Earlier this week, The Atlantic released and article titled The Dark Power of Fraternities.
It is a long read and extremely well-written piece. Some twitter comments have indicated that this could very well be a contributing factor to the demise of fraternal world. Before we jump to conclusions, I offer this.
Read the article again, but replace “fraternity member,” “frat,” “fraternity house,” “alumni,” “headquarters/nationals,” and “Pete Smithhisler” with “student-athlete,” “sports team,” “team dorm/house,” “booster,” “NCAA,” and “Mark Emmert.” Funny how the story doesn’t change all that much?!
Fraternal organizations were on college campuses long before intercollegiate sports (1776 for fraternities [Phi Beta Kappa] or Kappa Alpha Society in 1825 compared to 1852 for the Harvard-Yale Regatta). They are not going anywhere any time soon. The same way the public is clamoring for reform in college athletics, they will demand reform for fraternal organizations as well. It could work. Ultimately, it may not change anything.
The college athletic and fraternal entities are so intertwined in their relevance on college campuses, that they practically support one another. Legally, they are both heavily affected by Title IX legislation. Both of their members share similar issues around alcohol use/abuse, sexual assault/violence, and other problems that many researchers lump the two populations together when examining college students. These groups receive an extraordinary amount of external and campus-based resources compared to normal college students. They are both multi-billion dollar industries where alumni/boosters have deep pockets and they are not scared in mobilizing themselves and their money to get what they want.
These alcohol-fueled events taking place in The Atlantic article usually revolve around what? That’s right sporting events! Tailgates, pre-gaming, and post-game victories all contribute to the alcohol scene on college campuses. I remember when University of Maryland won the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship in 2000. Students started burning furniture in the middle of where you ask? That’s right fraternity row.
These entities can be mutually exclusive as there are campuses without one or the other, but when their powers combine… HOLY SHIT watch out now.
As indicated in The Atlantic article, fraternal organizations are so deeply mired in the fabric of the institution that is higher education that they are not disappearing anytime soon. These groups will continue to grasp on to their 1st Amendment right of Freedom of Association, even if the argument they use to demonstrate that right is the least strong of the three possible grounds.
If colleges unilaterally separated themselves from college athletics and these teams became more like minor league or developmental teams, these entities would still exist because the demand is there. Say they did the same thing for fraternal organizations. My guess is that the groups would take a minor hit initially and then continue to thrive in the long run because, again, the demand is there. People always want to belong to something, fraternal organizations provide that opportunity to college students, whether these groups are formally recognized by the institution or not.