The commentary "Close down all fraternities" by Jonathan Zimmerman, published May 16, generated strong reactions, pro and con, on social media. Zimmerman, who teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania, was writing in reaction to last month's death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State. More than 23,000 people read the story and it spread widely on social media, including on the Grandmas for Good Facebook page, which is followed by nearly 250,000 people.
Many readers wrote to say that the essay lacked nuance and failed to point out the positives of Greek life on campus.
Bretton Webster commented on Facebook: "Article is bologna and paints with such a broad stroke. You have a small mention that not all fraternities are horrible. But never mention the good that an enormous amount of fraternities do. The organization I belonged to raised money yearly for the March of Dimes, collected coats and blankets for the homeless in conjunction with other organizations on campus. Held local cleanup days in the surrounding areas. Brought in middle-school children from poor neighborhoods to tutor them on a daily basis and to mentor them. We're not all horrible. Do some research. A good lot of us are here for the right reasons."
Also on Facebook, Thomas Joseph Cosella wrote: "What a wonderfully nuanced and thought out perspective. It's not like Greeks are more likely to graduate college (they are), more likely to donate to their alma maters (4x as much), and do significantly more to help campuses through philanthropy and community service than non Greek organizations (they do). Unchecked power and internal pressure are an issue, but at the end of the day, Greek letter organizations do significantly more good than harm."
At philly.com teachernphilly said, in part, "It has been widely researched that the Greek average GPA is higher than the average undergraduate GPA at the majority of schools. Another study of Harvard and Syracuse University students showed that 90 percent of fraternity/sorority members, compared with 70 percent of non-Greek students, were enrolled during their senior year. A University of Nebraska study found that Greek life students had larger support systems and more friends than others, which prevents feelings of loneliness and depression, which is a rising problem among college students. … We are forgetting the many ways that Greek life has supported female students along with students of diverse races, religions, and backgrounds.
"Greek Life is not perfect. What in society is? That does not mean you just eliminate the institution."
Others were concerned that closing fraternities would not address the issue of alcohol abuse on campus.
Vanessa Sundra said on Facebook, "Here's a thought: How about actually addressing the problem and holding the frats that cause these problems accountable? Punishing everyone doesn't hold anyone accountable and those who cause problems will just find other ways to do it."
On philly.com, MontTwpRes agreed:
But Zimmerman had strong supporters as well.
Meredith Mac said on Facebook: "I attended a college with no social Greek life. I feel like I missed nothing. It's antiquated and unnecessary. They were founded based on literary societies — old clubs that were formed before liberal arts education when you couldn't take classes to discuss things like literature. There are plenty of service-based clubs at organizations. Hard to see the point of Greek life."
Rachel R. Godoy also was in favor: "I am absolutely behind that idea. If torture, humiliation, and risk of life and limb is part of any initiation, \[fraternities\] should be banned from any self-respecting university. Haven't enough young men and women been sacrificed needlessly? Hazing only perpetrates psychopathic behaviors and perpetuates suffering and/or death for its victims. Where is the prestige in that?"
Comments at philly.com amplified these themes.
Of course, no story involving fraternities can pass without someone harkening back to the iconic 1978 film Animal House. On philly.com, jfar86 did his take on a classic scene from the movie:
Finally, on Facebook, Abby Michelle reminded readers that beyond at the core of this issue is the tragic death of Tim Piazza.