The debate over banning fraternities can best be answered by watching the opening scene in the pilot episode of HBO’s series, The Wire. Detective Jimmy McNulty is sitting on a stoop with a pal of a man known as Snot Boogie who’s been shot dead in the street. As the cops work the nearby crime scene, the dead man’s pal explains that every Friday they would play craps in the alley, and every Friday, when the pot got big, Snot Boogie would grab the cash and run. They’d run after him, catch him, and beat him. McNulty asks the obvious question: “If every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away, why’d you even let him in the game?” To which the friend replies, “Got to. It’s America, man.”
Yeah, it’s America, man. The land of freedom of speech, the freedom to gather, the freedom to make a fool of yourself. Where we punish individuals for crimes, not whole groups.
Fraternities offer real, practical benefits: Many engage in charitable community service, lifelong friendships are forged, and they can be safe havens from academic stress. They also create networks that can improve business and political careers. Since 1877, 69% of U.S. presidents have been in fraternities. Since 1910, 85% of U.S. Supreme Court justices have been in fraternities. In addition, 76% of U.S. senators, 85% of Fortune 500 executives, and 71% of men in Who’s Who in America have also been in fraternities.
The main issue isn’t whether or not fraternities should be banned, but what the toilet-circling reputation of fraternities says about our culture in general. Is their behavior a sobering reflection of America’s unconscious values, or an abhorrent aberration birthed from self-entitlement and pampering?