While the term fraternity can be used to describe any number of social organizations, including the Lions Club and the Shriners, fraternities and sororities are most commonly known as social organizations of higher education students in the United States and Canada but there are fraternities in the whole world (for example the German Student Corps). Fraternities are all-male or mixed-gender, except for the sororities which were founded before the word "sorority" was coined, such as Alpha Phi, formed in 1872; the female-only equivalent is called a sorority. Fraternities and sororities are also referred to as student corporations or academic corporations or simply corporations.
With few exceptions (notably "Acacia", "FarmHouse" and "Triangle"), the names of fraternities and sororities are comprised of two or (usually) three Greek letters. For this reason, fraternities and sororities are known collectively as the Greek System, and its members are known as Greeks.
The purposes and types of fraternities
There are various types of fraternities: social, professional, and honorary fraternities. The most recognizable (and cliched) form of fraternity is the college social fraternity, as lampooned by John Belushi in the film Animal House. Most of these fraternities were originally founded on dedication to principles such as community service, sound learning, and leadership qualities, though some have become purely "social". In response to the developing stereotype of alcohol abuse in fraternity life, some fraternities today are alcohol-free (referred to as "dry"). Apart from the use of Greek letters, the common theme running through all is the building of friendships and "brotherly" or "sisterly" bonds through shared experiences and efforts.
Structure and organization
Ritual and secrecy
Most fraternities maintain a ritual system that is highly symbolic in nature and kept a closely guarded secret. Some signs point to common ancestry in both sorority and fraternity ritual, but most are likely derived from Masonic order ritual. Other "fraternity secrets" may include passwords, songs, handshakes, journals and initiation rites.
Meetings of the active members are generally secret, and not to be discussed without the formal approval of the chapter as a whole.
The fraternity house
Uniquely among most campus organizations, members of social fraternities and sororities often live together in a large house or apartment complex. This serves two purposes. First, it emphasizes the bonds the members share as "brothers" or "sisters". Second, the house serves as a central location for the events and administration of the fraternity. Because of the unique nature of this setup, the individual organizations themselves at their respective schools are known as "houses". Professional, academic or honorary societies rarely (if ever) maintain a permanent housing location.
A fraternity house can usually be identified by large Greek letters on the front of the house, advertising the name of the group. Depending on the size of the house, there may be anywhere from three to twenty bedrooms or more. The larger houses generally have a large meeting room and/or dining room, commercial kitchen and study room. There is usually a lounge of some sort, access to which is often restricted to fully initiated members. Fraternities will also often maintain a chapter room, to which only initiates may ever be admitted and even whose existence may be kept secret. The walls of the house may be decorated with pictures of past house events, awards and trophies, and decorative (or historic) paddles. A common stereotype with some underlying truth is that the public areas of sorority houses are generally cleaner than fraternity houses.
For reasons of cost, liability and stability, housing is usually overseen by an alumni corporation or its respective national fraternity organization. As a result, some houses prohibit members of the opposite sex from going "upstairs" or into the individual bedrooms. Other houses may impose a curfew or "open door" policy. Furthermore, some national organizations restrict or prohibit alcohol in the house at any time.
Joining a fraternity or sorority
During a period known as "Rush" or "Rush Week", fraternities and sororities invite fellow students to attend events at the house (or on-campus) and meet the current members of the organization. At the end of this period, the house invites the visitors of their choice to "pledge" the fraternity. If the invitation, or "bid", is accepted, the student will enter a period of pledgeship. A student may pledge only one fraternity at a time, and may never pledge another fraternity if they have already been initiated into another one.
Pledge requirements for each house vary, and some houses have eliminated pledgeship entirely. However, common requirements usually include wearing a "pledge pin", learning about the history and structure of the fraternity and the local chapter, performing a service of some kind, and maintaining a deferential attitude toward current members. Upon completion of the pledgeship and all its requirements, the active members will invite the pledges to be initiated and become active members.
The pledgeship serves as a probationary period in the fraternity membership process where both the fraternity and the pledge make sure that they have made the right choice. Almost always, after a pledge has been initiated they have an unrevokable membership in the organization for life. Those pledges who demonstrate their commitment to the organization and its members are initiated, while those who demonstrate little-to-no effort and/or cause divisions and conflict are dismissed. Occasionally, however, houses will invite anyone who completes the program to become active members, in order to maintain their numbers (and survival).
Historically, hazing as we know it now did not come into existence until after World War I. Soldiers returning from the war re-entered colleges, and brought with them the discipline and techniques learned in boot camp.
At its core, the original techniques commonly known as hazing today are techniques still used in the nation's military. By making the individual fail as an individual, and succeed as a team, the individual would learn to become a valuable asset to the team and be loyal to its success. This philosophy of team development continued to be used in fraternal organizations as each subsequent war refreshed the pool of ex-military students.
Eventually however, with fewer military students entering college/fraternities, these techniques were passed onto others who did not understand their purpose or usage, and hazing became a brutal and hazardous exercise as each new class tried to create new challenges for the sake of the challenges.
Many fraternities and sororities hazed their pledges, especially during certain initiation rites. In extreme cases, some pledges even died as a result. Though now created for decoration, the iconic "pledge paddle" is a tradition and reminder of this history.
During the 1960s-1980s, however, most organizations (especially those governed by alumni at the National level) implemented clear no-hazing policies. The National Interfraternity Conference also requires anti-hazing education for members, as do most universities. Since at least the 1990s, if hazing was conducted at a local chapter, it was without the knowledge or consent of the national organization and outside the guidelines for their initiation rituals. If discovered, it usually results in the revocation of the local chapter's charter.
Many chapters today still struggle with the legacy of hazing. It is seen as tradition, and many find that the best indicator of a pledge's worth to the group is their willingness to endure the challenges put forth to them. While hazing rarely exists in its most brutal forms, many chapters still incorporate behavior such as yelling or demanding menial tasks be performed that are deemed by their universities and national headquarters to be hazing.
History of the Greek system as a whole
The Phi Beta Kappa Society was founded on December 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA. It is the oldest college fraternity and the first organization to have a Greek letter name. It was started as an outlet to let students discuss current issues, instead of school related topics like other groups on campus had been pressured into doing from faculty and staff. It has since evolved into a national honor society with chapters at 270 institutions of higher learning in the United States.
Lists of fraternities and sororities
- ΑΧΡ - Alpha Chi Rho
- ΑΔΓ - Alpha Delta Gamma
- ΑΔΦ - Alpha Delta Phi
- ΑΕΠ - Alpha Epsilon Pi - National Jewish fraternity
- ΑΓΩ - Alpha Gamma Omega - National Christian fraternity
- ΑΓΡ - Alpha Gamma Rho - Agricultural fraternity
- ΑΓΣ - Alpha Gamma Sigma
- ΑΚΛ - Alpha Kappa Lambda
- ΑΦΑ - Alpha Phi Alpha - Historically African-American
- ΑΦΔ - Alpha Phi Delta
- ΑΣΦ - Alpha Sigma Phi
- ΑΤΩ - Alpha Tau Omega
- ΒΧΘ - Beta Chi Theta - Fast growing South Asian fraternity
- ΒΣΨ - Beta Sigma Psi
- ΒΘΠ - Beta Theta Pi
- ΧΦ - Chi Phi
- ΧΨ - Chi Psi - Initiates are typically referred to as "Lodgers"
- ΧΣΨ - Chi Sigma Psi - Founded at Digos City, Philippines.
- ΔΧ - Delta Chi
- ΔΓ - Delta Gamma - Founded in 1873 at Lewis School for Girls in Oxford, MS
- ΔΚΕ - Delta Kappa Epsilon
- ΔΛΦ - Delta Lambda Phi - for gay, bisexual, and progressive gentlemen
- ΔΦ - Delta Phi
- ΔΟΣ - Delta Omicron Sigma - military veterans fraternity
- ΔΣΦ - Delta Sigma Phi
- ΔΤΔ - Delta Tau Delta
- ΔΥ - Delta Upsilon
- ΔΨΕ - Delta Psi Epsilon
- ΓΣΤ - Gamma Sigma Tau - A Historic Regional Multicultural Fraternity called the Delphic of Gamma Sigma Tau
- ΙΝΔ - Iota Nu Delta - The first South Asian fraternity in the nation (IND), established 1994
- ΚΑ Order Kappa Alpha Order - traditional southern fraternity
- ΚΑΨ - Kappa Alpha Psi aka Kappas* - Historically African-American
- ΚΑ Society Kappa Alpha Society
- ΚΔΦ - Kappa Delta Phi
- ΚΔΡ - Kappa Delta Rho
- ΚΣ - Kappa Sigma
Social sororities and female fraternities
- ΑΧΩ - Alpha Chi Omega
- ΑΔΧ - Alpha Delta Chi - National Christian Sorority
- ΑΔΠ - Alpha Delta Pi
- ΑΕΦ - Alpha Epsilon Phi
- ΑΓΔ - Alpha Gamma Delta
- ΑΚΑ - Alpha Kappa Alpha - Historically African-American
- ΑΟΠ - Alpha Omicron Pi
- ΑΩΕ - Alpha Omega Epsilon - Professional Engineering Sorority
- ΑΦ International - Alpha Phi
- ΑΣΑ - Alpha Sigma Alpha
- ΑΣΤ - Alpha Sigma Tau
- ΑΞΔ - Alpha Xi Delta
- ΧΩ - Chi Omega
- ΔΔΔ - Delta Delta Delta
- ΔΓ - Delta Gamma
- ΔΦΕ - Delta Phi Epsilon
- ΔΖ - Delta Zeta
- ΔΣΘ - Delta Sigma Theta - Historically African-American
- ΔΨΕ-Delta Psi Epsilon - Christian Sorority
- ΓΦΒ - Gamma Phi Beta
- ΚΑΘ - Kappa Alpha Theta
- ΚΔ - Kappa Delta  (http://www.kappadelta.org/)- known as KD Ladies
- ΚΚΓ - Kappa Kappa Gamma
- ΛΘΑ - Lambda Theta Alpha  (http://www.lambdalady.org) Historically Latina Sorority
- ΜΣΥ- Mu Sigma Upsilon (http://www.musigmaupsilon.org) Multicultural Sorority
- ΩΦΧ - Omega Phi Chi  (http://www.omegaphichi.org) - Multicultural Sorority
- ΦΜ - Phi Mu
- ΦΣΣ - Phi Sigma Sigma
- ΦΣΡ - Phi Sigma Rho - Engineering Sorority
- ΠΒΦ - Pi Beta Phi
- ΣΓΡ - Sigma Gamma Rho - Historically African-American
- ΣΔΤ - Sigma Delta Tau
- ΣΚ - Sigma Kappa  (http://sigmakappa.org)
- ΣΨ - Sigma Psi
- ΣΣΣ - Sigma Sigma Sigma
- ΤΒΣ - Tau Beta Sigma
- ΘΦΑ - Theta Phi Alpha
- ΖΦΒ - Zeta Phi Beta - Historically African-American
- ΖΤΑ - Zeta Tau Alpha
Social coed fraternities
Academic or honorary fraternities and sororities
- Note: Most honorary fraternities are open to both sexes.
Professional fraternities and sororities
Professional fraternal associations
- College Fraternity Editors Association
- Fraternity Executives Association
Fictional fraternities and sororities
- Alpha Beta, Jock fraternity
- Lambda Lambda Lambda, a black fraternity that has nerd chapters
- Omega-Mu, sorority
- Pi-Delta-Pi, sorority
National Lampoon's Animal House
- Delta Tau Chi, fraternity
- Omega Theta Pi, fraternity
- Sigma Sigma
- Omega Pi Pi Pi
National Lampoon's Van Wilder
- Delta Iota Kappa, fraternity
- The Order of Balls and Shaft, (underground, outlawed) fraternity
- Alpha Beta Gamma, (African American) fraternity
- Omega Beta Zeta, sorority
Sabrina, The Teenage Witch
- Alpha Tau, Waylon Smithers' fraternity
- Kappa Gamma Tau, "last in grades, first in pranks"
- Sigma Chi Sigma, fraternity that rented Flander's house
Other university societies
Fraternities and sororities outside of North America
- Academic corporations worldwide (http://www.academic-corporations.org/)
- International academic dictionary (http://www.academic-corporations.org/dictionary/)
- English and Latin commercium songs (http://www.academic-corporations.org/songs/)