Greek Life Folklore
For our folklore collection project, we conducted a series of interviews with members of Greek organizations past and present. In these interviews, we asked the members to recount examples of folklore from their experiences in fraternities and sororities. Specifically, we asked them about verbal lore (songs, stories, etc) and customary lore (initiation rituals, traditions, parties, handshakes). Our intention in collecting this lore was to see if we could infer some sort of pattern or trend in Greek Life folklore. More specifically, we hoped to use our evidence to determine if there is a distinction between the Greek lore on the current Dartmouth campus and at other schools and other eras.
Items (*Please add the links to the posts of your items in this section)
Our collection of folklore presented a variety of interesting implications. The first of these pertains to the consistency of verbal lore in Greek organizations across genders, geographic locations, and time periods. We asked past and current sorority and fraternity members from the Northeast and South the same set of questions about verbal lore and their answers were thematically almost exactly the same. All interviewees spoke about specific songs as well as stories and legends that explain the origin of aspects about their house. In addition, when asked about customary lore, almost everyone who we talked to mentioned secret handshakes and special parties that were an important part of their Greek experience. While the specifics of their examples varied, they showed that there is a degree of predictability and a formula for these aspects of Greek lore, regardless of time and location.
Our most interesting findings from the collection came at the end of our interviews. We asked all interviewees about their initiation rituals, a form of customary lore. We found that there was a substantial difference between current fraternities in the Northeast and both Southern and past fraternities. Those who we interviewed from the ’80s at Dartmouth described an initiation process that was rooted in acts of humiliation and tests of will and commitment, which were at times quite brutal. The current Dartmouth students we interviewed, on the other hand, did not mention any such initiation rituals. Instead, their initiations were based on getting to know older brothers and were rarely uncomfortable or difficult. The same was the case in our Penn State interviewee, another example of Greek life in the Northeast. In contrast, the current fraternities in the South seem to have retained much of the traditional initiation ceremonies we saw in the older fraternities. To this day, they still engage in tests of worth and hazing.
Lastly, we asked all interviewees how important they found their traditions to be and if they took them seriously. Interestingly, we found that both our Southern members and our interviewees that attended college in the 1980’s took their traditions very seriously, while those in the Northeast did not. Most of our current Dartmouth and Penn State fraternity and sorority members explained that most of their traditions are “just for fun,” while only a few of them said that the traditions were to be taken seriously. We do not think that our collection is extensive enough to make any broad generalizations, but our evidence seems to imply that the initiation rituals have an impact on the general perception of a Greek member about his or her house. In the past and in the South, the requirement to go through a series of difficult and often gruesome tasks leads to a more intense and serious mentality associated with Greek life. In the Northeast, our evidence implies that the shift in customary initiation lore has made the mentality associated with Greek life more “light-hearted and fun,” as some of our interviewees explained.
Overall, our collection presented an interesting commentary on the nature of general Greek life through the lore associated with individual organizations. It showed us that there are many aspects of lore that are predictable and consistent in all Greek organizations, regardless of location or time. It also revealed that there are certain elements that vary depending on these factors.
Names of the collectors
Greek Life, Initiation Rituals, Verbal Lore, Customary Lore, Hazing, Legends, Fraternities, Sororities