When Greek organizations originally formed on college campuses, their goals reflected ideals such as honor and integrity. In recent times, however, fraternities and sororities have gained terrible reputations for engaging in behavior contrary to their founding goals and the goals of the institutions they are supposed to represent.
Cathy Early believes Greek organizations could regain their status as bastions of academia, should they redevelop their ethical systems to better reflect integrity and worth. Known for wild parties, out-of-hand drinking, drug use, promiscuous sex, failure to do well in school, and cheating, fraternities and sororities have a lot of work to do to repair their damaged reputations. In this article, Early delineates four stages of ethical development and offers suggestions to Greek organizations to implement ethical development among leadership and members.
In considering the consequences of one’s actions, which is the first stage of ethical development, Early explains that the environment of Greek houses in which everyone is very close helps members care deeply about each other. While this certainly helps members think about how their decisions will affect other members, it doesn’t do much for the outside world. Peer pressure can often lead to unethical behavior because of the group mentality. Early suggests service learning projects to help Greeks look outside their houses and consider the bigger picture when making choices.
To identify a moral course of action and implement a moral course of action, which are the next two steps, Greeks need to develop rules for themselves that reflect good values. Because the tendency to listen to the organization above one’s conscious is high, rules that come from the organization will be followed if enforced by the organization.
Leadership classes should be given to those in charge of Greek houses, so they can help their organizations select good members and network with each other. They should hold discussion forums in which members reflect on the morality of past choices to help themselves select ethical courses of action in the future.
When members of fraternities and sororities act unethically, it is ultimately the responsibility of the organization, the Student Services office, and the school to punish accordingly. Not confronting Greek behavior in the past has led us to this point, when most believe Greek organizations have gotten out of hand.
This essay was originally published in New Directions for Student Services no. 81, Spring 1998.