No, I am not in a fraternity.
However, I did get involved in the rush and pledge process with a fraternity last spring. When you arrive in the fall, you will have an opportunity to get involve in an overwhelming amount of activities on and off campus. Among these opportunities is what we call “Greek Life” – you probably know of it as fraternities and sororities.
When you move in, you will likely have brothers from fraternities helping the freshmen get all of their stuff in the building. Part of this is service, but they also want to get their name out to the freshmen. Almost all of the fraternities will “dorm storm,” or go through the freshmen residence halls passing out “rush calendars” and inviting you to their rush events. Rush is a period (usually about two weeks) where fraternities hold open-invitation events with their brothers. Some of these events are at their houses and some involve going some place. You’ll hear about movie nights, poker tournaments, throwing old televisions off of roofs, cliff jumping, barbecues, trips to play laser tag… the list goes on and on. These are called rush events. The general purpose is 1) for you to get a feeling if you feel like you get along well with the brothers and 2) for the brothers to get a feeling if you fit in well with them. Towards the end of rush weeks, you may be extended a “bid.” This means that the brothers have agreed (usually unanimously, if I’m not mistaken) to invite you to pledge. If you get a bid, you will be invited to a bid dinner where you can sign your bid. From here, the pledge process begins.
Pledging is a period of education and continued camaraderie. For most fraternities, pledging runs from the end of rush (mid-September for fall pledge classes) to the end of the semester. During the pledge process, you will be educated in the values and traditions of your fraternity. You will do activities and challenges with your pledge class (the students who are pledging the fraternity at the same time) that will build the brotherhood between you. I won’t go into specifics, as many fraternities take pride in the secretive nature of their pledging process, but you will learn a lot about the history and traditions of the fraternity as well as get to know the brothers and pledge brothers.
When the fraternity feels that you have shown that you are worthy to be a brother, you are extended membership and you “get your letters.” At this point, you are a member of the fraternity!
I wouldn’t describe it as necessarily easy to get in to a fraternity. Getting a bid is something that can be accomplished relatively easily if you fit in well with the brothers and they like you. Some fraternities are more selective than others. The pledge process is time consuming and challenging, but your pledge brothers will help you along the way.
Hazing is illegal and looked down upon. The fraternity that I pledged, and most others as far as I know, allow pledges to abstain from an activity if they feel that it will harm them (physically, mentally, academically, etc.). Fraternities know that if they are caught hazing pledges, they can have their charter revoked in addition to consequences with the school and law. Does it happen? Well, I haven’t tried pledging all of the fraternities, so I can’t be confident in saying no.
I hope this answers your questions. There will be events in the fall run by the IFC (Interfraternity Council) to help inform you about the process further (though I gave pretty complete details) and to provide you with information about the fraternities at RPI, of which there are 28.
Last thing: I want to explain briefly that I opted to de-pledge from the fraternity that I was pledging last spring because I decided that I would enjoy my time at college more in other ways. This was a personal decision, something that I decided wasn’t right for me. I value the concept of a fraternity and think that they make great contributions to the campus environment.