Written by a TCNJ fraternity member and a TCNJ sorority member, who asked to remain anonymous.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose legacy has survived since 270 BCE, believed that he had the secret to attaining and maintaining happiness. While volumes of Epicurus’ works have been lost over the years, his philosophies continue to influence the collective consciousness today, guiding people like ourselves who want nothing more from life than to be happy. Current TCNJ students who find themselves unhappy here often join one of the College’s Greek organizations. Although it is not acknowledged overtly, many people believe joining will bring them a few steps closer to the happiness we all seek. We may shed light on the pros and cons of fraternalism by comparing and contrasting it with Epicureanism, a school of thought in which Greek life may find its roots.
Epicurus believed in three elements necessary to live a happy life: friends, freedom, and living an analyzed life. He argued that anything people desire, aside from these three things, is simply man’s vain attempt to compensate for a lack of one of the three essential elements.
For example, people don’t spend all their money on clothing because they think clothing will make them immediately happy, they do it because they hope the clothing will help earn them friends, success, and, in turn, happiness. For thousands of years Greeks have lived by these doctrines, and I would like to pose the question: are these the doctrines by which TCNJ Greeks live?
We can all agree that friends are essential to living a happy life and joining Greek life undoubtedly will afford a person many friends, acquaintances and, unfortunately, enemies. If you are struggling to find friends or unhappy with the friends you have made thus far at TCNJ, joining a sorority can change your entire social world. No longer are you forced to socialize solely with the 40 people on your freshman floor. You are introduced to students of all ages and majors and often find friends that are much like yourself through the rigorous rushing and voting processes. Epicurus also suggests that you should never eat a meal alone and that you should always be accompanied by friends while dining. It is common to see sorority sisters chatting over a sandwich, or salad (for our weight-conscious goddesses) in Eickhoff on any given day. During the evening, you are almost certain to hear drunken stories being tossed around with even greater velocity than the apple bristling with frat brothers’ forks. Epicurus would give these brothers and sisters two thumbs up for achieving their first step toward happiness.
It is important for sisters especially to question how free they are once they make the decision to brand themselves with the zetas, deltas, sigmas, or thetas they display on their chests with pride. Sororities are controlled by the Panhellenic Association, and therefore the rules and processes involved in becoming a member vary greatly from those of fraternal organizations. After a certain date approaching the recruitment season, sisters are not allowed to communicate with potential new members. PNMs include any girls at the College that meet the requirements for recruitment, regardless of their level of interest. Sisters who partake in this “dirty rushing” are heftily fined. Essentially, any form of communication with any unaffiliated women at the College during this period can cost hundreds of dollars. This includes family members, close friends, housemates, etc. These rules are meant to prevent rushees from any unfair biases for or against any organization. However, it is naïve to even consider that these girls are not being swayed by the gossip already pervading frat parties and social-networking or anonymity sites such as collegeacb.com.
Year after year women uncritically deprive themselves of basic freedoms, ostensibly to be fair, but what does this deprivation accomplish? Nearly nothing.
A member of Delta Phi Epsilon comments, “The effects of unlawful communication with PNMs is even more detrimental to the fairness of the processes because of its illegality. Because some sisters follow the rules and others don’t, the PNMs receive mixed signals. They come to believe that one sorority isn’t interested in them because the sisters of that organization follow the rules. Conversely, they feel pressured or inclined to join a sorority that does dirty rush because the members are breaking the rules and risking punishment just to have them as part of their sisterhood.”
Sisters will often also alert the College if they have proof that another organization is dirty rushing. This promotes dishonesty, hostility, and negative feelings among sororities. While Greek women may attain more friends through their membership initially, their social freedom is ultimately limited because they can’t associate with whomever they desire.
Epicurus wanted to defend and preserve people’s abilities to use their reason to control their actions and to shape their characters. But does joining a fraternity or sorority preclude these abilities? The question is twofold. First off, does Greek life at TCNJ limit your ability to control your actions? In the sense that alcohol eliminates both control and reason, perhaps. But if I tell college freshman that getting drunk will stop them from being happy, they will laugh in my face. In some ways, being involved in Greek life increases your freedom. According to one Phi Kappa Tau member, “A small school like TCNJ does not have some of the same activities that a bigger school would have, and Greek life definitely provides a fun outlet that would otherwise be lacking.” However, there are some Faustian stipulations to the fraternal contract. The same brother qualifies: “Everyone in Greek life knows each other, so it is harder to lead a private life with the ever-present threat of rumors and gossip.” The combination of alcohol and rumor-culture, any aspiring Greek should know, is bad news.
As for the freedom to shape one’s character, this is a major concern to PNMs. If you join Sigma Pi, will a penchant for steroids, manicures, and date-rape be imposed upon you? When you join a frat, will you be forced to sport a fauxhawk, hit the gym (okay, maybe not Phi Psi), funnel a lot of beers and act like you love it all, even if you don’t? Even though you probably will? Will your six weeks of elephant walks# render you a permanent homophobe? If you join a sorority, will you limit your diet to arugula and jungle juice and look down your nose at other girls? Will you become a whore?
The answers to these questions are not straightforward. Each organization seems to apply varied amounts of peer pressure, and subsequently, individuals respond differently. Phi Kappa Psi Junior Gary Bethea believes,
“Phi Psi is a real melting pot. We have 7-foot-tall white dudes, 5-foot-tall Asians and at least one black guy. We got your stoners, your hippies, hipsters, jocks, nerds, alcoholics, hunters, and fashionistas. If you aren’t accepted for who you are in Phi Psi, you’re more deviant than a sexual predator, ‘cause I think we got those too.”
Li Zhang of Phi Alpha Delta echoes similar sentiments. He asserts that instead of robbing him of his autonomy, pledging a fraternity has made him more confident and opened up new opportunities to define and expand upon his own identity. “Thanks to learning about so many new people, I can now say I am an amateur skier.”
There are no blanket statements to be made about Greek life, because each individual member has unique experiences. However, if these organizations purport to exemplify the “Greek Ideals” that they are founded upon, it is important to question whether they have truly upheld the principles of meaningful camaraderie, free will, and strenuous inquiry. For many sisters and brothers the formation of strong bonds and the promotion of individuality are only some of the positive results of their membership. However, the absorption into the unreality of this excessive, over-amplified social world, I would argue, can only have adverse effects on a person’s ability to live the examined life that Epicurus deemed essential to attaining happiness.