The terms "fraternity" and "sorority" (from the Latin words ' and ', meaning "brother" and "sister" respectively) may be used to describe many social and charitable organizations, for example the Lions Club, Rotary International, Optimist International, or the Shriners. In the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, however, fraternities and sororities are most commonly known as social organizations for higher education or secondary students.
The term "fraternities", often colloquially shortened to "frats", generally refers to all-male or mixed-sex organizations. The female-only equivalent is usually called a "sorority", a word first used in 1874 at Gamma Phi Beta at Syracuse University- before this, societies for either sex were called "fraternities." To this day, some women's organizations prefer to be called "women's fraternities". Outside North America, they are also referred to as "student corporations", "academic corporations", or simply "corporations".
The names of North American fraternities and sororities generally consist of two or three Greek letters, often abbreviating a Greek motto. For this reason, fraternities and sororities are known collectively as a Greek Community or Greek Society and its members as Greeks. The use of Greek letters started with the first such organization, Phi Beta Kappa, which used Greek letters to hide their secret name. Some exceptions include "Acacia", "FarmHouse", and "Triangle", and the eating clubs and secret societies at some Ivy League colleges, such as Skull and Bones at Yale.
The most recognizable form of fraternity is the social fraternity, which present themselves as societies to help their members better themselves in a social setting. Other types of fraternities are chartered for (and not just emphasize) service to the community, professional advancement, or scholastic achievement.
Many fraternities and sororities are national or international organizations with chapters at individual schools. The organizations' headquarters or "Nationals" may place certain requirements on individual chapters to standardize rituals and policies regarding membership, housing, or behavior. These policies are generally codified in a constitution and bylaws which may be amended at conventions. Members of a such a fraternity or sorority may enjoy certain privileges when visiting other chapters of the same fraternity. Some fraternities and sororities are "local" and do not belong to a national organization.
Classification can also be made along religious lines, geographic extent, gender requirements (single-sex or co-ed), cultural or multicultural emphasis, and time of founding. Secret Societies are usually categorized separately from other types of fraternities.
Outside North America, organizations like college fraternities are now rare. The Philippines has a similar system, and a few European countries have Studentenverbindungen and student nations. Historically, dueling fraternities were an important feature of student life in Germany. See fraternities and sororities outside the United States and Canada.
Membership in a Greek organization may be restricted to, or favor, members of a certain race, religion or national origin, although some colleges now actively discourage or ban groups that have such restrictions. Such membership rules have been a major objection to the presence of fraternities and sororities on college campuses, but in the past have provided such groups with distinct personalities and culture.
Most fraternities and sororities today maintain traditions which are generally symbolic in nature and closely guarded secrets, calling it their Ritual. They include an initiation ceremony, but may also include passwords, songs, handshakes, and the form of meeting. Meetings of the active members are generally secret and not to be discussed without the formal approval of the chapter as a whole.
For organizations with Greek letters composing their name, these letters can have a secret meaning, known only to initiated members. They can represent a motto (such as Delta Upsilon), a set of virtues (such as Alpha Kappa Lambda), or the history of its organization (such as Phi Tau).
Fraternities and sororities often have a number of symbols by which they are identified, such as colors or flowers, in addition to a badge (or pin), crest, and/or seal. An open motto (indicating that the organization has a "secret motto" as well) is used to express the unique ideals of a fraternity or sorority.
Unique among most campus organizations, members of social fraternities and sororities often live together in a large house or apartment complex. This can help emphasize the "bonds of brotherhood (or sisterhood)" and provide a place of meeting for the members of the organization as well as alumni. For reasons of cost, liability, and stability, housing is usually owned or overseen by an alumni corporation or the national headquarters of the fraternity or sorority. As a result, some houses have visitor restrictions, and some national organizations restrict or prohibit alcohol on the premises. The Cavalier DailyFraternity houses turn off the taps and sober up
The Chi Psi Fraternity chapter in Ann Arbor, Michigan was the first fraternity to use a house for its meetings. Sigma Phi's Williamstown, MA chapter was the first fraternity to own a chapter house. Delta Kappa Epsilon at Kenyon College is often described as the first fraternity to build its own building, in the 1850s, although some sources state that the group bought an existing cabin. Alpha Phi was the first women's sorority to have a chapter house.
At some colleges where Greeks do not have residential houses for the general membership, they may still have chapter houses where meals are served for their membership and guests.
The process of joining a fraternity or sorority commonly begins with a "formal recruitment" period, often called "rush week," usually consists of events and activities designed for members and potential members to learn about each other and the organization. At the end of the formal recruitment period, organizations give "bids," or invitations to membership. Most organizations have a period of "pledgeship" before extending full membership. Some organizations have changed the name of pledgeship due to negative connotations to the process, or have given up the process in favor of other joining requirements. Upon completion of the pledgeship and all its requirements, the active members will invite the pledges to be initiated and become full members. Initiation often includes secret ceremonies and rituals.
Requirements may be imposed on those wishing to pledge either by the school or the organization itself, often including a minimum grade point average, wearing a pledge pin, learning about the history and structure of the fraternity or sorority, and performing public service. When a school places an age or tenure requirement on joining, this is called "deferred recruitment," as joining is deferred for a semester or year. The pledgeship period also serves as a probationary period in the fraternity or sorority membership process where both the organization and the pledge decide they are compatible and will have a fulfilling experience.
Hazing can be defined as the ritualistic harassment, abuse, or persecution of individuals in a group.
Because of the association of fraternities with hazing, some schools banned fraternities as early as the mid-1800s. Hazing became widespread after World War I, with soldiers re-entering colleges, they brought with them the discipline and strict responses to authority they learned in boot camp. Hazing began to be officially banned at the national and international levels of fraternities and sororities, is against many colleges' Greek Codes, and is illegal in most U.S. states. The North-American Interfraternity Conference also requires anti-hazing education for members, as do many Greek organizations and universities. Hazing can result in the revocation of the local chapter's charter, and expulsion of members from the national organization or university.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society, founded on December 5 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is generally recognized to be the first Greek-letter student society in North America. By legend, it was founded by individuals rejected for membership from an older student society known as the Flat Hat Club. The Flat Hat Club, or FHC for short, was founded at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia on November 11 1750, by six students at the College of William and Mary. While it largely disappeared in 1776, a modern secret organization using the same name exists at the College of William and Mary.
The meaning of "FHC" is lost, but the group consisted of students who frequented the Raleigh Tavern as a social escape from academic rigors. They overheard tales about sailing on the high seas, politics, business, and gambling that were not taught in the classroom. William & Mary faculty discouraged these departures from their studies. Soon the boys met upstairs in a private room. To shelter themselves from scouts sent by the faculty, the boys invented a secret handshake, oath and password by which they could identify themselves to each other.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society was formed as a forum to discuss topics not covered in the regimented classical education of universities of the era, lending the name literary fraternity to its type. Most students were well-versed in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; Phi, Beta, and Kappa were the initials of a secret Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes = "Love of learning [is] the guide of life". In addition to its secrecy and selection of a Greek name, it also introduced a code of high ideals, secret rituals and handclasps, membership badges, and oaths that characterized later Greek letter societies.
As Phi Beta Kappa developed, it came to be a very influential association of faculty and select students across several colleges, with membership becoming more of an honor and less of a functioning society. The increasing influence of the society came to seem undemocratic and contrary to the free flow of intellectual ideas in American academia, and under great pressure, the undergraduate members at Harvard revealed the secrets of Phi Beta Kappa in 1831. Doing this actually provided a template for subsequent societies to follow in the years following. Phi Beta Kappa continues as an honorary society today.
The first general fraternity is considered to be the Kappa Alpha Society, established at Union College in Schenectady, New York on November 26 1825 by John Hart Hunter. Kappa Alpha's founders adopted many of Phi Beta Kappa's practices, but formed their organization around fellowship, making the development of friendship their primary purpose. The Sigma Phi Society formed in March 1827, followed by Delta Phi in November. These three constitute the Union Triad.
The Chi Phi fraternity was founded in 1824 at the College of New Jersey, which would later become Princeton University. However the fraternity has not maintained a continual existence, as it was inactive from 1825 until its revival in 1854. Kappa Alpha Theta was founded at DePauw University in 1870 as the first Greek-letter fraternity for women, although women's societies were well-established before then, with Pi Beta Phi, originally founded as I.C. Sorosis, being one of the earliest fraternities for women, although not adopting Greek letters until the 1880s.
Sigma Phi became the first "national" fraternity when it opened a satellite chapter at Hamilton College in 1831. Beta Theta Pi was founded at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in August, 1839. in response to the chartering of the west-most chapter of Alpha Delta Phi(1832). Phi Delta Theta (1848) and Sigma Chi (1855), also founded at Miami University, emulated Beta Theta Pi's focus on establishing new chapters. These three constitute the Miami Triad. These and other fraternities spread West, South, and even into Canada.
The first fraternity to be founded in the southeastern United States was Sigma Alpha Epsilon which was founded at the University of Alabama in 1856. Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only fraternity founded in the Antebellum South that still operates and boasts the largest number of initiated men of any fraternity. At present Sigma Phi Epsilon, which was founded in 1901, currently has more than 14,000 undergraduates members at 260 chapters and is the largest college fraternity in North America.
Growth was then mainly stunted by the American Civil War. Theta Xi, founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York on 29 April 1864, is the only fraternity to be established during the War. However, following the War, the system as a whole underwent phenomenal growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both in the number of organizations founded and chapters of existing organizations established. This was aided, in part, by the reopening of schools and the return of veterans as students.
Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Iota Alpha, Phi Sigma Nu, and Sigma Alpha Mu were founded as the first fraternities for African-American, Latino-American, Native American, and Jewish students, respectively.
Women's organizations also formed contemporaneously. The Adelphean Society (now Alpha Delta Pi) was established in 1851 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, making it the first secret society for collegiate women. The Philomathean Society (later named Phi Mu) (not associated with the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania) was also founded at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia in 1852. The Adelphean Society and the Philomathean Society did not take on their modern Greek names (Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu, respectively) until 1904 when they took on expansion beyond the Wesleyan campus.
On April 28 1867, I.C. Sorosis (later known by its original Greek motto Pi Beta Phi) was founded at Monmouth College, in Monmouth, Illinois. It is the first sisterhood founded on the model of the men's fraternity. It is first in the National Panhellenic Conference rotation, based on its year of founding. A year after its founding, a second chapter was founded on the Iowa Wesleyan College campus. Within a month of the second I.C. Sorosis chapter's founding, the P.E.O. sisterhood was formed on the Iowa Wesleyan campus. Today, P.E.O. is a women's community organization, however, it began as a collegiate women's society.
In the mid-1800s women were beginning to be admitted to previously all-male universities, and there were many women who felt that it was in their best interest to band together. By imitating the men's social groups, including their policy of secrecy and ritual, the first collegiate women formed women's fraternities in an effort to counteract the widespread opposition to their presence.
Kappa Alpha Theta founded on January 27 1870 at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana is recognized as the first Greek-lettered fraternity among women, and Kappa Kappa Gamma founded at Monmouth College, Illinois October 1870 as the second. The term sorority had not yet been coined by Syracuse University professor Frank Smalley, so the earliest organizations were founded as "women's fraternities" or "fraternities for women." The first organization to adopt the word sorority was Gamma Phi Beta, established in 1874 at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Alpha Phi was established in 1872, and along with Alpha Gamma Delta, the three sororities make up the Syracuse triad. Alpha Xi Delta was established in 1893 at Lombard College in Illinois and joined the NPC in 1904. Alpha Omicron Pi was established in 1897 and joined the NPC in the 1900s.
Alpha Kappa Alpha, Lambda Theta Alpha, Alpha Pi Omega were founded as the first sororities by and for African-American, Latina-American, and Native American members respectively.
High school fraternities and sororities, or secondary fraternities and sororities, are social fraternities for high school-aged men and women. There are a few active high school fraternities and sororities, including Zeta Mu Gamma in Puerto Rico, and DeMolay and Sigma Alpha Rho (SAR) in the mainland United States.
Greek umbrella organizations seek to provide members services such as public relations, leadership training, and methods of ecumenical discussions.
The "Greek Community" is present almost exclusively in the United States and Canada, with a minority of organizations having chapters elsewhere, such as the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. The Philippines has a system similar to that of the United States and Canada at least in naming, with many organizations sharing names though having no affiliation with each other. Alpha Phi Omega is a co-ed fraternity that exists in both countries. In Puerto Rico there are a number of social fraternities and sororities a few having chapters in the United States such as Phi Sigma Alpha, Puerto Rico does have many chapters of Professional, Honorary, and service Fraternities and Sororities from the United States. European countries have corporations, and Studentenverbindungen in Germany where they are quite common.
In contrast, the House system is common in United Kingdom schools (rather than universities) and a few other countries of the British Commonwealth. It is rare in the United States, but notable exceptions are house systems at Harvard College, Yale College, Rice University, and the California Institute of Technology. The house system resembles the Greek Community in that members often live together and share a motto, symbol, and socialize together, but differs in that new members are not generally chosen by existing members.
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