I was at The Ohio State University working to re-establish a chapter of my fraternity in the spring of 2012. It was an interesting recruitment campaign as it was one of the rare instances where our entire team of five worked together to set up one chapter.
In our 2nd or 3rd week of the campaign, Woody Woodcock from Phired Up visited to offer coaching support to our team. Our recruiters were trained in part by Woody and his colleagues, and we had built a fraternal bond with one another over the course of our fall term – Phired Up staff would visit twice during each of our expansion campaigns.
Woody noticed some disorganization and distractions among the members of our team, so one evening he asked us to meet in one of our temporary apartments. We entered into a dark room, the only light coming from candles set on a table in the shape of our letters. The six of us stood around the table while Woody spoke. Some of what he said was written on a piece of paper, some of it may have been improvised, but the purpose of it was to reconnect us to why we were setting up a new chapter and the bond we all shared as fraternity men.
We repeated that ritual with new members over the following years as a sort of mini-initiation to the team. It helped us build on the unique bond one forms with fraternity brothers who work together at a fraternity national office.
As we alumni seek to standardize much of what students are taught as well as much of what they are meant to accomplish during their four-ish years of college, I wonder if team-building, healthy, occasionally silly rituals are too easily dismissed as distractions from our wide range of fraternity community goals.
A tradition of we who advise fraternity men is to warn them of the consequences of tradition. We may like the tradition we are hearing of, but our response is typically measured with some far off warning of how things could “go bad.”
Still, small moments like that shared within our expansion team boosted our morale and faith in one another and our mission. Something as simple as sitting all of the brothers in a room and taking turns to acknowledge what each brother has going for him or offering advice to problems can have a profound impact on chapter morale and connectivity. Perhaps a tradition is as simple as shaking hands when passing a brother (or softly bumping fists in the case of our . . . quirky team).
I would like to see more chapters of my fraternity (and fraternities in general) implement more “ritual” into their day to day life. I would like to see more brothers exchange secret grips during intramural competitions or sitting in formation for a meeting, even if the meeting consists of just an executive board or a random group of six brothers after dinner.
I would like to see more brothers gathering spontaneously when they see a brother is struggling with school or a relationship, turn off the phones, light a few candles, hear him out and help walk through his problems. I would be elated if advisers – members or not – took the opportunity to identify when a little ritual would be best for the good of a group as Woody had done with ours.
Creating a better, stronger connection among members doesn’t require a major retreat (though that’ll help) and doesn’t require mega-ceremonies (though they will help). It requires regular interactions with meaning attached to them.
As our senior class graduated from my chapter at Stetson University we did what many chapters do: we hold a willing ceremony. Here the senior members will down their fraternity belongings to members in the chapter, often explaining why certain items would go to certain brothers.
New initiates into our chapter are given their “letters” ( a cotton football jersey with raised letters on the front) by their big brother, who also chooses the nickname and design on the back of the jersey. After a graduating member has willed his belongings, his little brothers or those he’s closest with present him with a new set of black letters and a new nickname. Only alumni members wear the black jerseys, and the new nicknames often represent how they may be remembered by the chapter.
It’s small; it’s simply organized; it can get silly, but it is a place where all of our members gather to show love for one another, and that’s important. Sometimes a member makes a video and other times there is an impromptu rap battle. Those are the moments I remember from my undergraduate fraternity experience – the ones that felt special and uniquely our own.
Little, local rituals are important. Dinner with 3-XX brothers is a great place to start.