College is a time in life where young adults create and maintain health habits away from their pre-established health behaviors of home. Most college students make their own health decisions, make new friends, have peer pressure to participate in risky behaviors, and stress about school which can cause sleep troubles, irritable mood and many other issues that affect the health of students . For an estimated 1 million current students and roughly 9 million alumni the transition from home to college also includes membership in sororities or fraternities. However, students that make the choice to join a sorority or fraternity are not only subject to additional stress but also a community that has a reputation to participate in risky health behaviors. The idea that Greek members take more health risks is just a societal observation and a review of research is necessary to understand the difference in health behaviors and academic success between Greek communities and the rest of the student population . This review of research will not include Greek organizations that are merely student groups with greek names like academic societies, career specific groups or “social groups” that are not regulated or recognized by their university.
The two questions that this review will address are:
The topic that has the most research and concern surrounding it in Greek communities, is the use of alcohol. In terms of alcohol use, one study’s results showed that greek members drank more alcoholic beverages on a typical drinking day and engaged in heavy episodic drinking more frequently compared to non-Greek members . Additionally, increased binge drinking was particularly prevalent in greek affiliated seniors and was seen in members in both sororities and fraternities . There was strong evidence to conclude that the higher rates of alcohol use were not a result of gender differences and were not affected by previous drinking habits in high school, and rather a result of socialization and acclimating to a culture that already exists.
Another study that looked at the perceived drinking norms in Greek life found that fraternity men in their first year reported a higher average number of drinks per week and that the relationship between perceived pledge class drinking behavior and alcohol dependence was significantly stronger for men than for women. Additionally, the study found that the relationship between alcohol use, (current and future) alcohol-related negative consequences and dependence symptoms was stronger for women than for men. This means while men report perceiving their chapters drinking more often, women perceive more negative consequences and dependance symptoms as a result of drinking. It is important to note that this study was focused on perceptions of alcohol use, negative consequences, and dependance symptoms within their peer group.
A study looking at the role of Greek organizations in determining both drinking habits during college and the years after graduation states that heavy drinking associated with collegiate Greek involvement, generally, does not lead to sustained heavy drinking later in life and that the social environment of Greek houses is an important determinant of the heavy drinking associated with collegiate Greek involvement . Moreover, leaving college decreases heavy drinking relatively quickly, within the first three years after graduation, which suggests that leaving the sorority and fraternity environment is an important determinant of drinking habits. These results are important because they reveal that Greek affiliation does not have lasting effects on the alcohol use of member after their college years. The issues greek organizations face are the result of norms which can be improved to be healthier.
Another study looked at the use of protective behavioral strategies (PBS) among Greek members. PBS are harm reduction approaches, rather than educational or abstinence methods, that utilize promotion of behaviors designed to decrease alcohol-related harm and minimize blood alcohol concentration, such as pacing the speed at which one drinks. In other studies, PBS has been proven to decrease the negative consequences of drinking and create a healthier attitude. The study found that fraternity and sorority membership was associated with less PBS utilization and more experiences of alcohol-related consequences. Additionally, Killos and Keller (2012) asserted that there are two types of fraternity and sorority drinkers and that these groups employ different forms of PBS. For example, low-quantity drinkers typically use strategies designed to minimize number of drinks consumed , while high-quantity drinkers are more likely to employ strategies designed to minimize harm. These strategies that prevent negative consequences of drinking are vital to encouraging a healthy drinking culture in Greek communities given the previously stated research that finds Greek communities foster a culture of heavy drinking.
While alcohol receives the most fame as a health issue in greek communities on college campuses, the health behaviors involving tobacco products, recreational drugs, pain relievers and stimulants should not be overlooked. According to a thirteen institution study, greek affiliated student are more likely to be current smokers and smokeless tobacco users compared to the non affiliated student population. Greek members develop and maintain habits of tobacco use early on in their college career, but unlike alcohol, these college habits can lead to lifetime habits. In a study of eight colleges, the most commonly indicated factor for tobacco use is fraternity or sorority membership, second only to being friends with people who smoked . Greek affiliated smokers do not smoke more cigarettes per day than non Greek affiliated smokers.
However, this research may be misconstrued by the fact that some sorority and fraternity members differentiate between “being a smoker” and “only smoking at parties” or “only smoking when drinking”. In fact, one study stated that most fraternity men said that smoking was only acceptable while at a party and while drinking, and that outside of that context smoking was not acceptable . The wording in the surveys that studies rely upon may not reflect this difference and affect how students answer, as the surveys commonly ask about behavior in the last week which may have included a party environment. It is estimated that only 10% of Greeks are actual smokers while 60-70% are social smokers or party smokers .
Greek affiliated students, particularly men, reported more habitual and recent use of marijuana and other drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, non prescription stimulants and hallucinogens . A 2005 study looking at the use of prescription stimulants such as Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Adderall, reported that greek students drug usage was higher than non members’ usage . A 2014 study showed that fraternity members were slightly more likely to report marijuana use . Being a fraternity/sorority member is considered a risk factor for using a hallucinogen called Salvia divinorum with other risk factors being male, white and other risky alcohol and drug use .
There is also evidence that sorority and fraternity members’ rates of drug use increase even further when they live within the chapter house . Research also gives a glimpse into why drug use rate are higher with greek communities, particularly when it comes to prescription stimulants. Interviews with fraternity men found that the majority of first-time uses occurred during times of high academic stress during the semester . Prescription stimulant users justify their use by saying that they reduce fatigue, increase comprehension and improve memory and focus. These perceived academic benefits combined with easy access and lack of health related information of the effect of these drugs make fraternity members more likely to report use of these stimulants.
Overall, the literature concerning eating disorders and body image are conflicted, with some studies saying that sorority and fraternity members are more likely to develop an eating disorder or have an unhealthy body image and other studies that state that these rates do not differ from rates found in the total student population. One study found that there were no differences found between Greek and non-Greek members on eating behaviors, number of caffeinated beverages consumed, and number of hours spent exercising. However, Greeks reported sleeping significantly more than non-Greeks. However, studies do agree that greek students do feel more pressure to be perfect, and this expectation can have an effect on body image and eating and exercise habits. Fraternity and sorority members are more at risk for using unhealthy means to achieve perfection such as diet pills, intense dieting or smoking to lose weight . While many studies focus on the cause and effect of greek membership on body image and disordered eating, one study suggests that sororities might be environments that foster these behaviors and women who are “predisposed to body objectification and more susceptible to social pressures may be attracted to sororities”
Research seems conflicted on if greek membership has no effect on GPA, other academic factors or if membership decreases academic success. A 2004 study suggests that fraternities and sororities do not promote an anti intellectual culture as first year and senior greek students were equally as academically engaged as their non greek peers. In one study greek members were equal with their non affiliated peers in academic factors such as “time spent with faculty members, time spent preparing for class, number of books read, number of essay exams completed, and number of term papers/written reports completed”.
Other measures of academic involvement such as library use, time spent writing, and use of math and science reasoning were also comparable with non greek students. Additionally, greek members had the same likelihood as attending social, cultural and political events . This same study found that greek membership had a relationship with decreased semester grades in senior year . However, a 2003 study showed opposite results, as it reported that educational benefits of greek memberships were greater for seniors than first year students and that seniors are more active and collaborative in the classroom as well as interact more with faculty members . Additionally, research on the effects of greek membership on GPA and overall college satisfaction differs between sorority and fraternity membership.
For females, sorority membership shows an increase in both GPA and college satisfaction, which may increase retention and graduation rates. On the flip side, men in fraternities report higher college satisfaction, but lower grades . Many studies find that fraternity and sorority members show increased volunteerism, feelings of civic responsibility, willingness to donate to charities, involvement in student organizations, and overall campus involvement in terms of hours per a week spent on these activities .“Overall, the research of educational benefits or shortcomings of [fraternities] and sororities are inconclusive, however the research is somewhat limited and individual campuses differ depending on the size, culture and administrative leadership” .
Research on sensitive issues such as safe sex practices and rape can be difficult to conduct and results could be misleading because research relies on self-reporting . A review of research from 1996 to 2013, shows a positive relationship between sorority membership and sexual assault but the cause of this relationship is unclear. Some studies relate this relationship to higher alcohol consumption, close relationships with fraternity men and living in close proximity to a college campus, but they speculate there are more factors that are unknown. . “Mohler Kuo, Dowdall, Koss, and Weschler (2004) publicized the staggering statistics that sorority members were 74% more likely to experience rape than were other college women and those who lived in the sorority house were three times as likely to experience rape as those who lived elsewhere.
Considering the link between frequent contact and relationships with fraternity men with sexual assault, one study found that 52% of fraternity men self-reported being sexually aggressive in the past year, compared with 36% of non fraternity men . This causes researchers to ask why fraternity men seem to be more sexually aggressive and research has found the main predictor to be rape myth beliefs.
Higher rape myth belief (rape-supportive beliefs) is usually associated with fraternity members’ use of degrading images of women, violent “pornography, sexual ideology, masculinity, and degrading initiation and hazing rituals” . One study suggests that the reported feelings of being unsafe at fraternity parties not only stems from higher perceptions of risk of sexual assault but also sorority women use of fraternities as a party environment. Men are in control of the environment including party themes (which can be manipulated to be degrading to the women who attend
. Expectations for sex are “intensified by men’s position as hosts and women’s as grateful guests” . This environment fosters high alcohol use which in conjunction with party themes and rape myth beliefs creates a dangerous culture . However, there is research to support that fraternities as a whole are not the problem as there are high risk fraternities and low risk fraternities. Theses differences in risk exist within and between campuses and those that were low risk do not differ from nonmembers in support of rape beliefs or sexual aggression. This shows that the mentality towards women and rape in high risk fraternities can be changed to create a safer and healthier community.
When looking at safe sex practices, research shows that there is no significant difference between sorority and fraternity members and nonmembers in use of birth control and condoms or in number of sexual events. Additionally, greek members do not have higher rates of reported STDs but this non-?nding may re?ect the fact that most college students do not have tests performed frequently for STDs, and that many STDs are asymptomatic. .
Although much of the research on greek communities is difficult to apply broadly as they are often single institution studies, the literature finds many benefits and problems with fraternity and sorority membership. Benefits include higher likelihood of graduation, increased hours spent in community and campus involvement and gains in socially responsible leadership. However, there are many health behaviors that should be improved such as alcohol use, tobacco and other drug use, GPA, and sexually assault rates. Many studies suggest that university and individual chapter advisors should work together to create programs that will focus on improving health behaviors and student academic success that will make greek communities healthier.
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