Mill: To Frat or Not To Frat

“Typical” frat dudes

When I first came to Michigan, I was overwhelmed by the amount of clubs and organizations on campus.  There were too many to choose from: so many new things to try and new paths to take.  Ultimately, I ended up joining a fraternity.  I am now part of an organization with a bunch of kids who are just like me.  We did the same things in high school, dress and talk similarly, have similar values, do the same things for fun, and even have similar academic interests.  My pledge brothers and I are taking part in the same traditions that each pledge class has before us for years on end.  As I spend more and more time around these people, doing the same things as them, I naturally conform, making myself part of a homogenous group.

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty stresses the importance of individuality, claiming that it is beneficial to the individual and society as a whole. Mill strongly advocates for experimenting with different lifestyles, no matter how absurd, strange, or crazy they may seem.  He claims that “freedom, and variety of situations” is actually

Base jumping, an “experiment of living”

necessary for human improvement as we learn from the mistakes of these “experiments of living” gone wrong, allowing us to make better decisions in the future.  Mill believes that if we did not show our individuality, we would not progress as a

Mill’s Message

species.  This leads me to believe that Mill would reject greek life, claiming that its conformist nature robs people of their individuality and inhibits the improvement of society.  However, in this case he might be wrong: as restricting as being part of greek life may be, there are many benefits.

Being in a fraternity (and greek life in general) is less about giving up your individuality than it is about becoming a part of a whole.  You sacrifice a small part of yourself in order to become part of a closely knit web of thousands of students and alumni who together all have the same mission: to produce productive members of society and better our communities in the process.  For one, members of greek of life have shown higher engagement in their jobs and a higher sense of well-being.  Additionally, statistics show that 85% percent of fortune 500 executives were in greek life, all but two (in each office) Presidents and Vice-Presidents were in fraternities since the founding of the first social fraternity in 1825, the greek system is the largest network of volunteers un the U.S., greeks raise over 7 million dollars per year, greeks are more likely have higher GPA’s, and more.  The list goes on and on.

In her article Examining the Benefits of Greek Life, Nicole Glass discusses how stereotypes of partying and hazing cast a shadow on greek life, hiding all of its benefits.  She discusses how being a part of greek life gives you social skills that are essential to succeeding in the real world.  She explains how being a part of greek life improves ones interpersonal and leadership skills, since being in a sorority or fraternity is really like running a business.

While I may be giving up some of my individuality, I will reap the benefits of being a part of greek life.  I have numerous leadership opportunities and a network of brothers who are committed to helping each other and helping our communities.  In my first few months in joining greek life I have already gained ample social skills and was part of a fundraiser that raised almost 60,000 dollars for cancer research.  Yes, I will admit that individuality is an absolute necessity for the expression of our liberty and does help society as we learn from our mistakes.  However, in this case, Mill, I think I have you beat.  The benefits of being part of greek life far outweigh the small sacrifice of individuality.  Additionally, the primary purpose of having different experiments of living is to learn from our mistakes so that we make better decisions in the future.  Maybe, this is the better way.

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5 comments

  1. dinaakhmetshina · December 1, 2014

    I thought it was nice that you brought in a reading from our course, but disagreed with the author’s opinion. I’ve come across only a few posts that have done that and it makes for an interesting and argumentative post. I also really enjoyed the outside source you brought in- Nicole Glass’ article was a perspective on Greek life I hadn’t considered before. However, I don’t think that Mill is entirely wrong. As we discussed in lecture, Mill is difficult to apply to real life, yet his arguments hold truth. I don’t necessarily believe in the beneficial qualities of all of the positive points to fraternities brought up in your post and I don’t think you really touched on how these points may or may not outweigh the potential harm frat life has (whether it be on your individuality or other aspects of your life).

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  2. ashdh · December 2, 2014

    I think that this post takes an interesting stance, talking about the benefits of being part of a group instead of exercising the individuality that Mill wants us to pursue. I agree with the author that there are definite benefits to being part of a group like a fraternity, as humans are social creatures that need to interact with each other. Not everyone is comfortable striking off on their own and trying to be very individual. Fraternities definitely have benefits like all groups that we join throughout our lives, as we would not join them if there were not.

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  3. bkriegsm · December 2, 2014

    I love your idea of remaining an individual while being a part of a whole. For me, entering greek life was an experiment in itself and I find that my experiment and development of my individuality, like Mill said individuality has the potential to do, has projected more good in our society at the University of Michigan than bad. I pride myself on my individuality and the positive externalities my individuality has produced. In my eyes, I joined a fraternity with a bunch of diverse guys, many of whom have interests i have never been exposed to before. Within greek life, I have opportunities to participate in charity events that I would not have been exposed to otherwise. Addressing the first comment about the negative externalities that greek life offers, I think that those detriments can only be weighed on a case by case basis. Obviously, experiments of living have the potential to be bad for society, as Mill said. But in my experience, I haven’t seen much harm caused by, at least my own, participation in greek life.

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  4. allanmc2014 · December 2, 2014

    You’re right about Greek life. It robs individuality and forces members to conform to the group dynamic. Part of it can be witnessed by the hazing process in order to get into any fraternity. Many hazing processes require pledge members to do ridiculous things that their pledge masters set them to do. This is one of the reasons why I chose not to join a fraternity this semester. I think that it doesn’t give people to experiment and find themselves in college. The whole point of higher education is for us to find ourselves and develop specific skills. I see Greek Life as something that restricts me from becoming an individual.

    You’re also right about the unique benefits that come out of joining a fraternity. I like how you bring both perspectives into account. To be honest, I really think it is up to the individual himself to make the decision. If you don’t mind the process of joining a fraternity, then by all means, join. But there are some people out there like me, who think the whole idea of Greek Life is a bit flawed.

    But it doesn’t matter. College has a plethora of other opportunities like athletics, clubs, and organizations for us to explore ourselves.

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  5. sklokiw · December 3, 2014

    I agree with everything you said here, and I love your idea that Greek life has encouraged you more to join a group than to lose your individuality (I think what a lot of people don’t realize about institutions like Greek life is that joining the group does not mean that you automatically lose individuality). I just don’t think that Mill meant endorsed not losing your individuality so much as he endorsed doing whatever you want. I think his idea is that if you want to totally conform, then go for it. You’re free to. If you want to remain an individual, go for it. Mill’s idea is that you’re free to do what you want to as long as you cause no harm to others.

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