Since its release on January 15, the book Total Frat Move by W.R. Bolen has rocketed into the New York Times Best Seller list. Hailed as the next Animal House, TFM glorifies everything that makes Greek life one of the most stereotyped parts of American college culture. According to the jacket cover, TFM is a “national update on college fraternities” where “the amount of alcohol that is being consumed, promiscuous sex that is being enjoyed, and intense drug-induced raging that is taking place on campuses across the country has quietly reached ridiculous new heights.” While the accuracy of W.R. Bolen’s representation of fraternity life at American universities is certainly debatable, the book’s rapid ascent through the bestseller charts testifies that the public continues to be fascinated by the prevalent, yet mysterious culture that exists on over 800 U.S. and Canadian campuses including Harvard’s.
Though the final clubs at Harvard have long dominated fraternities because of their histories and more prominent real estate, Greek life is becoming increasingly visible at Harvard in the form of sororities. In 2011, recruitment numbers for Harvard’s sororities reached a peak of 268 women. While that number dropped slightly last year to 250 women, the consistently large numbers of potential new members has caused Harvard’s Pan-Hellenic Council to add an additional sorority to campus. This year Alpha Phi will join Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Kappa Kappa Gamma in recruiting new members. Even with this growth, Harvard remains staunch in its refusal to recognize Greek life on campus.
Despite the lack of recognition, on February 2 potential new members flocked to the first night of recruitment for many reasons. Some like freshman Julia Kee were looking to “find a group of like-minded people.” Others were seeking a family away from home, philanthropic opportunities, or a broader social scene. No matter what their reasons were, that night they entered into a world that may not breed success, but from which successful individuals certainly spring. According to George Washington University’s “Greek Speak” website, though only 3 percent of Americans were once involved with Greek life, 76 percent of the United States Congress were once involved. All but two U.S. Presidents and Vice-Presidents since 1825 have been fraternity members. On a more feminine note, the first female senator and the first female astronaut were sorority members, and they are joined in Greek life by 71 percent of the “Who’s Who in America.” Harvard women have decided that the benefits of Greek life, in addition to its correlation with future success, outweigh Harvard’s lack of support.
Of Harvard College’s approximately 6,700 students, 3,350 are female. Delta Gamma has 135 members; Kappa Kappa Gamma has 125; and Kappa Alpha Theta has 108. Two hundred and fifty women went through recruitment again this year, which means that 618 Harvard women were involved or were interested in becoming involved with Greek life on campus. That is almost a fifth of Harvard women.
Eighteen percent is a number that rivals some of the largest student organizations on campus. At 1,400 volunteers, the entire PBHA program makes up 21 percent of campus. In 2010, Harvard reported having 1142 athletes playing 42 varsity sports, which is about 17 percent of the student body. These numbers demonstrate clearly that Greek life is a prominent and, arguably, a dominant part of women’s’ lives on campus. By not recognizing Greek life, Harvard ignores a powerful segment of the student population.
I can understand Harvard’s qualms about Greek life. I would imagine that college administrators have watched Animal House, and the recent success of Total Frat Move certainly confirms the belief that Greek life is a breeding ground for immoral and illegal behavior. Perhaps Harvard does not wish to associate itself with such negative stereotypes—despite the many benefits of Greek life, such as scholarship, service, networking and philanthropy, which have been called “some of the most rewarding parts of Greek life” by sophomore and Kappa Kappa Gamma council member Anna Menzel.
Recently, Harvard has chosen to associate itself with both a BDSM sex club and a group that promotes premarital abstinence and a traditional view of marriage, the Harvard College Abscombe Society. In recognizing socially controversial and contradictory groups, College administrators have clearly shown that though they may not agree with the values or actions of particular student groups, they still believe that these groups should have the right to exist on campus. Additionally, though allegedly Greek culture promotes underage drinking and other illegal activities, most students could easily name many Harvard recognized student groups that also engage in such behaviors. With this in mind, and in the light of recruitment season, Harvard needs to lay down its copy of Total Frat Move and reexamine its stance on Greek life and social organization recognition.
Tessa A.C. Wiegand ’15 lives in Mather House and serves as the current Risk Chair for Kappa Kappa Gamma. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.