What parents and students should know about fraternities

Frats: What parents & students should know

A new book gives a rare, up-close look at fraternity life in America. Author Alexandra Robbins interviewed hundreds of fraternity brothers and alumni and followed the journeys of two young men for an entire year for "Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men."

Robbins takes a close look at the highly scrutinized culture around pledging and explores both the negative and positive qualities of Greek life. She also offers some practical tips for young men who are considering joining a frat, as well as parents.

Robbins told "CBS This Morning" she purposely chose her two characters because they weren't the kind of people we usually see associated with frat life in media and pop culture.

"I chose them both because they were smart, earnest, nice fraternity members … I wanted characters who parents would see their sons in and in whom students would see themselves in so they could better relate to what it's like the college guy today," Robbins said.

According to Robbins, between 2005 and 2017, at least 72 young men died in fraternity-related incidents. Many of those deaths were related to the practice of hazing which, in theory, is about creating a bond between new brothers. Robbins suggests fraternities replace the pledge period with a different bonding activity.

"For example, a tough, extended community service project that's not run by fraternity brothers so there is no hierarchy," Robbins said.

In her book, Robbins also argues that the 1978 movie "Animal House" and laws that raised the drinking age to 21 helped spur the popularity of fraternities and shaped their purpose on campuses.

"Fraternities were actually dwindling in popularity until 'Animal House' came out. Then the movie made students think that they were supposed to drink and party in college. Then soon afterward, the drinking age was raised and even more students flocked to fraternity houses, whether or not they were Greek," she said.  

If you're a parent with a child heading off to college soon, Robbins has a few recommendations for how to prepare them:

1. Visit campus on a party night to see if they're comfortable with the vibe, whether or not they're interested in joining a fraternity or sorority.

2. Ask cultural, co-ed or LGBTQ groups about a particular fraternity if you're considering joining. They can tell you whether that chapter treats people with respect.

3. Parents and students should communicate openly during high school and college about drinking, sex and fraternity life.