I received my undergraduate degree at Louisiana State University, one of those large, state universities with tens of thousands of students. As is often common at big state schools, LSU had a large Greek system of fraternities and sororities, not a few of which exemplified the worst stereotypes of that social system: adolescent sexuality, racial exclusions, the fantasy of elitist superiority and regular partying around endless fonts of beer. Of course, many of these same groups pulled themselves out of bed on the weekends to engage in community service.

That was always the enigma for me: so much human dysfunctionality bound together with genuine humanitarian concern.

This duality of noble ideals and social unhealthiness was the nature of much of Greek life at LSU. I knew many guys who were genuinely wonderful people on their own, but underwent an unfortunate transformation when they came together in a fraternity.

It was almost like the fraternities were plagued by some innate gravitational pull – drawing their members away from high ideals towards social baseness. The best of the fraternities managed to avoid this for some periods.

But for most, gravity won out. They descended into various realms of snobbery, cliquishness, conformity, intolerance and their herd desire to escape life through alcohol and sexual gratification.

I recalled those days when reading about the attempt by Sigma Phi Epsilon to establish a social fraternity at Georgetown. The fraternity has some worthy goals in its “balanced man” program and, after reading their literature, I suspect its national leaders genuinely strive to be faithful to them.

But the gravitational pull tugs at them like it does all the others. And so in recent years, chapters of SigEp around the country have gotten in trouble for, among other things, noise disturbances, hazing, drinking, drug use and an allegation of sexual assault.

(Jack the Bulldog was troubled to find out that the recently suspended Wake Forest chapter was cited for abandoning a pig!) Perhaps some of our transfer students from Mars are surprised by all this, but I suspect few others are.

In an article in the Feb. 10 issue of The Georgetown Voice, one supporter claimed that in its ideals, Sigma Phi Epsilon is “true to the same goals of Georgetown and the Jesuit philosophy towards educating the mind and body.”

That’s an overstatement.

Yes, many social fraternities do engage in good projects and these line up well with Jesuit ideals. But there’s more to Jesuit education than “educating the mind and body.”

The Jesuit ideal of cura personalis, care for the person, refers to two ideas: educating the whole person in body, mind and spirit, and educating each person in his or her unique individuality. Although there are a number of problems with Greek life, I find it sufficient to address this last point about the individual now.

Can the kind of social cohesion that fraternities require, in subtle and not so subtle ways, really allow the individual person, as an individual, to flourish? One of my concerns about social fraternities and sororities is that some unspoken standard of “coolness” will always be operative – one that is exclusive, divisive and hurtful to some.

A student supporter in the same Voice article cited above argues that SigEp “could be the first organization that takes a rugby player, a transfer student, a freshman and a basketball player and brings them together” – an outrageous claim.

And scary: a diversity that is defined primarily by its variety of sports interests and of classifications of students is pretty cheap. I don’t imagine that the rugby player will be a social activist, the transfer student gay, the basketball player someone with an inner-city dialect or the freshmen a computer geek from Port Arthur, Texas.

Other social groups on campus avoid the danger of unwritten codes of conformity and exclusivity by focusing primarily on some type of excellence, like the performing arts, religious commitments, professional interests, service, politics, etc. Because such excellences play a defining role in these organizations’ identities – and the values of social conformity and being “liked” by group members do not, these groups are less likely to unwittingly foster the baser elements of group dynamics.

Georgetown students don’t need the Greeks.

Perhaps some students at LSU, with its enormous population, need the Greeks to humanize a sometimes anonymous social world. But we’re not LSU, in size or in culture.

Hoyas are some of the most socially gifted students around. They are good at taking advantage of the numerous religious, service and professional groups on campus to form webs of healthy relationships. They typically graduate from Georgetown with intimate friends whom they will always know as “fellow Hoyas,” not by some trinity of Greek letters.

The Greek system has never been part of Georgetown, and I hope it never will.

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