ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
(Soundbite of movie "Animal House")
SEABROOK: The movie "Animal House" is, of course, the stereotype of the college fraternity: binge drinking, hazing, partying. But some fraternities are trying to change that frat-boy culture.
NPR's Chana Joffe-Walt explains.
CHANA JOFFE-WALT: How do you bond with a frat guy? Ask them about their latest, wildest, hottest party. It's what I asked freshman and new Sigma Phi Epsilon recruit Lin Chen(ph) at Georgetown University in D.C. So togas - or no, wait, wait, I know beer bong beach team.
Mr. LIN CHEN (Recruit, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Georgetown University): Yeah. Paul(ph) got like 20 something pumpkins.
JOFFE-WALT: Pumpkin smashing, all right.
Mr. CHEN: …tarps and he started carving.
Unidentified Man: Music.
Mr. CHEN: Yeah. Music, hot cider. Get the real family feel together so…
JOFFE-WALT: Wholesome pumpkin carving? Okay, but you guys have done something crazy recently. What about the ladies? Fraternity president Paul Happel says he and his brothers, they're not about random drunken hookups. They're trying to do something different.
Mr. PAUL HAPPEL (President, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Georgetown University): There this sort of thing at Georgetown. It's sort of an unspoken rule that you don't exactly take girls out on dates. I think it's interesting that SigEp really takes great pains to improve the culture of dating at the school, and they do that through having different sorts of events off of campus and the Christmas…
JOFFE-WALT: Events like ice skating, formals, or taking the lady to the opera. Sigma Phi Epsilon has taken on a new agenda. It goes by the name of Balanced Man. The principles: scholar, leader, athlete and gentleman. There's lots of talk about being gentleman. And they've thrown out the defining first step of fraternity membership: pledging. That means freshmen like Lin Chen don't have to scrape out the pumpkin seeds or do unspeakable things at them. Glen says if there was hazing and endless keggers, he never would have joined.
Mr. CHEN: I came to Georgetown paying $50,000 a year. I kind of want to accomplish something outside of, you know, having a good story to tell my grandkids about what not to do in college.
JOFFE-WALT: SigEp isn't the only one flying classy frat guys though. According to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, half of its 350,000 undergraduates are in these re-imagining-the-frat-type programs, the programs, with names like Man of Principle and the True Brother Initiative prop up civility, scholarship and virtue. But the truth is they weren't exactly born out of some sort of lofty ideal.
Matt Ontell is director of member development for SigEp, and he remembers the rowdy '80s and that '90s and a lot of the 2000s too.
Mr. MATT ONTELL (Director, Member Development, Sigma Phi Epsilon): We had a lot of risk mismanagement issues.
JOFFE-WALT: That's frat code for lawsuits when drunk kids throw themselves off buildings.
Mr. ONTELL: From hazing to alcohol abuse and declining academics in grades.
JOFFE-WALT: So basically frat boy culture have spawned so many disasters on college campuses that chapters kept getting shut down. Now, people like Mike Hayes, director of fraternities at the University of Maryland, are hesitantly allowing some chapters to reopen, if they are balanced men.
He says universities have been pushing fraternities to be focused on honor and scholarship for years now. But, finally, the fraternity's headquarters are on board. And he says for the kids who want to be animals, who aren't into the wine tasting, the group study sessions…
Mr. MIKE HAYES (Director, Fraternity and Sorority Life, University of Maryland): Here's that one answer, I don't think they're going to have a choice. The headquarters and the universities are now in synch, and so the undergraduates won't have a choice. I think it's one of the first times in my 20 years where I've seen something that I believe will stick.
Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible)
JOFFE-WALT: I'll leave the gentleman over at Georgetown to stop in on their brothers at George Washington University's SigEp chapter. They're on the basement floor, concentrating on their breath.
Unidentified Woman: Pointers, like, they're going to try pretend that you're (unintelligible). In between tooth means a blast. So everything's back on top of the other.
JOFFE-WALT: Yeah. That's right. These frat boys are doing yoga. They're sweaty, red faced, very earnest and incredibly inflexible. The downward dogs that talk about manly virtue, it's all almost too much. These guys are in college. Where is the fun?
Chana Joffe-Walt, NPR News, Washington.
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