Taking the Pledge

in Parent Advice
February 20th, 2018

By Lori Caflun, Parent of Jonathan ’17 & Matthew ’19 and Parents Leadership Council Member

Deciding whether to pledge a fraternity or rush a sorority is often one of the decisions our children must think about when they get to a university. I did not attend a university with a Greek life system, so to be honest, my pre-conceived notion was that Greek life consisted of a lot of illicit behavior coupled with exclusionary and cliquey students who were judging you based on not knowing anything about you (flashback to Animal House and Mean Girls)

There are so many things to think about before the decision to pledge or rush should be made. My oldest son who graduated from BU did not join a fraternity. It just was not something he was interested in. He had many other interests including a sports team, an internship, and a paying job. My other son, who is presently a junior, not only pledged a fraternity, but became president as a sophomore and is still extremely active in the fraternity.

Honestly, I was a bit relieved when my oldest did not express interest in joining a fraternity because every day we hear another tragic story of hazing or partying gone wrong. It was naïve of me, but I had the feeling that Greek life was something that would add to my worries as a parent. When our middle son became very involved in his fraternity, I must admit that I now better understand the advantages that a fraternity can bring to one’s college and life experience. While not for every student, those who choose Greek life may truly benefit.

I decided to be as honest as possible when writing this blog because as a parent, with two who have attended Boston University and one still in high school, I feel like genuine information is more important than sugar-coating an issue. So, I will start with the great, positive aspects of belonging to a fraternity or sorority and move on to the obvious concerns you may have as a parent whose child is considering Greek life.

I assume most students leave for their college campuses questioning how their roommates will be, who they will eat their meals with and if they will make friends. The answer is a resounding “yes” that they will find their niche but joining a fraternity or sorority can be a smoother pathway to lifelong and sincere friendships. The connections one makes are paramount to future networking and leadership experiences. I liken Greek life to summer camp. We own a summer camp for children, and it is a fact that at camp, you make friends for life who are extremely special, like siblings. I believe, from my son’s experience, that fraternity life has offered similar bonds, connections and brotherhood. He has made amazing friends who will hopefully be part of his life forever. I also now understand that you learn very specific life skills as a member of Greek life. These skills will bode well in the workplace and in one’s social sphere.

The last few benefits that make a difference to me as a parent is that there are specific GPA requirements that one must meet to maintain standing as a member of the fraternity. That will motivate a student to make sure that the idea of going to a university is studying first and having fun second. Also, most parents do not know that community service plays a tremendous part in fraternal life and that is something that opens a whole new world to a student. Getting involved in charitable ventures and helping others makes for strong human beings.

And now on to the uglier side of Greek life – nothing we haven’t seen or heard about, but I believe should be included in the decision-making process. The first concern you may encounter is that fraternities and sororities come with dues. After writing that check for tuition (which still gives me palpitations), it is hard to have to shell out another cent. Dues are not set at a standard rate so you would have to clarify how much the dues are, so you can see if it fits into your personal budget.

The most obvious draw to fraternities and sororities are the parties. I would assume that parties are the biggest reason college students want to join. Most students want to have a fun and an active social life. From my sons’ experiences, if you are not part of Greek life, you may never have the opportunity to attend a fraternity party because it is by invitation only. That means that if you are male and do not pledge a fraternity, you will most often not be invited. This is where fraternities can feel exclusionary.

The scary part of the parties is the obvious. There have been numerous studies that show that binge drinking is the norm at parties, and this is where the worry as a parent comes in. We have all read the news of children going away to college, going to a fraternity party and never coming home. That is certainly any parent’s worst nightmare.

The last negative thing I thought about when my son wanted to join a fraternity was hazing. Again, there have been many highly publicized cases of ritualistic hazing gone very wrong. I made sure to ask him about hazing policies and wanted to rest assured that I would not be getting a phone call from the BU police or a Boston hospital. Hazing is not tolerated on any college campus regardless of tradition.

Due to my experience, I think that an open discussion with your child about the pros and cons of fraternal life is a must on your list before he or she makes the final decision on Greek life. There are a lot of factors to consider. Just remember that there is something for everyone at Boston University. There are so many social and academic opportunities on campus and in Boston that your child will be happy with whatever decision they make in regards to taking the pledge or not.