Fraternities: Lives lost in search of connections | Inquirer Opinion

Fraternities: Lives lost in search of connections

The death of Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig, in the hands of his so-called “brods,” is another addition to the long list of hazing victims since 1954. Despite the existence of an anti-hazing law since 1995 with the penalty of reclusion perpetua, or at least 40 years imprisonment in case the victim dies, fraternities continue their tradition of testing the loyalty and willingness of a neophyte to join the brotherhood through hazing.

Sense of pride, solidarity. In his research, Robert Cialdini found that individuals who exert more effort or endure more hardship to achieve a goal place a higher worth on it than those who attain the same thing effortlessly. In a fraternity, neophytes, or pledgees who survive the initiation rites together become thick as thieves. Fraternities see this as crucial to group identification, and claim that it promotes social cohesion. They also contend that inflicting pain in initiation breaks down an individual’s sense of self and builds him into a stronger, more disciplined person. This can help create a sense of pride in the fraternity, as the hazing survivor feels he owes his strength and discipline to the initiation he endured.


Patriarchy and social capital. The idea that discipline and inflicting pain will make an individual tough is underpinned by patriarchy. It argues that if you want to be a part of us, you must undergo this initiation rite, which tests your character and develops discipline. Patriarchy promotes the mindset that discipline develops loyalty. There is a notion that being toughened by one’s upbringing is similar to joining fraternities, which makes you tough because of pain, aggression, and violence. But James Gilligan suggests that aggression and violence are often rooted in powerlessness or insecurity, rather than a true desire to dominate or harm others. Thus, logically speaking, the long tradition of initiation in fraternities lies in the insecurity of the self, and compensating for one’s lack of confidence through the infliction of pain.

Consistent with Gilligan, Pierre Bourdieu conceptualized social capital, which refers to the resources and benefits individuals and groups can access through their social connections and networks. Fraternities can provide access to valuable resources, such as information about internships and job opportunities, academic support, and social support. This is how they convince members to join their organization during recruitment—the promise of connections. The promise to my probinsyano friend taking up law is that they can help during the bar review with questions leaked because of connections with a league of lawyers. They also have “brods” in the legal system who can jumpstart his career, they claimed.


Education and fraternities. Why are college students joining fraternities? Historical materialism explains the economic and material factors that have contributed to the development and persistence of fraternities. One key economic factor is the country’s increasing commercialization of higher education. As colleges and universities become more market-oriented, they must compete for students and resources. This has led to fraternities leveraging their social and cultural capital to attract members and secure funding from alumni and donors, enabling them to expand their influence on college campuses. Another economic factor is the changing nature of work and employment in the Philippines. As the job market has become more competitive and uncertain, many college students have turned to fraternities to build social networks and gain job opportunities through alumni connections.

Fraternities have also become a source of social capital for students lacking economic and cultural capital, such as those from low income or minority backgrounds. Thus, students who often label themselves “sanay sa hirap” join fraternities because they have nothing to lose. To their mind, pain is only temporary, but the glory is forever. Elitism in education drives one to join an organization that promises connections after graduation. The competitiveness in searching for jobs makes them look for another avenue to compete—in this case, strong connections. For the desperate poor or those on the fringes of society, joining fraternities is the answer. They’re willing to take the road less traveled, even if it means one foot in the grave. In fraternities, we see the all-too-common tragedy of lives lost in search of connections.


Sensei M. Adorador is with the faculty of the College of Education at Carlos Hilado Memorial State University, Negros Occidental. He is member of the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy.

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