Single Gender Fraternities Are Not Regressive – Our Politics Are.

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Harvard University

 

People identify in many ways and for the foreseeable future many of those people will identify with a single gender. For that reason, single gender organizations will always be relevant, whether gender is determined chromosomal, chemical or neither.

It has been clear that I and most of the fraternity and sorority community have rejected Harvard’s leaders’ assertions. Most of us feel like our experiences improved our self esteem, talents or connections and most of us have a (sometimes limited) understanding of 1st Amendment rights of association.

Still, many of our undergraduate members are “acting out,” not because fraternities are for boys and sororities are for girls, but because their fraternity’s or sorority’s policies are stuck in the 1950’s and make normal, youngster behavior a taboo.

We have developed a defense mechanism in which we immediately lash out and deny anything the media says about the institutions of fraternity and sorority (i.e. the alumni/leadership who run the show) and almost immediately thereafter point to the faults of the students. I don’t believe we are responsible for an individual’s morality or actions, but our organizations are designed across the board in a way that inadvertently treats students like indentured servants.

Governing bodies are typically comprised of folks from generations preceding the governed. That reality lends itself the fraternity/sorority situation. Our organizations are typically “run” by alumni, whether elected, volunteered or hired help. What those folks “run” is funded predominantly through student dues and fees.

The Civil War era saying, “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight,” applies.

So no, Harvard czars, single gender identity is not regressive or improper, nor are organizations connecting those of a single gender, whether chromosomal or otherwise. We on the fraternity and sorority side of things agree to that as a 1st Amendment right.

Don’t Dismiss Harvard’s Czars’ Uneducated Impression Of Us At Face Value

Forget their condescending tone! There is something they are trying to point out, but don’t know enough about to explain.

Our actions and policies imply that we have confused the college fraternity or sorority with a country club. Our students are simple workers in our personal ambitions – making our country club impressive and something to be proud of. In this country club fantasy students and non-wealthy alumni are our gardeners.

We know they are valuable to the country club experience, but they are more or less a part of the background – unnamed until we decide to march them around to show how well we care for and connect with them. It is character/identity politics at its finest, and every tier from a college interfraternity councils to national boards to chapter advisors or advisory teams are afflicted.

Our students are free labor, NCAA-style, required to do as we say and literally pay money while they do it.

The wider brotherhood they pay for is dangled in front of them as a reward. We parade our most impressive members around like tributes, using their success to build faith in our network among members and strangers alike. We throw extravagant parties and honor members with awards, suggesting that any student could reach that level of recognition of they get in with the right group or make enough money.

As A Student: Reckless Liability. As An Alumnus: Cherished When You Give.

For example, acting in poor taste with vulgar parties not suitable for our spotless reputation or “high standards” will get you blackballed from our national network.

On the other hand, giving us statistics to share by way of community service, philanthropic donations and attending educational programs will keep both keep your charter safe and reflect well on us, the people you are required to impress.

Entry-level fraternity/sorority staff are often treated the same way. Their opinions and understanding of fraternity are replaced with talking points. If they stick to the script we may introduce them to the big wigs from time to time or they’ll get retweeted by a campus speaker with a lot of followers. That’s not a critique, that’s reality.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Faced with this reality, our students come to one of two decisions:

  • “I joined for the brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood and am not going to care about the politics or publicity ploys”
  • “I joined for the brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood and am going to work my tail off to make as good and widespread of an impression as I can.” (In the higher education industry they call these students the ones who “get it.”)

(The Spice Girls represent the former, the stuffy people who can’t dance represent the latter & our bureaucratic organizations. Notice how disgusted they are with the heathens ruining their hotel experience)

 

We then have a group of students following our instructions intently, climbing our ranks, and acting in the same exact way that we do now and a group of students completely disconnected and unrepresented in our talking points.

“Oh look,” thinks the outside world, “Daddy’s children are fighting to win his favor, each hoping he’ll leave his antique roadster to them upon his passing!” “And hey,” they continue, “It looks like one of those spoiled brats is just resigning himself to booze and babes, those kids will never learn!”

It’s not the kids getting in trouble who are causing our problem – it is the disconnect we have driven into our organizations between those who take our bait and those who don’t. Those who don’t take the bait are so accustomed to tuning us out that they remain unrattled by deaths from hazing or alcohol abuse.

All of our “we are better than this” speeches or risk management education comes across as veiled attempts to shame them to fit into our country club’s, “we accept all people. . . in theory,” policy.

Our leaders, citing their 20th Century style prohibition laws, desperately work so that our beloved, do-no-wrong angels never sip the Devil’s Nectar (booze). Like terrible parents we viciously shield our students from sins as defined in our scriptures, talk them up to our friends when they do right and swiftly disown them when they’ve taken a turn for the worse.

Perhaps a little rehab (chapter/community sanctions) will set them straight!

Colleges and universities act this way toward America’s students as well, being preoccupied with re-parenting students or elevating students who wish to re-parent other students rather than teaching them how to start a career. Bachelor’s degrees are worthless because schools have focused on housing and athletics to fund their extravagant campuses and events.

The leaders of fraternities, sororities and school systems brag and show off to one another like parents at a children’s pageant. Just like a kiddy pageant, we all get this feeling that ambitious pageant moms are doing the legwork behind the student’s performance, that few college students are actually so prude and politically correct.

Bragging Like A Pageant Mom

“This fraternity spent $10,000 to educate fraternity and sorority professionals!”

“Sure, but this other fraternity taught its policies to 10,000 of its students last year.”

“That sorority over there, their students collectively raised $1,000,000 for a charity last year.”

Are any of us seriously thinking that these students are going to keep this up for the rest of their lives? How many of us do community service today without taking photos to share on Facebook and Instagram?

We’ve degraded into one group fighting to out-do the other with bigger charity events, a more spotless criminal record or a grander display of showmanship – just like stereotypical politicians.

We are preparing young men and women for a lifetime of publicity maneuvers and selling out to get ahead. We have gotten so effective in tuning out or responding on autopilot to public criticism that we employ the same tactic against complaints from undesirable students, alumni or parents.

Alumni with little to offer to those at the top and many parents are often disregarded or relegated to menial positions within the organization. Chances are your organization’s hierarchy is designed to subjectively curate which members rise to the top based on the interests and opinions of those at the top.

Cronyism is a natural part of hierarchical, bureaucratic decision-making. It is rarely intentional, but it is damaging and should be watched for vigilantly.

The Fraternal Cold War Arms Race

Remember the Cold War, where the U.S. and U.S.S.R. passively-aggressively talked about how great their allies were and spent more and more money trying to impress each other and the world?

Our leaders are still operating in that era – desperate to avoid any responsibility for a mistake (perceived or real) and eager to make a strong, moral impression. That disconnect with reality has taken our eye off of the real value of why we exist as a government and as fraternities/sororities: to allow our people/members to flourish.

The Cold War comparison goes beyond publicity stunts; there is some real paranoia among us. Students, parents, alumni, journalists, college administrators and fraternity leaders each convince themselves that they are not the problem, and because they are not individually the problem they don’t need to change, they just need to educate everyone else.

“BEEP. BOP. . . scanning. . . Community Service. . . processing. . . GOOD!”

“BEEP. BOP. . . . scanning . . . Alcohol . . . processing. . . ABORT PROGRAM”

None of this would be an issue if we just let people, not organizations or a person’s “influences,” be responsible for their choices and structure ourselves that way.

In no reality is brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood a formula of education, service and showmanship. We can stop with all that extra.

It’s inter-organizational too. If your organization is not already in the NPC or NPHC you have very little chance of getting into either country club at this point. There are local sororities and local black fraternities/sororities that are essentially cut off from growth outside of their campus or a few other small/strategically unimportant schools.

Recent changes to the NIC award more authority to those fraternities which pay more in dues or recruit the most student members, encouraging consolidation and showmanship. We have traded a hands-off, all organizations are equal approach for a tiered, more expensive and more productive system.

If it’s difficult for an organization to be recognized by those councils imagine how difficult it would be for a student to effectively present issue she or he has with a policy of one of those umbrella groups. I worked at a fraternity for most of the past 6 years and I’m not even sure how to go about instructing someone to be listened to by the decision makers of their fraternity/sorority conference.

Your complaints may be “taken into consideration,” “greatly appreciated,” or “heard.” Newsflash: None of those responses imply action, they are simply pacifiers employed by leaders throughout history.

Perhaps we are so badly missing the mark when members or outsiders point out our flaws because our attention is too focused on those above us to offer real assistance to those below us. Too many Gryffindors, not enough Hufflepuffs.

They say that when a senator looks in the mirror, he sees a president. I think many of us in fraternity and sorority see that next tier up as well. That delusion from reality is what prevents us from understanding and connecting with those we govern/manage.

Privilege, not success, is based on who you know, not what you know. Any one of us can change that.