America Needs Friend Clubs

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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 has been one of my greatest investments. 

People who scoff at the idea of buying in to a fraternity don’t make the parallel that “time is money” – that any time you spend with someone developing a friendship is time one could be spending on money-generating projects. Still fraternity men and sorority women have for many decades yearned to answer a common 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, it is a systemized way of splitting the bill. Just as friends are necessary to a healthy mental state, so too are fraternities and sororities a healthy addition to any well-rounded, student-centered college or university.

We have been given a lot of grief over our purpose. Part of that has to do with our outdated internal politics, but you may notice that fraternity and sorority professionals do as much as they can to program chapters away from being strictly clubs of friends. Perhaps our thought is that students had too little to do as friend clubs and so they turned their attention to hazing, alcohol/drug abuse and sexual misconduct to fill the void.

A fraternity/sorority professional will occasionally fearfully reference a potential form of anarchy, where chapters independently call the shots. That fear naturally manifests as “community values” and “standards programs” designed to serve as standardized testing for fraternities – (standardized testing has not worked so well for primary education.)

That same cause of anxiety – replacing a child’s desire to learn with standardized benchmarks unrelated to her interests or strengths – consumes our dedicated fraternity men and women. The idea of a chapter just doing community service and none of the other items on a checklist of standards is as outlandish as a chapter which just plays video games. Those are both ways people make friends, and yet they are two very different ways of making friends.

We could easily allow fraternities to recruit friends in non-destructive ways, rather than requiring they recruit friends in constructive ways. It will save staff and volunteer time spent grading standards compliance packets and allow that time to be spent communicating with students.

The list of things unrelated to being a friend club can go on and on, but that pesky desire to enjoy the company of one’s friends (particularly in the case where we pay for those friends wink) will rear its controversial head. Occasionally, friends don’t care well for one another, and someone is hurt mentally or physically. These incidents happen to the chapters which perform best on our standardized tests as well as those that perform worst.

In fact, many times a chapter that performs poorly on our standardized tests does so because it is too small of a friend club to effectively tackle any of the standards, not because it is dangerously out of line with our values. Those smaller, low-achieving groups tend to crumble under the weight of debt and overwhelming expectations – they don’t create PR headaches like scary parties.


Why are we so offended to be considered “friend clubs”?


Why does so much of our programming revolve around leadership and changing the world and so little of our programming revolve around short-term-planning and building networks of friends? I ask because very few of the world’s “Chiefs” refer to a specific leadership lesson they learned from a lecture when discussing success.

The fact is, dynamic duos such as the aesthetic genius of Steve Jobs with the technical genius of Steve Wozniak, creators of Apple Incorporated, did not come together after reviewing each other’s leadership education backgrounds. They were simply friends with complementary talents.

I have spent the better part of my career advocating for fraternities to return to their real roots as friend clubs. Our aims to change the world happen when we connect men with complementary talents and encourage them to use those talents together. Any in-person time should be geared toward relationships, save the leadership lectures for Youtube.

Our aims to change the world happen when a man graduating college can have his debt burden reduced due to the generosity of another, sometimes anonymously. We change the world when brothers know how to support their brothers’ professional efforts, whether by soliciting their business, recommending talent, or hiring talent.


We have some incredibly talented students.


I met men who purchased their first home at the age of 17. I have met men who have started businesses, profitable businesses, prior to graduating college. I’ve met musicians, writers, philanthropists, esteemed executives, caring fathers, professional partiers and Vineyard Vines campus representatives and they all have so much to offer beyond any standardized leadership program or standardized values grading system.

Do standardized training programs prevent athletes or marching band students from hazing, partying or committing acts of sexual abuse? No. Asking us to accept our position of “friend club” can develop a greater responsibility to addressing those issues than any wide-reaching standards program.

What many of us who have graduated college don’t remember or comprehend is the high intelligence and maturity found in undergraduate students when they are given the chance.

We forget that they are the most accepting generation of Americans ever and are well prepared to make sure our organizations remain socially relevant.

We forget that they have lived entire lives prior to joining our ranks, that they join as adults and should be dealt with as adults. We forget that graduating doesn’t make someone more mature, and that many members, not just students, suffer from depression or addiction and could use the help of a friend.

Sometimes it feels as if we are encouraging students to adopt a form of affluenza – desperately attempting to shield them from liability and developing adults completely unaware of risks: of failure, of tragedy, or of temptation.

Those things that result in chapter closures – abuse of power, standards unrelated to the mission of the organization and general mismanagement – are the same vices which hurt all types of organizations, including colleges/universities and (inter)national organizations. . Knowing that, we should consider a reduction in the number of standards in favor of those beneficial to developing healthy friendships.

Perhaps students 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.