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Moral development in fraternity members: A case study

Robert Emmett Mathiasen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Research on the effects of Greek life on college student moral development has concluded that membership in these organizations does little to enhance moral development. However, this qualitative case study of one fraternity found otherwise. ^ A fraternity (given the pseudonym “Alpha Alpha”) at a large Midwestern university was studied. The fraternity was chosen based upon information gathered from student affairs personnel at the university. Multiple sources of information were used in this study (documents, interviews, observations). The data collected provided support for Alpha Alpha's reputation as a positive influence on members' moral development. Four major themes emerged from the data collected: (1) recruiting quality students, (2) upholding house tradition and reputation, (3) emphasizing moral development, and (4) encouraging community service. ^ The influence of Alpha Alpha as a reference group and college peer group was quite evident in the first two themes. The third theme related closely to the moral developmental models proposed by Kohlberg (1958) and later Rest (1986), with their emphasis on fairness, human rights, and social cooperation. The fourth theme favored a Gilligan (1977) orientation, with the emphasis on caring for others and feeling responsible for their welfare. Importantly, the characteristics of Alpha Alpha were effective in maintaining the cultural and moral values of its constituent membership, i.e., the values its entering members brought with them to the campus. Its distance from the main campus, the impact of the Bible study group, the continued contact with the member's family and home community, criteria for selection of members, and senior mentoring of new members were all major factors in sustaining existing values. ^ This case study provides useful information for colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities, and college student affairs professionals, especially those working in Greek life. Further research is needed in the following areas: (1) a clearer definition of values promoted by fraternity life; (2) a critical examination of the contribution fraternities make to undergraduate student development; and (3) more qualitative studies (specifically ethnographies) of what exactly occurs in the fraternal organization. ^

Subject Area

Education, Sociology of|Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Developmental|Education, Curriculum and Instruction|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Mathiasen, Robert Emmett, "Moral development in fraternity members: A case study" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9991998.