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Some fraternities are under fire, but are all fraternities bad?
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News reports from the last year show an increasing amount of fraternities cause controversy across college campuses. But are there any benefits? - photo by Herb Scribner
Both the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the Alpha Phi sorority at the University of California Los Angeles found themselves under fire Thursday morning after hosting a Kanye Western party, in which partygoers dressed up in baggy clothes, plumped lips and padded bottoms and, in some cases, black face by way of charcoal, according to The Daily Bruin, UCLAs student newspaper.

This inspired several student groups, like the Afrikan Student Union, to call for UCLA officials to take action against the fraternity for the party, The Daily Bruin reported.

Its extremely disrespectful for any organization at all to think that this is possibly a good idea, Keslee Thomas, member of the ASU, told The Daily Bruin. I understand the play on words, but there are so many other ways (to dress) to fit that.

UCLA released an email statement that said students are free to celebrate in ways that draw on popular culture, but to be mindful that certain outfits and costumes could offend students, The Daily Bruin reported.

But these two Greek organizations werent the only ones to find themselves under fire this week. The Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Indiana University was suspended after a video of sexual harassment hazing went viral across the Internet this week, according to The Washington Post.

Though responses were mixed about how bad the hazing was, the National Office of the Alpa Tau Omega fraternity closed the IU chapter and revoked its charter, The Post reported.

These are just two recent cases of fraternities causing controversy on college campuses. Earlier this year, University of Oklahomas Sigma Alpha Epsilon house was shut down after a video of frat members reciting a racist chant while riding on a bus leaked online, CNN reported. And Old Dominion Universitys Sigma Nu was suspended after it hung sexually suggestive banners on the front porch on the same weekend freshmen arrived on campus, according to Fox News.

There are almost too many scenarios to name. In the spring semester of 2015, 133 fraternity and sorority chapters among 55 American colleges were shut down, suspended, or otherwise punished after alleged offenses, including excessive partying, hazing, racism and sexual assault, according to Bloomberg.

With all these controversies, parents have voiced concern about their own college student joining a fraternity, according to The New York Times Lisa Belkin. After all, many fraternities encourage heavy drinking and behaviors that not all parents are comfortable with, Belkin wrote.

If a parent is philosophically opposed to these groups because they subdivide a campus and codify the rights of 20-somethings to pass judgment on each other, should that parent forbid a child to join? What if the concern is more personal and less global? Belkin wrote.

But not all fraternities are embroiled in controversy, Cornell University President David J. Skorton wrote for The New York Times in 2011, saying some fraternities offer students academic and social benefits.

The Greek system is part of our universitys history and culture, and we should maintain it because at its best, it can foster friendship, community service and leadership, he wrote.

In fact, as The Atlantics Maria Konnikova reported in February 2014, 18 U.S. presidents were members of a college fraternity before taking office. Moreover, 85 percent U.S. Supreme Court justices and 63 percent of all presidential cabinet members since 1900 have been fraternity men.

In that sense, then, fraternities really do breed leaders a cohort of young men dedicated to being loyal, being knowledgeable, and embracing the skills of leadership success, who hone said skills through bonding activities, community service, charity fundraising and other community-minded endeavors, Konnikova wrote.

Aside from just creating potential leaders, fraternities are often charitable organizations, too. According to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, between 2013 and 2014, fraternities raised $20.3 million and worked 3.8 million community service hours.

Some fraternities are also going out of their way to promote good values. For example, students at San Diego State University are in the process of establishing a Buddhist fraternity and sorority in order to spread kindness and compassion throughout campus, which are skills students can use the rest of their lives, our own Payton Davis reported.

And many universities, like Hofstra and William Woods University, offer guides to fraternity and sorority life to help prepare students for what to expect, and explicitly state that the university doesn't encourage hazing of any kind, and that any reported incidents of such will be handled with possible expulsion from school or chapter suspension.

But some parents may still be worried about the potential dangers their children may face when joining a fraternity or sorority.

The NAIC offers some tips for concerned parents on how to talk to their students about joining such a group on campus.

First, parents should encourage their children to find a student group that makes them feel safe and comfortable. This way theyll have the best memories and have access to the best resources while in college, according to NAIC.

Parents should also remind their students to put academics first and be weary of potential hazing and drinking dangers that exist among fraternities.

Most importantly, parents and students alike should ask questions about what their fraternities offer and embrace, according to the NAIC.

Does the sorority or fraternity have a reputation as a party place or a study place? Dr. Michelle Barratt, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas at Houston, told the NAIC. What is the teens focus social or educational? Is under-age drinking encouraged, allowed or banned? What are the other living options for their college? What does the teen see as the pros and cons for those options? How will they feel if they are not chosen into their No. 1 house?"

Having a conversation with your student about the pros and cons of being Greek could help them make a better decision.

John McCormick is one parent who's had to deal with his son wanting to join a fraternity. According to his article for The Huffington Post, McCormick encouraged his son to join a frat, since he had been in one and had an enjoyable experience.

But after he read Atlantic writer Caitlin Flanagan's in-depth look at modern fraternities, McCormick wasn't completely convinced his son should join a fraternity.

So, instead of dispelling the idea completely and causing a rift with his son, McCormick said he was going to teach his son about fraternities ahead of time so the soon-to-be college student could make an informed decision.

"I plan to make the issue of joining a fraternity a teachable moment as a parent," McCormick wrote. "I'll invite my son to look at all sides of fraternity membership before he jumps in. I'll suggest he read articles about modern fraternity life, including ones that expose some fraternities as not really being so 'brotherly' after all, especially when they're so prepared to cut students loose after one of these incidents."

McCormick also wrote that he planned on discussing good values and priorities with his son to make sure that whatever fraternity he wanted to join upheld those good values.

"I'll take comfort in knowing that if I raised my son well, I won't have to worry about him being a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker," McCormick wrote. "And that he'll develop his own grounded opinions about fraternity life once he's informed. When the time comes for a final decision whether to join a fraternity, it will be his to make."