Economists and politicians alike often suggest that small businesses are “the engine of the American economy.” They are not wrong.
Small businesses and entrepreneurship drive economic growth. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 99% of all businesses in America and employ 46.8% of the private sector workforce .
The American fraternity system was once overwhelmingly comprised of local fraternity and sorority organizations, which eventually chose or were forced into joining inter/national organizations to meet the needs of state regulators and campus administrations.
Having worked to grow fraternities for more than 6 years, I spent much of my career researching campus fraternity communities, policies, and partaking in the competitive dog-and-pony-show of modern fraternity expansion. The vast majority of institutions I studied or worked with actively opposed the establishment of local fraternities without an inter/national organization behind them.
Many institutions with existing local organizations, such as Young Harris College or Lake Superior State University, were encouraging those organizations to petition for membership in inter/national organizations or were considering policies which would only allow for future fraternities to be affiliated with inter/national groups.
I remember reading about the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at the University of Chicago when they decided to disaffiliate from the national organization. On a board of Student Affairs professionals the comments wreaked of disdain and ridicule – suggesting that the chapter was doomed without a national backing.
We should not hold such animosity toward local fraternities (or sororities). They, like small businesses, offer unlimited potential to challenge the status quo of the fraternity system and to allow Generation Z students to make use of their entrepreneurial spirit and talents to offer fraternity experiences which better align with the values and mission of the host institution.
As someone who regularly suggests that fraternities should ditch their obsession with campus recognition, I hope that my friends who work on college campuses take note of that last statement.
Here are some reasons to transform from an enemy of local fraternities to one of their greatest advocates:
Local Organizations Occur Organically To Uniquely Address Needs of Fraternity+Sorority Communities
The manner in which fraternities and sororities grow their organizations is about as hit-or-miss as if we just let a group of 10 students decide to start their own fraternity or sorority. We have all been entranced by the insane numbers put up by modern recruitment methods, but almost every new chapter becomes engulfed in the “campus culture” within 2-5 years of its establishment.
Real change must come from students recognizing the need for change and operating outside of the traditional fraternity council system. To do that, we must be willing to accept new kinds of fraternities and sororities which operate outside of the traditional councils established and enforced by stagnant national umbrella groups.
Many Umbrella Groups Advocate For Their Existing Member Organizations At The Expense Of Entrepreneurial Students
The statistics show that the oldest national umbrella groups do more to stifle competition than they do to promote the fraternity or sorority experience. The National Panhellenic Council (NPC) in particular has not added a new member since the 50’s, and no NPC member organization was established after World War.
Supporting local organizations means supporting modern students creating fraternities and sororities based on modern values. Why force students to join organizations whose baggage, policies, and values are representative of 19th Century society?
Local Fraternities Established With Contemporary Values Are Proven Game-Changers
Despite the stagnant memberships of the NIC, NPC, and NPHC, younger umbrella associations such as the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO – which recently turned 20!) are the successful result of student initiatives to grow the fraternity experience and address unmet needs.
When fraternity/sorority alumni or professionals speak of the founders of their organization, they point out that they were a group of students who wanted to do something different. It is hypocritical to then deny other students that opportunity because our affiliations might dwindle in size or relevance as a result.
Local Fraternities+Sororities Offer Opportunities For Colleges & Universities To Influence The Fraternity Experience
Local organizations should be nurtured by campus administrations as they speak more directly to the values, mission, and alumni of any particular university.
It would still be my position that the students be allowed to associate freely and as they wish, but there is a greater need and opportunity for a mutually-beneficial relationship between schools and their chapters when those chapters are local.
Just as local businesses are often compelled to embed themselves into their local communities, so too are local chapters compelled to embed themselves deeply within the college’s or university’s unique population and culture.
Championing Local Organizations Will Pressure Inter/National Organizations To Adapt – Students Win
Something I consistently advocate for is greater self-government in the fraternity system. From chapters purchasing their own insurance to eliminating blanked “Standards of Excellence” checklists – I believe that allowing students to focus on their interests and the needs of themselves and their local communities is the key to fraternities addressing our greatest challenges.
Remember, every major advancement in the fraternity experience has come at the desire and effort of students. They own our organizations, and our obsession with restricting their voice is part of why the fraternity experience is in such a stagnant, backward place.
Greater support for local fraternities means greater pressure for national organizations to meet the needs of their student members. Greater support for the right to associate places greater pressure on campus administrations to meet the needs of their student members. Those are both good things.
When students win, fraternity wins.
Every fraternity man or woman has their entrepreneurial founders to thank. By encouraging students to take their future into their own hands, rather than over-regulating the fraternity experience, we can promote modernization across the board.
Local fraternities are they key to diversifying the fraternity experience, challenging the rigid status quo of our oldest institutions, and better aligning the fraternity experience with higher education.
All in favor of a “Support Your Local Fraternities” bumper sticker comment below.