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Fraternities can make you dumber

A 19-year-old freshman at Baruch College in New York just wanted to join a fraternity. So, along with a bunch of his future brothers, he headed earlier this month to rural Pennsylvania, where he died of a head injury in a barbaric initiation ritual, which entailed being blinded folded and carrying a backpack loaded with sand while being shoved and pummeled in the freezing dark.

A few weeks earlier, another 19-year-old pledge at a fraternity known as Gobbler House at Wilmington College in Ohio was subjected to a different, but equally brutal ceremony, which included lashings with knotted towels. He was lucky: He only lost a testicle.

By now, the horrors of hazing at fraternities (not to mention sexual assaults) are well known, and offer persuasive reasons for colleges and universities to distance themselves. But research provides another reason: fraternities make students dumb — or at least dumber than their classmates. That isn’t only at odds with the goal of higher education itself but also a depressing departure from the original purpose of fraternities.

Most of the research about fraternities and academic performance comes to the same conclusion: Membership in a fraternity is consistent with lower grades and diminished intellectual capacity. (Sororities are a different story; researchers haven’t found an equally strong link between membership and grades.) Just why the link exists is the subject of speculation. Here’s a possibility: Maybe it’s because fraternity members drink so much alcohol? One study by the Harvard University School of Public Health found that 86 percent of students who live in fraternity houses were binge drinkers, almost double the rate of other students.

Another theory: Time that could be used for studying is spent on fraternity activities.

Yet another possibility is that fraternity members skip more classes than other students, and lost class time tends to correlate with lower grades.

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