Life Deconstructed: When Greek life turns into a horrible tragedy

Maria Jiunta Heck - Life Deconstructed | May 18th, 2017 9:32 pm

A trillion years ago, when I attended a little vessel of academia called Penn State University, the Greek life was an integral piece of the college experience for many students, not including myself. I never understood the allure. I still do not.

I cannot wrap my head around the concept of enforced fraternization, aside from Circle Time in kindergarten. Just choosing sides for kickball in elementary school caused me anxiety. I didn’t want to be left out! I didn’t want anyone else to be left out! Worse yet — being chosen last! That leaves a mark! Yet, I would never form a circle of alliances to protect myself against solitude and not being one of the chosen.

Euripides said: “It’s human. We all put self-interest first.”

And that, my friends, is what college fraternity life has become: a fishbowl of arrogance, humiliation, degradation and abuse. It’s a far cry from Circle Time.

Fraternities began more than 200 years ago simply to gather students and debate subjects not discussed in class. They were formed strictly to invite congeniality and promote fellowship, benevolence and friendship. That was then.

My, how the mighty Greeks have fallen.

Obviously, not all fraternities today display a flagrant disregard for human life.

But Beta Theta Pi did.

The recent, horrific event allegedly committed inside the stately, stone and ivy-covered walls of Beta Theta Pi in the insular world of Penn State has been front page news these last few weeks: the unfathomable hazing death of a young pledge as his “brothers” fed him enough alcohol to fell a team of oxen in a stupid drinking game called “The Gauntlet.”

According to police reports, this unconscious, inebriated student tumbled down a 15-foot staircase, fracturing his skull and rupturing his spleen. His “brothers” retrieved him and flung him onto a couch, anchoring him with backpacks full of books so he would not roll onto the floor.

In other words, they did nothing to prevent his death. Had they alerted 911 when they first discovered his limp body at the bottom of the stairs, his life may have been spared.

As we learned from the earliest episodes in Greek and Roman history, groups closing ranks often display a historically classic case of self-preservation and entitlement — always looking out for oneself and a complete disregard for the weak and dying.

Sadly, this is not the only instance of hazing-to-death. There have been several cases over the years (every one was preventable), each involving some hopeful young man, striving to be accepted, praying to get through the pledging process intact, craving to belong.

Just to belong.

I’m told students join the Greek life to ensure a feeling of constant camaraderie, friendship and acceptance. I almost get it. Who the hell doesn’t want to belong? No one likes being on the outside peering in. But why must those who seek this identity be tortured in order to wrap themselves in a blanket of acceptance?

The Greek life. It can be as unsavory as it was in the time of Plato, who declared, “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”

It’s a world filled with secrecy and tragedy and complicity and egregiousness.

People: you can find brotherhood and a sense of belonging elsewhere.

Anywhere else.

There is no glory in this Greek life. There is merely tragedy in the ending.

Maria Jiunta Heck

Life Deconstructed

Maria Jiunta Heck, of West Pittston, is a mother of three and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life. Send Maria an email at