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.
Can education exist without communication? Whether through spoken language or body language, we have evolved to learn by observing and tweaking, and that natural process seems almost entirely absent from the programming provided by fraternities and sororities, and education as a whole.
New members of Delta Sigma Phi memorize the Preamble to the Constitution prior to their initiation. Many forget it shortly thereafter, and few are required to or ever take time to analyze its meaning, which is strange; It explains the expectations of membership quite clearly.
I have written before that I may differ with some in my fraternity who wish to adopt a “creed.” I don’t really care if we adopt a creed; I just wonder if it is a relevant endeavor beyond fitting in with other fraternities. We suggest in our ritual ceremonies that Delta Sig offers more than a creed – it’s a way of life.
Questions about the Preamble came up in several meetings with potential founding fathers as I and other staff would establish new chapters of Delta Sig. We had the Preamble printed on the inside cover of our folders, and the opening lines generated so many questions that we removed and replaced it with other information in subsequent prints of the folders. I was always a little miffed by this, and my concern was that we chose to hide a part of who we are, maybe because we weren’t well prepared to explain who we are.
So, I hope that this post is useful to new member educators and advisors of my fraternity and inspiring to educators of other fraternities. It is by no means a definitive interpretation of the Preamble, as this is not the definitive fraternity blog, but if you don’t have time or the interest to work it out then you may like what I offer below.
Our Preamble can be broken down into 5 key expectations of membership. They are as follows.
That the belief in God is essential to our welfare
This is the sticking point. “Do I need to believe in God to join this Fraternity?”
In terms of our written standards and expectations – no, but in another, less specific way, yes.
We were established as a fraternity admitting Jewish and Christian students at a time when fraternities admitted only one or the other. Our founders believed in a wider-reaching brotherhood, believing that the common ancestry of all men was of great importance, and that collaboration between men beyond the invisible boundaries of the surrounding society (#CultureHarmonyFriendship) would result in a better world.
So you do not need to believe in God as it is interpreted in any one religious text, but you must understand and value the common ancestry of [hu]man[s], and the equality that such a belief demands of us. Equality is a recurring theme in the teachings of our fraternity.
The liberal arts system of education was established as an expression of the first amendment to the Constitution of these United States. That same amendment protects the rights of any individual to associate with any group with whom they share beliefs, so long as they don’t violate the rights of other individuals.
We owe our existence to our constitutional government and to the school systems established to educate and prepare young men to benefit the world. Therefore, it is expected of a Delta Sig that he protect our constitutional government and our rights (which protect our existence) and support our education systems (which nurture our memberships) so that Delta Sigma Phi (and other fraternities) may continue to proliferate.