The Benefits of Friends

Inside the Complicated World of Today's Sororities and Fraternities

By Jana Mathews

344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7210-6
    Published: September 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6964-9
    Published: September 2022
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6965-6
    Published: August 2022

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In 2011, Jana Mathews's career took a surprising turn. What began as an effort for a newly minted college professor to get to know her students turned into an invitation to be initiated into a National Panhellenic Conference sorority and serve as its faculty advisor. For the next seven years, Mathews attended sorority and fraternity chapter meetings, Greek Week competitions, leadership retreats, and mixers and formals. She also counseled young men and women through mental health crises, experiences of sexual violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. Combining her personal observations with ethnographic field analysis and research culled from the fields of sociology, economics, and cognitive psychology, this thought-provoking book examines how white Greek letter organizations help reshape the conceptual boundaries of society's most foundational relationship categories—including friend, romantic partner, and family.

Mathews illuminates how organizations manipulate campus sex ratios to foster hookup culture, broker romantic relationships, transfer intimacy to straight same-sex friends, and create fictive family units that hoard social and economic opportunity for their members. In their idealized form, sororities and fraternities function as familial surrogates that tether their members together in economically and socially productive ways. In their most warped manifestations, however, these fictive familial bonds reinforce insularity, entrench privilege, and—at times—threaten physical safety.

About the Author

Jana Mathews is professor of English at Rollins College.
For more information about Jana Mathews, visit the Author Page.


"Mathews digs deep into a world below the surface of publicly marketed university life, engaging readers in conversation regarding the future of these organizations, which both critics and advocates of Greek life can appreciate. Mathews brings together research, thoughtful reflection, and personal accounts with a captivating style. Campus leaders will value the opportunity for campus discussion alongside potential research topics with an in-depth bibliography for students. This is necessary reading for higher education professionals . . . . Essential."

"Mathews didn’t want to make an argument for whether to abolish Greek-life

organizations, as some have recently called for. She instead dove deeply into how fraternity and sorority relationships can uplift students while also perpetuating harm—with the goal of prompting a more informed conversation about the future of the groups."—The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Engrossing and smart, Mathews's fresh insights on contemporary, white, Greek letter organizations left me thinking even after I had put aside the book."—Diana B. Turk, author of Bound by a Mighty Vow

"Mathews's engaging book will appeal to the Greek system's biggest critics and fans. Astute and persuasive, Mathews helps outsiders understand fraternities and sororities' perennial appeal; she also shows how they can mend their ways."—Nicholas L. Syrett, author of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities