All-male, highly secretive cells, sustained by sadistic initiation rites intended to prove absolute loyalty to the cell – this describes the mafia, Hell’s Angels, and American academia’s extensive system of fraternities.

I’m sure it’s possible to have all of the elements you need to create a criminal conspiracy and not create a criminal conspiracy; but this would mean exhibiting the impulse control one does not associate with bands of young men hidden without supervision behind high walls.

Fraternities have it one better than the mafia and outlaw biker gangs: Everyone thinks they’re cute. No one thinks the mafia is cute, but everyone thinks bonny frat boys with their local good works and character-building by-laws are adorable. I mean, they’re just kids. Plus they’re going to graduate from college and all.

So no one’s looking because these young college men are serious and clean-cut and appealing. They are a tight band of brothers enjoying almost total secrecy inside a nice large private residence, and they can be counted on to keep silent about any and all activities within the house.


What UD‘s trying to suggest in all this is that you’d almost have to be dumb, unambitious, unable to grasp life’s opportunities, to be existing under utopian criminal conspiracy conditions and not become a criminal conspiracy of some sort. Imagine a biker gang without a meth distribution business sounds like one of those conceptual challenges your professor poses in Intro Logic. So of course not all but a lot of frats are – on a small scale, of course, most of them – criminal conspiracies …

Too often fraternities function as unlicensed alcohol serving establishments on college campuses: a place where underage people, and those who are already intoxicated, can easily get alcohol. These practices are illegal in most states.

That sort of thing. (Drug distribution can become a seriously big deal at American fraternities.) You tell your stupid or indifferent or afraid university that you’re a dry frat, and your cover is complete: Your organization represents one big ol’ cynical lie, and the choirboy/gangster bit probably looks pretty amusing from inside the frat.


And so Greek life grinds on at our universities, dropping the odd rape or overdose or assault (lots of drunken fights break out in and around frats) here and there without attracting too much attention; but then you beat one of your eager-to-please initiates to death, or give drugs and alcohol to a coed who fatally overdoses. Something like that. Something that’s death.

This will finally attract some attention to your cell, especially if, like the guys at Penn State, the circumstances of the death are particularly depraved. And filmed. And if they happen at a campus already deep in blood and sex and gore via the frats and the athletic department. (Frats and sports: Hell of a synergy there: “[T]he secret to long service in a large public land-grant institution [is] ‘never messing with athletics or fraternities.‘”) You’ve now made it impossible to look away, impossible not to think about why so many fraternities are so disgusting, and why they’re part of universities.


Reflections on fraternities.

Trackback URL for this post:

3 Responses to “The problem with fraternities is that they’re just too easy to criminalize.”

  1. dmf Says:

  2. Alan Allport Says:

    All-male, highly secretive cells, sustained by sadistic initiation rites intended to prove absolute loyalty to the cell.

    C’mon, let’s have one post that’s not about Trump’s White House.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Alan: That thought occurred to me – he’s definitely heading there.

Comment on this Entry

Latest UD posts at IHE