“The Company He Keeps” is one of the first attempts to chronicle the history of one of the most complex cliques in American life: the predominantly white, Protestant male fraternity.
In slightly more than 400 pages, University of Northern Colorado professor Nicholas L. Syrett traces the evolution of these clubs and their role in preserving wealth and connections, as well as the way these groups have influenced our definition of masculinity in America.
“There have been a couple of very good books on [fraternities] in the last 15 years, but they haven’t been historical. I was a little surprised when I decided to do this that someone had not written a history of these organizations from a professional and historical standpoint,” explains Syrett.
But it is the later pages of “Company” that are most compelling for contemporary readers, as Syrett diagnoses a disturbing trend that arose somewhere around 1970 in these Greek clubs. As white male preeminence was challenged by the emergence of various social movements, Syrett found that the culture of fraternities moved toward degrading women in the pursuit of maintaining their own perception of masculinity.
“Reading newspaper accounts that describe a group of men doing pretty atrocious things to women, I think we have become accustomed to the idea that it just kind of happens,” says Syrett. “My basic question is: Why would men want to do something like that? What is the history of organizations that seem to lead to an expectance of behavior like this? Where does it come from, and why?”