A FEW years ago, a college sophomore in upstate New York learned that his father was in the ICU after suffering a heart attack. During a “gavel session,” a fraternity ritual during which members took turns sharing personal matters, he told his chapter the news.
“Things weren’t looking good. At 19 and especially around a group of guys, I was very hesitant to share what was going on. But eventually, I broke down in tears,” he told me.
“In one of the biggest surprises of my life, everyone — I mean everyone — was incredibly supportive. One brother came to me and shared his own experience with his father dying. I was even contacted by local alumni who took me to dinner and shared their own experiences and advice. Because I went to college 3,000 miles away from my family, these brothers became my support.”
I interviewed hundreds of fraternity members and closely followed two college guys’ stories for a year for my book “Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men.”
And I learned that for many boys who are in healthy chapters, fraternities can be a good thing.
Yes, some chapters have engaged in terrible behavior. In 2017, New Jersey native Timothy Piazza died in an alcohol-soaked pledging ritual at the Beta Theta Pi house at Penn State, which led to a slew of charges against his fellow brothers; one was sentenced to 27 months’ probation.
Last week, three women sued Yale University and its nine all-male fraternities, arguing that the single-sex organizations have led to the spread of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination on campus.
But my research indicates that many more chapters do not.