Alexandra Robbins’ “Fraternity” explores parties, brotherhood, and the realities of ‘frats’
When most Americans think of male college students, they’ll often think of one huge part that exists in almost all 4 year colleges across the United States: fraternities. What most people aren’t aware of is what goes on inside these spectacle organizations: the culture, the parties, the service, the brotherhood.
Fortunately, five-time New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Robbins was able to capture and answer the questions that many of us have about them, while also following the riveting stories of two young men journeying into their own Greek life experiences, in her new book Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men. I got the chance to read an advanced copy of the book and talk with Robbins about her takes on frats, their roles in college life, and what the realities of a fraternity are.
The book itself is written with a fascinating perspective that follows the narratives of two seperate college boys: Jake, a freshman looking to find comradery and a new social identity away from the awkwardness of high school, and Oliver, the current president of his own fraternity chapter, who is conquering the challenge of keeping the good intentions of his young and lively frat brothers reflected in their actions at the young age of nineteen.
The book was constructed in an intriguing style that allows the readers to immerse themselves into the environment and culture that is represented in these two young men’s stories. Moreover, the contrasting storylines of Oliver and James are strikingly different, which can throw away some of the generalizations that all fraternities and brothers are adoptive of the same lifestyle and the same attitudes, but also show a level of connectedness and understanding.
Oliver’s path is especially thought-provoking, and gives a level of humanity and poignancy to the struggles of leadership, friendship and growth that so many young men experience as they go through their experiences with fraternities, from rushing and pledging all the way through graduation and beyond. Robbins’ writing delivers a powerful depiction of what it’s like to grow up through a fraternity, from the young pledger to the chapter president, and how that process develops young men across the nation.
As an investigative reporter who has focused on the under or misrepresented groups of young adults in our society before in her book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities from 2004, Robbins showed clear interest and understanding of the dynamics and experiences of fraternities, while also maintaining the objectivity and fairness that’s necessary to cover a topic like this.
Referencing Pledged, Robbins distinguished what her latest work might reveal to audiences. “While I think the realization to people with Pledged back then was that not all sororities are good, I the surprise for people now is that not all fraternities are bad.” “More than that, I think this one isn’t just about fraternities. I think it’s more of a book about college and what students are thinking about.”
I think what really stands out about Fraternity is that it doesn’t just cover what students are thinking about, as Robbins expresses, but that it also can give a clear look as to why they are feeling that way. And even more importantly, it gives an opposition to many of the misconceptions that the public has of fraternities.
“Greek life can have a lot of value for students that people who aren’t in Greek life can’t necessarily see.” Robbins continues on this, saying, “The reality is that fraternities, when they are done right, can be a healthy space for guys to feel comfortable communicating with other guys. A lot of other university spaces don’t have that.”
Robbins, a graduate of Yale University and a member of one of Yale’s oldest societies Scroll and Key, elaborated on the theme present throughout Fraternity in our interview that fraternities provide a lot of really great things to college guys, and even dedicates a section of the book to some simple, straightforward solutions that frats can adopt to strengthen their cases against the negative image that may exist in the public now.
Fraternity clearly wasn’t written just for college boys and “frat bros,” and Robbins expresses that throughout the book in its content and in its context. This book serves as an eye-opening exploration into the mysteries that are fraternities for most people in America, and I haven’t yet seen a more impactful and resonating account of the fraternity experience than what Alexandra Robbins was able to provide in Fraternity, which releases to the public on February 5th. In my opinion, this book is essential to understanding what a fraternity is today, and the depth of the culture that exists in Greek life and all of college.
A special thanks to Alexandra Robbins and Emily Canders of Penguin Random House for allowing this interview to happen