Harlan Cohen (Author) gives expert video advice on: What is a 'fraternity'?; What is a 'sorority'?; What does 'rushing' mean? and more...
What is a 'fraternity'?
As someone who has been in two and also pledged to fraternities, I really know fraternities. Fraternities are not really what people always think. They are not just a place to hang out, party and meet girls or guys, or whatever it is you're into. Fraternity is really an organization that prides itself on leadership, academic achievement, and on service to the community. Fraternities are really a place where you can find the majority of student leaders on campus. There are many fraternities out there and typically they are called Greek organizations because the fraternities each have Greek letters. There are exceptions to the Greek letter fraternities but that's really why we often call fraternities Greek houses. Because of the Greek affiliation.
What is a 'sorority'?
I've hung out at sorority houses but this was a while ago, so don't think I'm creepy. They asked me to leave politely after a while, and I did date some girls in sororities so I did get in the door. Sororities are not just places where women come together and make fun of other women. Those are the stereotypes of sororities. Sororities are organizations that are geared towards leadership, towards giving involvement, towards community, and it's the leaders on campus who are often involved with Greek life. Sororities and fraternities are what make up these Greek communities, and the reason that they're called Greek communities is because the sorority names are often Greek letters. There are exceptions to it, but if you've ever seen a house that they're Greek letters on top of the door, then that's why they're called Greek houses.
What does 'rushing' mean?
Rushing is the process of getting into the fraternity or getting into the sorority that you're interested in becoming a member of. Now, there are different kinds of rush. There's formal rush which is a very regimented process, at some universities there's a whole schedule. Sororities tend to be a little more rigid when it comes to a formal rush. There are also fraternities and fraternity systems that have a formal rush. But typically, there are scheduled activities like for, I know, for sororities on some campuses, you have to visit every sorority. And, when you get to the sorority, the sisters will do a presentation, or a dance or they'll get to meet you. They'll interview you. They'll ask you compelling questions and--I say compelling, some are more compelling than others--but they'll try and get to know you. And the same for the brothers at the fraternity rush. Guys tend to be more informal. Sometimes there will be like a football game, sometimes there will be an outing. It's a place for free food. It's a place to get to know the members of the organization. And it's just like you getting to see if this is the right fit for you.
What does 'bidding' mean?
To get a bid is actually to get a formal invitation to join a fraternity or a sorority. Sometimes there is a bid night, and bid night is a real big deal. It is if you've been rushing and you find out who is going to get in. There are also people who won't get in sometimes. It's always rough. I'm a guy who didn't get into the first fraternity I rushed. I only got in during second semester. For someone who doesn't get a bid, people don't always really get to know you during that rush period. You should know who you are and trust that these people will eventually get to know you. Campus is amazing - there are so many resources and so many options and places to get involved. If you don't get a bid, give those people permission to not really know you and know who you are. Just don't let it be the thing that ruins you, because them not validating you doesn't end who you are. A big mistake that people make during rush is that they try to be someone that they aren't. I would suggest that you should be who you are, because if people like you for who you pretend to be, you're going to have to spend your entire college career being that person. Just relax, enjoy who you are, and trust that the people who want to get to know you, will get to know you.
What does 'pledging' mean?
Pledging is the period of time from when you take the bid to when you become a full member of the organization. It's a time to learn the history of your fraternity or sorority. It's a time to learn the culture. It's a time to go through certain rituals, and it's a time to bond with the brothers and sisters. It can be anywhere from a few weeks to months. But pledging is that period of time before you become a full member.
Should I rush a fraternity or sorority?
If you decide to rush, you need to know why it is you're rushing and have a set of reasons; this is why I want to go into an organization. If someone who is contemplating rushing, or if you're little bit hesitant, at least rush. The worst that can happen is that you go through the whole process, you meet all these people during the rush process, people who can be your friends, regardless. And then, even if you decide not to go in the fraternity or sorority it's like when there is a party, you don't remember. Rush is awesome, let me in. Even if you are not in a fraternity or sorority you can still get into the fraternity and sorority parties if it happens to be a party going on. A lot of times it's who you know, who is at the door or who helps you get in the door. Women can typically get in through most doors, guys have a little bit more of a difficult time. Guys always let in guys, but that's something you just have to figure out and see when you get there.
Is it a good idea to pledge a sorority or fraternity my first year at college?
Pledging your first year at school can be really time-consuming because the pledge process can be demanding. If you decide to do it, you need to make sure that you go to class because it's really easy to not go to class. But if you go to class and you pledge, then you'll be successful. The thing is, too many times, students get so consumed with the pledge process that they end up not going to class, then they get a 1.0. If you get a 1.0 in your first semester and a 4.0 in your second semester, that's a 2.0 average, and you're always digging yourself out of this academic ditch. So the answer is yes, it's okay to do it, but make sure that you get help before you need it academically, if you find that being a difficult balance.
Should I live in the fraternity or sorority house or in a residence hall?
That's a question that you might not even be able to ponder because your college or university might have rules against it. There are some campuses that say you have to live in a residence hall during your first year, and you're not allowed to live in a fraternity or sorority. When it comes to rush, there are some schools that don't even allow first-year students to rush. When it comes to where you should live, I say you can live in that house your sophomore year, your junior year, your senior year, so it's like, what's the big rush? Rush, that's a funny play on words. You can live in the house if you want. I did, and I think it would have been better to stay in the residence halls a little bit longer because that, to me, is such an amazing experience.
What is 'hazing' and is it dangerous?
Having this is one of those things that just make my blood boil, because it's so unnecessary and it still happens on college campuses. In the broadest definition, hazing would be subjecting someone to physical or emotional harm. It could be sleep deprivation or it could be forcing someone to consume alcohol. It could be forcing someone to wear a certain piece of clothing or to say a certain type of thing when they are approached by someone. That's technically considered hazing. Hazing is against the law - people can go to jail for hazing and people die from hazing. Hazing is something that the Greek community frowns upon, but it happens. People justify it as being a ritual and that everyone needs to go through it. If you are someone who is being hazed and you feel that you can't tell someone about that, you can always tell me. You can email me, you can stop at my website helpmehereon.com, or thenakedroomate.com, and I'll get more into this. I want you to know that I am someone who has no problem telling the right people that you need help.
What should I do if I get hazed?
Now if you are getting hazed, or if you know of someone who's getting hazed - it's a really difficult thing because you don't want to ruin somebody's experience, but at the same time you need to balance out with protecting someone. If you're the one being hazed you don't want your brothers or sisters to hate you. You also might think "Oh! Maybe I'm just overreacting". But if you even feel that it's wrong a little bit, it's one hundred percent wrong, there's no question about it. So what you can do is to contact the dean of students, you can tell your RA, you can contact people in the counselling centre, you contact individuals at the national office, every fraternity and every sorority if they are national organizations have infrastructure where there are people there who want to hear what is that you've to say, you can even send an anonymous email. And know that I am available! I don't care if people don't like me because I reveal that you're being hazed or someone's being hazed. You can find me at thenakedroommate.com, you can find me at helpmeharlan.com, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can find me in Facebook and you can find me on Myspace. If you are at risk, or if you have a friend that's at risk, you let me know and I will do everything I can to make sure that these people are protected.
How does social life differ in a fraternity or sorority house?
Fraternities and sororities. I think one of the greatest assets of being in a sorority is that you have this group of people that you have this common experience with, and you can form these amazing friendships in a short amount of time. Greeks tend to hang out with Greeks. What is cool is that there are things already planned out for you. There is philanthropy. There are different fundraisers. There is intramurals. You can have these athletic competitions where fraternities play fraternities or sororities play sororities. And then there are dances which is pretty cool because the thing I find is that people are so afraid to take risks while they are sober and say what they feel. And what is cool about Greek life is there a dance, or a prom, or a homecoming. But there are so many dances happening that you have to ask someone out. They force you to ask someone out which is really a cool thing. But the risk is so many people end up becoming too consumed with Greek life. There is a balance. There is moderation. You need to make sure that if you are Greek you are also doing things outside your Greek system because you can easily become isolated from the rest of campus or think that you are better than someone else, when really everyone is sharing the same experience.
What are the advantages of joining a fraternity or sorority?
Fraternity life and sorority life it just offers so many opportunities for you to get involved with leadership positions. I want to mention that so many people think Greeks, fraternity life and sorority life is all about partying. There's these stereotypes that are totally not true. So much of Greek life is about achievement and leadership and the students who make up the largest percentage of leaders on campuses are Greeks. There are also opportunities to perform. I know at the University of Wisconsin they had this thing called Humo and at Indiana University where I went to they had, I U Sing. Where people created these seven-minute shows, they needed someone to direct it, they needed someone to run rehearsals and they needed people to perform. So, I mean, there are so many things where if you want to investigate it more go to your fraternity or sorority website. Just go through and look at some of the things on campus. Also go to your college newspaper's website and type in, "Greek life", type in, "The fraternity" or "Sorority" and you'll see all the incredible things that your Greek organization is involved with. So maybe when your parents are like, "I'm not paying for you to do that!" You could be like, "You're not paying for me to be an achiever, a leader and to have a high GPA huh?"
What are the disadvantages of joining a fraternity or sorority?
The disadvantages of Greek life are that it's really easy to lose yourself sometimes. I talk a lot about college being an unfamiliar place, or you're dealing with new feelings and you want to find a sense of community. Greek life offers such a strong, powerful sense of community that you can lose yourself a little bit. It becomes hard to say no when the only group of friends you have are the people you've met through your fraternity or sorority, because you get into that group mind. That's when people end up getting into trouble, so that's why you should make sure that you have options if you are involved with a Greek organization. Options in terms of social options, a religious affiliation or a club or organization outside the Greek system so that you can find that balance and so that if you feel that there's pressure, you're able to have a valve to release that.