For Nazis to participate in the senseless murder of millions of Jews, they needed to conform. It is very unlikely that every individual who acted in the Holocaust was a bloodthirsty sociopath. More likely, they were a part of a larger group, and simply conformed to the mob mentality of hyper-racism encompassing their lives and culture. Fear of rejection by the men in charge led to the creation of millions of citizens with one mind.
On a smaller (and relatively less anti-Semitic ) scale, we have collegiate Greek life. For many, moving away from home to earn a degree in a strange new place is frightening. Sororities and fraternities hold the allure of comfort in numbers. Potential new members, or “rushees,” think, “Things can’t be that bad if we’re all in this together, right?” That may be the case for many Greek life members, but probably not for the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Maryland. Unfortunately, these ladies have not had a semester worthy of snaps from Elle Woods.
The sorority was recently paired with a fraternity for a weeklong event known as Greek Week. I am not in a sorority, so I can’t tell you exactly what constitutes such an occasion. From research, I have learned that it involves several parties, sports games and other activities between the two groups. I assume it is meant to be fun. However, according to a colorfully composed email by one of the executive members of the sorority, things weren’t going as planned.
The email, which was sent to all the “sisters,” begins with “If you just opened this like I told you to, tie yourself down to whatever chair you’re sitting in, because this email is going to be a rough f—–g ride.”
And a rough ride it was. Apparently, many of the young women were not socially active enough with the young men at the events, thus embarrassing the chapter and risking rejection from future events with fraternities. To emphasize her point, the author questioned the ladies’ mental health and utilized vulgar language and the classic tactic of all caps. Not to mention the horrible display of improper grammar and punctuation, but that may be beside the point.
Despite the impersonal method used to share the message, the real issue is how she saw this as a serious enough reason to get verbally abusive. For this woman to view the matter as worthy of heated mass communication, she must have thought others would respond to her words. She must have believed everyone else would sympathize with her point. And she probably wasn’t wrong. If such a message was considered absurd within the sorority, chances are she wouldn’t have thought it was appropriate to share. Something about their group mentality validated these warped priorities and predicated her response. She is not an anomaly in this group, but merely the regulator of standards these girls agree upon.
Belonging to a group can become a way of life. It is said one acquires attributes from the five people he or she spends the most time with. Well, what about the top 100? Greek life members often live, breathe, eat, party, sleep and study together. They become a family of young adults during a transitional stage in their lives. To stray away from this adoptive family is scary, so most don’t.
Rushees endure the recruitment process to find organizations they are comfortable with and accepted by. To guarantee continued acceptance, members do what they know works and act in ways they know are accepted. Others follow suit, and a group culture becomes normalized.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. It only becomes one when the corruption of a few dominates the group mentality. If one group member’s beliefs are widely accepted by other members, it usually isn’t long before they are adopted as standards. To reject the norm is to risk rejection of oneself.
It’s this idea that allows a group to deteriorate into a sham of its public intent. It’s the principle behind the rationalization of rape culture within fraternities, and why fraternity men allegedly perpetrate 70 to 90 percent of college gang rapes. It’s why 62 percent of sorority members engage in binge drinking, compared to 41 percent of non-Greek women. It’s monkey see, monkey do with drastic consequences.
Despite negative possibilities, the desire to be a part of a group is not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s arguably an inherent aspect of human life. Groups foster interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills in addition to lasting friendships. Greek life is sometimes responsible for outlandish incidents, such as the Delta Gamma email. But it also shaped almost all U.S. presidents and 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives into the people they became.
Navigating the way the moral compass sways for institutions is dependent on the circumstances. If influential members promote certain values and respect differences of opinion, tolerance will eventually become the norm. It may be difficult to stand up to peers, but it’s necessary to retain some semblance of individuality.