. In their essence, they are meant to make the individual fail as an individual, but succeed as part of a team. Thus the individual learns to become a valuable asset to the team and be loyal to its success. This philosophy of team development continued to be used in fraternal organizations as each subsequent war refreshed the pool of ex-military students.

Eventually, however, with fewer military students entering college/fraternities, these techniques were passed on to others who did not understand their purpose or usage, and hazing became a brutal and hazardous exercise as each new class tried to create new challenges simply for their own sake. Many fraternities and sororities hazed their pledges, especially during certain initiation rites. In extreme cases, some pledges even died as a result. Though now created for decoration, the iconic "pledge paddle" is a tradition and reminder of this history.

During the 1960s-1980s, however, most organizations (especially those governed by alumni at the National level) implemented clear no-hazing policies. The North-American Interfraternity Conference (formerly National Interfraternity Conference) also requires anti-hazing education for members, as do most universities. Since at least the 1990s, if hazing was conducted at a local chapter, it was without the knowledge or consent of the national organization and outside the guidelines for their initiation rituals. If discovered, it usually results in the revocation of the local chapter's charter and probably expulsion of members from the organization.

Many chapters today still struggle with the legacy of hazing. It is seen as tradition, and many find that the best indicator of a pledge's worth to the group is their willingness to endure the challenges set out before them. While hazing rarely exists in its most brutal forms, many chapters still incorporate behavior such as yelling or demanding menial tasks be performed that are deemed by their universities and national headquarters to be hazing.

History of the Greek system as a whole

The Phi Beta Kappa Society was founded on December 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA. It is the oldest college fraternity and the first organization to have a Greek letter name. It was started as a forum for students to discuss current issues, instead of school-related topics like other groups on campus had been pressured into doing from faculty and staff. It has since evolved into a national honor society with chapters at 270 institutions of higher learning in the United States.

The first female Greek organization established was the Adelphean Society (later renamed Alpha Delta Pi). Next came Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma fraternities. The term sorority did not originate until later. Template:Sect-num-stub

Lists of fraternities and sororities

Cultural fraternities

Social fraternities

Social sororities and female fraternities

Social coed fraternities

Fraternity and Sorority Governing Organizations

Service fraternities

Service sororities

Religious fraternities

Academic or honorary fraternities and sororities

Note: Most honorary fraternities are open to both sexes.

Professional fraternities and sororities

Professional fraternal associations

Fictional fraternities and sororities

Revenge of the Nerds

National Lampoon's Animal House

National Lampoon's Van Wilder

  • Delta Iota Kappa, fraternity (notice it is "DIK", as to imply its members are dicks)


Aqua Teen Hunger Force

  • ???, alien fraternity

Decoys (movie)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air


Scream 2

Legally Blonde


Sabrina, The Teenage Witch

The Simpsons

Road Trip

  • Xi Chi, national African-American fraternity

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Gamma Alpha Gamma (GAG), a hack [10] (

Old School

Other university societies

Fraternities and sororities outside of North America

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