History Podcasts

Ancient Greece and the American university 'greek' social system

Ancient Greece and the American university 'greek' social system

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

How did the American college fraternity and sorority system come to incorporate ancient greek? Was this an 19th century phenomenon? That is my question.

Any color on the following would also be appreciated.

Other than in some of the 19th century school architecture, was this reflected elsewhere in academia (or in the society at large)?

The question struck me when reading about the Spartan mess halls. It all seemed very similar to my fraternity (dominated by athletes, mostly football), except there was no homosexual sex (that I'm aware of). Even the game of football itself - as well as it's antecedent, rugby - struck me as a ritualized form of hoplite warfare.

It has nothing to do with ancient Greek culture or neoclassicism. Almost all American Greek-letter societies (including general/social fraternities, service fraternities, honor societies, and professional fraternities) follow the example of Phi Beta Kappa.

Remember that the traditional university curriculum included a heavy emphasis on classical texts, and the tiny elite who enjoyed a post-secondary education for most of modern history would have had many years of schooling in Latin, ancient Greek, and Hebrew.

There had been student societies such as the FHC, established in 1750 at the College of William and Mary. The letters FHC were the initials of a Latin motto, Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio ("brotherhood, humanity, and understanding"). As the motto was secret, the FHC was popularly known as the "Flat Hat Club."

In 1776, a student named John Heath was denied membership in the FHC, so he formed his own organization in response. Instead of a Latin secret motto, he used a Greek one: Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης ("love of learning is the guide of life"), and so the organization became known as Phi Beta Kappa.

Phi Beta Kappa was eventually forced to become an open society, but all collegiate Greek-letter societies more or less follow on the model of these early student clubs. Some, like Farmhouse or Triangle, do not use Greek letters; others, like Delta Upsilon, are open societies rather than secret societies, but for the most part they take the same model: letters representing a secret motto or principles; a creed or other philosophical basis for organization; and public and private tests for identifying members, such as a badge or secret handclasp.

Incidentally, while a certain stereotype of social fraternity members as athletes is reinforced in postwar films and television, there is no institutional basis for that association. The first "social" fraternity, Kappa Alpha Society (est. 1825 at Union College), grew out of a literary society, and the "social" purpose of the group was to groom its members to contribute to society, not merely to socialize.

Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities is the canonical reference on the fraternity and sorority system.

Education in ancient Greece

Education for Greek people was vastly "democratized" in the 5th century B.C., influenced by the Sophists, Plato, and Isocrates. Later, in the Hellenistic period of Ancient Greece, education in a gymnasium school was considered essential for participation in Greek culture. The value of physical education to the ancient Greeks and Romans has been historically unique. There were two forms of education in ancient Greece: formal and informal. Formal education was attained through attendance to a public school or was provided by a hired tutor. Informal education was provided by an unpaid teacher and occurred in a non-public setting. Education was an essential component of a person's identity.

Formal Greek education was primarily for males and non-slaves. [1] In some poleis, laws were passed to prohibit the education of slaves. [2] [3] The Spartans also taught music and dance, but with the purpose of enhancing their manoeuvrability as soldiers.

The early Archaic period

The period between the catastrophic end of the Mycenaean civilization and about 900 bce is often called a Dark Age. It was a time about which Greeks of the Classical age had confused and actually false notions. Thucydides, the great ancient historian of the 5th century bce , wrote a sketch of Greek history from the Trojan War to his own day, in which he notoriously fails, in the appropriate chapter, to signal any kind of dramatic rupture. (He does, however, speak of Greece “settling down gradually” and colonizing Italy, Sicily, and what is now western Turkey. This surely implies that Greece was settling down after something.) Thucydides does indeed display sound knowledge of the series of migrations by which Greece was resettled in the post-Mycenaean period. The most famous of these was the “ Dorian invasion,” which the Greeks called, or connected with, the legendary “return of the descendants of Heracles.” Although much about that invasion is problematic—it left little or no archaeological trace at the point in time where tradition puts it—the problems are of no concern here. Important for the understanding of the Archaic and Classical periods, however, is the powerful belief in Dorianism as a linguistic and religious concept. Thucydides casually but significantly mentions soldiers speaking the “Doric dialect” in a narrative about ordinary military matters in the year 426. That is a surprisingly abstract way of looking at the subdivisions of the Greeks, because it would have been more natural for a 5th-century Greek to identify soldiers by home cities. Equally important to the understanding of this period is the hostility to Dorians, usually on the part of Ionians, another linguistic and religious subgroup, whose most-famous city was Athens. So extreme was this hostility that Dorians were prohibited from entering Ionian sanctuaries extant today is a 5th-century example of such a prohibition, an inscription from the island of Paros.

Phenomena such as the tension between Dorians and Ionians that have their origins in the Dark Age are a reminder that Greek civilization did not emerge either unannounced or uncontaminated by what had gone before. The Dark Age itself is beyond the scope of this article. One is bound to notice, however, that archaeological finds tend to call into question the whole concept of a Dark Age by showing that certain features of Greek civilization once thought not to antedate about 800 bce can actually be pushed back by as much as two centuries. One example, chosen for its relevance to the emergence of the Greek city-state, or polis, will suffice. In 1981 archaeology pulled back the curtain on the “darkest” phase of all, the Protogeometric Period (c. 1075–900 bce ), which takes its name from the geometric shapes painted on pottery. A grave, rich by the standards of any period, was uncovered at a site called Lefkandi on Euboea, the island along the eastern flank of Attica (the territory controlled by Athens). The grave, which dates to about 1000 bce , contains the (probably cremated) remains of a man and a woman. The large bronze vessel in which the man’s ashes were deposited came from Cyprus, and the gold items buried with the woman are splendid and sophisticated in their workmanship. Remains of horses were found as well the animals had been buried with their snaffle bits. The grave was within a large collapsed house, whose form anticipates that of the Greek temples two centuries later. Previously it had been thought that those temples were one of the first manifestations of the “monumentalizing” associated with the beginnings of the city-state. Thus, that find and those made in a set of nearby cemeteries in the years before 1980 attesting further contacts between Egypt and Cyprus between 1000 and 800 bce are important evidence. They show that one corner of one island of Greece, at least, was neither impoverished nor isolated in a period usually thought to have been both. The difficulty is to know just how exceptional Lefkandi was, but in any view it has revised former ideas about what was and what was not possible at the beginning of the 1st millennium bce .

9. Leonidas I

Leonidas I was the famous Spartan king whose heroics at the Battle of Thermopylae were the stuff of legend. At that time, every Spartan citizen was trained for battle and their daily routine from childhood was pretty much completely taken up with practicing their fighting. As a consequence, Leonidas was destined for glory when the Persians came knocking on the doors of ancient Greece. It was said that Leonidas, one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, was a descendant of Heracles (more popularly known as Hercules), and possessed much of his strength and skill.

Leonidas left a notable mark on the face of history with his impressive leadership against the might of the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae. His unbelievable last stand against all odds has been retold down the generations through the writings of the famous Greek historian Herodotus. He told the story of how 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians defended Sparta for three days from an invading Persian army that was two million strong. Modern historians have amended that number to 250,000 Persians, but this does not detract from the bravery Leonidas and his men showed while defending the small pass of Thermopylae. His story is used to this very day to show how training, experience, and the tactical use of terrain can be used to maximize the potential of even the smallest of forces.

Hellenistic Culture

People, like goods, moved fluidly around the Hellenistic kingdoms. Almost everyone in the former Alexandrian empire spoke and read the same language: koine, or “the common tongue,” a kind of colloquial Greek. Koine was a unifying cultural force: No matter where a person came from, he could communicate with anyone in this cosmopolitan Hellenistic world.

At the same time, many people felt alienated in this new political and cultural landscape. Once upon a time, citizens had been intimately involved with the workings of the democratic city-states now, they lived in impersonal empires governed by professional bureaucrats. Many people joined “mystery religions,” like the cults of the goddesses Isis and Fortune, which promised their followers immortality and individual wealth.

Hellenistic philosophers, too, turned their focus inward. Diogenes the Cynic lived his life as an expression of protest against commercialism and cosmopolitanism. (Politicians, he said, were “the lackeys of the mob” the theatre was 𠇊 peep show for fools.”) The philosopher Epicurus argued that the most important thing in life was the pursuit of the individual’s pleasure and happiness. And the Stoics argued that every individual man had within him a divine spark that could be cultivated by living a good and noble life.

Ostracism in Ancient Greece

Learn about how the ancient Greeks voted citizens&mdashincluding political leaders&mdashout of office.

Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

In ancient Athens, ostracism was the process by which any citizen, including political leaders, could be expelled from the city-state for 10 years.

Once a year, ancient Athenian citizens would nominate people they felt threatened democracy&mdashbecause of political differences, dishonesty, or just general dislike. Today, although we can vote politicians out of office, we can&rsquot exactly banish them from politics for a decade. Do you think ostracism would work in a democracy today? Would you vote to ostracize someone? Why?

loosely united civilization founded on and around the Peloponnese peninsula, lasting from about the 8th century BCE to about 200 BCE.

technology (such as a slip of paper or an electronic form) by which a voter casts their vote.

system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

selection of people to public office by vote.

to exclude a person, by general consent, from a society or group

person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.


Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society


Caryl-Sue Micalizio, National Geographic Society


Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society

Last Updated

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek politics, philosophy, art and scientific achievements greatly influenced Western civilizations today. One example of their legacy is the Olympic Games. Use the videos, media, reference materials, and other resources in this collection to teach about ancient Greece, its role in modern-day democracy, and civic engagement.

Democracy (Ancient Greece)

Democracy in ancient Greece served as one of the first forms of self-rule government in the ancient world. The system and ideas employed by the ancient Greeks had profound influences on how democracy developed, and its impact on the formation of the U.S. government.


A voter is a citizen who has the legal right to help make decisions for the nation.

Democracy: People Power

Learn how democracy in the United States is different from that of the ancient Greeks.

Related Resources

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek politics, philosophy, art and scientific achievements greatly influenced Western civilizations today. One example of their legacy is the Olympic Games. Use the videos, media, reference materials, and other resources in this collection to teach about ancient Greece, its role in modern-day democracy, and civic engagement.

Democracy (Ancient Greece)

Democracy in ancient Greece served as one of the first forms of self-rule government in the ancient world. The system and ideas employed by the ancient Greeks had profound influences on how democracy developed, and its impact on the formation of the U.S. government.


A voter is a citizen who has the legal right to help make decisions for the nation.

Democracy: People Power

Learn how democracy in the United States is different from that of the ancient Greeks.


Establishment and early history

The first fraternity in North America to incorporate most of the elements of modern fraternities was Phi Beta Kappa, founded at the College of William and Mary in 1775. The founding of Phi Beta Kappa followed the earlier establishment of two other secret student societies that had existed at that campus as early as 1750. In 1779 Phi Beta Kappa expanded to include chapters at Harvard and Yale. By the early 19th century, the organization transformed itself into a scholastic honor society and abandoned secrecy. [4]

In 1825, Kappa Alpha Society, the first fraternity to retain its social characteristic, was established at Union College. In 1827, Sigma Phi and Delta Phi were also founded at the same institution, [5] creating the Union Triad. The further birthing of Psi Upsilon (1833), Chi Psi (1841) and Theta Delta Chi (1847) collectively established Union College as the Mother of Fraternities. The social fraternity Chi Phi, officially formed in 1854, but traces its roots to a short-lived organization founded at Princeton in 1824, bearing the same name. [6]

Fraternities represented the intersection between dining clubs, literary societies and secret initiatory orders such as Freemasonry. Their early growth was widely opposed by university administrators, though the increasing influence of fraternity alumni, as well as several high-profile court cases, succeeded in largely muting opposition by the 1880s. [5] The first fraternity meeting hall, or lodge, seems to have been that of the Alpha Epsilon chapter of Chi Psi at the University of Michigan in 1845, leading to a tradition in that fraternity to name its buildings "lodges". As fraternity membership was punishable by expulsion at many colleges at this time, the house was located deep in the woods. [7] The first residential chapter home, built by a fraternity, is believed to have been Alpha Delta Phi's chapter at Cornell University, with groundbreaking dated to 1878. [8] Alpha Tau Omega became the first fraternity to own a residential house in the South when, in 1880, its chapter at the University of the South acquired one. [9] Chapters of many fraternities followed suit, purchasing and less often, building them with support of alumni. Phi Sigma Kappa's chapter home at Cornell, completed in 1902, is the oldest such house still occupied by its fraternal builders. [10]


Sororities (originally termed "women's fraternities") began to develop in 1851 with the formation of the Adelphean Society Alpha Delta Pi, [11] though fraternity-like organizations for women didn't take their current form until the establishment of Pi Beta Phi in 1867 and Kappa Alpha Theta in 1870. The term "sorority" was used by a professor of Latin at Syracuse University, Dr. Frank Smalley, who felt the word "fraternity" was inappropriate for a group of ladies. [12] The word comes from Latin soror, meaning "sister," "cousin, daughter of a father's brother," or "female friend." [13] The first organization to use the term "sorority" was Gamma Phi Beta, established in 1874. [14]

The development of "fraternities for women" during this time was a major accomplishment in the way of women's rights and equality. By mere existence, these organizations were defying the odds the founding women were able to advance their organizations despite many factors working against them. The first "Women's Fraternities" not only had to overcome "restrictive social customs, unequal status under the law and the underlying presumption that they were less able than men," [15] but at the same time had to deal with the same challenges as fraternities with college administrations. Today, both social and multicultural sororities are present on more than 650 college campuses across the United States and Canada. The National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) serves as the "umbrella organization" for 26 (inter)national sororities. Founded in 1902, the NPC is one of the oldest and largest women's membership organizations, representing more than 4 million women at 655 college/university campuses and 4,500 local alumnae chapters in the U.S. and Canada. [16]


In 1867, the Chi Phi fraternity established its Theta chapter at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, marking the first foray of the American social fraternity outside the borders of the United States. At the time, many students from the American south were moving to Europe to study because of the disrepair southern universities fell into during the American Civil War. One such group of Americans organized Chi Phi at Edinburgh however, during the Theta chapter's existence, it initiated no non-American members. With declining American enrollment at European universities, Chi Phi at Edinburgh closed in 1870. [14]

Nine years following Chi Phi's abortive colonization of the University of Edinburgh, a second attempt was made to transplant the fraternity system outside the United States. In 1879, Zeta Psi established a chapter at the University of Toronto. Zeta Psi's success at Toronto prompted it to open a second Canadian chapter at McGill University, which it chartered in 1883. Other early foundations were Kappa Alpha Society at Toronto in 1892 and at McGill in 1899, and Alpha Delta Phi at Toronto in 1893 and at McGill in 1897. The first sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, was established at Toronto in 1887. By 1927 there were 42 fraternity and sorority chapters at the University of Toronto and of 23 at McGill University. A few chapters were also reported at the University of British Columbia, Carleton University, Dalhousie University, University of Manitoba, Queen's University, University of Western Ontario, Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Waterloo and Brock University. [17]

The arrival of the fraternity system in Asia accompanied the introduction of the American educational system in the Philippines. The first fraternities were established in the University of the Philippines. The now defunct Patriotic and Progressive Rizal Center Academic Brotherhood (Rizal Center Fraternity), a brotherhood of Jose Rizal followers, was founded in 1913. [18] This was followed by the Rizal Center Sorority. The first Greek-letter organization and fraternity in Asia, the Upsilon Sigma Phi, was founded in 1918. [19] The first Greek-letter sorority, UP Sigma Beta Sorority, was recognized in 1932. [19]


Many early fraternities made reference to Christian principles or to a Supreme Being in general, as is characteristic of fraternal orders. [20] Some, such as Alpha Chi Rho (1895) and Alpha Kappa Lambda (1907), only admitted Christians, [20] while others, such as Beta Sigma Psi (1925), catered to students belonging with certain denominations of Christianity, such as Lutheranism. [20]

Due to their exclusion from Christian fraternities in the United States, Jewish students began to establish their own fraternities in the period of 1895 and 1920, with the first one being Zeta Beta Tau (1898). [20]

Although many of the religion-specific requirements for many fraternities and sororities have been relaxed or removed, there are some today that continue to rally around their faith as a focal point, such as Beta Upsilon Chi (1985) and Sigma Alpha Omega (1998). [20] [21]


Numerous Greek organizations in the past have enacted formal and informal prohibitions on pledging individuals of different races and cultural backgrounds. This began with White fraternities and sororities excluding African-Americans due to racism. All-Black fraternities and sororities were spearheaded thereafter in response.

While racist policies have since been abolished by the North American Interfraternity Conference, students of various ethnicities have come together to form a council of multicultural Greek organizations. The National Multicultural Greek Council, officially formed in 1998, is a coordinating body of 19 Greek organizations, including nine fraternities, and ten sororities with cultural affiliations. [22]

The first multicultural sorority, Mu Sigma Upsilon, was established in November 1981 at Rutgers University. [23] The formation of this Greek organization allowed for the emergence of a multicultural fraternity and sorority movement, giving birth to a multicultural movement.

Common elements

Gender exclusivity

Fraternities and sororities traditionally have been single-sex organizations, with fraternities consisting exclusively of men and sororities consisting exclusively of women. In the United States, fraternities and sororities have a statutory exemption from Title IX legislation prohibiting this type of gender exclusion within student groups, and organizations such as the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee lobby to maintain it. [24] [25]

Since the mid-20th century a small number of fraternities, such as Alpha Theta, Lambda Lambda Lambda, and Alpha Phi Omega have opted to become co-educational and admit female members however, these generally represent a minority of Greek-letter organizations and no such fraternity is currently a member of the North American Interfraternity Conference, the largest international association of fraternities. [24] [25] The first coed fraternity was Pi Alpha Tau (1963–1991) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [26]

Much more commonly, coed fraternities exist in the form of "service" fraternities such as Alpha Phi Omega, Epsilon Sigma Alpha, Alpha Tau Mu and others. These organizations are similar to "social" fraternities and sororities, with the exception of being coed and non-residential.

In 2014, Sigma Phi Epsilon became the first fraternity in the North American Interfraternity Conference to accept transgender members, or those identifying as male, to join the social fraternity. [27] Several sororities have adjusted their policies to confirm that transgender prospective members are allowable.

Importantly, all these variants have stemmed from a process of self-determination, without challenge by other Greeks. But in a bellwether case, in 2016 Harvard University changed its student conduct code to bar members of single-sex groups from leading campus groups, serving as captains of sports teams or participating in valuable academic fellowships. This is being contested vigorously in U.S. Federal Court by several affected fraternities and sororities. [28] [29]


Individual chapters of fraternities and sororities are largely self-governed by their active (student) members however, alumni members may retain legal ownership of the fraternity or sorority's property through an alumni chapter or alumni corporation. All of a single fraternity or sorority's chapters are generally grouped together in a national or international organization that sets standards, regulates insignia and ritual, publishes a journal or magazine for all of the chapters of the organization, and has the power to grant and revoke charters to chapters. These federal structures are largely governed by alumni members of the fraternity, though with some input from the active (student) members. [30] [31]

Rushing and pledging (recruitment and new member periods)

Most Greek letter organizations select potential members through a two-part process of vetting and probation, called rushing and pledging, respectively. During rush (recruitment), students attend designated social events, and sometimes formal interviews, hosted by the chapters of fraternities and sororities in which they have particular interest. Usually, after a potential new member has attended several such events, officers or current members meet privately to vote on whether or not to extend an invitation (known as a "bid") to the prospective applicant. Those applicants who receive a bid, and choose to accept it, are considered to have "pledged" the fraternity or sorority, thus beginning the pledge period (new member period). Students participating in rush are known as "rushees" (Potential New Members "PNMs") while students who have accepted a bid to a specific fraternity or sorority are known as "new members" or in some cases "pledges". [32]

A new member period may last anywhere from one weekend to several months. During this time, new members might participate in almost all aspects of the life of the fraternity or sorority, but most likely not be permitted to hold office in the organization. At the conclusion of the new member period, a second vote of members may sometimes be taken, often, but not always, using a blackball system. New members who pass this second vote are invited to a formal and secret ritual of initiation into the organization, advancing them to full membership. [5]

Many Greek-letter organizations give preferential consideration for pledging to candidates whose parent or sibling was a member of the same fraternity or sorority. Such prospective candidates are known as "legacies". [33] [34]

Membership in more than one fraternity or sorority is almost always prohibited. Recently, some Greek-letter organizations have replaced the term "pledge" with that of "associate member" or "new member". Sigma Alpha Epsilon, in 2014, abolished pledging altogether. Potential members are now immediately initiated into the fraternity upon accepting a bid. [32] [35]


Unique among most campus organizations, members of social Greek letter organizations often live together in a large house (generally privately owned by the fraternity itself, or by the fraternity's alumni association) or a distinct part of the university dormitories. A single undergraduate fraternity chapter may be composed of anywhere between 20 and more than 100 students, though most have between 35 and 45 members and pledges. Often fraternities and sorority houses (called lodges or chapter houses) are located on the same street or in close quarters within the same neighborhood, which may be colloquially known as "Greek row" or "frat row". At some, often small, colleges, fraternities and sororities occupy a specific section of university-owned housing provided to them. Some fraternities and sororities are un-housed, with members providing for their own accommodations. In many of these cases, the fraternity or sorority own or rent a non-residential clubhouse to use for meetings and other activities.

Secrecy and ritual

With a few exceptions, most fraternities and sororities are secret societies. While the identity of members or officers is rarely concealed, fraternities and sororities initiate members following the pledge period through sometimes elaborate private rituals, frequently drawn or adopted from Masonic ritual practice or that of the Greek mysteries. [5]

At the conclusion of an initiation ritual, the organization's secret motto, secret purpose and secret identification signs, such as handshakes and passwords, are usually revealed to its new members. Some fraternities also teach initiates an identity search device used to confirm fellow fraternity members. [36]

Julian Hawthorne, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote (in his posthumously published Memoirs) [37] of his initiation into Delta Kappa Epsilon: [38]

I was initiated into a college secret society—a couple of hours of grotesque and good-humored rodomontade and horseplay, in which I cooperated as in a kind of pleasant nightmare, confident, even when branded with a red-hot iron or doused head-over heels in boiling oil, [39] that it would come out all right. The neophyte is effectively blindfolded during the proceedings, and at last, still sightless, I was led down flights of steps into a silent crypt, and helped into a coffin, where I was to stay until the Resurrection. Thus it was that just as my father passed from this earth, I was lying in a coffin during my initiation into Delta Kappa Epsilon.

Meetings and rituals are sometimes conducted in what is known as a "chapter room" located inside the fraternity's house. Entry into chapter rooms is often prohibited to all but the initiated. In one extreme case, the response of firefighters to a blaze signaled by an automated alarm at the Sigma Phi chapter house at the University of Wisconsin in 2003 was hampered in part because fraternity members refused to disclose the location of the hidden chapter room, where the conflagration had erupted, to emergency responders. [40]

According to Assistant Professor Caroline Rolland-Diamond of the Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, in one ritual popular in the 1960s, born out of frustration to the ubiquitous nascent counterculture, "The men were stripped to their underpants, tied up to a tree, and covered in a nasty mix of food and leaves, remaining there until their fiancées came to free them with a kiss." [41]

Symbols and naming conventions

The fraternity or sorority badge is an enduring symbol of membership in a Greek letter organization. Most fraternities also have assumed heraldic achievements. Members of fraternities and sororities address members of the same organization as "brother" (in the case of fraternities) or "sister" (in the case of sororities). The names of almost all fraternities and sororities consist of a sequence of two or three Greek letters, for instance, Delta Delta Delta, Sigma Chi, Chi Omega, or Psi Upsilon. There are a few exceptions to this general rule, as in the case of the fraternities Triangle, Acacia, and Seal and Serpent. [5]

Membership profile


There are approximately 9 million student and alumni members of fraternities and sororities in North America, or about 3 percent of the total population. [42] [43] Roughly 750,000 of the current fraternity and sorority members are students who belong to an undergraduate chapter. [ citation needed ]

A 2007 survey conducted at Princeton University showed that white and higher income Princeton students are much more likely than other Princeton students to be in fraternities and sororities. [44] Senior surveys from the classes of 2009 and 2010 showed that 77 percent of sorority members and 73 percent of fraternity members were white. [44]

Notable fraternity and sorority members

Since 1900, 63 percent of members of the United States cabinet have been members of fraternities and sororities, and the current chief executive officers of five of the ten largest Fortune 500 companies are members of fraternities and sororities. In addition, 85 percent of all justices of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1910 have been members of fraternities. U.S. presidents since World War II who have been initiated into fraternities are George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Franklin Roosevelt. Three Prime Ministers of Canada have been members of fraternities. [45] [46] [47] [48] [49]

In 2013, about 25 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 40 percent of members of the U.S. Senate are members of Greek-letter organizations. [50]

Actress Sophia Bush was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Southern California and has since gone on to further her career in television and receive the Human Rights Campaign's Ally for Equality Award. Other notable sorority women include Mariska Hargitay, who is an actress and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation. [51] [52] [53]

Academic performance

Studies have found that university graduation rates are 20 percent higher among members of Greek-letter organizations than among non-members, and students who are members of fraternities and sororities typically have higher-than-average grade point averages. One reason for this is many chapters require their members to maintain a certain academic standard. [54] [ dubious – discuss ]

Each organization requires its members to maintain a minimum GPA in order to continue their membership. Greek members who maintain high GPA's are invited to join notable Greek honor societies. The two most notable Greek honor societies include: Gamma Sigma Alpha and Order of Omega. Gamma Sigma Alpha acknowledges Greek members who hold a 3.5 GPA in upper division classes. [55] Order of Omega recognizes the top 3% of Greek members who exemplify leadership qualities. [55] Greek honor societies provide life-time membership with opportunities such as scholarships and networking.

Professional advancement

There is a high representation of former Greek life members among certain elites in the United States. Greek members "are more likely to be thriving in their well-being and engaged at work than college graduates who did not go Greek," according to a study done by Gallup and Purdue University. [56]

Personal fulfillment

A 2014 Gallup survey of 30,000 university alumni found that persons who said they had been members of Greek-letter organizations while undergraduates reported having a greater sense of purpose, as well as better social and physical well-being, than those who had not. [57]

Homogeneous membership and elitism

Greek letter organizations have often been characterized as elitist or exclusionary associations, organized for the benefit of a largely white, upper-class membership base. Members of fraternities and sororities disproportionately come from certain socio-economic demographics. [44] Fraternities specifically have been criticized for what is perceived as their promotion of an excessively alcohol-fueled, party-focused lifestyle.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni questioned the existence of exclusive clubs on campuses that are meant to facilitate independence, writing: "[Colleges] should be cultivating the kind of sensibility that makes you a better citizen of a diverse and distressingly fractious society. How is that served by retreating into an exclusionary clique of people just like you?" [58]

Some colleges and universities have banned Greek letter organizations on the grounds that they are, by their very nature and structure, elitist and exclusionary. The oldest ban was at Princeton, though Princeton has now had fraternities since the 1980s. [59] Oberlin College banned "secret societies" (fraternities and sororities) in 1847, [60] and the prohibition continues to the present. [61] Quaker universities, such as Guilford College and Earlham College, often ban fraternities and sororities because they are seen as a violation of the Quaker principle of equality. [62] [63] Brandeis University has never permitted fraternities or sororities as it maintains a policy that all student organizations have membership open to all. [64]


One Harvard University study found that "4 out of 5 fraternity and sorority members are binge drinkers. In comparison, other research suggests 2 out of 5 college students overall are regular binge drinkers." [65] There is also a high rate of alcohol-related death among fraternities, which has recently resulted in several lawsuits against various GLOs. [66] [67]


Fraternities, and to a lesser extent sororities, have been criticized for hazing, sometimes committed by active undergraduate members against their chapter's pledges. Hazing during the pledge period can sometimes culminate in an event commonly known as "Hell Week" in which a week-long series of physical and mental torments are inflicted on pledges. Common hazing practices include sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, paddling and other types of spanking, use of stress positions, forced runs, busy work, forced drinking and mind games. Rarer incidents involving branding, enemas, urination on pledges and the forced consumption of spoiled food have been reported. Hazing, in many cases, has been reported and has led to the permanent disposal of particular chapters of fraternities and sororities across the country.

Supporters of fraternities note that hazing is almost universally prohibited by national fraternity organizations, and the occurrence of hazing in undergraduate fraternity chapters goes against official policy. Supporters of fraternities also note that hazing is not unique to Greek-letter organizations and is often reported in other student organizations, such as athletic teams.

In 2007, an anti-hazing hotline was set up to report incidents of hazing on college campuses. Currently, 46 national fraternity and sorority organizations support the toll-free number, which generates automatic email messages regarding hazing and sends them to the national headquarters directly from the National Anti-Hazing Hotline. [68] Every year, the last week of September is considered to be National Hazing Prevention Week (NHPW). From hazingprevention.org, "NHPW is an opportunity for campuses, schools, communities, organizations and individuals to raise awareness about the problem of hazing, educating others about hazing, and promoting the prevention of hazing. HazingPrevention.Org™ is the organizer of National Hazing Prevention Week (NHPW)." [69]

There were several hazing incidents that resulted in deaths in 2017 including the death of Tim Piazza in which three members of Beta Theta Pi were sentenced to prison after pleading guilty in charges related to the hazing. Other incidents included the death of Maxwell Gruver, Andrew Coffey and Matthew Ellis. [70]

Nepotism and networking

Critics of Greek-letter organizations assert that they create a culture of nepotism in later life, while supporters have applauded them for creating networking opportunities for members after graduation. A 2013 report by Bloomberg found that fraternity connections are influential in obtaining lucrative employment positions at top Wall Street brokerages. According to the report, recent graduates have been known to exchange the secret handshakes of their fraternities with executives whom they know are also members to obtain access to competitive appointments. [71] [72]

Sexism and sexual violence

Studies show that fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses. [73] [74] [75] Fraternity pledges are at a higher likelihood to commit rape or sexual assault because of the pressure to meet the hyper-masculine standards that fraternities expect of their members. [76] Overall, fraternity men are shown to have more rape-supportive attitudes than non-fraternity men. [77]

Fraternities have often been accused of fostering rape-supportive attitudes by promoting male dominance and brotherhood, and fraternity affiliation has been found to be a significant predictor of sexually predatory behavior in retrospective research. [75] [78] Sexual assault is such a common occurrence among fraternity organizations that one fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is commonly referred to by the nickname, "Sexual Assault Expected". [79] Attitudes towards women learned in fraternity life can perpetuate fraternity men's lifelong attitudes, leading to the potential to commit sexual assault and rape after college life. [80] Furthermore, studies show that women in sororities are almost twice as likely to experience rape than other college women. [81] [82] A research article studied campus demographics and reported rapes and found that campuses that report more rapes have more fraternity men, athletes and liquor violations. [83]

Researchers have found that in predominantly-male environments, such as fraternities, athletics and military groups, men feel pressure to meet the group's standard of ‘masculinity’, which may contribute to the reason that in these settings, men are more accepting of sexual violence. [84] Nicholas Syrett, a professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado, has been a vocal critic of the evolution of fraternities in the 20th century. Syrett has stated that, "fraternal masculinity has, for at least 80 years, valorized athletics, alcohol abuse and sex with women." [85] Time magazine columnist Jessica Bennett has denounced fraternities as breeding "sexism and misogyny that lasts long after college". In her column, Bennett recounts that, while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, doormen at fraternity parties "often ranked women on a scale of 1 to 10, with only 'sixes' and up granted entry to a party". [72]

To protect the "brotherhood", fraternity men and athletes may not confront or report sexual assault when it happens. [83] Perpetrators have often received little to no consequences for their actions. [86]

Test and homework banks

It is common for members of Greek-letter organizations to have higher-than-average GPAs due to test and homework banks filled over the years by members of their organization. There is much backlash condemning the test and homework banks as academic dishonesty. [87] [88]

Racism and minority discrimination

Researchers, such as Matthew W. Hughey, have linked racism in Greek life to persons experiencing microaggressions, fewer opportunities to use the networking system built into Greek life and the use of harmful stereotypes. [89] In response to experiencing racism and exclusion from solely or predominantly White GLOs, black and multicultural GLOs were founded. [89]

Additionally, homophobia, transphobia, anti-semitism, and xenophobia are notable reoccurring issues with many college Greek systems across the nation. [90]

Politics and Government

Numerous Greek American political and social organizations have existed since the 1880s. These organizations often were made up of Greeks who had come from the same region in Greece. They had a shared sense of Hellenism and a common religion and language and often aligned themselves with native Greek concerns. The kinotitos (community) was an organization similar to the village government in Greece. Although the kinotitos helped to preserve Greek traditions, it sometimes hindered assimilation.

In 1907 the Pan-Hellenic Union was founded to coordinate and incorporate local organizations to provide a means of helping Greece obtain more territory from the Ottoman Empire and to support the return of Constantinople to Greece and the consolidation of all Greek colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean under Greek authority. It also helped Greeks to adapt to their new home in the United States. Many Greek immigrants were slowly beginning to accept the fact that they would not be returning to Greece and that the United States was their permanent home. In 1922 the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) was founded. Although the AHEPA supported the assimilation of Greeks to the American way of life, it did not relinquish its strong attachments to Greece. During World War II, the AHEPA was a major contributor to the Greek War Relief Association.

The one issue that mobilized the Greek American community to political action was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus on July 15, 1974. The efforts of well-organized lobby groups to effect an arms embargo against Turkey were impressive. The AHEPA played a leading role in these activities, along with other lobby groups—the American Hellenic Institute and its public affairs committee, the influential United Hellenic American Congress, and the Hellenic Council of America. The Greek Orthodox church and local community organizations also assisted. Primarily because of the successful lobbying of these groups, the United States imposed an arms embargo on Turkey on February 5, 1975.

Greek American politicians were also instrumental in shaping U.S. policy toward the Republic of Macedonia, established after the breakup of the communist Yugoslav federation in the early 1990s. Greece strenuously objected to Macedonia's use of a name that also refers to a region in Greece, and announced a trade embargo against the new country. When, on February 9, 1994, President Clinton announced that the United States would officially recognize Macedonia, Greek American politicians launched an intensive campaign to reverse this policy, gathering 30,000 signatures on a protest petition. Clinton succumbed to this pressure and announced that the United States would withhold diplomatic relations until an envoy could resolve Greece's objections.

Greek political figures are almost overwhelmingly Democratic. They include Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, John Brademas, Paul Spyro Sarbanes, Michael Bilirakis, Andrew Manatos, and George Stephanopoulos. Although Greek Americans traditionally have voted Democratic, their increasing wealth and status have led to an even division within the Greek American community between Republicans and Democrats.


Greek Americans have participated in large numbers in all major wars fought by the United States. Greek American men with veteran status number 90,530 women number 2,635.

Voting with the Ancient Greeks

This Greek wine cup from the 5th century B.C. offers one of the earliest depictions of voting in art. As the Trojan War rages, Greek chieftains are forced to choose between the competing claims of heroes Ajax and Odysseus to a momentous prize, the armor of the fallen warrior Achilles. So they do what comes naturally to the fathers of democracy. They vote.

The small dots on either side of the pedestal in the detail shown above represent stones heaped in two mounds for Odysseus and Ajax. The number of pebbles on Ajax’s side, at right, falls short of the more politically savvy Odysseus’s by one, causing Ajax to grasp his head in despair. This loss is the backstory for the tragic scene portrayed inside the cup, where we see Ajax fallen in agony on his sword.

Voting with pebbles? Even allowing for artistic license, it seems the Greeks really did it this way. Voters deposited a pebble into one of two urns to mark their choice after voting, the urns were emptied onto counting boards for tabulation. The principle of secret voting was established by at least the 5th century B.C., and Athenians may have used a contraption to obscure the urn into which a voter was placing his hand. In ancient Greece a pebble was called a psephos, which gives us the dubious term psephology, the scientific study of elections.

Another modern word, ballot, preserves this ancient history of bean-counting: it comes from medieval French ballotte, a small ball.

The pain of losing by one vote: Following Ajax’s suicide, his lover Tekmessa drapes his fallen body.

The Lasting Legacy of Ancient Greek Leaders and Philosophers

Greek leaders and thinkers were influential in their own time, but some of their ideas and work stand the test of time and still have an impact on modern life.

Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations


Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, advises a woman and child while other patients wait nearby.

This lists the logos of programs or partners of NG Education which have provided or contributed the content on this page. Leveled by

When you read the word &ldquoancient,&rdquo you likely think of something old and outdated. But you may be surprised to hear that many of the ideas and institutions that came from ancient Greece still exist today. We have the ancient Greeks to thank for things like present-day democracy, libraries, the modern alphabet, and even zoology.

Here are some notable Greek figures&mdashfrom philosophers to mathematicians and scientists&mdashand how they have shaped the world we know today.

Socrates was one of the most prominent ancient Greek philosophers. Socrates spent the majority of his life asking questions, always in search of the truth. He is responsible for developing what is known as the Socratic method, a technique still used by professors in law schools today. Instead of lecturing the students, professors will ask them a series of thought-provoking questions. These questions help the students think critically, and they are meant to elicit underlying presumptions and ideas that could be influencing the way a student views a case. Socrates engaged his students in this same fashion. He did not leave any written record of his life or ideas, so most of what we know about Socrates was written by one of his students, Plato.

Thanks to Plato, we know a lot about Socrates. Nevertheless, Plato made his own important contributions. Born around 427 B.C.E., Plato influenced Western philosophy by developing several of its many branches: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics. Plato was also a prominent writer. One of his most famous writings is the Republic. In the Republic, Plato examines justice, its role in our world, and its relationship to happiness, themes familiar to the founding fathers of the United States. Plato is also famous for being the teacher of another important philosopher, Aristotle.

Aristotle is still considered one of the greatest thinkers in the areas of politics, psychology, and ethics. Like Plato, Aristotle was a prolific writer. He wrote an estimated 200 works during his lifetime 31 of them are still admired and studied today. Aristotle thought a lot about the meaning of life and about living a moral life. Immensely curious, he also studied animals and sought to classify them into different groups, laying the foundation for zoology today. Through his writing about the soul and its properties, Aristotle laid the foundation for modern psychology. He was also called on to tutor King Philip II of Macedon&rsquos son, Alexander, who would later come to be known as Alexander &ldquothe Great.&rdquo

While the great philosophers are well known, there were many other great Greek political and military leaders who had an impact on the world.

Born to notable military leader King Philip II, Alexander III of Macedon proved early on that he was destined for greatness. At a young age, Alexander learned to fight and ride, famously taming the wild horse Bucephalus at age 12. Only a few years later, at age 18, Alexander got his first chance to fight in a war and helped defeat the Sacred Band of Thebes during the Battle of Chaeronea. Soon he took over the throne his father once held and continued to prove himself a strong and able military mind. Alexander eventually created an empire stretching from Macedon across the entire Middle East to the frontiers of India. By 323 B.C.E., Alexander ruled over an enormous amount of land a feat that caused historians to give him the nickname Alexander &ldquothe Great.&rdquo

At the other end of ancient Greece was another strong leader working to grow the city of Athens. His name was Pericles. Pericles was born over 100 years before Alexander the Great, but he had a similar background. He came from a prominent family in Athens and had a war hero for a father. Pericles did much to help the culture of Athens flourish. Consistently surrounded by the arts, one of the first things he did was to sponsor the playwright Aeschylus. He also helped fund the building of the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena that still stands today. Soon Pericles made his way into politics and was eventually elected as one of Athens&rsquo leading generals. Like Alexander, Pericles was military minded and led many successful military campaigns. As a statesman, he contributed in many ways to what is considered the golden age of the city of Athens.

These philosophers and the Greek military and political leaders left their mark on both ancient Greece and the present-day Western world, but there were also famous mathematicians and scientists whose work and ideas are still popular today.

If you&rsquove ever tried to find the area of a right triangle, you&rsquove likely had to use something called the Pythagorean theorem, which is named after the mathematician Pythagoras. This theorem is one of the biggest contributions that Pythagoras made to mathematics. Pythagoras used numbers and mathematics to seek meaning in life. He even created a religious order in which the members focused on philosophy and math in order to find personal salvation.


Modern medicine has been heavily influenced by the work of Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician. The methods attributed to Hippocrates are compiled in 60 medical books known as the Hippocratic corpus. It is from these books that we have learned what was done in Hippocratic medicine. This practice of medicine included adopting a healthy diet and engaging in physical exercise&mdashideas still espoused to the public today. The corpus also included information about the importance of recording case histories and treatments, another practice essential to modern medicine. Hippocrates is best known for the wisdom contained in the Hippocratic oath, modern versions of which still govern the ethical principles by which new doctors promise to observe when practicing medicine.

Though these prominent Greeks lived centuries before us, they have left a brilliant legacy. By building on their hard work and great ideas, we&rsquove been able to establish the thriving world we live in today.

Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, advises a woman and child while other patients wait nearby.


  1. Eneas

    remarkably, the very valuable message

  2. Nelar

    Yes, the quality is probably not very ... I will not look.

  3. Kalei

    And what do we do without your wonderful idea

  4. Hart

    Incredible. It seems impossible.

  5. Odam

    Does anyone know about radio here? We need a colleague who would tell briefly about the T2 transistor (it is not clear how to check rv = rv1). Hopefully there are radio amateurs here. If completely off topic, then I'm sorry. I have to write, I just don't see a way out. PS: if the spelling is not correct then also excuse me, I'm only 13 years old.

Write a message