America Needs Friend Clubs

posted in: Nik Koulogeoge | 0
This beautiful moment brought to you by Fraternity. (Source: Stetson University Digital Archives)

I paid to hang out with 40-60 people in college. It was a wise, long-term investment. 

Those who scoff at the idea of “paying for friends” (joining a fraternity) don’t connect the dots. “Time is money,” so any time you spend developing a friendship is time you could spend on money-generating projects. Still fraternity men and sorority women have struggled to answer a simple question:

“Why should I pay to have friends?” The answer should be simple… “Stop being an ass about it.” 

More politely: Paying in to a fraternity or sorority reduces the cost of fun with friends. Think of it as a systemized way of splitting the bill. Friendship benefits your general health and well being. Consider fraternities and sororities a healthy addition to any well-rounded, student-centered college.

It goes beyond recruiting members. Fraternity men are so bothered by the critique that we “pay for friends,” that we will do almost anything to be something more than just a friend club. Greek Life professionals do as much as they can to program chapters away from being strictly clubs of friends. Perhaps the thought is that students had too little to do as friend clubs and turned to hazing, alcohol/drug misuse and sexual misconduct as a result.

Be Everything & Anything Except JUST a Friend Club

That professional opinion – that being only a friend club is undesirable – explains our extensive “standards of excellence” programs. They serve as a sort of standardized testing for fraternities. We acknowledge as a failure when it comes to primary education. It confuses a child’s ability to learn with one-size-fits-all benchmarks unrelated to their interests or strengths.

All chapters must be all things at all times or they are not fraternities. The idea of a chapter just doing community service, brotherhood activities, and nothing else is as outlandish as a chapter which just plays video games.

We could just recognize that “fraternity” is the only common word in each of our organizations’ names. We could be the student organizations which prioritize the creation of healthy, productive relationships. It would certainly cut the staff and volunteer time wasted grading the packets all chapters must complete to prove they were anything other than just a friend club.

Behavioral Problems Don’t Discriminate

Friends occasionally don’t take proper care of one another. We see or hear about incidents where someone in a fraternity is mentally or physically harmed all the time. But these incidents happen to the chapters which perform best on our standardized tests as well as those that perform worst. Our idea of “higher standards” is really a matter of, “which chapter is best at checking tasks off a list.”

Those chapters which perform poorly on our standardized tests are often just too small to effectively to meet fraternity programming requirements. They crumble under the weight of debt or the pressure to become large enough to excel at everything. More than half of the chapters we closed while I worked at my fraternity’s headquarters fell into this “too small to function” scenario. Too small to function as what?

Focused, Productive Friendships Change The World

Dynamic duos such as the aesthetic genius of Steve Jobs with the technical genius of Steve Wozniak (creators of Apple) did not come together after reviewing each other’s leadership education backgrounds. They were simply friends with complementary talents. The group of friends who created PayPal (known as the PayPal Mafia) learned from that experience and went on to start companies like Tesla, SpaceX, LinkedIn, Yelp, and Youtube.

I spent the better part of my career advocating for fraternities to return to accept their role as friend clubs. We don’t need massive checklists and leadership programs to help men be better. All we need to do is let members find others with complementary talents. The strength of any fraternity is its network, not it’s 5-day program to review the 5 Exemplary Practices of Leadership. (those are fun, though)

Any in-person time should be geared toward relationships, save the leadership lectures for Youtube.

Through the power of our network, we can help more men graduate college with less debt. Those men will be more ready to take positive risks and start families or businesses. We change the world when we give brothers a platform to promote their ideas, their brands, or their professional interests.

We have some incredibly talented students.

I met many amazing men while traveling for my fraternity. One purchased his first home at the age of 17. Many started profitable, values-driven businesses prior to graduating college.

I’ve met musicians, writers, philanthropists, esteemed executives, caring fathers, professional partiers, and Vineyard Vines campus representatives. Each had and has far more to offer than what we track in our fraternity grading systems.

Leaning in to our role as relationship-building clubs seems like a better way to manage behavioral problems. It is also an area unserved by most extra-curricular activities. Friendship is a side-effect of most clubs. Fraternities prioritize it. That – not ritual or Greek letters – it what makes us special and relevant.

Perhaps the loneliest, most suicidal generation in recorded history could better deal with the stresses of college if they don’t have the weight of changing the world on their shoulders.

Let friend clubs be friend clubs.

Update June 2020: This post was edited and major sections were re-written for improved clarity and to link to newer, relevant posts on FraternityMan.com