At face value, it is impossible to compare the famous fraternity and sorority organisations in the US with our academic families here at St. Andrews, but there are fundamental similarities. While the organisational structure, traditions, scale, and notoriety of the two may not be comparable, the two share close inter-student connections based on a pseudo-familial ideals.
Greek life in the US dominates the college social scene, partly as a matter of tradition, but also broadly as a result of strict alcohol laws. Despite a minimum drinking age of 21, many US colleges look at fraternities and sororities as a safe place for their students to drink on campus without running the risk of being arrested. Frats and sororities are often nationally associated, meaning that they have a large amount of resources, a board of alumni, and considerable bureaucracy behind their actions and tradition. Annual membership fees can reach as high as $800. Greek organisations can also be platforms for their members’ careers; successful alumni, great internships, and charity work are only a handshake away.
The more famous, ‘animal house’ side of Greek life is not entirely inaccurate. Some have reputations for their behaviour, but a surprising number are more relaxed and easy-going. Once you are a member of a Greek organisation, your new ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ become some of your best friends, and certainly the people that you spend the most time with during your college years.
Close academic families at St. Andrews share similar bonds to their brothers and sisters, and in fact, the family dynamic within our families is much more complex than that of American frats and sororities. Our families include both male and female members, and have no particular boundaries on the family trees. This means no particular identification to a social establishment, but an odd allegiance to a broad group of students of all different ages and backgrounds with whom to connect. Our families generally have no long-standing traditions, and not much in the way of consistent initiation either. Instead, these initiations and traditions are reinvented annually by parents, further distancing families from a form of social establishment. In a small university where house parties and bars dominate the social scene, academic families create some of the same feelings of fraternity that Greek organisations do in the more socially restricted universities of the US.
Photo credit: Rachel Obordo