The Most Notorious Fraternities in the United States

Classic fraternity bro I
Classic fraternity bro I | © Philip Larson/Flickr
Elizabeth Nicholas

Fraternities are an inextricable part of American college life, immortalized in classic films like Animal House and Van Wilder. And while the all-male social organizations can be a space for positive development and friendship, when things go wrong in fraternities, they can go very wrong. Here are the worst cases of fraternities abusing their members, and hurting their reputations in the process.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon

Fraternities have always been known to be booze-centric, but one Arizona State fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, had its status revoked after a series of tragic and preventable deaths due to binge drinking and hazing. In 2012, a 19-year-old pledging the fraternity drowned in a river after binge drinking at an event. The next year, a pledge was abandoned at the emergency room with a blood alcohol content of .471 (.08 is drunk, .5 is dead) by his “brothers” in the chapter, who, fearing repercussions, left him with only a post-it-note reading “I’ve been drinking and I need some help.”

Phi Delta Theta

Emory University’s Phi Delta Theta chapter got in hot water thanks to grotesque pledging practices, including force-feeding “unusual amounts” of items “not typical for eating”, mandating they participate in “fight clubs”, and requiring them to sleep on the floor of the fraternity basement in nothing but their boxers.

Alpha Gamma Rho

If you’re drinking underage and taking drugs and other controlled substances, you might want to refrain from firing shots from an AK-47 to attract attention to yourself. But members of Alpha Gamma Rho at Arkansas State University did precisely that. The cops came, and 17 members and their friends were cited on charges of underage drinking, possession of drug paraphenelia, and possession of a controlled substance.

Beta Theta Phi

One of the oldest fraternities in the U.S., Beta Theta Phi is arguably also one of the worst. The Carnegie Mellon chapter was suspended from campus when it was discovered they had been taking sexually explicit photos and videos of their members and their guests inside their house, and then sharing them with each other via email.

Alpha Delta

As the inspiration for Animal House, you might expect Dartmouth frat boys to be exceptionally wild. Unfortunately, Dartmouth’s Alpha Delta chapter also has a history of being exceptionally racist. In 2013, the fraternity threw a “gang-themed” party, after already having found themselves in trouble for an earlier “ghetto-themed” party, in which members wore afros and carried around toy guns.

Omega Psi Phi

Most hazing deaths result from pledges drinking too much, but the tragic case of Omega Psi Phi pledge Joseph T. Green, at Tennessee State University in Antioch, actually came from an overly demanding workout. How demanding? It was too much for a US Navy veteran, who also had asthma. He died from an acute asthma attack in the middle of the local high school’s track.

Zeta Beta Tau

Zeta Beta Tau’s most shameful moment came with the death of member Benjamin Klein, of Alfred University’s chapter. In 2002, Klein was accosted by fellow members at a Syracuse hotel, tied up in his hotel room with duct tape, hit in the head with a boot, and beaten, all for “revealing certain initiation practices,” at a national fraternity convention. Several days later, Klein intentionally overdosed on prescription painkillers and jumped into a lake behind the fraternity house. A judge found his assailants responsible for his suicide.

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