Popular perceptions of Greek life will forever be caught under the shadow of the 1978 comedy Animal House, in which a youthful John Belushi and his gang of misfit fraternity brothers engage in debauchery and hilarity as they struggle to keep their organization legitimate at the fictional Faber College. These judgements assume that Greek life—and fraternity life in particular—is little more than an opportunity for an exclusive group of privileged and obnoxious young men to throw parties, get drunk, and hit on girls. Stereotypes claim that fraternity brothers are misogynistic and hyper-masculine while sorority sisters are little more than shallow and image-obsessed Valley girls. In my experience, being a member of a fraternity has taught me important values as well as how to build meaningful friendships.
Many non-affiliated students at McGill do not understand this. I’ve gotten countless blank stares when introducing myself as a proud member of a fraternity accompanied by comments like “Oh. You’re a frat boy,” or “Well you must be great at drinking then!” While parties are certainly an element of Greek life, they are very far from the actual purpose that Greek organizations serve for their members and the university community. As opposed to requiring conformity and single-mindedness, fraternities and sororities give their members the opportunity to show their true selves and join a close-knit, student-run and student-led community where they can express their values without judgement or fear of reprisal.
The Greek system at McGill includes four sororities and eight fraternities governed by the Inter-Greek Letter Council, the school’s second-largest student group. Each chapter is affiliated with a national Canadian or North American organization that unites chapters at universities across the continent. Estimates vary, but approximately 500 students, less than two per cent of the undergraduate student body, are members of fraternities or sororities with chapters at McGill, many of which accept members from Concordia as well. Fraternities are many of the oldest student organizations at McGill, with some existing since the first decade of the 20th century. The fact that Greeks form such a minority at McGill undoubtedly contributes to the lack of accurate knowledge of the community.
In contrast to images of inebriated boys packed into a frat house, Greek organizations give students the chance to form meaningful and lasting relationships with individuals who they might not have otherwise met. Members come from different corners of the world, different faculties, and different upbringings. Joining a fraternity or sorority and completing the pledging or recruitment process gave me a feeling of being a part of something larger than any individual. Pledging processes are assumed to involve hazing simply because of their secrecy; if you don’t know what’s happening, and aren’t allowed to know, it must be something illegal. This is a misunderstanding of what pledging means and the purpose it serves. Through pledging, fraternities and sororities build their recruits into men and women deserving of being lifelong members through traditions that date back to the organizations’ foundings. While these customs are highly secretive and vary significantly from group to group, the universal experience of having to accomplish difficult tasks together as a pledge class and facing challenges together as a unit creates a bond that is inimitable. It also differs from experiences such as playing on a sports team, in that there is no parent or coach or any form of older authority figure involved. By nature of its secrecy, the rewards and sense of fulfillment are largely personal.
Joining a fraternity was the best decision I made since coming to McGill. Brotherhood is not just for the three or four years of university—it’s for life. I will one day graduate from McGill University and leave Montreal, moving away from many of the people I know here. But I know that I will always have a home to return to. Even if I have never met any of the active brothers of the future, I’ll be able to knock on the door of my fraternity and be greeted by a new brother. Relationships made through greek life are longer lasting than any other non-blood relationship.
University years are a formative time in a person’s life, during which fraternities and sororities serve as character-building institutions that require commitment and dedication, encourage creativity, and develop leadership and organization skills. Because the majority of events and gatherings are private, partying forms the most visible part of Greek life for those not involved—but it is really a minor element of the experience and more a celebration of brotherhood or sisterhood than the goal of it. Greeks spend the majority of their time just like every other McGill student: In class, doing homework, or participating in extracurriculars. On top of this, they attend ritual activities, manage a house and organization of up to 80 people, and give back to their community through individual and combined fundraising or volunteering activities. Popular stereotypes and deplorable actions by few individuals should not shape the perceptions of entire organizations.