Ah, the good old days, when things were simpler and those of us who weren’t around can imagine we lived happily then too.
There’s a chance that fraternities and sororities are, as the Harvard University administration may say, indeed outdated. I don’t think; however, that we are outdated in the context of being single-gender organizations, although that plays a role.
In this post, I took some questions or arguments that those of us who have joined a fraternity or sorority are routinely asked to address. I’ve included the content of a typical response, as well as what we could do instead to make the question less relevant altogether.
Dues. What Do They Pay For?
Most potential new members ask this, hell, most members ask this. What do the dues pay for?
Organizations spend your dues to provide you services like consultation visits, educational programs and general networking/membership services. Normal nonprofit stuff.
That being said, there is a heck of a lot of bureaucracy on campuses and at fraternity/sorority headquarters. Decisions are often run through several people, and for the reasons mentioned in this post, talented individuals are driven away and progress is ground to a halt.
Our organizations could genuinely benefit from some scrutiny of the budget items and expenditures. Is it really necessary to rent a block of mansions as a Greek Row headquarters? It’s cool, but it’s also a little out of touch and unnecessary.
The impression that many non-members would share is that we are elitist, and few of those who are initiated know what happens outside of their own chapter meetings, so some work on transparency could significantly improve our relationships with non-members and members alike.
Remember, students entering college now lived in an era where their privacy was compromised by the NSA and where we are constantly told to distrust the establishment. If there’s nothing to hide, if the work we are doing is good, we need to open it up and give the members both more responsibility and ownership.
I See Lots Of Parties, Little Leadership. . .
Most students join for the friendships. The friendships are powerful and genuine; these men and women are spending a lot of time together, but they don’t fit with the narrative you’ll hear regarding our obsessive focus on ethics and leadership.
We talk a lot about leadership and how fraternities and sororities build better men and women.
For example, half or more of those elected to Congress, and 40-something out of the past 40-something presidents were in fraternities/sororities. They are all also almost universally white and college-educated, a demographic that has historically done well in such positions of leadership, but that’s beside the point, right?
An assessment also found that our members tend to make more money and live happier lives. Our reasoning is that they were in fraternities, but simple logic suggests that an organization that will cost several hundred or several thousand dollars each year would probably appeal first to students likely to have more to build off of when entering college or who are eager to experience that benefit for the investment.
Our claims to leadership may be a correlation and not a causation, but we still attract those high performers to our ranks, right?
Well, that same survey says we are also more likely to be alcoholics after college, one bit of news shrugged off as inconvenient and pacified with a “we spend x number of dollars on alcohol and hazing education, and what about those athletic teams, huh!?”
That is not the response of a leader, let alone one who claims his organization builds ethical leaders.
Instead, we should acknowledge this reality openly. Many of our members, more than the average population, have drinking problems after graduation. This too is likely due to the demographic of student inclined to join a fraternity and the pressure of living up to the TFM image, but our approach to preventing alcohol abuse has so far failed.
Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous; however, have worked wonders. Let’s partner with them in an act of humility and simply make their content, resources and contacts more readily available to our members in recognition of that statistic and to show that we actually care about these men and women once they have joined our ranks.
Let’s stop worrying about community service and resume builders. We do not do our students justice by distracting them from their goals and visions. Instead, we should embrace technology and move our education online. It’s simple: record members who have something to teach, make the video public online.
It’s both a PR dream and an effective method of teaching in this day and age.
It’s a Networking Club/Lifelong Membership
I meet far more men and women who don’t care about their fraternity and sorority after college than I do meet folks who do care about their organization. There’s a simple reason: We may not have offered anything, as an organization, that was of value to them in college.
In fact, the only people I hear talking about a lifelong membership are folks like me who have uniquely dedicated themselves deeply to their organization. The reality is, most of our members don’t really care to continue their membership after college. Many have had cool experiences, many have gotten jobs with help from the Fraternity, but for many it was a 4-year agreement from many years ago.
So the fact is that most alumni don’t have much to look forward to, and spending student dues on services for alumni (assuming they don’t pay dues) is a little shady. Instead, then, of hiring a series of professionals to create curriculum specific to a fraternity, instead of hiring a dozen consultants and sending them around the country to provide basic customer care at an expensive rate:
- Make use of your alumni network (or combine with other organizations!) and create a true TED competitor.You may launch some celebrities, attracting those ambitious alums back to the organization.
- Work with LinkedIn to provide special services to fraternities and sororities and their members.
- Hire some legitimate customer care specialists – people who know the organization and its processes inside and out and who get paid more than $30k. Make them available to talk to members every day of the week. Instead of several consultants, hire a few, speaker-quality members to provide programming directly to chapters.
What We Offer To Colleges & Universities
We improve retention rates and give back to our schools more readily. That’s what we offer. Our alumni will give you money and the students who join will stick around longer, meaning you’ll get their money too.
Isn’t one of the things to hate about higher education how wasteful it is? I don’t support free college for the simple reason that it is already so wasteful and so few have taken to actually doing anything to stop it. Why perpetuate the idea that we are there to help the colleges? We are there to help members, students, and people. That should, in effect, help the colleges.
So here’s a proposal. Scrap most of the educational programming. Request that on-campus staff serve as local experts of each campus organization, how it works and how students can get the most out of it.
National groups, make the mission of your fundraising arm to be making college affordable and eliminating student debt. This is a hot button issue that needs to be addressed and, unlike alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual assault, is something that we can actually measure success in.
Think about it, will an alumnus be more likely to donate if a student assures him that a program was awesome or if he has a chance to reduce the student loan burden of an organization’s membership by 25% in 5 years?
Wouldn’t colleges and universities want organizations on their campuses that would make attending their school more affordable? Wouldn’t students be clamoring for that opportunity if coupled with the perks mentioned in the last section? We could even use that as leverage to pressure universities and colleges not to raise tuition or to accept donations to fix up the garden patch outside of the President’s home.
How crummy would it look if the fraternities and sororities did more to help your students afford college than the university. Instead of promising our members donations to the schools, perhaps we should try and find a reason to attract those donations to a better use.
Why Can’t They Be Co-Ed?
This is just stupid. It’s time we stop pretending that a business or service fraternity isn’t a real fraternity. For real. here’s why:
Social fraternities are a waste, they promise the benefits of a service fraternity, business fraternity, and sometimes spiritual fraternity, but have a complete lack of focus and so the product is, as we mentioned, outdated.
You don’t see schools; however, trying to ban Delta Sigma Pi, a business and co-ed fraternity. You don’t see colleges and universities complaining about the establishment of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity established to be explicitly open to and in support of LGBTQ individuals.
Instead of being these boring, untuned blobs of zero output, let’s focus our energies and accept the wider community of fraternities and sororities. Perhaps the idea of a Panhellenic Council with rules completely different than the Inter-Fraternity Council, with rules completely different than the National Pan-Hellenic Council, with rules comple. . . you get it, is not the best way to build “community.”
Perhaps if we simplified our governing structure to be co-ed, we would avoid many of these problems. Many colleges and universities have an “All-Greek Council” or something like it, but we should seriously move away from these other, restricted councils.
It may make sense for an NPC to exist nationally, but at the college level, they should be able to serve as delegate officers to a different board and still manage those organization’s recruitment processes, etc. The NIC and NPHC should continue to exist nationally, but why divide the students on college campuses? Have one council, elect officers representative of all councils, and force them to work together.
Furthermore, embracing non-social groups and folding them in will only show the extensive level of diversity within the fraternity and sorority space. Single-gender organizations will no longer be seen as the status quo – that means some may be more comfortable in adopting a co-ed position and others may be more comfortable catering to one gender, just as others cater to other interests and demographics.