Let's Give Frats Another Look


Fraternal life on college campuses occupies a particular mystique in American culture and is usually not particularly positive. Popular culture depicts frat life in distinct images; John Belushi’s Animal House and Old School, among many others, show young men who appear to do everything but take their studies seriously. There are far too many instances of hazing, cases of sexual assault and harassment, and overall elitism within fraternities which have soured public perception of fraternities. And these concerns are not in the past either; the University of Maryland recently suspended all Greek life citing hazing and other concerns.

Despite these well-known problems, however, I want to suggest that people reconsider Greek life before writing it off entirely as a purely negative force on college campuses today. Fraternities have not only been active in correcting their historic problems, but they may also be the forces that critical ideological balance to our colleges and universities at a time when progressive ideologies are dominant. Amidst the current collegiate culture wars and painful social anomie among Gen Z students, fraternities have a far more diverse student population, politically, than their schools at large. These organizations also provide social solidarity at a time when students are worried about cancel culture and have few social intimates. Given the climate of fear and self-censorship on campuses, having students who are not uniformly liberal and are not afraid to speak up and challenge norms can help re-center our broken schools.

Fraternal life has long produced powerful social and academic benefits for its members. Gallup found, in 2014, that members of Greek organizations had a greater sense of purpose and higher levels of social and physical well-being than those not involved in Greek life. A subsequent Gallup study in 2021 found similarly powerful social results for those involved in Greek life. Greek graduates are appreciably more supportive of their schools, for instance, with a majority (54 percent) donating to their alma mater compared to just 10 percent of non-Greek graduates. Moreover, those in Greek life are notably more likely to report that they are thriving (69 percent) compared to non-Greeks (54 percent)– a notable 15-point difference.

Breaking down the impact of Greek life on students further, the power of being in a group with norms and forcing students to learn to manage differences with others is truly profound. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of Greek life members report having supportive relationships and love in their lives compared to 40 percent of non-members. About 53 percent of those in Greek life have “good health and enough energy to get things done daily” compared to just 24 percent of non-Greek students. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Greeks report “liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community” compared to just a third of non-Greek (36 percent) students. Greek life provides the infrastructure to create more balanced social lives and they hedge against the pervasive loneliness and isolation that is omnipresent on our collegiate campuses. The 2024 FIRE survey found that 43 percent of men and 51 percent of women on campus report being lonely or isolated more than half the time and more often; being part of a Greek organization can push against such alarmingly high numbers because the very nature of fraternal organizations promote real social connection and intimacy with fellow members.

Beyond the social benefits of Greek life, there are political benefits as well and survey data from Real Clear Education reveals that Greek organizations are far more ideologically conservative than students in college generally, who are fairly left-of-center. The Real Clear data on Greek students reveals that 31 percent of men are liberal to some degree while 49 percent are conservative and 20 percent are moderate. Compared to men nationally — as informed by data collected by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) two years later- 49 percent of men on campus are liberal, 20 percent are moderate, and 31 percent are conservative. Conservative men do exist and they concentrate in fraternities. Sororities are more liberal: 56 percent of sorority women are liberal to some degree but a quarter (24 percent) are conservative and a fifth (20 percent) are moderate. The national picture of women on campus is more skewed as 66 percent of college women are liberal to some degree while another 16 percent are moderate and just 18 percent are conservative.

These current statistics are in line with earlier work from 2012 from the University of Iowa which found that fraternity and sorority members enter college with more conservative political views than their peers. Moreover, while their Greek peers became more liberal over four years of college, those in Greek organizations remained more conservative.

Turning to behavior and the impact of Greek life, cancel culture has swept over so many campuses nationwide with students self-censoring for fear of real personal and professional consequences. The numbers are staggering. FIRE has found, for instance, that more than half of students (56 percent) expressed worry about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding what they have said or done, a little over a quarter of students (26 percent) shared feeling a pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes, and twenty percent of students reported that they often self-censor.

Students in Greek organizations, however, are notably less likely to self-censor compared to the student population as a whole. The Real Clear data asks how comfortable members of Greek organizations are “publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial topic” and 43 percent of fraternity members are “very” or “somewhat comfortable” publicly disagreeing with their professor compared to a third of students (36 percent) generally. Similarly, a third of women in sororities (34 percent) report being “very” or “somewhat comfortable” publicly disagreeing with a professor compared to over a quarter (28 percent) of women on campus generally. When asked about comfort in discussing a controversial political topic with one’s classmates, Greek students are more likely to be comfortable compared to the rest of the student body. Roughly 59 percent of both fraternity and sorority members report that they are “somewhat” or “very comfortable” discussing controversial topics with their peers compared to 48 percent of men and women in general on campus; 25 percent of fraternity men and just 16 percent of non-Greek men reporting that they are very comfortable doing talking about different topics with their peers while 20 percent of Greek women are comfortable to just 13 percent of non-Greek women.

Cancel culture and self-censorship is still far too pronounced on campus today, but being in a Greek life makes a real difference in being open to talk and that should not be overlooked. Those in fraternities and sororities are less likely to engage in self-silence themselves and this may be because they are in a dense social network with real friendships and social ties. They may be less worried about upsetting others because they know who their friends are and can be more open to discussing and debating ideas. This is one of many reasons why students and America should take another look at the power of fraternities and the social stability that they offer to a generation that is isolated, lonely, and in deep need of authentic human connection.

Fraternities are far more likely to have conservatives in their ranks. Given the liberal madness that has enveloped collegiate life in the past decade, these Greek organizations may be able to bring more viewpoint diversity and balance to campuses. In the spring of 2024, at the University of North Carolina, for instance, fraternity brothers had enough when the American flag was torn down. They walked through the protests and restored Old Glory to her proper place in the center of campus. One fraternity brother observed, “We watched in horror and disgust as the protesters tore the American flag in the center of the quad off its pole and replaced it with a Palestinian one…this demonstration had become completely out of hand” and he and his brothers took action. This is exactly the type of pro-American and civic behavior that is lacking on campuses nationwide and what fraternal organizations on campus promote; they bring sorely absent views to quads and Americans should support Greek life on our campuses nationwide.

Samuel J. Abrams is a profesor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Photo: Library of Congress, Chi Psi Fraternity house, Cornell University, Public Domain.