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“The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities”

Reprint of Mini-Book Review by Hank Nuwer: http://stophazing.org

“The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities”
by Nicholas L. Syrett. $30. The University of North Carolina Press.

Over the years there have been some scathing indictments of fraternal life. Peggy Sanday’s “Fraternity Gang Rape” comes first to mind.

But junior scholar Nicholas L. Syrett likely has taken over that top spot with his new release, which is less a history of white fraternities and more a damning indictment of them.

Although repetitive in many places, “The Company He Keeps” uses available archival letters and documents to present a portrait of male fraternities that long ago abandoned the values of their founders. As a consequence, Syrett maintains that rogue fraternities pose a threat not only to sorority women on campus, but also to one another and the general student body, too, most conspicuously gays and unaffiliated women on campus.

He writes that the wheels completely came off the bus around 1970, characterizing rogue male fraternity members as unredeemable conformists who have turned a blind eye to their founders’ ideals.
Syrett absolutely rejects the timeworn concept of “boys will be boys,” saying the company the rogue fraternity male keeps will forever bind the Greek system in displays of power, abuses of that power, and mindless exclusion of just the right inductees who might return Greek life to the individualists who founded chapters in the nineteenth century.

The book tries for balance in a few places, trying to offer a more favorable outlook on historically white fraternities. These are forced passages, and not very convincing, as if the author couldn’t wait to get back to his litany of fraternity transgressions.

There is no attempt to cite national fraternal reform attempts such as the Hazing Taskforce headed by Dan Bureau or the educational attempts of HazingPrevention.org, which has board membership of national representatives from Sigma Nu and Theta Chi.

But the book does have value for fraternity advisers. I’d give a copy to each of my chapter presidents and tell them “Go thou and do otherwise.”

Bio: Hank Nuwer is doing a much longer critique of the book for a national men’s journal.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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