New members of Delta Sigma Phi memorize the Preamble to the Constitution prior to their initiation. Many forget it shortly thereafter, and few are required to or ever take time to analyze its meaning, which is strange; It explains the expectations of membership quite clearly.
I have written before that I may differ with some in my fraternity who wish to adopt a “creed.” I don’t really care if we adopt a creed; I just wonder if it is a relevant endeavor beyond fitting in with other fraternities. We suggest in our ritual ceremonies that Delta Sig offers more than a creed – it’s a way of life.
Questions about the Preamble came up in several meetings with potential founding fathers as I and other staff would establish new chapters of Delta Sig. We had the Preamble printed on the inside cover of our folders, and the opening lines generated so many questions that we removed and replaced it with other information in subsequent prints of the folders. I was always a little miffed by this, and my concern was that we chose to hide a part of who we are, maybe because we weren’t well prepared to explain who we are.
So, I hope that this post is useful to new member educators and advisors of my fraternity and inspiring to educators of other fraternities. It is by no means a definitive interpretation of the Preamble, as this is not the definitive fraternity blog, but if you don’t have time or the interest to work it out then you may like what I offer below.
Our Preamble can be broken down into 5 key expectations of membership. They are as follows.
That the belief in God is essential to our welfare
This is the sticking point. “Do I need to believe in God to join this Fraternity?”
In terms of our written standards and expectations – no, but in another, less specific way, yes.
We were established as a fraternity admitting Jewish and Christian students at a time when fraternities admitted only one or the other. Our founders believed in a wider-reaching brotherhood, believing that the common ancestry of all men was of great importance, and that collaboration between men beyond the invisible boundaries of the surrounding society (#CultureHarmonyFriendship) would result in a better world.
So you do not need to believe in God as it is interpreted in any one religious text, but you must understand and value the common ancestry of [hu]man[s], and the equality that such a belief demands of us. Equality is a recurring theme in the teachings of our fraternity.
The liberal arts system of education was established as an expression of the first amendment to the Constitution of these United States. That same amendment protects the rights of any individual to associate with any group with whom they share beliefs, so long as they don’t violate the rights of other individuals.
We owe our existence to our constitutional government and to the school systems established to educate and prepare young men to benefit the world. Therefore, it is expected of a Delta Sig that he protect our constitutional government and our rights (which protect our existence) and support our education systems (which nurture our memberships) so that Delta Sigma Phi (and other fraternities) may continue to proliferate.
I am convinced that there is no line of work that can quite compare to that of working at a fraternity headquarters. I spent five-plus years with one.
Add those five-plus years to my time as an undergraduate member (and office-holder) and my fraternity experience is closing in on a decade!
In my time on Delta Sigma Phi’s staff I worked as a recruiter to establish new chapters, I consulted for several chapters, and managed our growth and chapter services operations.
In that same amount of time I learned to make bow ties, started two fraternity-related blogs (Hey! That’s where you are now!), moved to Charleston, SC and back, and read a bunch of Ron Paul stuff. . . what a whirlwind!
My opinions or advice may not be worth your dollar, but here are some things I’ve learned working for my fraternity’s HQ.
Leadership Is A Skill Set Requiring Practice
There are habits and practices utilized to help people become great leaders, and it pays to make those a more regular part of your own actions. That is what the majority of leadership programming teaches.
Real world practice is required to make any use of your skills. The saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is true. Many of us think that attending dozens of programs has turned us into experts of leadership, but expertise requires practical application.
If that were not true, Hermione would be a better witch than Harry a wizard. . . For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter nerds: Would you rather a learned and practiced surgeon perform your facelift or one who has read all the books on facelifts with minimal practice?
We have many “experts” with little to no practical application in our field. Recall – the average age of a person working with fraternities/sororities is 28. Many leadership programs focus on individualizing which practices or values best suit a person, but don’t set basic standards for what it takes to be considered a great, ethical leader. To “model the way,” as they say, we set an expectation of what is required of a great leader and the common ethical standards a great leader should exemplify.
The Fraternity/Sorority World Lacks Real Competition
The coordinated efforts of fraternities and sororities to improve their position in society, to improve the fact that they are some of the most expensive things to insure next to nuclear power plants, and to improve their ability to “benefit their communities” have either failed or flatlined.
After years of experiencing “The Fraternal Values Movement,” as a student and several more years as a professional fraternity staff member, I can say that very little of what we teach, spend money on or require seems to make additional headway in addressing our greatest challenges. The people who choose what’s acceptable have agreed that service, philanthropy, leadership and values education are the way to make the Rolling Stone not hate us anymore. . . We we are still waiting for that to be the case.
People I’ve known through work put an intense focus on communities at the expense of individual organizations. College campuses establish “common values” that all fraternities and sororities share, effectively smudging the individuality of their community members. National organizations band together and speak in unison and talk up those same, self-depreciating publicity ploys to negate bad news.
Real competition would mean that fraternities compare themselves to others based on the output and quality of their memberships. To compete, we’d have to better support our network of members in their professional lives and students would need to stop recruiting fools. . . problems largely solved. Continued
What a guy right?
Simon Sinek may have led one of the most insightful and impactful TED Talks with regard to Greek Life. I am unsure of how big a deal Simon Sinek is outside of my own circles, but his name seems to have gotten around.
Let me start by saying that I’d be a fool to disagree with Simon’s understanding of leadership and messaging. I think his concept of starting with “why,” then moving to “how,” and finally “what” is a recipe for marketing and planning success that our fraternities and sororities have yet to experience, and I think it was wise to use popular examples such as Apple and Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s my issue with Simon Sinek, this TED Talk, and his associated book “Start With Why?”:
Everyone is starting and stopping at why and nothing is getting done (or done well anyway).
I can’t effectively estimate how many times I’ve heard a man or woman explain the “golden circle” in a rushed interpretation of Simon’s TED Talk and completely ignore the whole “how” and “what” parts, but it happens a lot . . . like almost every time.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the person is a student, recent graduate, “doctor,” or CEO; they all teach it incompletely, most of the time, and it’s because we try to downplay the “how” and “what” to instead focus on the often-overlooked “why” (overlooked pre-Simon Sinek anyway). Here’s a breakdown:
- Phase 1 is determining a “why,” yes, but there are two more circles to get through. . .
- If you don’t figure out the “how,” Phase 2, and put an equal if not heightened amount of time into determining the “how,” then your product is less likely to align with your “why.”
- If you don’t spend time using the “how” to get to the “what,” your “why” and “how” are ultimately worthless.
Apple, one of Sinek’s examples in the video above, does not just say, “We do everything to be different,” and then magically obtain a killer product out of thin air. They don’t just make their products “user friendly;” anyone can do that.
Being a “different” consumer electronics company is their “why,” sure, but that took all of maybe 1 minute for Apple’s founders to determine as a good enough “why.”
How was Apple going to be a different consumer electronics company? It’s simple: Apple’s competitors focus on pushing consumer electronics to their technical limits. More processing power, more programs, better graphics and dozens of options to upgrade your device.
Apple focused on pushing consumer electronics to the limits of practicality. They focus on the effect of tech design on a person’s ability to pick up and use advanced technology with ease.
Steve Jobs, the brainchild behind Apple’s marketing and uniqueness, was obsessed with the curves of his Mercedes Benz. He felt they gave his vehicle a smooth, effortless look that made his ride more enjoyable than any other luxury vehicle.
He hired engineers to give the same curvature and simplicity to his computer products and the operating system within each of those computer products as one would expect the interior of a Mercedes Benz to compliment the design of its exterior.
Apple paid careful, obsessive attention to “how” they did things differently (the why) to achieve approachable computers (the what).
Rather than pay equal attention to the “why,” “how,” and “what,” we obsess over the why, and teach to our students that they need to “start with why.” Then, after we have focus-grouped and turned our “why” into some bland version of “let’s not suck,” we churn out “what’s” and call them “progress,” regardless of whether or not they’ve been effective in helping us progress.
Want to know why there is so much turnover in our field? Care to ask why a school can’t seem to keep policies or programs in place for longer than a few years without major overhauls? It’s because the professionals in charge know their “why” (typically something lofty and ridiculous like changing the world through frat bros) and piece together a “what” out of thin air (a policy banning single-sex groups or fifteen community values which cover the spectrum of positive publicity).
The fix is simple: spend more time in the painstaking, difficult exploration of the “how.”
Knowing why you do something is critical, but it’s not that hard to figure out.
Spend more time in contemplation, or tinkering, or whatever floats your boat, to determine how you do something so that it is uniquely yours and serves as an extension of why you want to do it.
Programs should not be created and launched overnight. Policies too should not be created or changed overnight.
With every sexual assault, or shooting, or hazing incident, or discrimination incident, our audience demands immediate action and we cave, often doing nothing but suppress the problem.
As people who claim to train America’s future leaders, we should find value in restraint and patience. We should teach our students that it is okay not to cave to the pressure of an audience. We should teach our students to be thoughtful not only in why they do something, but how they go about doing it.
Until we stop ignoring “how” at the expense of the more exciting, more marketable, “why” and “what,” we will continue to tread water when it comes to making ourselves relevant to modern college students and overcoming our greatest challenges.
DREAMS LEAD TO PLANS
What Mr. Sinek couldn’t capture with his clever, share-worthy quote designed to summarize his presentation (not for lack of knowledge, but to the detriment of his following), is that the “I Have a Dream” speech was all a part of a plan. A plan that took far more time and effort than determining the dream itself.
We are all told that joining a fraternity or sorority will open opportunities. Many of us got our jobs via connections we have made through our organizations, but many more are limited by the stigma of having the word “fraternity” anywhere on their résumé.
Here are some quick tips to turn your organizations from a potential liability to a great talking point.
1. Start With The Job
When listing leadership or work positions, choose to organize your information in the following manner:
Title – Time Period – Organization.
The important part of being President was in doing things that presidents do, not in the fact that it was for a fraternity or sorority chapter.
I often tell chapters that when raising money they should remove “Delta Sigma Phi” from things they use to market or sell because it makes them more approachable. There are many people who are immediately turned off when they see Greek letters, delay that sting by leading with your position.
2. Bold What You Want Heard
Okay so an employer will now see that you were a “President” in 2015, but let’s draw even more attention away from your scary fraternity or sorority name: bold to highlight your attributes.
Your résumé should be no longer than one page if you are a recent graduate. Reviewers spend 1-2 seconds scanning your résumé to determine if they want to read it, so there needs to be a way to draw attention to where it’s needed.
Don’t embolden any old word, willy-nilly. Use it as an organizational tool in the same way you’d use bullet points or indentations. We want this to guide a reviewer to relevant information, not to be used as a cheap gimmick like glitter to make you seem special.
President – 2015 – Delta Sigma Phi
President – 2015 – Delta Sigma Phi
By using bold to bring our your titles, someone can have an idea of your relevant experience. Now you just need to appropriately sell that experience. . .
3. Use Data, Not Job Descriptions
In an ideal world you contribute greatly to your organization. It is a typical practice to list 2-3 bullet points under each leadership position or job title, don’t let that space go to waste.
Rather than list a bunch of things that all chapter treasurers do (made an annual budget, managed $10,000), talk about what you did differently.
For example, while I was President, my Treasurer and I worked with a $400 budget to close a $18,000 budget shortfall and we didn’t cut a single activity during the term. The statistic is a part of a greater story. Simply saying that we managed a balanced budget doesn’t leave much room for elaboration. Stories make for more enjoyable conversations and are easier to recall than basic job descriptions.
Talk about the new program you built, how much more money you raised than before, how you cut expenses or how more of your members became involved. Use numbers and percentages.
4. Speak Human
No one knows what “Sergeant at Arms” means. It’s okay to replace it with a word that fits an American’s vocabulary.
Pretend your fraternity or sorority is a credit card company; use only the terms a credit card company man or woman would use. Call your brothers members, call your chapter your organization, call a philanthropy event a charity fundraiser and don’t mention ritual; there is no need for that to be on your résumé.
To put it simply do as much as you can to translate your fraternity or sorority experience into a language understood by most humans and organize your content in a way that highlights your talents and accomplishments rather than on whose behalf you were working.
I remember at one point hearing an alumnus stand and say to a crowded room, “We need to sing more.” I cannot remember if it was a member of my fraternity or if it happened while I attended a program or convention of another organization, but I must say that I agree.
Fraternity songs are mostly choral in nature and those modern fraternity songs I have heard, often rapped by undergraduates over canned beats, are terrible (No offense, but at the same time full offense). I have heard one great “modern” Delta Sig song written by a student at Transylvania to a country tune but it is not a part of our national album (yet).
Still, songs are an important part of the culture of many fraternities, and so I would like to pay greater attention to them.
“Songs of The Lute” – Delta Sigma Phi Track by Track “Review”
“The Lute” is my fraternity’s official songbook. I’m not sure there is a single copy of said book except for a decrepit copy on a piano at the central office. We do distribute CD’s to just about every visitor of said office, but in 2016 or so I uploaded the songs to SoundCloud while managing the national Twitter account and finding it a fun way to share the songs with more students/alumni.
A few new songs have been written and possibly re-recorded, but I am sticking with the CD tracks from the early 2000’s, recorded by members from the Millikin University chapter in Illinois and posted to the Fraternity’s SoundCloud. Without further adieu, the first Fraternity Man Album Review!
1. Dream Girl of Delta Sigma Phi
The best part about Dream Girl is it’s instructional introduction. “Gather around you Delta Sigs, it’s time for a serenade. . .” not only kicks off the song, but alerts nearby brothers that it is time to serenade a lucky loved one. There is only a piano in the background, but the ensemble does a good job with their harmonies and spice it up around 1:05 and with the closing note of the song. A slow jam for the ages.
Rating: Charming and timeless. Keep singing.
2. Emblem of Delta Sigma Phi
The most subtle middle finger imaginable to every other fraternity. Even the “boom boom” part is sung as if it were background chanting at an Orthodox church. Hearing this will be a surprise to many members who prefer to chant it as quickly as possible and at the top of their lungs, but singing it is a nice way to end a classier affair.
3. March of the Delta Sigs
A little sluggish at times, and the piano accompaniment gives me a visual image of an old nun trying to keep up with a rowdy choir of rugby players. The lyrics are fun, and this is definitely a great song to sing prior to an intramural game, but it’d be better without the piano.
Rating: A cappella version pls.
This is what I came here for. Old-timey lyrics which would never fit with hashtag culture, a chipper melody, and a soloist who is determined to become a star is everything I want in a fraternity song (even if he stumbles over the word “start” at one point). I beg of every chapter to learn this song and sing it on the way to your next service project. Leave the windows open too. The world deserves to hear this song.
Rating: The ultimate theme song for expansion teams and traveling consultants
5. Hail Delta Sigma Phi
I’m not here for this one. It is sung beautifully, but it seems a little cultish. The lyrics are riskay if only for the fact that they skirt the line of revealing secrets without even remotely revealing secrets. . . which is kind of punk rock.
Rating: A surefire way to turn off a potential member
Delta Sigma Phi Anthem
Could they no longer afford the piano? This is probably the most vocally interesting song of the bunch, and definitely one for a chapter with talent and time to practice, but I couldn’t understand some of the lyrics and it just seems dated. It would make for great background music or something to sing during an intermission of sorts, but I don’t see much use for it in modern fraternity life. What about this song made us call it an “anthem”? [pretend there’s a shrug emoji here]
Rating: The a cappella treatment that March of the Delta Sigs deserved
7. Delta Sig Rag
This is the kind of song you sing around a table with members each holding a stein of beer (or their legal drink of choice). It’s simple and has enough quirk to stand out from the rest of the bunch. The stops are fun and, HEY, the piano’s back!
Rating: Your last night as a senior before you graduate – this is what you sing
8. Here’s To Delta Sigma Phi
I don’t like this one. It is as if it’s trying to be Travelers but without the right momentum and no mention of having husky offspring to make it seem even remotely cheeky enough to be a fraternity jam. I can imagine that seasoned alumni members might like it, but I do not get why it exists.
MIA The Secret Seal (MIA)
Missing in action along with the newly written songs not yet on the publicly available Songs of the Lute is a tune famous among Delta Sigs: The Secret Seal. Unfortunately, many (mostly fraternity professionals) began to suggest that the song’s theme – some brothers advising another brother how to go about stealing a kiss from his true love – show a disregard for consent, and we did not include it in the SoundCloud upload.
A newer version was introduced at the 2017 Convention, but I don’t think it appeased the doubters In any case, The Secret Seal did serve as a unique tune for the album – offering a slower, almost somber melody with a joyous, chuckle-inducing ending, so perhaps we will find a more suitable replacement in due time.
Rating: “Guess you had to be there”
That’s it! Which fraternity should be next for an album review? Let me know in the comments below or via Twitter (@FraternityNik).
Like all things fraternity, the concept of national consultants visiting chapters every year would have been a foreign concept to our respective founding members. The earliest fraternity “staff” were often national secretaries whose primary responsibility was to maintain records and work with volunteers to determine if chapters were meeting the national standards set by governing boards.
You can see the remnants of these archaic systems in your fraternity or sorority governing documents. In many cases, the Executive Director/CEO is the only professional hired full time by the governing board, and many organizations allow for stipends to be paid to volunteers – from the time in between full volunteer support and full-time traveling consultants.
The question I would like to pose is which would be the best system for the technological reality of 2018. Are traveling consultants an effective use of member dues? Could we re-invest the money spent annually to train and send traveling our consultants on, for example, digital investments, volunteer training, or interactive resources?
I have a habit of wondering aloud things that some would consider preposterous, such as decentralizing fraternity insurance, so I’ll go ahead and do it here as well.
Technology Diminishes The Need For Consultant Staff
Let’s get this out of the way – Consultants were absolutely essential at a time when text and video could not be sent instantaneously and when calling a student meant a phone ringing in a booth and not in his or her pocket. It was an effective way to check up on chapters because the only other options were landlines or snail mail. We live in an entirely different era of technology, but consulting has remained largely the same.
Sure it is fun to grant a consultant access to the inter/national Instagram account for a day, but is that an effective use of modern technology or student dues? Modern students establish many of their relationships exclusively through the internet – there is no reason for fraternities (the supposed experts of social relationships) should be so far behind on the curve.
Resources and workshops which can be facilitated in-person by alumni or self-facilitated by students can be widely distributed with the tap of a screen. Much of what we teach can be provided through video, social media, and blog content (I still think every fraternity should have a Wiki).
A medium sized fraternity will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consultant program, and yet students get 1-5 days of face time per year with their consultant (and not even all of the students), chapters still hide plenty from those staff, and the role’s duties (while certainly fulfilling) are not often in line with what many students are studying in school. Any serious issue with a chapter is typically elevated to staff above the consultant level.
What Could We Do Instead?
There are some things which cannot be accomplished via technology. Fraternity expansion, for example, is difficult to conduct without staff visiting a college campus – assuming most fraternity leaders still daydream about the rapid growth of the early 2000’s in the face of declining enrollment.
Still, rather than hiring a team of 3-12 consultants, a Fraternity could hire a few traveling educators to provide relevant workshops across the country. It could better invest in technology and communication efforts or focus those funds toward training and providing stipends to alumni volunteers. The amount of information a consultant is expected to relay to chapter leaders is as ridiculous as modern standards of excellence checklists, and that is often due to an under-investment in communication teams.
Back to those defunct regional alumni positions – let us reinvest into those positions and our volunteers. Most fraternity consultants will stick around for 1-3 years, and most chapter officers will be in a position for 1-2 years, so it makes the most practical sense to invest in training alumni and volunteers.
If we want a personal connection to the fraternity, why not make it with someone local to the region with life experience and an actual position within the governing body of the fraternity (rather than an entry-level staff member disconnected from the governing processes)
Providing volunteers with high quality resources to assist in their efforts to work with chapters and local advisers is a crucial investment that many organizations have identified as necessary, but few have been able to offer the appropriate attention. These are people who live among students and who can more effectively earn their trust than a 22-year old from a “good chapter” 500 miles away.
What’s Holding Us Back?
Simply put – tradition. Just as fraternity professionals will complain that students haze, binge drink, and sexual harass one another due to outdated traditions, so too do we fail to make any meaningful reform at the inter/national level for that reason.
I was at one point asked to draw up a new staff model. Radical as it was I did away with consultant model in favor of 1-2 full-time member-support staff (who’d be based at HQ and manning the phone lines, social media interactions, & dues collection). You can tweet your questions/issues to Verizon or Whole Foods and have a dedicated staff member work with you – why not fraternities?
Our educational team would be fitted with 2-3 traveling educators, who would basically be highly specialized consultants who traveled on a need-basis and also contributed to the development of educational resources and workshops, which would have doubled or tripled our proprietary content and created a pipeline in the case that our Director ever chose to leave the team.
It was considered “good,” but “too different from anything we do now.” I am not complaining; I fully understand the difficulties of moving change through an inter/national, democratic organization, but it is important to note that we may by hypocritical in asking our students to change everything about how their chapter operates without being so willing to do so at the top.
No model is perfect, but the existing traveling consultant model is an ineffective use of student dues. I also believe that our entry-level staff can be better prepared for the modern workforce by hiring them into positions which translate well into said workforce. As much as I loved my time doing consultant work; I think that our volunteers would better fit the role and that our students would be better served and represented.
Today is my Fraternity’s “Founders’ Day,” and so I and many others have enjoyed watching friends and unknown brothers from across the world share what Delta Sigma Phi means to them. Like all fraternities, our national organization is also hard at work to raise funds for the Foundation and, by extension, our organization’s educational offerings.
This is not unique to Delta Sig, and many organizations place a Day of Giving on or around their Founder’s Day to capitalize on nostalgic appeal and drive donations (and, in a way, a renewed vow) from members and friends of the fraternity experience.
Like all history, fraternity histories are influenced by those who tell them. American history, for example, is from a predominantly New Englander point of view (They effectively started public education and have been on the winning side of the most impactful movements/wars in American history). I wrote about this in another post and suggested that our telling of our collective fraternity history contains too many redactions.
There is a religious, almost supernatural zeal in our tales of our founding members and in the development of our national brands. This is only offset by the media’s opposing stories which trash fraternities to “shed light” on things we all know took place.
Most founding members of fraternities and sororities were just kids looking for a support system, but I make an effort in my History/Ritual workshops to explain our founders’ visions in the context of the time period, the location, how each of those things impacted the development of our ritual, and the setbacks we faced in the 119 years after that glorious moment on December 10, 1899.
It is from the often overlooked elements of my fraternity’s history that I have come to better understand how progress works and why it can be so frustrating to reform anything in the modern fraternity system – even if one seemingly has the support of a plurality or majority of the members. Here are a few of those moments and lessons.
1. Progress Often Occurs At A Glacial Pace
My fraternity was established by a group of men who sought a fraternity which would allow both Christians and Jews to join. Finding none at C.C.N.Y. in 1899 they chose to create their own.
As the fraternity grew; however, some chapters found it hard to maintain appeal among students at other universities. The presiding practice of the day was to not intermingle and that extended beyond interracial intermingling.
The intention of the men at C.C.N.Y. did not match well with the local fraternities they had absorbed at other schools in other states, and in 1914 the national body determined that it would no longer initiate Jewish men. Several predominantly Jewish chapters broke away and Delta Sigma Phi remained Christian and white until the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s.
You may experience similar periods of regression, even within your own chapter, particularly after periods of explosive growth. That is why it is important to practice “Good Growth.”
2. Those At The Top Are Often The Last To Acknowledge The Need For Change
That change didn’t come about because the Fraternity elected a National President who decided it was time for change; it happened because students began to demand the change. In fact, the larger and more centralized a governing organization is, the more difficult it is for its progressive components to “model the way.”
Our chapters in California and our chapter at Wittenberg University were among the first to initiate black men, and the decision to remove discriminatory restrictions from our governing documents was ultimately driven by more than a decade of regular debate and ultimatums from state and federal governments.
The system is not any different today. Our greatest accomplishments in addressing our most challenging problems will come about through student activism once they recognize their rightful position as the leaders of our organizations.
3. Changing Rules Does Not Initiate Progress
In the early 20th Century my fraternity banned Hell Week. In the early 2000’s it banned alcohol. Although students voted to enact these efforts, those votes are often coordinated by national committees and boards. Sig Ep, for example, passed a similar alcohol-free housing policy and marketed it as the “New Normal” in 2017.
The fact is that prohibitive policies do not change behavior and may actually make dangerous behavior more deadly. Change happens when trusted leaders invest time into and learn from student and alumni members.
My fraternity may no longer restrict its membership to Christian white men, but I cannot suggest that the policy change resulted in a flood of black, latino, or Asian-American members. Policy only goes so far, and while I would never suggest that a chapter is unsuccessful or “bad” due to a lack of diversity, I have written about some deeper, institutional, racial divisions at the higher levels of fraternity+sorority politics. (again, progress is held up at the highest levels)
Takeaway: Embrace All Of Who You Are
Each of those lessons, some of which I came to better understand through my own failures as a leader, professional and all-around human, helped me figure out how to pursue progress. Not everything that trends on Twitter has lasting power, and those men who have stuck around and contributed at the local level are often the ones who help inspire nationwide reform.
I am writing this to encourage fraternity and sorority members to embrace the less glorious elements of their respective organization’s past. Those moments can offer enlightening insight into how we’ve gotten into our current problem-solving cycle of condemnation, prohibitive sanctions, and lecture tours.
They also offer the greatest insight into how change occurs in governing bodies as a whole (#America). The more effort we put into helping students understand those moments of progress, the better chance we have of them putting what they’ve learned at all of our leadership programs to use for the greater benefit of the fraternity/sorority experience.
Economists and politicians alike often suggest that small businesses are “the engine of the American economy.” They are not wrong.
Small businesses and entrepreneurship drive economic growth. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 99% of all businesses in America and employ 46.8% of the private sector workforce .
The American fraternity system was once overwhelmingly comprised of local fraternity and sorority organizations, which eventually chose or were forced into joining inter/national organizations to meet the needs of state regulators and campus administrations.
Having worked to grow fraternities for more than 6 years, I spent much of my career researching campus fraternity communities, policies, and partaking in the competitive dog-and-pony-show of modern fraternity expansion. The vast majority of institutions I studied or worked with actively opposed the establishment of local fraternities without an inter/national organization behind them.
Many institutions with existing local organizations, such as Young Harris College or Lake Superior State University, were encouraging those organizations to petition for membership in inter/national organizations or were considering policies which would only allow for future fraternities to be affiliated with inter/national groups.
I remember reading about the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at the University of Chicago when they decided to disaffiliate from the national organization. On a board of Student Affairs professionals the comments wreaked of disdain and ridicule – suggesting that the chapter was doomed without a national backing.
We should not hold such animosity toward local fraternities (or sororities). They, like small businesses, offer unlimited potential to challenge the status quo of the fraternity system and to allow Generation Z students to make use of their entrepreneurial spirit and talents to offer fraternity experiences which better align with the values and mission of the host institution.
As someone who regularly suggests that fraternities should ditch their obsession with campus recognition, I hope that my friends who work on college campuses take note of that last statement.
Here are some reasons to transform from an enemy of local fraternities to one of their greatest advocates:
Local Organizations Occur Organically To Uniquely Address Needs of Fraternity+Sorority Communities
The manner in which fraternities and sororities grow their organizations is about as hit-or-miss as if we just let a group of 10 students decide to start their own fraternity or sorority. We have all been entranced by the insane numbers put up by modern recruitment methods, but almost every new chapter becomes engulfed in the “campus culture” within 2-5 years of its establishment.
Real change must come from students recognizing the need for change and operating outside of the traditional fraternity council system. To do that, we must be willing to accept new kinds of fraternities and sororities which operate outside of the traditional councils established and enforced by stagnant national umbrella groups.
Many Umbrella Groups Advocate For Their Existing Member Organizations At The Expense Of Entrepreneurial Students
The statistics show that the oldest national umbrella groups do more to stifle competition than they do to promote the fraternity or sorority experience. The National Panhellenic Council (NPC) in particular has not added a new member since the 50’s, and no NPC member organization was established after World War.
Supporting local organizations means supporting modern students creating fraternities and sororities based on modern values. Why force students to join organizations whose baggage, policies, and values are representative of 19th Century society?
Local Fraternities Established With Contemporary Values Are Proven Game-Changers
Despite the stagnant memberships of the NIC, NPC, and NPHC, younger umbrella associations such as the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO – which recently turned 20!) are the successful result of student initiatives to grow the fraternity experience and address unmet needs.
When fraternity/sorority alumni or professionals speak of the founders of their organization, they point out that they were a group of students who wanted to do something different. It is hypocritical to then deny other students that opportunity because our affiliations might dwindle in size or relevance as a result.
Local Fraternities+Sororities Offer Opportunities For Colleges & Universities To Influence The Fraternity Experience
Local organizations should be nurtured by campus administrations as they speak more directly to the values, mission, and alumni of any particular university.
It would still be my position that the students be allowed to associate freely and as they wish, but there is a greater need and opportunity for a mutually-beneficial relationship between schools and their chapters when those chapters are local.
Just as local businesses are often compelled to embed themselves into their local communities, so too are local chapters compelled to embed themselves deeply within the college’s or university’s unique population and culture.
Championing Local Organizations Will Pressure Inter/National Organizations To Adapt – Students Win
Something I consistently advocate for is greater self-government in the fraternity system. From chapters purchasing their own insurance to eliminating blanked “Standards of Excellence” checklists – I believe that allowing students to focus on their interests and the needs of themselves and their local communities is the key to fraternities addressing our greatest challenges.
Remember, every major advancement in the fraternity experience has come at the desire and effort of students. They own our organizations, and our obsession with restricting their voice is part of why the fraternity experience is in such a stagnant, backward place.
Greater support for local fraternities means greater pressure for national organizations to meet the needs of their student members. Greater support for the right to associate places greater pressure on campus administrations to meet the needs of their student members. Those are both good things.
When students win, fraternity wins.
Every fraternity man or woman has their entrepreneurial founders to thank. By encouraging students to take their future into their own hands, rather than over-regulating the fraternity experience, we can promote modernization across the board.
Local fraternities are they key to diversifying the fraternity experience, challenging the rigid status quo of our oldest institutions, and better aligning the fraternity experience with higher education.
All in favor of a “Support Your Local Fraternities” bumper sticker comment below.
You may know of the Argonauts as one of many school mascots, and you may associate “Golden Fleece” with Brooks Brothers, but the origin of each comes from an Ancient Greek myth emphasizing foresight, teamwork, and facing one’s fears.
Background: Pelias, The Killer King of Iolcus
Years before Jason’s birth, the passing king of Iolcus chose his son Aeson to ascend the throne, but it was taken by Aeson’s half-brother, Pelias.
As is common in mythic tales, Pelias was told that a descendant of another man would seek revenge upon Pelias for stealing the title of king, and so Pelias worked to kill each of the man’s descendants before they could be considered a threat. Aeson was imprisoned, but his life was spared due to the pleas of their mother.
Jason was the son of Aeson, and was ordered by an oracle at the age of 20 to head to the Iolcan court, where he encountered an old woman struggling in the water of a river. After helping the woman cross the river, and losing one of his sandals, she revealed herself to be the goddess Hera, who was angry with King Pelias for killing his stepmother after she had sought refuge in one of Hera’s temples.
Pelias was warned by another oracle to guard against a man with one shoe prior to attending a sacrifice at the temple of Poseidon with several kings from neighboring territories. He recognized Jason, his nephew, among the crowd, standing with only one shoe, but could not kill him in such a public place.
King Pelias confronted and asked Jason, “What would you do if an oracle announced that one of your fellow-citizens were destined to kill you?”
Jason, without realizing that Hera had put the words into his mouth, replied, “I would send him to go and fetch the Golden Fleece.” The Golden Fleece was guarded night and day by a vicious dragon in the grove of the Colchian Ares. Pelias, believing that the journey would prove fatal for Jason, sent him to fetch the fleece.
Jason commissioned a boat, called the Argos, to get to Colchis. The boat held up to eighty men, and was created specifically for the journey. There is no definitive list of the crew, called the Argonauts, who assisted Jason on his quest, but this story is unique among Greek myths in that it is one of the few focusing on a team of heroes achieving an objective together.
Among the most recognizable Argonauts are Hercales, Iolaus (his nephew), Argos (the shipwright), Atalanta (a huntress) and Orpheus (a musician). That being said, almost every hero from Greek literature has at one point been associated with the elite Argonauts.
The journey was long, and the crew fought many mythic monsters and encountered a variety of challenges to learn how to reach Colchis and the secrets to pass the crashing rocks which guarded its shores. The Golden Fleece was owned by the king of Colchis, who presented Jason with three tasks to retrieve the fleece, in all of which he failed.
Hera; however, worked in Jason’s favor to persuade Aphrodite and Eros to make the kings daughter Medea fall in love with Jason. She offered him assistance in each task, including providing him with a potion to put the dragon to sleep so that he could recover the fleece. Jason fled with Medea, who distracted her father while they set said (he had turned on Jason after the fleece was safely away from the dragon).
Return to Iolcus
Upon Jason and Medea’s return to Iolcus, Jason found that both his father and Pelias had become old and frail. Jason pleaded with Medea to return some of his father’s youth so that he could properly celebrate Jason’s return. When Pelias’ daughters learned of Medea’s magic, they asked that she do the same for Pelias.
Instead, Medea tricked the women into chopping up their father by promising to mix his body with the same potions used to return Aeson’s youth. After effectively killing Pelias, his son drove Jason and Medea into exile in Corinth, where Jason sought to marry a Corinthian woman to improve his political ties.
This resulted in his separation with a heartbroken Medea, who cursed and killed Jason’s Corinthian wife, then fled to Athens. Jason later returned to Iolcus, where he claimed the throne by killing Pelias’ son, though his betrayal of Medea lost his favor with Hera. He died alone and unhappy, sleeping under the stern of the rotting Argo when it collapsed onto his body.
Takeaways: Mythic Leadership
That story was long, huh? Well, here are some takeaways from the story of Jason, The Argonauts, and The Golden Fleece.
Social Capital is Fickle– With each of his selfless actions Jason was rewarded with assistance from Hera, Medea, and the Argonauts in the face of the greed and paranoia of King Pelias. Still, good deeds are not always appreciated, something fraternity men often argue in the face of bad news. Jason turned on Medea despite all she had done for him, who then broke her love spell to gain revenge.
As a leader, you will establish relationships and partnerships which will ideally be mutually beneficial. Still, you should never take others’ favors or interest in you for granted. Self interest is a great motivator, and so it is best to avoid creating unnecessary resentment among your peers.
The Dangers Of Lusting For Success – By the end of Jason’s tale, he turns out to share many similarities with Pelias, due in part to his lust for power and success. Awards and achievements are nice, but be wary of prioritizing them over your friends and loved ones. Resting on past achievements will leave you unhappy and exposed, shown in this story by Jason’s attachment to the Argo, which eventually resulted in his death.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work – It is safe to say that without the Argonauts and countless figures and monsters encountered on the journey that Jason would never have acquired the Golden Fleece. Utilize the individual talents of your teammates to propel your organization forward, and pay attention to the qualities and talents of potential members to determine how they can best enhance your chapter.
What other lessons can you pull from the story of Jason, The Argonauts, and The Golden Fleece? Comment below!
Tens of thousands of students created thousands of fraternities and sororities which inevitably coagulated into the national fraternity and sorority system as we know it today.
As was noted in a recent post, fraternities were created by students and grew predominantly to protect students rights of free association.
It is a little strange, then, to see how limiting campus administrations can be with fraternity and sorority groups with only passive arguments or the cooperation of national governing bodies and nonprofits established to defend your right to free association.
In many ways, students created the very organizations which would later seek to assume control over the student experience, but the majority of fraternity constitutions I have read leave the ultimate authority in the hands of the students. This is where opportunity lies for real, practical student leadership.
I didn’t realize the power I had as a member.
Membership is lifelong, and when I had decided to no longer work for my fraternity’s central office I chose instead to create a campaign to serve on our national board. The point was to show student and alumni members who had often complained to me that there was more they could do to change the system.
I was too young to be considered and tried to challenge the rule.
The age requirement was in the Fraternity’s Bylaws, which for Delta Sigma Phi meant that I had only two ways of getting it changed:
- Request that the national board change the rule and allow greater competition (There would still be a slating committee, of course)
- Change the Fraternity’s Constitution so that the Bylaw would violate the Constitution and therefore be invalid.
It was too late to submit a Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution Committee, and our National Parliamentarian couldn’t offer much guidance, so I sent a request to the national board which promised to discuss it after the Convention. [More about the campaign here – it was fun!]
Then, after re-reading our Constitution, I came across an important note (Article IX, Section 2) – An undergraduate chapter or alumni chapter may submit an amendment to the Grand Council via certified mail at any time, and it must be distributed to all eligible voting delegates within 60 days along with a recommendation of the council.
So many member complained to me while I worked for the central office about feeling like they lacked control – and here was the control. I began investigating. In Alpha Sigma Phi, for example, the value of each vote at their national meetings is based on preserving a majority for the student body. Even if there are more voting alumni present, their combined votes will never exceed 50%.
Many organizations have these processes built in to assure that students maintain control of the process, but few seem to be promoted or utilized.
At the end of the day, the students own everything
If I haven’t said this enough I will say it now: Students own the fraternity experience.
They pay the bills, they achieve the achievements, they choose whether to remain connected to a national fraternity and, as we have seen at Michigan and WVU this fall, they choose whether to remain recognized by college campuses.
Students are our employers, and we cannot assume authority simply because we believe that they are not prepared for it.
A banker cannot confiscate her clients funds because she believes that the client will not use them wisely, and we need to learn to respect the students’ role in our processes. We need to recognize who we work and volunteer for. It is not your fraternity’s National President, CEO/Executive Director, College/University President or any combination of the above.
“He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and I am making it my mission to empower students to start calling the tunes. Every press release is aimed at appeasing fraternity/sorority professionals, the media, parents, special interests, or some combination of the four. Perhaps it is time we stop steamrolling our students simply because they haven’t (yet) learned to fight back.
Students: Your Mission
As a part of your new member experience, next executive board meeting, or next retreat, take some time to look through your fraternity or sorority’s governing documents and take note of the chain of command.
You will quickly realize that you are reserved a spot at the top – that you control every decision. Talk about it with your advisers, and think of what you want to see happen, but be mindful: pushing for too abrupt a change too quickly will make it easy to paint you as uninformed or immature.
Remember: We do not exist without you. No matter how gigantic and imposing your fraternity or the NIC/NPC/NPHC/Etc. or your campus administration seems – “fraternity” is your product. We bow to you.
Here and there, things go wrong. Many of us find ourselves in positions of leadership in these situations, and many of us reflexively move to cover our tracks.
I remember a time as Chapter President, when a report had been filed that our chapter threw a party. Specifically, the campus safety officers who had come to our chapter dormitory (“house,” but honestly more of a dorm) for a regular walk through noted that a few guests on the balcony began to blow whistles when the officers arrived, that a series of whistles went off inside the house, and that the interior was decorated to fit a beach theme.
We did have a party – it was our biggest of the year – and we were actually lame enough to outfit certain monitors with whistles, but when Nik the Chapter President showed up to the Vice President of Student Affairs’ office the following week the point made was, “You don’t have any proof.”
Perhaps it is just my imagination, but there was disappointment in his eyes. The VP was relatively new to the school, the rest of his staff introduced me as a high caliber leader, and he had to sit in a room and pretend the truth was untrue because no one would admit to it.
Things Don’t Change. . .
Working on a fraternity staff helped me empathize with the VP.
Students would hide and conceal the truth from me, the Fraternity Professional, just as me, the Chapter President, had done a decade ago. It was never truly a secret – we all knew what was going on – and it was such a shame to be unable to talk about fraternity issues as a fraternity professional because it might result in someone admitting a policy was violated.
“There was a time when men were afraid somebody would reveal a secret that was unknown to their fellows. Nowadays they are afraid to name what everybody knows”Francisco d’Anconio
It is more apparent now as a volunteer alumnus for my fraternity and a few others.
Conflating Writing A Rule With “Leadership”
I often focus on the unintended consequences of prohibitive policies   . Sure, the policies can be overbearing, and it doesn’t make sense to risk a charter because someone shotgunned a beer, but perhaps there is more to why students spend more time contemplating how to cover their tracks than how to change their behavior. Let’s explore that:
When a chapter brother is accused of sexual assault, why is he suspended from his lifelong membership? Will that help him?
When a group of young men embark on dangerous behavior, why are they stripped of their group, their membership, and – occasionally – their college experience? Will that help them?
What makes prohibitive policies worthy of applause? What is courageous about the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference’s decision to ban hard alcohol from member fraternity houses? That “tough” decision would generate just the right kind of hard ass, tough-talking press release to please parents, the media, and campus professionals.
Our students and alumni learn to cover their tracks and call it leadership by watching us – the leaders of the fraternity/sorority world. They see how we act, act in the same way, and we lecture them for it.
A Microcosm Of Political Culture
Politicians, celebrities, and fraternity leaders often present themselves as nearly ideal specimens worthy of being cherished as national treasures. They point out every possible flaw in their opposition and struggle to avoid any association with normal human failures.
It is not bad to learn from the people we see in the public spotlight, but we cannot so easily dismiss our own influence and the negative repercussions of mimicking their damaging behavior or qualities just because we are not famous.
“It’s as if they heard that there are values one is supposed to honor and this was what one does to honor them”Hank Rheardon (Character from Atlas Shrugged)
Our students know that they will be dropped by their “insurance” if they violate any fraternity policy when the unthinkable happens, and so they find it more important to cover their tracks than change their behavior.
That makes students sound devious, but what is fraternity insurance other than a way for national corporations to cover their own tracks? Students learn to circumvent responsibility in response to a system designed to circumvent responsibility. . . put that in your policy education lecture!
When advisers tell students how to stay out of trouble, rather than how to deal with it and improve, those students apply that knowledge to the rest of their life’s work.
When students see that they are cherished for doing the most (*cough* Standards of Excellence *cough*), then they come to see “success” as “doing the most.” When they move into roles in the fraternity/sorority profession they then do “the most” without offering any creativity or valuable leadership.
What we reinforce will show up in how they present themselves on social media, how they operate as an employee/employer, what they teach their children, and what they expect of others.
There is so much that is right about the fraternity experience, but we must stop blaming our students for all that is wrong about the fraternity experience. They learn to be superficial, combative, and ignorant not only from their friends or alumni, but from their campus professionals, (inter)national leadership, and umbrella association leadership.
It bothers me to think of the times where my insecurities or anger overwhelmed my common sense when making decisions. It also bothers me, as a fraternity man, to deal with policies which I find to be stupid, ineffective, and truth-deterring.
Who are we trying to fool? We all know what’s up and which special interests affect how fraternities address challenges. Will there ever be a point where we could be honest?
[This reality may not apply only to leadership within the fraternity and sorority world, but it is our risk-evading leadership which demands our students hold themselves up to a higher standard, and our risk-evading leadership which should lead that change.]