I knew, the moment I sent my son to college, he'd end up joining a fraternity. Zach Sherman, Michigan '18, has always been the boy who loved to be friends with lots of other boys. He loved his role on a sports team, but more for the camaraderie than the actual sport. He was born a "frat boy".
In high school, he developed a bond with a core group of friends who still keep in touch. They formed a kind of "fraternity," but one without any pledging or initiation and not much exclusivity. It appeared to me that almost anyone was welcome if you wanted to "hang" and weren't a jerk.
So, as my son was leaving for school and I was sharing my motherly wisdom (including: Do your laundry, keep your room clean, and stay hydrated), I couldn't help but add: "Steer clear of joining a fraternity — there's trouble there."
I'll admit I was being very "judge-y." My view of fraternities has been formed by what I read in the media. Stories about frat boys today make the brothers from Animal House seem downright dignified. Let's face it, fraternities have a big image problem, and there's no question it's caused by actual incidents that we've read about this year.
I hated that every time some new scandal broke, I had to check whether it was my son's chosen fraternity that had perpetrated the crime — even if it was on another campus. Did they destroy a ski resort, causing over half a million dollars in damage? Were they involved in a race scandal? Or had they committed some sexual assault? Each time he said, "No, that wasn't us," I thought, "Phew."
I'm still not sure joining a fraternity is what I wanted for our son. Neither my husband nor I participated in Greek Life. But he's now considered an adult and I can understand craving community in a new place. For me in college, it was theater. For my husband it was…well I'm not sure what it was, but he had his buddies. All three of our nephews belonged to fraternities and are lifelong friends with their "brothers," some of whom were in their weddings.
Last weekend I finally shifted my point of view. My son's fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, had taken on a philanthropic project to support St. Baldrick's and raise money for research for childhood cancers. At the end of the campaign, in solidarity with kids fighting cancer, the brothers all shaved their heads. The fraternity exceeded its goal and raised more than $40,000, contributing to the more than $100,000 they raised over the last few years.
My own son, who was raising money in the name of a little 9-year-old boy, was one of the top fundraisers thanks to family, friends near and far, and his personal investment in the cause.
When the fraternity sent out the news release about the event, for whatever reason, no one picked up the story. And that's when it struck me. Despite many media outlets doing a good job celebrating students doing good, when it comes to fraternities, it's challenging to find the other side of the story.
So I'm telling this story now. Fraternities aren't all bad. Yes, some kids are. But joining any community for the right reasons, especially for doing good while having fun — that's a story worth sharing, whether in the news or around the dinner table.
When I saw the pictures of my son's big shaved head and his huge smile standing with his new "brothers," I realized he was exactly where he was supposed to be from the moment that big bald head was born.
He's a brother and proud of it. And I'm proud, too.
Pam Sherman is an attorney, actress and writer whose story of ditching her day job as a lawyer to pursue her dream as an actress was featured in People Magazine. Today she combines her business background as an attorney along with her creative skills to conduct training for business leaders to use acting skills for presentations, networking, business development and leadership.
Her book, The Suburban Outlaw: Tales from the EDGE was a Best Seller in the Amazon’s Woman & Business category.