Itrsquos been a bad year for Fraternity Row. Hazing violence, rape accusations, and racist rants have a lot of people wondering whether fraternities still serve a useful purpose or instead create an atmosphere of fear, elitism, and danger that is the antithesis of what higher education should be about. Several schools mdash including Rutgers University, Johns Hopkins University, and Emory University mdash have announced limitations of fraternity parties, while some frats have been temporarily closed. Just this week, New York City#8217s Baruch College was hit with a $25 million lawsuit over a hazing death. Commentator Bill Maher recently called for banning fraternities, comparing their hazing techniques to that of ISIS. Even frat icon and Old School star Will Ferrell, a former fraternity brother, said in March that colleges should consider #8220getting rid of the system altogether.rdquo
Once admired as the ultimate college experience of fellowship, lifelong business connections, and good-natured fun, to many people today, fraternities are the social equivalent of the greasy guy on the subway taking photos with a hidden shoe phone.
The debate over banning fraternities can best be answered by watching the opening scene in the pilot episode of HBOrsquos series, The Wire. Detective Jimmy McNulty is sitting on a stoop with a pal of a man known as Snot Boogie whorsquos been shot dead in the street. As the cops work the nearby crime scene, the dead manrsquos pal explains that every Friday they would play craps in the alley, and every Friday, when the pot got big, Snot Boogie would grab the cash and run. Theyrsquod run after him, catch him, and beat him. McNulty asks the obvious question: #8220If every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away, why#8217d you even let him in the game?rdquo To which the friend replies, ldquoGot to. It#8217s America, man.rdquo
Yeah, itrsquos America, man. The land of freedom of speech, the freedom to gather, the freedom to make a fool of yourself. Where we punish individuals for crimes, not whole groups.
Fraternities offer real, practical benefits: Many engage in charitable community service, lifelong friendships are forged, and they can be safe havens from academic stress. They also create networks that can improve business and political careers. Since 1877, 69% of U.S. presidents have been in fraternities. Since 1910, 85% of U.S. Supreme Court justices have been in fraternities. In addition, 76% of U.S. senators, 85% of Fortune 500 executives, and 71% of men in Whorsquos Who in America have also been in fraternities.