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A fraternity is a male-only association with members who are linked by common interests of some form or another. The most famous form in North America is probably the college fraternity, although it is also possible to find social and a variety of other fraternal organizations around the world. College fraternities date to 1776, when Phi Beta Kappa was founded in the United States.
Many college fraternities are established with academic criteria for membership. People who wish to join typically participate in activities that take place over the course of a week at the start of a semester. Since most colleges with a system have multiple fraternities, these events usually take place during the same week for all groups, allowing people to explore all their options. This period is known as “rush week.”
After rush week, current members of the fraternity decide which new members should be voted in. Traditionally, new pledges participate in an initiation ceremony that has historically been accompanied by hazing challenges. Due to concerns about the risks of hazing that involve dangerous activities and drinking, many colleges have explicitly banned it in the interest of student safety. Some colleges have also cracked down on fraternity parties in response to complaints from other students and the surrounding community.
Membership in a fraternity can confer many advantages. It is not uncommon for these groups to maintain living quarters and private clubs that are only open to their members. Special scholarships may be available, and membership can be used for networking which will be valuable later in life. Many people also enjoy the brotherhood that comes with membership.
Fraternities are often identified with Greek letters, as in the case of Lambda Chi, a Christian fraternity, and Phi Iota Alpha, a Hispanic fraternity. These letters often represent the group's motto. Thanks to the common use of Greek letters in their identifications, the culture is sometimes described as “Greek,” as in “Greek life” or “Greeks” in reference to the members. It is also possible to use an English name, as in the case of the Skull and Bones, a notorious Yale fraternity.
Public service is often a part of fraternity membership. They usually include a specific charity or cause in their mission, with members donating funds or time to the cause each year. Members are sometimes frustrated by the judgmental attitudes of people outside the Greek system, pointing to their fundamental missions of service and brotherhood to counteract stereotypes about lewd behavior and decadent parties.