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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Vol. 75, Number 1 (Oct. 1973)

Student standpoint,   p. 19


Page 19


        Student
Standpoint
One young person's
views, reported
direct to you.
The Greeks
AroundUs
By Jackson R. Horton Jr.
Mr. Horton, of Washington, D. C.,
is a senior in Economics; a member
of Theta Chi, and president of the
campus Inter-Fraternity Council.
The influence of Greeks on the
Madison campus has declined meas-
urably over the past years. Many
non-Greek alumni and some members
of the University community, I'm sure,
look upon this decline as the demise
of an archaic and generally useless
campus institution. My intent is not
to present a commercial for a still-
thriving Greek system, but to give
my interpretation of what happened,
and to comment on many of the
criticisms that have long been directed
toward Madison Greeks.
  The Greek slump at Madison must
be viewed in the context of a national
fraternity decline that was felt pri-
marily at large state universities.
(At smaller private schools fraternities
continue to be the only game in town.)
The trend-setters were Madison and
the University of California at
Berkeley, where campus turmoil of
the late Sixties was initially focused.
Radical changes in American higher
education, coupled with a deep-rooted
dissatisfaction with traditional insti-
tutions and mores, made campuses
like Madison the focal point of student
unrest. The Greek system, by defini-
tion a most traditional institution,
was the first of many social and
campus structures to feel the effects
of the upheaval. Memberships fell
drastically, chapters folded, and there
was doubt that the system would
survive as students attempted
to assert their independence in read-
ily accessible apartments.
   The brunt of the blame, however,
 must fall on fraternities themselves.
 The many years of security and power
 made fraternities largely complacent
 to the point that their internal
 institutions had stagnated, thus pre-
 venting crucial change. Fraternity men
 acquired the universal image of beer-
 guzzling, girl-chasing elitists, primarily
 interested in spending fathers' vast
 sums of money. Needless to say
 the image was hardly "relevant" in
 1967. The image, of course, was
 damaging enough. Then fraternities
 came under harsher criticism, some of
 it justified, concerning racism.
   It will always be a national disgrace
that as late as the Fifties and early
Sixties many large fraternities had
restrictive clauses in their charters and
constitutions. A number of Madisopi
affiliates, however, have consistently
come into conflict with their nationals
over this matter, to the point where
one chapter lost its charter because
it refused to concede to the prejudice
of its national. I think it's important
to remember that on most social and
political issues fraternity men reflect
the prevailing campus attitude.
Therefore any general condemnation
or praise on this issue would be most
inappropriate. Chapter memberships
are remarkably representative of the
ethnic and religious composition of
the campus. The issue of black or
minority membership is still an admit-
tedly sensitive one, but one that today
is being confronted openly and
responsibly. The question in some re-
spects is moot, due to the outstanding
success of predominately black
fraternities. Contacts between these
fraternities and other Madison chap-
ters are largely limited to athletic
events, though there are signs that
a stronger working relationship
may develop when these chapters
acquire houses.
   The most damning criticism of
 fraternities has been the harassment
 of pledges prior to initiation during
 well-publicized Hell Weeks. Most fra-
 ternities have recognized the practice
 for what it is: not only barbaric but
 counter-productive. The goal of any
 pledge education program is to train
 a young man to assume leadership
 of a fifty-man house with a $60,000
 budget. The physical and mental
 harassment by a chapter of its future
 leaders is obviously contrary to this
 goal, besides being completely out of
 touch with the sentiments of college
 men in the 1970s. Madison frater-
 nities were among the first to break
 with this long standing practice,
 something that is to their everlasting
 credit and which other universities
 would do well to imitate.
   The progressive nature of the
Madison fraternity system is in large
part due to the unusual degree of inter-
house cooperation fostered by mature
and capable chapter leadership. This,
in part, reflects the altered composi-
tion of fraternities-noticeably
changed from the previous image.
Fraternity pledges at Madison seem
to be bf a refreshing breed, men who
have a sincere desire for involvement
not only in their house, but the com-
munity. They're looking for more out
of college than a degree, and this
new sense of purpose is seen not only
on Langdon Street, but by the public.
Madison fraternites are deeply
involved in programs which benefit
the elderly, retarded children, father-
less boys, the Kidney Foundation,
continued on page 27
19


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