Our Misguided Understanding of Fraternity Membership

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There are a few artifacts hanging on the walls of my office; most of them are copies of cool things I’ve found in our archives.

Among them is a letter from the Fraternity’s Executive Director in the first half of the 20th Century to a chapter president confirming that a member’s annual dues were included in a recent shipment. The total? $3.50.One year of membership for $3.50, $15 over the course of one’s undergraduate career.

If I remember correctly, my chapter paid $15 per man to our campus Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) each academic term.

This post is not about the cost of each man joining a fraternity (though we did comment on that here); it is about recognizing what that membership cost is perceived to be versus what it should be.

That membership is one between a man and his chapter. That membership is one that connects him to a national network through his affiliation with that chapter. That membership is an invitation to partake in the breathtaking expanse of fraternity.

It is not a direct membership; however, with a national organization. In that way, it is wrong for members to consider their national dues the equivalent of tuition, a one-on-one relationship to a college or university.

Much like the US Government, most fraternities and sororities are federations, not democracies. The national organizations are a representation and safeguard for the individual chapters, not those chapters’ individual members.

There’s a reason they’re called “states,” just like most countries are referred to as “states.”


What do I mean by that?

In most cases, a national organization bills each chapter, not each member. Chapters are billed in proportion to their size as each member a chapter registers is an additional liability and figurative mouth to feed by way of programming and networking.

National programs exist to reduce the cost of high-quality programming for the chapter and by effect the member. National staff work to improve the health and output of the chapter and by effect the member.

True we are all bound to one another by one ritual, but that isn’t much different than our being bound to one another by human genetics.

Why is this relevant?

What this site represents is a principled simplicity and focus that fraternities and sororities must adopt in order to thrive in the 21st Century. It is important, then, to know how we are structured and how such change is to come about.

Your chapter, alumni chapter, alumni association and potentially more components of your national organization most likely has one or several votes at your meeting or convention. Like states have proportionate (and minimum) representation in congress, it is your chapter as a whole that must act to define where your dues go.

Components of the national organization are what is represented at your convention, not your independent voice. The reason is that most decisions outside of major programs, ritual, insurance and membership standards are intended to be decided at the chapter level. We call them “self-governing” chapters for a reason.

There are then alumni boards, with more money than an undergraduate man in most cases, or council that oversee each of these “self-governing” chapters. See where I’m going?

That being said, remember this:

It should not be left to your national headquarters, your IFC, your Greek Life office, your alumni or your advisers to build a fulfilling experience for your members. That is up to your actions as a chapter.

They can supplement that experience by offering a wider network, name recognition and defense of your first amendment rights to assemble as a chapter, but they can’t complete your experience for you.

Understanding that limitation is critical protect fraternity and sorority chapters from the overbearing effects of fraternity/sorority/higher ed professionals who treat personal interests and ambitions as altruistic causes for all to support.

That said, It’s not just a benefit for the students and chapters. Acknowledging this model would make the demands of running a national organization much more realistic.

Students would be left to their creative devices to meet the, hopefully less time-intrusive, expectations of membership while IFCs, Fraternity/Sorority Advisers (FSAs) and national organizations wouldn’t be expected to reverse centuries of human indoctrination at the beck and call of the Rolling Stone. Furthermore, defining the role of the organization for all to know limits the ability of individuals to pervert or dilute the purpose.

Win, win right?