Peer Mentorship in High School
Fraternities and Sororities vs. Gangs
Where did gangs and fraternities come from? What is the appeal of fraternities and gangs? Why do teenagers and young adults gravitate to them in droves? What is the difference between the two? Fraternal orders, secret societies, and gangs have been around for hundreds of years. Going as far back as the 1800s, the Triad, a Chinese gang organization, and the Italian Mafia have existed at least two hundred years. Secret societies like the Freemasons who have established fraternal orders have been around since the 1400s. The term thug originated before the 1400s branching off its root word “Thuggee” translated to deceiver, which represented a group of thieves and assassins who roamed the lands and back roads of India, raping and robbing anyone in their path. King Solomon referenced gangs or groups of people who lack a certain moral code in the prayer of David in Psalms where groups of dangerous men assembling to cause harm to others over two thousand years ago.
Gangs and fraternities are not new concepts. We can go as far back to our hunting-gathering ancestors and how they formed groups in macro societies to take from one another. These characteristics are even found in the animal kingdom whether it is a pride, a pack, a pod, or a troop of any highly evolved species that creates pecking orders or social structures usually create environmental factors that foster such behaviors. This will typically occur when juvenile males that have been removed from a group and are not yet ready to take on the dominate male become opportunists and wreck havoc on neighboring groups of animals. The complex hierarchies that form within these macro cosmism of society are nothing short of amazing. It is very intriguing as to why this phenomenon takes place with such regularity. There are certain prerequisites that have to take place when it comes to the development of organizations such as gangs and fraternities. First, they need an existing organizational structure with some type of governing body. For gangs, it is the city, neighborhood, or township; for fraternities, it is some sort of academic institution. Next is the development of a subculture within the mainstream culture that is created by the institution itself. Richard T. Schaefer (2012): “Culture is the totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior. It includes the ideas, values, and artifacts…of groups of people” (p. 53). Culture changes as groups evolve concepts like dialect, slang, and types of terminology develop within established cultural norms to develop subcultures. Rules, codes of conduct, and expectations shift as well and often deviate and conflict with established norms set by the larger institution.
When it comes to establishing social norms, fraternities and gangs have striking similarities. Though members of both groups come from opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to socioeconomic backgrounds, both types of organizations are mirror images of each other. Both groups have similar rites of passage or initiation rituals that involve some form of hazing, public shaming, or embarrassment. Fraternities often have pledge processes that involve completing variety of set goals and tasks like memorizing founding fathers, the Greek alphabet, code of conduct, and mission statements. Other tasks may be to complete physical activities similar to boot camp for the military and, in some cases, paddling. Gangs have similar processes such as the concept of “putting in work,” which involves committing a series of crimes to prove your loyalty to the gang. Other events include “jumping in,” where new gang members are initiated by fighting several gang members at the same time for an allotted time frame, which usually consists anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Gangs and fraternities rely on recruiting the young and sometimes vulnerable individuals to become part of their organizations. Many prospective gang members grow up in very deprived socioeconomic communities. They often come from broken homes with no fathers and little support from families. They are often lonely and seek the acceptance, attention, and guidance from anyone willing to give it to them. Many times, it may be an older friend from the neighborhood who often takes them under their wing similar to a mentor-mentee relationship. They show them the love and respect they are often lacking. The same holds true for first year college students that feel the same type of isolation and thirst to be accepted. They usually do not come from the same socioeconomic areas, but feel the same kind of pain and loneliness. For many college students, this is their first time away from home, leaving the comfort and support of their immediate families. First-time college students seek the same kind of guidance and something to connect to. Essentially, fraternities and gangs become surrogate families, filling that emotional void and the need to associate with someone who simply knows more and provides guidance. Potential associates or wannabes crave this sense of security.
Demonstrating membership is very important to both organizations and developing that feeling of respect and trust is critical. Making your affiliation known is essential whether it is hand signs or grips, colors, bandanas, and letters being part of something larger than you is paramount. In many respects, being responsible for someone else is critical to the growth of the organization. Ownership is key. There are more similarities than differences, and these are the reasons why these two structures have seen success for many years. In gangs, juveniles have what are referred to as “big homies” more experienced gangbangers who guide new inductees or “pups.” In fraternities, they have what are referred to as big brothers that train and guide neophytes, new or first year brothers who were initially selected by their pledge masters. These relationships are simply mentor-mentee relationships in different forums. The key to the success and growth of fraternities and gangs are these one to one relationships that provide a certain level of security to young and aspiring members. The following is where most may consider the difference between gangs and fraternities the largest but still have staggering similarities. The way both organizations measure success are on opposites ends of the spectrum but successful all the same.
In many towns and cities, gangs are the single biggest and fastest-growing threat. They have even infiltrated many of our American suburbs. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there are nearly 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs with approximately 1.4 million members that are criminally active in the United States. It has been reported that as high as one in three inmates are affiliated with a gang. Gangs are responsible in some areas for up to 90 percent of violent crime. Many of the most violent criminals are affiliated with gangs constituting upward of 50 percent of the top wanted criminals around the world. As per Do Something.org almost half (46 percent) of students in public schools reported a street gang presence, with 21 percent of students in suburban schools and 15 percent in rural schools reported the presence of street gangs reporting the same. Gangs’ success is rooted in their recruitment techniques of younger members: more mature and experienced gang members selling an idealized lifestyle offering the attention, structure, and protection of a family. Though many of the concepts of providing structure, attention, and protection of a family unit is the same in fraternities, measurement of success may be a bit different but just as impressive.
The following are some interesting statistics on fraternities and sororities retrieved from the university of Missouri-Kansas City Web site:
“Nationally, 71% of all fraternity and sorority members graduate, while only 50% of non-members graduate. All fraternity and sorority members have a higher grade point average when compared to the overall collegiate enrollment. Since 1910, 85% of the Supreme Court Justices have been fraternity or sorority members. 85% of the Fortune 500 key executives are fraternity or sorority members. Of the nation’s 50 largest corporations, 43 are headed by fraternity or sorority members and 76% of Who’s Who in America are fraternity or sorority members. All but two Presidents since 1825 have been in a fraternity. 70% of the U.S. Presidents’ cabinet members since 1900 have been fraternity or sorority members. 76% of U.S. Senators are fraternity or sorority members as well.”
Feelings associated with gangs and fraternities are complex and the reasons for joining them are many. We can take a page from their playbook and essentially turn it to our advantage. The way these organizations recruit their members should be the same way we recruit our students to stay in school and participate in programs such as peer mentorship. We need to make it every bit as appealing to stay in school and receive an education as it is to joining a gang or fraternity. Peer mentorship is a valuable tool that should be used in every high school in America, giving leverage to parents and educators alike in the ongoing struggle to keep students off the streets and in school.
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Martin Luther King Jr.