Separating Fact from Fiction: Independent College Students’ Perceptions of Greek Life

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Running Head: Separating Fact from Fiction: Independent Students’ Perceptions of Greek Life

Separating Fact from Fiction: Independent College Students’ Perceptions of Greek Life
Tim Quigley

Comm 461

Spring 2012
Table of Contents

Abstract. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Acknowledgements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4-12

Rationale. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Importance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Literature Review. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

Research Questions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Method. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Participants, Design, and Procedures. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

Data Analysis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

Limitations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Thematically Organized Findings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Suggestions for Further Research. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

Appendix. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23


In today’s day and age intercultural communication is as paramount as it has ever been. With the global marketplace growing every day and technology making it easier and easier to connect with people from all ethic, and geographic backgrounds we are making great strides towards harmony. However, it is also clear that there are still many sources of bias and stereotypes in the world. This research is based on a qualitative study at a small liberal arts college in southeast Virginia focused on discovering how people create perceptions of other cultures and how those perceptions can be transformed based on personal experiences. The findings of this study seek to explain how these stereotypes can be laid to rest and how cultural bias can be eliminated. They show that there are indeed generalizations and stereotypes held by students upon entering college, but that personal experiences with Greek life influenced the way students perceived it.

Keywords: intercultural communication, Encoding/Decoding Theory, Greek life, college, student life, bias, perception, stereotype, media


First and foremost I must thank Dr. Pamela Tracy, who guided me throughout the most intense and complex periods of this research. I must also thank Dr. Naomi Johnson who taught me the proper ways in which to conduct research in the beginning stages of this study. I would also like to thank the Institutional Review Board at the university at which this study was conducted which allowed me to conduct my focus groups with students, which was imperative to my study. In addition to my research advisors I would like to thank everyone within my Senior Seminar course who helped me through offering suggestions for bettering my research and helping me through this entire process. Finally, I must thank the generous participants in this study who took time out of their schedules to assist me in my research.



For decades Greek life has been a popular topic for entertainment in the media from films such as Animal House and Old School to televisions shows such as Greek. Even shows not based on Greek life portray characters in a Greek-like setting. For instance Blue Mountain State, a show about the collegiate football team, could easily be defined as “frat guys in football pads.” In the show, the team has its own house in which there are sex and alcohol-driven parties seemingly every night as well as the element of having the team mascot act suspiciously like a stereotypical pledge. This is just one example of how the media uses the theme of typical Greek life and retools it in a way that fits other settings. It made me start to wonder exactly what people believe is true and what is false about these portrayals. Furthermore, what do they believe is true and false after getting to college and having personal experiences with Greek life outside the constraints of media portrayals?

Though all of the research done regarding Greek life shows similar tendencies and trends, there is little to no research as to how people feel about and what they believe about fraternities and sororities. This study will bridge that gap by comparing and contrasting facts and perceptions in order to determine if there is a trend between college students’ opinions of Greek life and the research. It is just as possible that there is a disconnect somewhere and students believe things about Greek life that are either greatly exaggerated or not true.


This study focuses on finding out how opinions about Greek life held by college students have changed or been confirmed since their entrance into college. Based on Stuart Hall’s theory of Encoding/Decoding, the research explores the ways in which college students perceive Greek life upon entering a collegiate environment based solely on what they have seen in film and television portrayals of Greek life and how or if those perceptions change as they become familiar with Greek students and organizations on a personal level.

Hall’s theory is a variation of Reception theory, which explains how readers create perceptions based on literary texts. It states that the meaning of the text is not necessarily in the text itself, but in the reader’s mind and is the product of their identifying with the text. During explains this concept by saying:

But the vast range must contain some degree of reciprocity between encoding and decoding moments, otherwise we could not speak of an effective communicative exchange at all. Nevertheless, this ‘correspondence’ is not given but constructed. It is not ‘natural’ but the product of an articulation between two distinct moments (2004).

Hall adapted this theory to encompass other forms of media such as television and film. In this way the theory can be used with media portrayals of Greek life.

Using this research I can obtain information that helps illustrate how people form bias to a group or a culture and why these biases can be so difficult to eliminate. In addition, I can pinpoint what it is about Greek life that is so intriguing for some and so repulsive to others in an attempt to explain how these biases can be broken down. Finally, I can use the information I gather through empirical research to clarify the reality of Greek life while debunking common misconceptions.

Greek life is a culture which has been praised for its traditionally stated importance on upholding moral standards and values and yet criticized for its perceived typical abuse of alcohol, hazing practices, and membership bias. In a culture that can be so controversial and misconstrued at times, it is important to be able to highlight the truth above all else, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

According to Devran (2010), communication between groups is critical in order to create and foster understanding. This study can help create understanding between those in the Greek community and those outside of it. Through an empirical study it will be possible to separate the truth from the stereotypes in order to paint a vivid and accurate picture of the reality of Greek life on a college campus and therefore foster understanding.

There is no doubt that what we see and how we feel about it plays a significant role in the way we create perceptions about the groups and cultures around us. Therefore, it will also play an important role in discovering the ways in which people classify Greek students compared to non-Greek, or independent students. Hall’s theory serves to explain in detail how these students have come to their conclusions.

Literature Review

Fresh Meat: The Challenges of a Young Greek Student

As young college students in their first or second years become interested in Greek life, they are faced with the daunting task of not only pledging, but rushing, which is the process by which Greek organizations decide whether they want to extend an invitation, or bid, to a potential new member to join them. In a study conducted by Metzger, Williams, Chen, & Chartier (2006), fraternity brothers were much more likely to offer a bid if the person fit a certain mold.

When given pictures of potential students to whom bids could be offered, they were most interested in the students who showed typical gender norms such as athleticism and general “machoness.” Students who had a different outer appearance than the rest of the group were generally overlooked.

The same held true for sorority sisters. They were most interested in students who displayed outward signs of being girly and pretty. Those students who did not fit the sorority’s norms were ignored.

Another challenge of going Greek in a student’s first year of college is the tendency for grades to slip. According to Pascarella, Flowers, & Whitt (2009), students pledging in their first year of college had significantly lower grades. Students were surveyed on a precollege survey of goals, aspirations, and expectations of college. They were also surveyed using the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency, or CAAP. They were then subjected to two follow-up surveys in order to find connections between their collegiate experiences and their academic performance. In their second and third years of college, their grades drastically improved. Students attribute this drop in grades to a change in their daily routines or simply adjusting to college. On the other hand, many attribute this trend with perceived hazing rituals throughout the pledge process. This, combined with safety concerns, is why hazing is such a major issue with which every school in the nation is highly concerned. However, a study done by Drout & Corsoro (2003) showed that Greek students are just as critical of hazing as independent students. This suggests that hazing is not necessarily a practice approved of by Greek organizations, but possibly the work of a small group of Greek students lacking in self-restraint.

A study by Cokley, Miller, Cunningham, Motoike, King, & Awad (2001) found that some students see the rituals associated with pledging as desirable in some way as if they are required to prove oneself. That is to say that some pledges honestly believe that they should be hazed in order to feel as though they truly belong in their organization. The data was collected through the Survey of Attitudes About Fraternities and Sororities, or SAAFS. The survey was comprised of 47 different items with several regarding hazing directly. This is another example of the way cultivation theory plays into perceptions of reality. When high school students see hazing on television and in the movies, they believe that this is the only way to legitimately become a part of the group. Another finding in the study was exactly the opposite. In fact, some observers believe that “the benefits of Greek letter membership are outweighed by the disadvantages.” In the end it is all about perception, even when the subject is something as serious as hazing.

Hazing is another area in which Greeks are placed under the microscope above other collegiate groups. Organizations of all kinds across campuses nationwide have been found guilty of hazing. These include athletic teams, clubs, and most recently the Florida A&M Marching 100 band. In this particular incident, a member of the band was hazed in such a way that led to his eventual death (CNN, 2011). There is still little evidence as to what precisely happened, but the fact is that hazing is clearly not only tied to Greek organizations.

Family Values: The Behaviors of a College Greek

A study by Mathiasen (2005) found that there are four areas that the ideal Greek organization should use in order to remain morally intact: recruiting quality members, upholding house tradition and reputation, emphasizing moral development, and encouraging community service. These findings were based on a qualitative case study of a single fraternity at a Midwestern university that included viewing existing documents, interviews, and observations of fraternity activities. According to Mathiasen these values are not only the way to stop hazing and excessive partying, but the way to prevent them in the future. Although these cornerstones for values and conduct have worked for this particular fraternity, it is evident that not all Greeks share the same values. For instance, it has been proven that many Greeks partake in unsafe drinking habits on a regular basis with little regard for reputation or moral development.

According to Wechsler et al. (2009), the majority of college students use alcohol on a regular basis. However, they also assert that Greek students use alcohol significantly more than the average student. In fact, it is mentioned that “fraternity and sorority house environments appear to tolerate hazardous use of alcohol and other irresponsible behaviors.” Furthermore, the study suggests that this abuse of alcohol is directly linked to illegal activity. Again, this strays from the ideal values of upholding reputation and developing moral values among Greek students. According to a study conducted by Eberhardt et al. (2003) in which the National College Health Assessment, or NCSH, was used to determine whether becoming a member of a Greek organization correlated with an increase in alcohol abuse and questionable and risky sexual behavior as well. The assessment showed that binge drinking was more common in Greek students than independent students. However, Greek and independent students engaged in similar amounts of unsafe sexual practices.

In addition, fraternity men are more likely to change their communication patterns as well. In an observational study by Kiesling (1998), it was determined that men in fraternities use a lower level of vernacular, or vocabulary. In fact, within a group of other fraternity members, they almost solely use a power-based speech pattern. Using this speech pattern, they typically speak to one another aggressively, often challenging each other for dominance. Brothers also speak to pledges as though they are beneath them. This talking down to the underlings is seen as a way of establishing further dominance within the group. This dominance carries on until the brothers are no longer students. Therefore, the longer a brother has been in the fraternity, the more respect he gets. Despite the seemingly aggressive manner in which these speech patterns are used, they are actually a way of forming closer ties within the group. Indeed, it is a means of male bonding among members of a Greek organization.

Breaking Down the Walls: Eliminating Bias and Cultural Stereotypes

It would seem that Greek students are loud, elitist, drunken party animals based on the previous data. But history has shown that there is a significant difference between a single person and a group of people. When people openly communicate with those whom they believe they already know everything about, they can learn new things about each other and themselves.

Devran (2010) explains that in order for biases to be broken down, communication between groups is essential. He illustrated this through the Global Class project in which college students from the United States and Turkey had a series of classes taught in conjunction via video-conferencing. Throughout the course, students were encouraged to introduce themselves to each other and eventually build cross-cultural relationships in an effort to educate both groups about what can be gained from being open to outside cultures. At the end of the project, students from both groups reported having a new outlook on the other group and found that their preconceived notions had faded away. They had also walked away with knowledge about communication they could use in the future to dispel initial biases and stereotypes.

In order to eliminate bias and stereotypes, one must be aware of the effect of cultivation theory. The more we are exposed to common themes of a group or organization in the media, the more we will identify and confirm those themes in our minds (Morgan & Shanahan, 2010). This is how many people compartmentalize Greek life into stereotypical sections.

Eberhardt, Rice, & Smith (2003) focus on three main areas in which Greek students are stereotyped. Among the most common is academic integrity. Students in Greek letter organizations are perceived to regularly cheat on exams. This is an old stereotype based on the idea that Greek students do not want to have to work hard for a grade. They simply acquire test answers from others Greeks who have taken the same classes in order to get an easy "A" (p. 136). Their study used the Academic Integrity Survey, or AIS in order to explain the frequency in which Greek students cheated on exams and also their feelings towards cheating. The results showed that Greek students were actually more strict on academic integrity than their independent counterparts.

The second of the most common stereotypes the idea that all fraternity brothers are womanizers and all sorority sisters are sexually promiscuous. As the story goes, Greek men and women alike regularly engage in irresponsible and questionable sexual behavior. This can lead to harsh criticism and bias as well as tarnish the reputation of entire organizations (p. 136) and is a dangerous allegation to make. Despite these accusations, however, the NCHA results showed that Greek students were no more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than independent students.

Possibly the most damaging of Greek stereotypes is that Greek students are all alcoholics. It is agreed upon by Wechsler, Kuh, & Davenport (2009) as well as Eberhardt, Rice, & Smith that Greek students are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol. Because of this fact, Greek students are sometimes perceived as drunks who are only part of their respective organizations because they want to drink heavily (p. 136). However, in no way does the data show that Greeks drink remotely as much as is portrayed in the media. Whenever a set of Greek letters is shown on a screen, there is almost always a beer in someone’s hand and rarely are those same letters being worn when the student is in a classroom setting. Rarer still are there portrayals of Greeks engaging in philanthropic events.

Those philanthropic events are far more common than they are portrayed to be in the media. Few people look away from the negative aspects of Greek life in order to see philanthropic stories such as how the Greek organizations at Michigan State University held a dodgeball tournament in order to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation of Michigan. After the tournament was over, the tournament assisted in raising over $3,000 for arthritis research and treatment (Gagnier, 2011). Events such as these are held by every Greek organization nationwide, but still positive aspects of Greek life such as these are largely overlooked by the dissenters of fraternities and sororities.

Research Questions

  1. Before entering college, what were your perceptions about Greek life?

  2. Have your perceptions changed in any way since then and, if so, how?


Participants, Design, and Procedures

The method of this research was a series of focus groups consisting of students who were not Greek, in their junior or senior year of college, and had seen the films Animal House and Old School. The study was designed to utilize focus groups primarily because the research required that participants be able to describe unique and personal experiences. For this reason, a survey would not suffice to record accurate data. Participants were selected using various means including social networking, peer referrals, and mass emails. In the focus groups students were asked a number of questions regarding their prior experiences around Greek life and Greek students as well as whether or not they felt differently about Greek life now than they did prior to attending college. The questions poses to each group were taken directly from a discussion script approved by the Institutional Review Board at the university at which this study was conducted (see Appendix). Each focus group lasted between thirty minutes and one hour.

Data Analysis

Data was analyzed by grouping common themes among participants’ answers together. A recording device was used to capture each discussion in its entirety and then later transcriptions of the conversations were made. General themes and trends in these transcriptions were then color-coded based on under which category each answer, quote, or chunk of the focus group fell. Through this method of coding, the research was broken down into distinct themes. Furthermore, recurring words and phrases were also coded so as to indicate their significance within the context of the conversations.


The most glaring limitation of this study was that some of the participants were aware that the researcher was in fact a Greek student. It is not certain how much of a factor this was on the extent of their candor, but it is possible that several of them may have answered certain questions regarding the negative aspects of Greek life in a more delicate way than they would have liked. Not only might they have declined to comment honestly on the negative aspects, but they may have also embellished what they perceived to be positive qualities about Greek life.

Another limitation of this study was sample size. The study was conducted using fourteen participants. Ideally there would have been thirty or more. Due to the small sample size it is difficult to determine if the participants truly represented the entire independent student population accurately.

In addition to the small sample size, there was also a lack of diversity among the participants. All participants were Caucasian and most of them were female. This impacts the study because students of different cultural, ethnic, and social backgrounds could lend different perspectives on the discussion. Using a sample of students so similar to one another could lead to an important point of view about Greek life being left out.

Thematically Organized Findings

Tall Tales

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the world we see on television and in the movies is a skewed, scripted, imitation of what the real world is really like. The question is exactly how skewed is it? By far the biggest theme brought up by the participants of this study was that in every portrayal of Greeks in film there is always some half-truth and some ridiculousness as well. As Kelsey, a senior, said, “In Old School they had a pool in the middle of the floor at the party. A pool! I’m not saying that couldn’t happen, but I’ve never seen it.” In fact, the wild and crazy parties shown in films seemed to almost disappoint some of the participants. Rick, a senior, said that he was expecting an out of control party the first time he went to a fraternity house, but when he got there he was actually surprised by how much more relaxed it was. Another participant, Susan, said that she usually stays in on the weekends and rarely goes to parties. However, even she was surprised at how many aspects of Greek parties in films she found to be false. Many participants also remarked that their parents had warned them of the dangers of going to fraternity parties upon entering college, most likely believing the same thing that many of the students did. Kelsey said, “My mom thought I’d be getting wild, but usually we would just end up sipping drinks and talking in the hallway. It never got too wild.” Jesse, a senior, also believed fraternities and sororities alike to be “drinking organizations” before he entered college, but has since changed his stance on that opinion. He now believes that there is a wide range of Greeks from the partyers to the bookworms.

However, there was one participant, Julie, who claimed her first experience with Greek life was exactly how they had imagined it. According to her, “When we walked in…half the room was smoking weed, someone was playing guitar, there were couches with the legs broken off, …and I thought, ‘This looks like Animal House!’” She went on to say that she thought all fraternity houses would look like that and that they would all have “graffiti and stripper poles.” Other than those remarks, most everyone described a much more controlled environment than they expected when they first went to fraternity parties. In fact, many participants said that they went to more parties more frequently once they had been in college for a short time because they were far more comfortable than they thought they would be.

This finding fits perfectly with During’s interpretation of Hall’s theory in that there is some level of reciprocity between the processes of encoding and decoding. Some of what participants expected was purely because of what they had been exposed to in television and film. Although they were not convinced parties would be exactly the way they are portrayed in the media, they still came to college with very real expectations.

Top of the Food Chain

One of the biggest and common arguments those opposed to Greek life use is that Greek students only go Greek to be someone important. As with any stereotype, some portion of that assumption must be true at times. However, when the issue came up in discussion, there was a variety of answers as to whether or not Greek students are elitists. According to Jesse, “The problem is that most people change when they go Greek. They abandon all their friends because they aren’t good enough anymore.” However, according to Kelsey, “I understand why they stop hanging out with their old friends. They don’t have the same kind of bond as they do with their brothers or sisters.” One fraternity in particular was named in regards to brothers believing that they are above everyone else, including other fraternities. The reason for this was based on the fact that they openly brag about their anti-hazing policy, a policy that is shared across the board with fraternities and sororities, and also because they are viewed a “suck-ups” to professors and administrators. However, other fraternities were commended for being “easy to hang out with,” as Mark, a junior, put it. It should also be noted that several participants said that fraternities as a collective group can seem to be elitist, but that once they had met people on a personal level they were easier to get along with.

While the issue of fraternity brothers classifying themselves as elitists was fairly divided, there was a near unanimous feeling that sorority sisters, while keeping up a pleasant façade, are considered “catty” and “gossipy”. Kelsey said that she could never join a sorority because she would be sure that people would be talking about her behind her back all the time, but face to face they would be extra nice to her. Most participants agreed with that point and said that they thought it was very common for girls to consider themselves somehow above others who did not join a sorority. In some cases, specific sororities were named, further pointing to a cultural trend and not simply a few mean girls. Wanda, a senior, mentioned that she never wanted to join a sorority simply because she felt like there were only a handful of truly friendly girls in each one on campus.

Price Check on Greeks

As with any discussion as to the thoughts and motives of students that decide to go Greek, eventually the topic of “buying friends” was brought up. While those who oppose the Greek culture in general usually bring this up as evidence of how the brotherly and sisterly bonds of Greek life are, many participants did not believe this to be true. According to Kelsey, “I don’t think they’re paying for friends. I think they’re paying for an experience. It just so happens that all their friends are paying for the same experience.” Most participants agreed with her statement, but some still criticized the Greek system for requiring such high financial dues, citing that as a main reason many students are deterred from rushing. It was also mentioned that that is one of the reasons Greeks have a reputation of having money and being spoiled, which can also tie into the theory of elitism. Although not everyone was in agreement about the true role of dues in Greek life, no one believed that Greeks seek out to buy friends.

Birds of a Feather

One of the questions most thoroughly answered by participants was why they would or would not ever consider going Greek. The vast majority of them agreed that it just was not for them. Betty said that she did not share any special bond with anyone but her Club Soccer teammates. Wanda had a similar point when she explained that she, like most everyone, wanted to be around like-minded people. She talked about how she is very “outdoorsy” and that none of the sorority sisters she has met have any interest in hiking, camping, or rock climbing. Jesse then pointed out that the process works both ways. He talked about how, at their cores, fraternities are based on the values and morals instilled by the founding fathers of each organization. It is true that every fraternity and sorority has a unique and specific set of values that must be held up in order to be a member of those organizations.

All participants agreed that even if you enter college with friends from high school, there is still a natural tendency to seek out camaraderie in a new place. Many also agreed that most Greek students did not simply join fraternities and sororities because they felt like it, but because they found a group of people they enjoyed being around and spending time with on a personal level. However, some also maintained that spending too much time with the same group of people can in fact cause someone to change. That, they said, is when it becomes a bad thing to only spend time with people who are just like you.

Go Here, Not There!

Throughout films and television shows focusing on Greek life, there is always the “evil” fraternity or sorority. It is always the collective antagonist that wants to rule campus and stand taller than all other organizations. Of course, these organizations do not exist in that sense in the real world, but a common theme brought up by many participants was the idea of rivalries between fraternities. As one participant, Julie, put it, “You have the preppy do-gooders on one side and then you have the wild partiers on the other side.” Another participant, Kerry, mentioned that some fraternities have made names for themselves as either the good guys or the dangerous guys and embrace the name they have made for themselves.

Other students have noticed it as well. Jesse, a senior, said that his peer mentor told him when he was a freshman which fraternity parties were safe to go to and which ones he should stay away from. According to him, that was his main basis for deciding where he wanted to hang out when it came to parties for most of his college career. Another senior, Jill, mentioned that there are certain fraternity houses she has never been to and will never go to strictly because of their reputation.

The overarching reason for participants’ feelings of rivalries, however, is that almost every weekend they see fights between them. Jesse made a point of mentioning that he is deterred by the fact that he has seen fraternity brothers get into fights with members of other fraternities over little else than a dirty look or snide remark. “It’s like, they have a different set of letters on their chest so they think they have to find a reason to show who’s more proud and dominant,” he said.

Suggestions for Further Research

This study has shown that there are indeed many varying perceptions of Greek life on college campuses. Some of the perceptions are shared across the board by almost all students while others are highly disputed. However, no study has yet been done to discover how Greek students themselves perceive Greek life. If so many people outside of Greek organizations can hold these beliefs, then surely students within Greek organizations must also hold firm beliefs of how they wish for their organizations to be perceived. A study such as that should be done to determine if Greeks know the perceptions independent students have of them and whether they are interested in changing the perceptions held by those students in any way.

A study such as that would provide great insight as to what level, if at all, Greeks embrace their reputations whether they are positive or negative. Depending on the findings, one could make the argument that Greeks either enjoy perpetuating stereotypes or that they generally hold different opinions of what is acceptable behavior, as well as moral values, than those who criticize them.

Furthermore, Greek students should be able to directly address their criticisms and explain why they decided to become Greek and what they believe the Greek system is all about. This study only tells half of the story and it would be beneficial to understand both sides in order to truly have an informed opinion about the nature of Greek life and Greek students in general.


Perceptions of reality are not always true and can lead to misinformed decision making and rifts between people of different cultures. Any ideas of Greek life based on themes made famous in the media must be carefully studied in order to confirm or deny their validity. This study brings to light the ways in which people form perceptions of cultures based on Hall’s theory of encoding and decoding and how those perceptions can be confirmed or changed when they have personal experiences within those cultures.

The findings of this study showed that most participants had varying opinions of the level of realism in media portrayals of Greek life. Furthermore, all participants agreed that their perceptions of Greek life. Rarely in this study did two participants have exactly the same opinion, but often had variations of similar opinions and sometimes completely conflicting opinions. One of the most debated themes among participants was the reason they believed students decide to become Greek. While some participants believed that Greek life was about buying friends and simply becoming friendly with people who are also looking for companionship, others maintained that generally students make the decision to join fraternities and sororities because they feel a strong connection to the organization in some way, such as developing close ties to the organization’s members or identifying with the morals and values the organization seeks to promote.

This particular finding is telling in that it shows a clear rift in many students’ perceptions of Greek life. This means that not all fraternities and sororities are the same and proves that not only does personal experience affect a person’s perception of a culture, but that specific experiences can sway a person in many different directions. That is the only way to explain how students in the same graduating class can share experiences with Greek students, events, and organizations and still have differing opinions about them.

The other findings of this study showed that while students do not necessarily believe the themes presented in media portrayals of Greek life are accurate, there is a level of truth to them. All of the aspects of Greek life discussed by the participants are indeed common themes used in the media to illustrate Greek life. However, the participants also noted that although there is some familiarity with those themes, they are exaggerated, taken out of context, or warped in some way. In a way, one could call Animal House and Old School examples of art imitating life. They are based on the stigmas and stereotypes of Greek life and them into a caricature of reality for entertainment. The same can be said about portrayals of every other culture ever portrayed in the media. This is important to note because understanding the ways in which the media affects our perceptions of different cultures is the first step in letting go of prejudice and bias. As more people become educated about the media and its effects, there will be a great deduction in bias and stereotyping across differing cultures. In a world growing smaller every day, this step is crucial in fostering peace and understanding between people of different religions, creeds, and ways of life.


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Drout, C. E., & Corsoro, C. L. (2003). Attitudes toward fraternity hazing among fraternity members, sorority members, and non-greek students. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 31(6), 535. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

 Eberhardt, D., Rice, N., & Smith, L. D. (2003). Effects of greek membership on academic integrity, alcohol abuse, and risky sexual behavior at a small college. NASPA Journal (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.), 41(1), 135-146. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Gagnier, S. (2011, November 06). Greek life plays dodgeball to fight against arthritis. The State News. Retrieved from _fight_against_arthritis

Good, J. (2009). The cultivation, mainstreaming, and cognitive processing of environmentalists watching television. Environmental Communication, 3(3), 279-297. doi:10.1080/17524030903229746

Kiesling, S. (1998). Men's identities and sociolinguistic variation: The case of fraternity men. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 2(1), 69-99. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Mathiasen, R. E. (2005). Moral development in fraternity members: A case study. College Student Journal, 39(2), 242-252. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

 Metzger, J. L., Williams, P., Chen, M., & Chartier, G. (2006). Gender presentation and membership bias in greek organizations. The University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal, 2, 20-26. Retrieved from 

 Morgan, M., & Shanahan, J. (2010). The state of cultivation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54(2), 337-355. doi:10.1080/08838151003735018

Pascarella, E. T., Flowers, L., & Whitt, E. J. (2009). Cognitive effects of greek affiliation

Wechsler, H., Kuh, G., & Davenport, A. E. (2009). Fraternities, Sororities and Binge Drinking: Results from a National Study of American Colleges. NASPA Journal (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.), 46(3), 395-416. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Focus Group Schedule

Perceptions Based on Media Portrayals/Themes

  • How familiar are you with Animal House and Old School?

  • Did you see these films before or after you had experiences with Greek life?

  • What scenes or themes from these movies stand out the most to you? Why?

  • How familiar are you with Greek life and Greek students?

Perceptions Based on Personal Experiences

  • How much of the content of these movies, if any, do you see in real life?

  • What was your first or most memorable experience like (describe)?

  • Are you a part of any organizations on campus?

    • If so, have you ever felt as though people outside your organization were misinformed about the organization?

      • In what ways would you compare a non-Greek organization to a fraternity or sorority?

  • Why do you think Greek students decided to join fraternities and sororities?

    • How common do you think it is for certain types of students to join certain organizations?

      • Which organizations are the most prevalent in this?

  • Is there any one aspect of Greek life you have seen that is especially appealing?

  • To what extent do you think that people naturally seek out camaraderie?

    • How often do you spend time with people outside your closest circle of friends?

  • How much of a factor was the Greek life at Longwood on your decision to come here?

    • How did it affect your decision?

  • Do you have any close friends in fraternities or sororities?

  • What were your initial assumptions and feelings about Greek life when you first got to college?

    • Has your opinion changed in any way since then? How?

  • Would you ever consider going Greek? Why or why not?

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