Delta Sigma Phi is a national fraternity with 6,000+ undergraduate members at 110+ institutions and was founded by fewer than a dozen teenagers at the City College of New York on this day in 1899. Neat!
At the time the creation of the fraternity was more or less like that of other fraternities and student clubs – a group of students needed an outlet which appealed to their collective interests and backgrounds. Fraternities tend to be dramatic compared to other student clubs (take a ski club, for example) and for good reason, most started as “undergraduate literary & social societies.”
They were clubs for students who wanted to take their studies seriously and then have a group to celebrate with after finals. Think Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” but our founders were frantically studying instead of coding.
The founders of Delta Sigma Phi basically sat in a room and swore to an oath that one or more of them put together. There wasn’t a maximum “pledge period” of 8 weeks and there wasn’t hazing to prove one’s worth. They were just a group of good friends who wanted a support system to get through college.
That is the same desire of most modern fraternity men. A college student joins a fraternity or sorority first for the relationships. There may be a few who are drawn to Delta Delta Delta because of St. Jude or who are drawn to Sigma Nu because of it’s anti-hazing history, but most join a group of people affiliated with one chapter at one university.
Our founders were no different.
In fact, the biggest differences between our founding fathers and current students sprung from alumni like myself trying to make fraternity better by obsessively regulating it.
A fraternity chapter president likely reports to at least three individuals, sometimes many more. Most chapter presidents directly report to one or more individuals at their fraternity headquarters, one or more individuals who work at their college/university, and one or more local alumni who serve on an advisory board.
Those are just the people they report to. They must also balance the positions of their chapter members, any other fraternities/sororities on their campus, their IFC governing council, the press, and (increasingly) the NIC (or equivalent national umbrella group).
Our founding fathers had ample time to discuss their values, write rituals and live in a world free of hazing because they were focused on friendship and academic success. A fraternity student today, specifically a chapter leader, is consumed in a game of professional politics.
Each of those groups (the school, [inter]national, and local alumni) have specific expectations for a chapter, and the relationships between the three groups are often riddled with distrust. Disputes are settled through power plays and their priorities are rarely totally aligned.
Does that make any of these people bad? No – not everyone thinks the same way and that’s O.K.
But to suggest that “self-government” is a reality among fraternity chapters today must be a joke. No student club on a college campus is as overseen and regulated as are fraternities and sororities. Most schools require 3 students and an adviser to form any club other than a fraternity, which are associated with a laundry list of expectations, several advisers, insurance policies, etc.
For what? To build a lifelong support system? Doesn’t that sound counter-productive?
I recently joined my chapter’s alumni corporation board, which is separate from our fraternity’s collegiate chapter advisory board, and have had some communication with other members of the board and of the chapter. I never dealt with as much as this young chapter president is dealing with. . . and I graduated just 6 years ago.
We can blame the media and student behavior all we want, but there are two clear-as-day distinctions between the environments which allowed our founders to create something great, and the environments which are stifling fraternity and sorority in the 21st Century.
- Mass-Produced Recruitment: Today’s Greek Life communities celebrate recruiting 100% of students who express interest in a fraternity/sorority. Student chapters lack pre-requisites for membership and are compelled by their direct reports to value growth/size.
- Bureaucracy of Greek Life: Founders didn’t have two separate lists of tasks to complete within a year. They didn’t require 30 officer/chairman positions and most chapters were established with fewer than 15 founders before national expansion/extension became Greek Life’s greatest peeing contest. They didn’t have national programming, campus programming, or online programming. They had each other, and they had some helpful alumni around for when when they graduated college.
An alumnus of my chapter who’s been around since he graduated late last century often says that the key role of any group (school, HQ, alumni board) is to “help.”
Your founders may have chosen a few words when they established a formal ritual to be shared by many chapters, and your IFC may have chosen 4-7 words to improve your image, but none of those are what compelled your founders to create your chapter or your fraternity/sorority.
What brought about our organizations were students who wanted to graduate with a strong support system in place.
We are not competing for points, dollars raised or trophies – we are competing for high caliber people with talent and high character. That’s as much a message to any student reading this as it is any fraternity/sorority alumni or professionals.