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Sorority Sister [slash] Frat Boy
Sorority Sister/Frat Boy

Fraternities and sororities (from the
Latin words frater and soror, meaning "brother" and "sister" respectively) are fraternal social organizations for undergraduate students. In English, the term refers mainly to such organizations at colleges and universities in North America, although it is also applied to analogous European groups also known as corporations. Similar, but less common, organizations also exist for
secondary school students. In modern usage, the term Greek letter organization is often synonymous with the terms "fraternity" and "sorority".

Typically, Greek letter organizations are single-sex, initiatory organizations with membership considered active during the undergraduate years only, although a notable exception to this are historically black, multicultural, and professional fraternities, in which active membership continues, and into which members are often initiated long after the completion of their undergraduate degrees. Greek letter organizations may sometimes be considered mutual aid societies, providing academic and social activities. Some groups also maintain a chapter house, providing residential and dining facilities for members.

In modern usage, the term Greek letter organization has become synonymous with the North American fraternity and sorority. The term fraternity, often colloquially shortened to "frat" (though use of such term may be disrespectful in some contexts), typically refers to an all-male group, while the term "sorority" typically refers to an all-female group. However, some women's groups define themselves as fraternities for women or women's fraternities, such as Delta Delta Delta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Zeta Tau Alpha, Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Pi Beta Phi, Chi Omega, and Kappa Kappa Gamma. Additionally, some groups that define themselves as "fraternities" may be mixed-sex, such as Kappa Kappa Psi; the same holds true for groups that define themselves as "sororities", such as Tau Beta Sigma. Due to the ambiguous nature of the terms "fraternity" and "sorority" with respect to gender, and due to the inaccuracy and potential sexist nature of the use "fraternity" to describe aforementioned organizations, it has become commonplace to use the synonym Greek letter organization, since the vast majority of fraternities and sororities identify themselves using Greek letters. A recent example of this is the usage of the terms "(historically) Black Greek letter organizations" (BGLOs) and "Latino Greek letter organizations" (LGOs) within the literature. However, since most of those organizations that do not identify themselves using Greek letters are structured similarly to and share other several common characteristics with those that do identify themselves using Greek letters, all of these organizations are still considered to be "Greek letter organizations".

The term social fraternity is used to differentiate four-year, undergraduate, and frequently residential groups from other organizations, many of which also have Greek-letter names, such as honor societies, academic societies, or service fraternities and sororities.

The names of North American fraternities and sororities generally consist of two or three Greek letters, often the initials of a Greek motto. For this reason, fraternities and sororities are referred to by the encompassing term “Greek letter organization” and described by the adjective "Greek," as seen in phrases such as Greek community, Greek system, Greek life, or members as Greeks. An individual fraternity or sorority is often called a Greek house or simply house, terms which may be regarded as misleading since the usage of a phrase with "house" in it may be taken to refer to a chapter's physical property whereas many fraternities and sororities do not have a chapter house; alternatively, chapter and organization are used in these contexts, with the latter referring to the group as a collective entity, and the former referring to a specific division of such entity, though not all fraternities and sororities have multiple chapters. The use of Greek letters started with Phi Beta Kappa (then a social fraternity and today an honor society) at the College of William & Mary. Several groups, however, do not use Greek letters. Examples include Acacia, FarmHouse, and Triangle, as well as final club, eating club and secret societies at some Ivy League colleges, such as Skull and Bones at Yale.

Most Greek letter organizations are social organizations, presenting themselves as societies to help their members better themselves in a social setting.

A variety of Greek letter organizations are distinguished from social groups by their function. They can be specifically organized for service to the community, for professional advancement, or for scholastic achievement.

Certain organizations were established for specific religious or ethnic groups. Some social organizations are expressly Christian, such as Alpha Chi Rho and Lambda Chi Alpha. Jewish fraternities, such as Zeta Beta Tau, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Sigma Alpha Mu, were established, in part, in response to restrictive clauses that existed in many social fraternities' laws barring Jewish membership, which were removed in the mid-20th century (Sanua 2003; Torbenson 2005). A controversy remains between the idea of creating supportive communities for distinct groups on the one hand and the intent to create non-discriminatory communities on the other.

There are also organizations with a cultural or multicultural emphasis. For example, Rho Psi, the first Chinese fraternity, established at Cornell in 1916, and Sigma Iota, the first Hispanic fraternity, established at Louisiana State University in 1904 (Torbenson 2005). The latter later merged with other Hispanic fraternities and organizations around the nation to form Phi Iota Alpha, the oldest Latino fraternity in existence, in 1931. The Phi Sigma Alpha fraternity in Puerto Rico can also trace its roots back to Sigma Iota. There are now 23 Latino fraternities in the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations. A distinct set of black fraternities and sororities also exists, although black students are not barred from non-black organizations and there are black members of non-black organizations.

Organizations designed for particular class years do exist, but are usually categorized separately from other types of Greek letter organizations. While these were once common in older institutions in the Northeast, the only surviving underclass society is Theta Nu Epsilon, which is specifically for sophomores. Many senior class societies also survive, and they are often simply referred to as Secret Societies.

Philanthropy is usually made a part of any Greek letter organization’s program and supported by all active members. Typically, a chapter will either engage in fundraising activities or the members will volunteer for programs. These either benefit the academic community or the public at large. Long-term relationships can also exist between a particular fraternity or sorority and one of the large national disease-specific charitable organizations. Some organizations own and operate their own philanthropy. For example, Pi Kappa Phi owns Push America which works with individual chapters to serve people with disabilities. Phi Sigma Alpha has the Sigma Foundation. Other organizations support established causes, Delta Delta Delta has partnered with St. Jude Childrens Hospital pledging 10 in 10; 10 million dollars in 10 years. Alpha Phi supports the American Heart Association and Zeta Tau Alpha support the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Early fraternal societies were very competitive for members, for academic honors, and for any other benefit or gain. Some of this competition was seen as divisive on college campuses. Today there is still competition, but that competition is intended to be within limits, and for nobler purposes, such as charitable fundraising. Often, organizations compete in various sporting events. There is also a greater emphasis on interfraternity cooperation. The single greatest effort along these lines was the creation of the National Interfraternity Conference a century ago, which was intended to minimize conflicts, destructive competition, and encourage student members to recognize members of other fraternities and sororities as people who share common interests. The National Panhellenic Council has similar goals to unite members of all sororities.

Most Greek letter organizations were originally organized on one campus. An organization that has only one established chapter would be called a "local". A local can authorize chapters of the same name at other campuses. After the first authorized chapter, a local would be considered a "national", even if only two chapters are established. Given the development over the past 180 years, North America now has several large national organizations with hundreds of chapters. Two or more nationals can also merge, and some of the larger nationals were created by merger. Several national fraternities are international, usually implying chapters in Canada.

A local organization can petition one of the existing national organizations and be absorbed into their organization dropping all ties to the former local organization. Recently this has become the preferred method for expansion within national organizations because the members have already formed a bond and presence on campus but are changing their name, ritual, and structure.

The central business offices of the organizations are also commonly referred to as "Nationals". Nationals may place certain requirements on individual chapters to standardize rituals and policies regarding membership, housing, finances, or behavior. These policies are generally codified in a constitution and bylaws. Greek letter organizations may once have been governed by the original chapter, but virtually all have adopted some version of governance with executive officers who report to a board of trustees, and 'legislative' body consisting of periodic conventions of delegates from all the chapters.

Most Greek letter organizations today maintain traditions which are generally symbolic in nature and closely guarded secrets, calling it their ritual. They include an initiation ceremony, but may also include passwords, songs, handshakes, and the form of meeting, amongst other things. Meetings of the active members are generally secret and not to be discussed without the formal approval of the chapter as a whole.

For organizations with Greek letters composing their name, these letters are the initials of a motto (such as Delta Upsilon), a set of virtues (such as Alpha Kappa Lambda), or the history of its organization (such as Phi Tau).

Greek letter organizations often have a number of distinctive emblems, such as colors, flags, flowers, in addition to a badge (or pin), crest, and/or seal. An open motto (indicating that the organization has a "secret motto" as well) is used to express the unique ideals of a fraternity or sorority.

Pins have become increasingly popular to collect, even by individuals that never were members. Groups such as the Fraternity Pin Collector Society have collected thousands of pins worth tens of thousands of dollars in individual collections while organizations such as Kappa Kappa Gamma's "Keepers of the Key" work to reunite lost or stolen badges with their original owners.

According to Martin (1918), the primary fraternal jewelers of the late 19th/early 20th centuries were D. L. Auld Co. of Columbus, L. G. Balfour Co. of Attleboro, Mass., Burr, Patterson and Co. of Detroit, Upmeyer Company of Milwaukee, A. H. Fetting Co. of Baltimore, Hoover and Smith Co. of Philadelphia, O. C. Lanphear of Galesburg, Ill., Miller Jewelry Co. of Cincinnati, J. F. Newman of New York, Edward Roehm of Detroit, and Wright, Kay and Co. of Detroit. Currently the most widely used jewelers are Herff Jones, Jostens, and Balfour. Jewelers' initials and stampings are typically found on the back of pins along with the member name and/or chapter information. The history of fraternal jewelers is important when determining age of non-dated jewelry pieces.

Since fraternity and sorority pins are used as the primary symbols for societies, licensing and marketing concerns have developed. As a result, many of the larger organizations have had to put a legal team on retainer as consultants.

Apparels such as shirts, pants, bags, jewelry and key chains are often worn by members with their Greek letters on them. These shirts and other articles may later be used for a pass-down ceremony between seniors and fellow members. Seniors may choose to pass down some or all of the clothing they own that is associated with the sorority. Some of the shirts are ten or more years old and in some chapters, girls will compete for them. In those chapters, generally members feel it is an honor to have older artifacts. At some institutions, it is considered inappropriate and may be prohibited to wear apparel with the society's name when the member is consuming alcohol. It is considered disrespectful to have their letters on when drinking, regardless of their age. Also, it is generally taboo for non-members to wear any apparel with a group's letters.

Membership pins are not worn at all times. Some organizations limit pin-wearing to times of professional or business dress, also known as “Pin Attire”. The pins are kept forever, they are not expected to return them or hand them down.

Unique among most campus organizations, members of social Greek letter organizations often live together in a large house or distinct part of the university dormitories. This can help emphasize the "bonds of brotherhood or sisterhood" and provide a place of meeting for the members of the organization as well as alumni. For reasons of cost, liability, and stability, housing is usually owned or overseen by an alumni corporation or the organization’s national headquarters. As a result, some houses have visitor restrictions, and some national organizations restrict or prohibit alcohol on the premises. At some colleges where chapters do not have residential houses for the general membership, they may still have chapter houses where meals are served for their membership and guests.

The process of joining a Greek letter organization varies from organization to organization. Organizations governed by the National Panhellenic Conference or the North-American Interfraternity Conference commonly begin their process with a "formal recruitment" period, often called "rush week," which usually consists of events and activities designed for members and potential members to learn about each other and the organization. At the end of the formal recruitment period, organizations give "bids," or invitations to membership. Most organizations have a period of "pledgeship" before extending full membership. Some organizations have changed the name of pledgeship due to negative connotations to the process (such as calling pledges "postulants" or "new members"), or have given up the process in favor of other joining requirements. Upon completion of the pledgeship and all its requirements, the active members will invite the pledges to be initiated and become full members. Initiation often includes secret ceremonies and rituals. Organizations governed by the National Pan-Hellenic Conference or the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations have very different recruitment processes.

Requirements may be imposed on those wishing to pledge either by the school or the organization itself, often including a minimum grade point average, wearing a pledge pin, learning about the history and structure of the organization, and performing public service. When a school places an age or tenure requirement on joining, this is called "deferred recruitment," as joining is deferred for a semester or year. The pledgeship period also serves as a probationary period in which both the organization and the pledge decide if they are compatible and will have a fulfilling experience.

North American Greek letter organizations are present almost exclusively in the United States and Canada, with a minority of organizations having chapters elsewhere, such as the Caribbean, and Africa, there have also been temporary accommodations. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign currently has the largest Greek system in the world with 69 fraternities and 36 sororities. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, a prominent historically African-American Sorority, currently has chapters in the Virgin Islands, Germany, and Bermuda. There was a brief chapter of Chi Phi at Edinburgh, Scotland during the American Civil War to accommodate Southern students studying abroad, and another for American servicemen who were still college students during World War II, but there has been no real export of the system to Europe. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, a historically black sorority founded in Washington, DC, USA, was the very first Greek-lettered organization ever to establish a chapter in Africa (1948). Today, Zeta Phi Beta has chapters in the USA, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. Likewise, Zeta Psi has chapters in Canada and one in England. Tau Kappa Epsilon has chapters in Canada and a chapter in Germany. Another example: Sigma Thêta Pi is present in Canada and France.

Image from deviantart, info from wikipedia.


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