Fraternities have been making news headlines once again in light of the controversies that have recently surfaced. The first one is a tragedy involving Alpha Phi Omega (APO), whose members allegedly beat neophyte Carl Intia to death during initiation rites sometime in August. Second is the more recent hatid-salubong bombing in Taft which, well, perhaps had nothing to do with fraternities, but has however, deteriorated into childish finger-pointing amongst fraternities in a perverse effort to deflect blame from themselves.
If you’re wondering if I will be dwelling on the culture of violence that persists in fraternities, let me get this out of the way by saying, no, I won’t be. Despite sharing the sentiments of those who frown upon this subject, too much has been said on the matter and I would contribute nothing new to the discussion. Furthermore, despite the obvious social costs this issue presents, I respect the individual’s right to bodily autonomy. Should one consciously choose to subject himself to such brutalities for the sake of everlasting brotherhood, then, by all means, let him do so! (Obvious by now, I guess, is my bias against these organizations. Admittedly, this bias stems from personal encounters with the less desirable faction of the fraternity system, but I digress.) Joining a fraternity for this reason alone, however, seems too surreal.
So why do boys join fraternities? The most commonly cited response in an informal survey I conducted (By that I meant random sampling on Facebook chat!) is “establishing connections”, presumably with the alumni who will ensure their successful careers. From a Machiavellian perspective, there is nothing wrong with this. What is one week of physical and psychological harassment if this means an assurance of getting a job after graduation or, say, business connections? For those with an interest in the political arena, fraternities are also known to provide awesome backing to their candidates. Simply put, the lasting benefits of joining a fraternity outweigh the temporal costs entailed in the week-long initiation rites most fraternities have. From this perspective, boys should be eager and readily jump at invitations to join fraternities.
However, I think the biggest problem with fraternities lies exactly in that same mindset. Fraternities enforce a culture of reliance on connections. We see UP students of law, medicine and business readily stomach physical beatings and humiliation because of the promise of joining the ranks of esteemed men who are now big names in their chosen careers, as if going to best university in the country (and graduating with honors at that) is no assurance of career stability.
“Wala kang mararating kung wala kang kakilala sa Pilipinas,” they say. Sadly, I guess this holds true even against our country’s cream of the crop. I use the term “cream of the crop” loosely because of fraternities’ supposed exclusionary nature, although this is also contestable.
So what is there left to do? The following suggestion put forward by sociologist Randolf David, in his essay The Functions of Fraternities, dated August 23, 1998:
“Fraternities persist because they serve a function; they respond to the real needs of students. They flourish when they are able to prove their value to the student inside and outside the school milieu and long after graduation. They decline when the needs that gave rise to them and sustained them are better served by other associations. They die when they are unable to reproduce themselves, when the total costs of frat membership grossly outweigh the benefits…
The challenge is not how to kill the fraternity system, but what alternative affiliations, far more fulfilling and less damaging to young bodies and spirits, to offer our students.”
In other words, we have to realize that no matter how much the media attempts to villainize these organizations and no matter how much apprehension is expressed over the subject by families and other parties, fraternities will continue to persist, serving a function in response to a need. As long as society accepts this kakilala culture and actually thrives on this, fraternities will lounge around until then. And at the end of the day, all you can really do is admit it: it works.