Why Are College Fraternities and Sororities Called “Greek Life”?

(Last Updated On: September 12, 2019)
Why Are College Fraternities and Sororities Called “Greek Life"?

Whether you’ve seen it in movies or you’re a college student who’s thinking of joining a frat or sorority, you’ve probably heard of the term “Greek life.” But have you ever stopped to wonder just what on earth college fraternities and sororities have to do with Greece? Why are they called “Greek life”?

What Is Greek Life?

Greek life represents different communities that exist in affiliation with a college, including fraternity and sorority houses. While these houses have a strong reputation for throwing massive parties and getting too drunk, Greek life has more to it than what the majority of people think.

Members of a house become “brothers” or “sisters” and come together to form relationships with others and expand their social circle. They also host and attend social and networking events, partake in extracurricular activities, do community work, gain access to educational opportunities, learn from influential guest speakers, and feel a sense of belonging within a community. However, the terms vary widely by the affiliated college and the type of organization you’re a member of.

Quiz: Find the US States in Greek

A Brief History of Greek Life

Greek life is a tradition that’s deeply ingrained in American college culture. The history of Greek life dates back to the nineteenth century, where students felt oppressed by the strict requirements of the education system and wanted to come together to express themselves and engage in further discussion beyond classes. Students would come together to form deeper relationships and host events that would bring people together on a social and intellectual level. While they started off as clubs, in the 1980s it became common for students to live together in a shared house. 

Sororities and fraternities have their own beliefs and traditions according to each house. The first Greek letter fraternity was formed as Phi Beta Kappa by a group of five students from the College of William & Mary in December 1776. 

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The Pros and Cons of Greek Life

The Pros

Despite their reputation for encouraging drinking and throwing wild parties, fraternities and sororities are known to bring a wide range of benefits to their members. Members often join to expand their social circle and develop deeper relationships with others, whom they can study with, rely on, and become close friends with. Greek life brings a sense of community where members tend to become very close and host social events with opportunities for networking and gaining professional contacts. 

These communities often invite guest speakers to educate members on different topics and provide learning experiences. It’s also common for members to undergo extracurricular activities and perform community work. Joining a frat or sorority can also provide an opportunity for communal living if campus housing is limited.

The Cons

While there are many benefits to joining a frat or sorority, for those considering the option it’s important to take potential cons into consideration as well. When you’re in college the amount of social events hosted by frats can distract you from your studies and impact your success if there isn’t a good balance. Joining Greek life can also be expensive as you’ll need to pay regular membership fees. It’s also common for members to abuse alcohol and drugs and pressure one another to binge or overdo these activities, which can lead to dangerous situations.

Why Are College Fraternities and Sororities Called “Greek Life”?

But why are fraternities and sororities called “Greek life”? The answer is simpler than you might think. Houses are typically named after two to three letters in the Greek alphabet, which makes each house unique and distinct from others.

If you’re wondering why the houses are named after Greek letters, it’s because the tradition started with the first fraternity house (Phi Beta Kappa) and spread to different colleges and campuses throughout the nation. The College of William & Mary students initially formed the frat as a type of club, and wanted to make it distinct from other clubs existing at the time where students would get drunk. They wanted their club to come across as more serious and intellectual to others, and they believed that naming it with Greek and Latin letters would convey their intelligence well. Greek communities operate to bring intellectual as well as social benefits to their members.

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