Who Owns The Fraternity Experience?

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Tens of thousands of students created thousands of fraternities and sororities which inevitably coagulated into the national fraternity and sorority system as we know it today.

As was noted in a recent post, fraternities were created by students and grew predominantly to protect students rights of free association. 

It is a little strange, then, to see how limiting campus administrations can be with fraternity and sorority groups with only passive arguments or the cooperation of  national governing bodies and nonprofits established to defend your right to free association.

In many ways, students created the very organizations which would later seek to assume control over the student experience, but the majority of fraternity constitutions I have read leave the ultimate authority in the hands of the students. This is where opportunity lies for real, practical student leadership.

I didn’t realize the power I had as a member.

Membership is lifelong, and when I had decided to no longer work for my fraternity’s central office I chose instead to create a campaign to serve on our national board. The point was to show student and alumni members who had often complained to me that there was more they could do to change the system.

I was too young to be considered and tried to challenge the rule. 

The age requirement was in the Fraternity’s Bylaws, which for Delta Sigma Phi meant that I had only two ways of getting it changed:

  1. Request that the national board change the rule and allow greater competition (There would still be a slating committee, of course)
  2. Change the Fraternity’s Constitution so that the Bylaw would violate the Constitution and therefore be invalid. 

It was too late to submit a Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution Committee, and our National Parliamentarian couldn’t offer much guidance, so I sent a request to the national board which promised to discuss it after the Convention. [More about the campaign here – it was fun!]

Then, after re-reading our Constitution, I came across an important note (Article IX, Section 2) – An undergraduate chapter or alumni chapter may submit an amendment to the Grand Council via certified mail at any time, and it must be distributed to all eligible voting delegates within 60 days along with a recommendation of the council. 

So many member complained to me while I worked for the central office about feeling like they lacked control – and here was the control. I began investigating. In Alpha Sigma Phi, for example, the value of each vote at their national meetings is based on preserving a majority for the student body. Even if there are more voting alumni present, their combined votes will never exceed 50%. 

Many organizations have these processes built in to assure that students maintain control of the process, but few seem to be promoted or utilized.

At the end of the day, the students own everything

If I haven’t said this enough I will say it now: Students own the fraternity experience. 

They pay the bills, they achieve the achievements, they choose whether to remain connected to a national fraternity and, as we have seen at Michigan and WVU this fall, they choose whether to remain recognized by college campuses. 

Students are our employers, and we cannot assume authority simply because we believe that they are not prepared for it.

A banker cannot confiscate her clients funds because she believes that the client will not use them wisely, and we need to learn to respect the students’ role in our processes. We need to recognize who we work and volunteer for. It is not your fraternity’s National President, CEO/Executive Director, College/University President or any combination of the above. 

“He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and I am making it my mission to empower students to start calling the tunes. Every press release is aimed at appeasing fraternity/sorority professionals, the media, parents, special interests, or some combination of the four. Perhaps it is time we stop steamrolling our students simply because they haven’t (yet) learned to fight back. 

Students: Your Mission

As a part of your new member experience, next executive board meeting, or next retreat, take some time to look through your fraternity or sorority’s governing documents and take note of the chain of command. 

You will quickly realize that you are reserved a spot at the top – that you control every decision. Talk about it with your advisers, and think of what you want to see happen, but be mindful: pushing for too abrupt a change too quickly will make it easy to paint you as uninformed or immature.

Consider this post on practical tips to address hazing – it’s all about directional movement, not immediate gratification and “Winning.” 

Remember: We do not exist without you. No matter how gigantic and imposing your fraternity or the NIC/NPC/NPHC/Etc. or your campus administration seems – “fraternity” is your product. We bow to you.

  1. Drew Hopson

    Timely! We are experiencing this right now, some of our undergraduate Chapters getting together to submit proposals to the National Council. How can I, as a headquarters professional, support these efforts?

Questions or Thoughts?