It’s Easier To Start A Business Than A Fraternity Chapter

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Over the course of five minutes I went from business hopeful to business applicant. Then, within 36 hours of filing, I was approved by the state of Indiana to do business. Compare that to my time working for a fraternity: While director of a fraternity growth operation, I courted students and campus professionals for months or years. Eventually, they would casually suggest that they were “open” for expansion.

In many cases, I would send a package of promotional material and perform a one or two day “exploratory” visit. Most desired that I present to the members of other fraternities to earn their favor. We would offer gifts and transport students and alumni to speak on our behalf at the presentations. It was an often elaborate courtship to win the favor of college students so that we may have the pleasure of competing against them.

Who Loses?

Imagine a group of thirty students at a large public university. Say this group of students are unimpressed with the 32 fraternity options available to the 20,000 men in attendance. Say they want to build an organization around academics and athletics. Why prevent those men from creating a valuable addition to the fraternity community?

One could argue that the risks are too great, and that without proper vetting the men may not create a stable chapter. Perhaps that would make sense if we could trust chapters and governing councils to properly vet fraternity candidates. The investment to risk ratio is far lower with a relaxed organizational standard.

One could argue that many low quality chapters is a doomsday scenario, and that many fraternity chapters are struggling and could use those members. But why force students to refurbish something they don’t want?

What’s That Saying? “A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships.”

That may be true, but a rising tide will not benefit a ship with a gash across its hull, and old ships rot. Rather than expose struggling chapters to the threat of personal failure, we attempt to prop them up. The issue is, great students don’t always (if ever) want to fix someone else’s mess. They want to make their own. So most failing chapters end up failing anyway.

It is a strange situation – one where we perpetuate the kind of exclusivity we demand ceases among students. This protectionism is a top-down predicament as umbrella associations take up the role of unions for fraternity chapters. More often than not, having the right money and connections lands a fraternity a new chapter at an institution. Not to mention, there are no commonly agreed to standards used by the otherwise standards-obsessed communities.

The Literal Cost of Protectionism

This raises the price for fraternity membership, thereby limiting its accessibility. In no state does the cost of incorporation cost more than $1,000 – compare that to typical fraternity dues. Perhaps a group of students want a simplified fraternity experience. Is $50 per semester enough to join a group with whom to hang out, study, play sports, volunteer, travel, and celebrate?

How could students adapt the fraternity experience to their generational experience? We know that fewer men are having sex [1], the constant presence of information, that fewer teens are drinking before college [2]. How should that influence the way we prevent harm? Our work on hazing and substance misuse plateaued because the way we address problems no longer speaks to how students experience them.

True Diversity Comes In Structure

Reducing the burden around fraternity recognition at colleges and universities will result in a more diverse community more attuned to the school and its community. It allows fraternity communities to adapt to changes in student habits and demographics.

We can already see the structural differences in historically black organizations compared to historically white ones. Why perpetuate the idea that there is only one way to frat?

It shouldn’t be harder to start a student group than to start a business. So, why is that the case for fraternities? Exactly what stability are we trying to maintain?