Getting On Track: Overcoming Our Fraternity Chapter’s $18,000 Debt
In the fall of 2010 I was elected to the position of Chapter President. I was elected via tie-breaker against another brother (who happened to be my little). It was an embarrassing display of a lack of confidence.
Within the first few days of my presidential term I learned that we were $18,000 in debt to our national office. It turns out that our chapter’s desire to have a semi-formal a year prior set us on a path of collecting dues early from some members and not collecting them at all from others. Long story short we ended up with an $18,000 hole in our budget, a bunch of members who had paid their semester dues in advance, and a bunch of members who were hundreds or thousands of dollars in debt to the chapter.
The newly elected treasurer and I set out to make sure the debt was paid, and we managed to close that $18,000 hole in four months. The basics of our approach were simple: Spend less, collect more. Our chapter collected a little more than double what we owed to our national office, and we needed to pay off the balance within a few months to be eligible for our Fraternity’s top award. Here’s what we did:
- Out-Of-Pocket Semester: Any expense which wasn’t absolutely necessary was converted to an “out-of-pocket” expense. Our spring formal, our big brotherhood retreat, our philanthropy events and our social functions. Nothing for any of those was paid with chapter dues. We found a free space to use for the retreat, our formal was more or less a well-coordinated weekend getaway, and our social events required some creative recycling as decor. In eliminating these expenses we freed up enough of our dues to make serious payments toward our debt.
- Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses: It can be difficult to overcome a debt when your chapter is paying for services which do more harm than help. We collected internally to avoid credit card fees through a payment processor, downsized our composite, and cut off our group voice message app in order to avoid spending money where it wasn’t needed.
- New Legislation: Among those who owed debts to the chapter were several members who had graduated and many who were going to graduate at the end of the term. These members had no reason to pay and so we passed new legislation which barred members from receiving alumni status, receiving an alumni jersey and participating in our alumni ceremony (more here) if they owed any sum to the chapter a few weeks prior to graduation.
- Alumni Board: In my fraternity the alumni corporation board has the power to expel undergraduate members, and Stetson’s Homecoming was (at the time) held in the spring term and just a week before our payment deadline. Our alumni members were, of course, caught off guard by the debt, and so we worked out a deal where they would hold expulsion hearings for any members with more than a $400 balance come alumni weekend. This prompted payment from many brothers, particularly when we warned them that the alumni didn’t care much about their feelings.
- Honesty Is The Best Policy: Part of our problem was that this $18,000 debt was not explained to the chapter back when it was a $10,000 or $4,000 debt. We had never before discussed it in a meeting. Our alumni, too, seemed mostly unaware. The only way we could get our chapter to take this seriously was to speak honestly about the situation and what we needed to do to avoid a suspension. People appreciate knowing what is going on.
Having debt as a chapter is not fun. You are constantly receiving notices from alumni, your national office and perhaps your school. It’s important to get the debt cleared early, as it can easily grow out of control (just a year later the chapter was back in debt for another 3 years!). It may seem difficult, but cutting your budget and sticking to your guns are the most effective ways to clearing bad debt as quickly as possible.
Although we paid off our debt, we were 1 day late on our final payment after that Homecoming weekend. That single day suspension (basically the time it took the money to transfer) prevented us from winning our Fraternity’s top honor even though we scored a 98% on the accreditation packet. . . That was basically the day I realized that fraternity/campus standards of excellence programs are faulty measurements of success or excellence.
Staying On Track: The Power Of Responsibility & Incentives
Fast forward to 2015 and I am promoted to the Director of Fraternity Growth & Services. In that role at our fraternity’s national office I oversaw 15 staff (approximately half of our national staff and just about everyone under 25 years of age) and managed the budget for two departments responsible for approximately 50% of our Fraternity’s strategic plan. It was awesome.
I received many suggestions regarding the budget of our department, and given an increase in risk incidents all of our budgets were tightened during my first year. Still, my liberty-loving self wasn’t going to give up on my principles, and so I managed my budget by managing less of it. At the end of the year my departments were the only ones to come in under budget (that’s not a slight on any of my former colleagues, there were other circumstances which caused their budgets to bend such as aforementioned risk incidents). Here’s how I maintained our strong budget performance:
- Look At Previous Years: Some items on our budget had been there for quite some time, and many of the expenditure items of our budget didn’t match with the way our departments operated or were structured. I was able to eliminate a few line items which didn’t fit or within which we didn’t spend money in previous years. Looking at past budgets helped me find some early breathing room.
- Responsibility: I left the budget for one department entirely up to my Associate Director to manage. We would check in quarterly or so. For our traveling consultants, I took the budget I had allotted for their use, divided it amongst the chapters of the Fraternity, and then gave them each set amounts based on the number of chapters they worked with. It was then their goal to remain within those budget constraints while planning their trips. Staff could notify the assistant director of that department if they needed to go over.
- Cushion: From those unnecessary expenditures I had built in a little cushion room just in case either department went over its budget, this was ultimately where our savings came from.
- Incentives: I restructured our bonus metrics to include budget management. The team would get a bonus if we all came in under budget and each individual would be graded on their budget management performance. We included in our summer training the best practices to budgeting for trips and distributed worksheets to help staff track the cost as they booked travel.
- Decision Rights: Who has the right to make what decisions? In previous years a supervisor might have to take note of whether individual expenses (hotel rooms, flights, car rentals) went over established caps. I decided that the only decision I would make was the total budget allotted to each staff member. He would then have control of how the money was spent so long as he remained within his overall budget. We provided guidelines, and so the staff largely stayed on track without my having to monitor how much everyone spent on every hotel room. Time is money, and wasting time on the nitty gritty of money didn’t matter to me. We did set some triggers. . . if a flight was over $500, for example, approval would be needed, but this ultimately freed up the number of questions I received to go over the hotel limit in big, expensive cities.
- Defined Expenditures: I had done the work of allotting a certain amount of money per staff member, per chapter, and so it was important that I shared how I came to that figure. We set up some standardized expectations of the length and cost of a chapter visit to serve as a template when staff planned their own travel.
Simply put, I gave my team budgets to work within and a little more freedom in terms of which purchases needed approval and we managed our budget pretty effectively. Not only did our consultants visit more chapters than in years prior (consistent with the trend of the Fraternity), but we ended up shaving off about 10% of our expenses from the previous year.
Whether you are dealing with $18,000 or almost $500,000, the vision and direction of ones work does not need to be complicated. Focusing on a direction (greater freedom, fewer expenses, personal responsibility) frees one up to try more tactics – all of which can lead to needed progress.
If you are facing a large debt or if you are in charge of managing or downsizing a budget, try some of the tactics mentioned above. That said, always focus your efforts on getting more bang for each buck and try to stay in the black. It is okay to go over-budget from time to time, particularly if there are unexpected but necessary expenditures, but you might actually do yourself a favor by not stressing out, setting some simple ground rules, and sticking to them.
Even when our chapter was $18,000 in debt we managed to put together about $2,500 to pay for recruitment, our homecoming weekend, a composite and our senior wills space. Beyond that the semester went particularly well for us.
Do you have questions about managing your chapter or professional budget? Tweet them to @FraternityNik.
Also, check out this post about my experience running Stetson’s biggest philanthropy event, Greenfeather, and cutting it from 14 days to 3 days, all while increasing our fundraising by 50%!
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.
I enjoy digging through fraternity and sorority archives to learn more about our past, and I can no longer accept how readily we ignore the shame we feel beneath the glowing reviews of our histories.
As I mentioned in my last post (and several others), the founders of our organizations really didn’t care about the things we care about today. They didn’t care about tracking statistics and making the news for a new-old policy or a new-old leadership program. Our founders wanted to build social clubs, and in creating national and international fraternities they became laser-focused on quality members and first amendment protections. Although we still reference our founders to rile up support, our student members are actually far more in line with the vision of their founders than most fraternity leaders or professionals – in my perspective.
While looking through the Stetson University digital archives for what feels like the hundredth time I came upon an image of some brothers from the mid-40’s raising a Confederate flag outside of their house. There were several photos of several Stetson fraternities from that same era with that same flag raised high and proud above their living facilities. I am not making a statement about Confederate flags, but could you imagine any fraternity or sorority sharing this photo on their social media today? Even to acknowledge a well-known piece of their history as once exclusively-white organizations?
This was not the first time I came across this photo, but I failed to accept this as a part of our history, the part where we were exclusively Christian and white and where several chapters were former Ku Klux Klan organizations. It may be touched upon, but the more I hear fraternity men talk about themselves, their organizations, and their histories, the more I realize that we have a deluded sense of who we were. Perhaps that is a response to the obsessively critical tone many fraternity professionals and the news media take toward our histories of privilege – they are wrong too.
Fraternity leaders want and expect students to learn our history and past, but omit important elements of it. For so many years I wondered if my fraternity’s history was “murky” due to a lack of information. That is a factor and what we would tell our students, but it’s untrue.
We have rows of filing cabinets packed with photos, correspondences, meeting minutes and newspaper clippings. We know all too well who we were, and because it is not representative of who we are and what the world wants of us in 2018, we breeze over it as if it were a meaningless bump in the road. But, racial prejudice has been a key element of the fraternity experience since its development. Our founding members may have had intentions for diversity, but those intentions went unrealized for many decades.
I am not of the belief that you can know someone from a single point of view. For too long, the stories of fraternities and sororities have been painted by those who hate us or those who love us, and lacking from both sides is a taste for realism or objectivity.
I have also tried to make this case regarding collaboration between historically white, historically black, and culturally-based fraternities and sororities. There are invisible divisions representative of our old selves which force us to think of one another as “others.” Sororities and fraternities bicker about who does things “right,” black and white organizations complain that the other isn’t open to collaboration, but are too obsessed with what makes them different from one another to move forward (“They do intake, we do rush”). We do not need to adopt the resentment those who came before us had in discussing racial/societal issues. . . that is all.
Students are told of the wonderful and idealistic goals of their founding members in depth. What attention is paid to the time between the moment their organization was founded and their organization today is a Cliff’s Notes version at best. They are not encouraged to explore how desegregation was a student-led movement, which came from challenging toxic, top-down, “zero-tolerance” policies and going against the wishes of many big name alumni members. We are ignoring important elements of the fraternity story, elements which many are ashamed of, but elements which humanize us and our organizations and help us fit in with the greater story of the United States of America.
Most organizations seem obsessed with presenting a clean, unified message to the outside world. Members are widely encouraged to vote “yes” on whichever slate from whichever committee is before them at a national meeting. Everything they are to do and value in their fraternity experience must be ratified by a small group of approved alumni and professionals. It is a sanitized process top to bottom, and we are teaching students to operate in the same way, but no one connects with that. Fraternity men were Instagram before Instagram was Instagram – it’s just a game to make your life look neat and petite without a care in the world.
Until we face our demons and tell our stories truly and accurately – stories which still contain the fantastic elements we share today – we may never get beyond our modern challenges. There was a point when fraternities were “zero-tolerance” when it came to initiating black students. In Delta Sigma Phi, chapters were required to send a testimonial and photo for each of their pledging members for approval from the Executive Secretary (old name for the Executive Director/CEO). That was to make sure that the men recruited fit the agreed-upon standards of the Fraternity, and one of those standards was to have white skin.
Understanding our past of racial prejudice and how students pulled us through that may help modern students feel inspired and engage more deeply in the fraternity process. That’s important, because fraternity/sorority professionals, leaders, legislators and the news media are failing to move us forward, even as they assume greater ownership of our undergraduate societies.
What would your founders think of the way your fraternity or sorority operates today? We ask that to students, and I’d like more students to ask it of advisers and fraternity/sorority professionals. Here’s why:
Beyond the tens and thousands of volunteers across the fraternity spectrum, many organizations have grown dramatically since their undergraduate founding members created the first of their local societies.
We ask students to imagine what the founders of their fraternity would think if they saw what those students were doing – it is (admittedly and unfortunately) often a way of guilting them out of doing something bad and guilting them into doing something good. I’ve already written about this, but few if any organization’s founders would have imagined, for example, that fraternities would ever depend on university recognition for validity.
Few would have imagined professional staffs of dozens of people orchestrating intense public service campaigns around hazing and alcohol use. Few would imagine that any cause other than the fraternity itself were necessary to make fraternities a moral contribution to society.
That last point was italicized – I’d like to focus on it.
Many if not most organizations rally around a national philanthropic partner for which their component chapters (well. . . their student component chapters) raise funds and volunteer time. But this was almost never an element of our founders’ respective visions. It seems to me that most fraternities were established with the expectation that they themselves were a service to the community.
Imagine if the American Red Cross were so unsure of its own charitable efforts (blood collection, disaster relief, fire prevention, etc.) that it diverted half of its energy, focus, and resources to a literacy nonprofit. While still noble, that diversion would take away from why people give to and volunteer for the Red Cross, would it not?
Whether it was putting on functions for campuses which had not yet developed an entire student affairs and programming industry or providing a home away from home for young men and women attempting to launch the next phase of their lives – fraternities themselves were crucially important to the founders of those organizations.
There are quite a few articles on the internet about toxic masculinity, and since men and women can exhibit traits of “toxic masculinity,” I think it wise to address its opposite force: “toxic femininity.”
As someone who was raised predominantly by a grandmother, mother and three sisters, I grew into many feminine traits as a child. Over the years my voice, interests, and attitude have adjusted, and I am mostly comfortable with both the masculine and feminine elements of my personality as they stand today.
All humans can or do exhibit masculine and feminine traits, they are not limited to one sex or gender and they are not as simple as a deep voice or limp wrist. Unfortunately, the public conversation around femininity and masculinity is pretty aggressive (as of 2018), and “toxic masculinity” is now a key buzzword with a political motivation. It animates some, causes others to tune out, and its meaning is largely ignored by all. In some ways, the haphazard use of “toxic masculinity” to make a disconnected point is itself a form of toxic masculinity.
For the record, “toxic masculinity” is a result of one expressing “masculine” traits to such an extent that they prove damaging to themselves or a society. Masculine traits include logic, ambition, protection, independence, discipline, and strength among others. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing, and so while masculine traits themselves are not “bad,” an over-expression of ambition and logic, for example, may result in a “scorched Earth” approach to problem solving.
Toxic masculinity is easy to observe because masculine traits are often outwardly focused and assertive. They are what we often see in the world around us from both men and women. Watch any political debate, including those with women. . . it’s often one big bro-off.
As Newton declared (for all of you, “science!” people), for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So yes, toxic femininity must exist. It is also equally toxic, but feminine traits tend to be more passive in their expression than “masculine” traits, and so we often don’t see the effects of toxic femininity as obviously as those of toxic masculinity. Note: Again, “feminine” is not “female” or “woman.” We all express all of these traits.
Feminine traits include passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity among others. Over-indulged and toxic, these may result in individuals ignoring their mental or physical needs to sustain those around them – something we see often within the world of Greek Life. Toxic femininity is when one works to the benefit of others but to the detriment of themselves. It can appear as forms of depression, exhaustion, or wildly illogical solutions to complex problems.
Where do we see toxic femininity and toxic masculinity come into play as it relates to Greek Life?
Toxic masculinity shows up in situations where hierarchy, order, and discipline work to the detriment of a chapter – there is an exertion of force or ambition without acknowledgement for the needs and humanity of others in the room. It shows in our approach toward hazing and substance abuse: punitive policies and actions, but also shows in dangerous forms of hazing itself.
Toxic femininity is on display when we place the “community” above the chapter, and when we pander to the desires of politicians, news celebrities and twitter trolls above our own members. It shows when we prevent students from freely associating because we want to nurture failing chapters – even if we actually worsen the state of those failing chapters with our abundance of “help.”
It shows when our members overextend themselves, showing up to programs, sports games, and working their butts off for the interests and public relations campaigns of their campus communities or national organizations.
Toxic femininity is on display when chapters recruit without rhyme or reason because they feel it is their job to “build better men or women,” because they want everyone to feel as if they belong, and because they don’t see the potential threats to their chapter’s viability. It shows in the 1,100 suicides taking place on college campuses every year, (which affects more men than women, btw).
Mars (associated with the masculine) and Venus (associated with the feminine) are actually both perfect metaphors of toxic masculinity and femininity. Mars is barren, lifeless, and representative of a “scorched Earth,” where the atmosphere is to thin and too barren to nurture life. Venus is the opposite, it’s atmosphere is heavy to the extent that it is poisonous, so much so that it incubates the planet into a boiling, swampy mess.
Our Earth is right in the middle. Fertile and feminine enough to nurture life, and powerfully masculine to push life to evolve further.
Here is why you must address Toxic Femininity: We all express masculine and feminine traits. We can all express toxic masculinity or toxic femininity at certain times. To put down one and ignore the other puts men on the defensive and encourages men and women to suppress their masculine traits, which may push more people toward the extremes of toxic femininity. Life is balance, so balance your approach to discussing human issues and encourage students to do the same.
When Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) first broke out, panic swept the nation. In that time of panic, many states passed criminal laws affecting those who know their status (they often do not apply equally to someone unaware of their condition & have not kept up with advances in treatment). It’s sad; those laws help maintain a stigma around HIV despite exceptional medical progress. I worry the same is happening with “mental health.”
With every shooting is a call for more gun control, and specific calls to prevent those with a “mental illness” from obtaining a firearm. Seeing that scares me because it seems like we are creating the same panic, fear and stigma around mental health as with HIV. None of the people shouting about changes to the law seem to have an understanding of how sweeping a term “mental illness” is. You shouldn’t fear mental health – it is not nearly as mysterious as the news media or politicians make it seem and it affects literally every human.
My Health Approach: My major in college was Integrative Health Science, and my approach to health and medicine is holistic. When it comes to the health of a person, regardless of whether it is physical or “mental,” there are low risk-high reward changes to behavior to be considered regardless of whether or not medication is readily available.
Here are some key things to know regarding health:
- Health (Physical, Cognitive and Spiritual) ebbs and flows for each of us on a daily or even moment-to-moment basis.
- “Good Health” means that your systems are in balance
- “Mental Health” is not different from “Physical health.” Good mental health means a good chemical balance. Always remember that – mental health is also technically physical health.
The key thing to take away from this is balance. Your body needs water to survive, but drinking too much water can effectively drown you: balance. Building your strength is important, but being exceptionally strong without improving your flexibility means that your muscles will not operate to their best ability: balance. Mental health is not scary – Mental health is balance, like managing your weight.
Your body contains many different organ systems. Your respiratory system makes you breathe, the circulatory system delivers oxygen and nutrition to your cells, the immune system protects your body from infections and your nervous system helps you think and feel. Falling ill typically occurs when one or more systems are out of balance.
So long as you can restore balance (drinking water if you’re dehydrated, exercising if you are overweight, consuming Vitamin C to help your immune system fight a cold or taking medication to kill off the extra bacteria/virus cells) you will regain your health.
Treatments can cause imbalances too. Some medications cause imbalances which appear as short-term or long-term side effects. Don’t rely on medication alone to help you fight an illness; healthy daily behaviors (e.g. brushing your teeth and flossing for oral health) help maintain balance and prevent illness.
BALANCE & MENTAL HEALTH: CHEMICALS
We don’t know everything about conscious thought, but we do know how brain cells function and communicate with one another. Each cell has areas for receiving chemicals (neurotransmitters) and areas for disbursing them. All of our brains operate in this way, and so imbalances can and do occur within all of us. To say that again: Every human, you included, suffers from mental health imbalances from time to time.
Example – Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps regulate sleep and energy levels among other things. Cortisol levels increase when you are stressed. Chronic stress (high cortisol) or low Serotonin are a few ways to make someone more likely to fall into depression.
Some people are depressed for a short period of time (after giving birth or with the passing of a loved one), and some deal with chronic chemical imbalances. Still, even depression – a mental health imbalance – can be addressed with diet, exercise and/or prescription medication. There is no mystery, we generally understand how those chemicals work and where they come from – even if it is more difficult for some than others to find balance.
Exercise increases Serotonin. Different foods provide boosts to different chemicals used in your brain. Mental exercises (meditation & prayer among other things) can help address chronic stress or anxiety. Combining them improves your chance of finding the right balance.
This might be common sense to some of you, and I’m not downplaying serious mental health issues which can require advanced treatment or which can be deadly, but learning to take care of the balance of your mental health, just like maintaining your physical health, will help prevent or slow down issues later on in life.
In an era where about 1,100 college students are dying each year from suicide, and where the media is gaslighting the public on mental health – which has historically resulted in stigmatization and counter-productive legislation – THE LEAST fraternities and sororities can do help their members young and old feel comfortable and confident in their ability to take care of their mental health.
Taking action doesn’t require a big press release and social media initiative to draw attention to your letters – it just requires compassionate communication and leadership.
- Mental health isn’t scary, just keep “balance” in mind and take some time to learn about it from a source other than the news or politicians
- Try not to overreact about mental health. Being gay was until the 2000’s considered a “mental illness,” the laws we write out of fear today may have unintended consequences in the future
- Fraternities and Sororities don’t need a gigantic initiative to start helping their members take care of their mental health. They don’t need a banner and a press release – more compassionate care for their brothers & sisters would be a great start.
More than half of the chapters closed during my time working at my fraternity headquarters did so due to some combination of low membership and excessive debt. Many of the rest closed due to risk concerns. The same issues will take down fraternities on a national level, and our opponents are well aware.
This isn’t a secret. Fraternities know of the risk they take on in purchasing insurance on behalf of all of their chapters. That is why any chapter which fails to follow our intricate web of policies suddenly becomes uninsured if they mess up – it’s a strange contract which makes one wonder why insurance is purchased at the national level at all. [The FM take on that]
The United States of America has been fighting a war in Afghanistan, the “War on Terror,” for 17 years. It is the single longest running conflict our military has engaged in its history. Every college student today will have only known a life of U.S. fighting in Afghanistan. The war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan alone cost us between $4 trillion and $6 trillion of debt according to a 2013 Harvard working paper. We spent about 20% of our total U.S. debt fighting in two countries on the other side of the world.
One of the final nails in the coffin of the Soviet Union was a protracted war in Afghanistan, one in which the U.S. armed organizations (ironically, ones we are now fighting) to deplete the Soviet’s resources. The Cold War was one of attrition, where the U.S. and Soviet economies were put to the test to fight proxy wars across the world. In that case, capitalism outlasted communism and the U.S. emerged victorious.
Some believe that terrorist organizations (which some suggest are being funded by countries like Iran, Russia & Saudi Arabia, among others) are using our position as the country most likely to fund peacekeeping missions and the country with a great expectation for world leadership against us by inciting fear into our public and forcing expensive war efforts in the same quagmire which brought down the Soviet Union.
How is this relevant?
Terrorist attacks bring about the same sense of confusion and the same demands for immediate reactions and protections as hazing incidents, albeit on a much, much larger scale. After any attack, depending on the ethnicity and religious orientation of the terrorist, competing sides will attempt to attach that individual’s attributes to everyone of their kind while their opponents work to suggest that the individual was an outlier.
In the same way, we know that dangerous forms of hazing resulting in 1-3 deaths per year are not representative of the hundreds of thousands of fraternity students’ daily actions and ambitions. We know that with each incident there are calls from those outside of our organizations to do something. Why us? Who even are we?
We are organizations much smaller than the U.S. military, the NCAA, and the MLB (among other categories) with known, chronic and overlooked issues with hazing. We represent the elite and the privileged, which may be part of why Cal Poly’s “Greek-Wide ban” is only a ban on historically white organizations, any fraternity catering to a non-white demographic is not a fraternity in the eyes of the news and college administrators. Beyond that, we have attempted to make a name for ourselves as the 3% who disproportionately represent our nations business, political and artistic leaders.
In some ways, we have accepted the narrative and role in which we must “do something” regarding hazing incidents in ways that the aforementioned organizations would not be expected to. The MLB openly advertises team hazing incidents via its twitter feeds or on ESPN and news anchors laugh about it.
If you are turned off by the language and examples I used to this point then you are missing the point. We are spending excessive and increasing amounts of money on something our opponents know operates like terrorism. With every incident comes a reaction from a hopelessly disconnected news media, which places pressure on fraternity advocates to react with increased policies and expenditures, which force students to take their dangerous activities further from watchful eyes and therefore make them even more dangerous.
More than 1,000 college students commit suicide each year. Men are four times as likely to commit suicide and white men in particular are the most likely of any group to “successfully” commit suicide. Where is the outrage in the news? The issue there is that there isn’t a mysterious set of organizations we can pin suicide on. Who would the news media celebrities huff and puff at just prior to their commercial break? Parents? Demagogues find us easy targets due to our secrecy, our bloated list of accomplishments, our smallness and our historic privilege.
This is a dark reality, and more people should openly address the tactics of opponents to fraternity life. As the amount we collect in insurance grows, so too will the appeal of such money to lawyers building careers by suing fraternities. Perhaps another fraternity executive will re-brand himself or herself as an “expert hazing witness,” pretending to care for the fraternity world while doing nothing productive and leading no thoughtful conversations all while getting paid to bankrupt those very organizations.
Hazing deaths and suicide have similarities, too. They are widespread, societal issues, the deadly results of which are magnified on college campuses filled with increasingly stressed and micro-managed college students. So why isn’t there a zero-tolerance suicide policy among fraternities, sororities, and within higher education? Because it’s a ridiculous suggestion? (Yes) Because we all agree that the way to tackle suicide is not through lectures, scolding and empty threats but through compassionate leadership and care? (Yes)
- The time has come for fraternities to address the extreme risk that their insurance methods place on our organizations – even if it means a significant drop in membership. (I think we’d all prefer 50% fewer members due to their inability to affordably insure themselves than 100% fewer chapters do to our creating a giant pot of gold at the end of the lawsuit rainbow)
- The time has come for us to stop pressuring college students beyond their capacity and to start caring for them as brothers and sisters with to help them graduate and lead a successful life (success being entirely personal and not based on checklists of “excellence.”
- The time has come for us to approach those issues with compassionate leadership, rather than finger wagging and by joining our opponents in blaming and shaming our students as a collective whole.