Fraternities and sororitiesWhile the term fraternity can be used to describe any number of social organizations, including the Lions Club and the Shriners, Fraternities and sororities are most commonly known as social organizations of higher education students in the United States and Canada. Fraternities are all-male or mixed-gender; the female-only equivalent it called a sorority. Fraternities and sororities are also referred to as student corporations or academic corporations or simply corporations.
There are various types of fraternities: social, professional, and honor fraternities. The most recognizable (and cliched) form of fraternity is the college social fraternity, as lampooned by John Belushi in the film Animal House. More so than social sororities, many social fraternities maintain their own housing, usually overseen by an alumni corporation or its respective national fraternity organization. Some fraternities today are alcohol-free (referred to as "dry"), and focus on building friendship, community service, sound learning, and leadership qualities in their membership, though some are purely "social".
While the purposes of fraternities vary wildly, most of them maintain a ritual system that is highly symbolic in nature and kept a closely guarded secret. Some signs point to common ancestry in both sorority and fraternity ritual, but most is likely derived from Masonic order ritual.
The Kappa Alpha Society was founded in 1825 at Union College, Schenectady New York. It is the oldest college fraternity and was the basic model for the U.S. fraternity system. It operates today in both the United States and Canada.