Why Are Frats?: A Philosophical Question

3 min read

Paz Daniela Ortiz Santa María ’24



As an international student who not so guiltily took pleasure in the ingestion—and often hard digestion—of that sweet American college-centered media that the US shoved down the throats of the rest of the world, I had three questions boarding off that plane: 1) What exactly are the rules of American football?, 2) Why is it called “football” in the first place?, and 3) What are frats?

As of now, I’ve been here a total of forty-one weeks and, although I have gotten a somewhat satisfactory answer to the first two questions, I can’t say the same for the third one. If anything, the original query has been replaced by a much more complex one: “Why are frats?” Hence, if I have any faith at all in job prospects after college as a philosophy major, perhaps I ought to take research in the humanities a little more seriously.

As philosophy majors do but won’t ever admit, there’s nothing we love more than memorizing philosopher’s quotes—often of Germanic origin— and regurgitating them verbatim at every chance we get. Having established that, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said “If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered,” which Reddit user Shitgenstein interpreted as him saying that “a philosophical problem is like a knot in a rope—when the rope is straightened, the knot is gone.” So, allow me to undertake the task of untying this very knotty, bibulous rope for the sake of all Bantams who have ever been besieged by this very question.

Philosophical Engagement

The parallels to Ancient Greece might be more common than one might think (I mean, it is called Greek Life for a reason, right?). Although TikTok historians will label this period as one fixated on the Roman Empire, perhaps we ought to gaze at their predecessors to understand why connection with Greek civilizations is one that frats have yet to shed.

You see, it’s common for us to assume that women and racial minorities were thought to lack humanity by their male white counterparts during the Hellenistic period, but that may not be completely accurate. They were humans alright, but they weren’t citizens. They couldn’t partake in democratic procedures, and had no say in how their cities were run. More importantly, I’d argue, they couldn’t participate in their cultural events, the peak of which were the Olympic Games. Now, we understand those as sports events, but they are perhaps better described as religious entertainment, the ultimate celebration of what they thought of as beautiful—namely, white, muscular men.

In what many—and some will say is a stretch of an analogy—, frat parties are the modern, mundane college-life equivalent. They uphold the hegemonic standards of beauty this country so shamelessly capitalizes upon, and have no interest in challenging the structures that oppress those that fall outside of them. They may not be explicit displays of bigoted dehumanization, but they do make a statement about the perception of others’ place in the status quo. The hierarchy is clear.

We must ultimately ask ourselves, what does this funny “liberal arts” little two-word stock-term mean if we force it to cohabitate with such an institution?

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