According to Jean Twenge, author of “iGen,” the current and rising generation of college students are sadder, lonelier, and more likely to commit suicide than any previous generation. That is not to play down the exceptional qualities of modern young people, but more and more fraternities are enacting “mental health” strategies to combat this epidemic.
Where did this sadness come from? Twenge suggests there is a correlation between increased adoption of smartphones/social media and depression. She rules out other possible factors such as the economy or high-pressure school work. It all makes me think back to my time in college. Was I ever happy? Was I ever depressed?
Celebrating My Highs & Lows of Fraternity
I specifically recall moments of celebration. I often found myself surrounded by men and women who were cheering, chanting, or drinking after some sort of “victory.” It is something I imagine many fraternity folk take for granted, because the sense of community which is cause for celebration has all but deteriorated from our increasingly online communities.
My brothers would celebrate when new members accepted our invitation to join and after they completed the ceremonial rites of passage such as initiation. We celebrated after dance competitions or when we won an intramural game.
We would celebrate any meaningless award, a successful philanthropy event, or our love for one another by singing “Piano Man” at the top of our lungs at any bar or party. It didn’t matter if there were five or 60 of us in any of those moments; we knew to cheer for our brothers when they deserved cheer.
We would give a brother whichever trophy we had recently won as the “Brother of the Week” trophy when he did something selfless for the chapter. Brothers awarded “Roses” (and “Razzes”) at the end of every chapter meeting, often acknowledging one another’s individual accomplishments.
Triumph Over Evil
One time, during my junior year, a member of another fraternity wrote “Faggot” on orientation leader advertisements which featured one of our members. We had deep divisions within our group on how to respond. Eventually, I called a chapter brother and staff member of our National Office to help me facilitate one of those conversations.
Despite the tension of those meetings and the chaos around campus (a “Rally Against Hate,” successive newspaper articles sharing every possible opinion and half-apology possible), we simply defined our house as a safe space. Our offended member was the captain of our intramural volleyball team. We packed the stands we played the rival fraternity a few days after the incident. Members and friends of the chapter waved flags and shouted chants for our brother and captain.
We shook the room with every point he and our team scored, then stormed the court after our team emerged triumphant. This is an important element of celebration: We celebrate because we care. In that moment, one which I will never forget, we affirmed our love for our brother. Despite all of the tension present in our conversations as a chapter, we stood together on his behalf.
Bonding Isn’t Always Politically Correct
Some celebrations were less wholesome. We hosted a “F*** Phi Sig” party after we lost a lip-sync competition due to a technicality. Still, the moment a brother stood up and shouted, “F*** Phi Sig party!” to the astonished crowd will forever be etched in my brain as one of my favorite moments from college.
Competitive celebrations are common among athletic or professional sales teams, but they are otherwise absent from most college students’ experience. Fraternity membership offers the support and celebration of a team without the necessary athletic talents. It is ideally a confidence boost open to any student willing to commit to deep, labor-intensive friendships.
It Continues After College
A few weeks ago I watched one of my favorite brothers get married to another Stetson fraternity man. I expected to see members of my chapter there, but even with all of my years of preaching the fraternity experience I was pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly friendly and vulnerable we all were with one another.
We cheered for his marriage, but we also cheered for the bond which brought us together. It was a simple college fraternity membership through which we built that loyal love for one another.
Making Use Of Celebration
There are ways to overdue it (scroll down), but celebration is a unique component of the fraternity experience when compared to other student organizations. There may be a Student Government pizza party at the end of the year, but the support system of a fraternity or sorority is unrivaled among other student clubs.
Consider that the next time you sit through an initiation ceremony. Remember that your organization’s songs, cheers, handshakes, symbols, and secrets are all a meant to be used. Celebrate your friendship and your accomplishments and treat those moments as seriously as you treat that ceremony.
That is what it means to build a home away from home and to be brothers. We help one another or work together to accomplish amazing things. Then we celebrate our effort. Imagine if more college students could have that sense of support and love from friends during four-ish of the most essential years of their life.
As Alumni Members
If you work in Greek Life then consider this as it applies to your communication and programming. Show members and volunteers that you care about them when they walk into a meeting or an educational program. Celebrate what you’ve learned together as they depart, and follow up to make sure that they use whatever help you have to offer.
It’s time to stop checking things off of a leadership checklist and pretend like we are doing a world of good. We should all divert our attention to developing rituals of care and celebration so that we may not simply become societies of ruthless rule enforcers.
Reversal: (how can what I’m saying be wrong or taken too far?)
Celebrations can be taken too far, like any good thing. The cause of many accidental fraternity deaths – whether that be due to alcohol poisoning, falls, overdoses, or whatever – are the result of a party gone awry. While I would encourage every chapter to celebrate, it is important to celebrate genuine accomplishments with an appropriate level of enthusiasm.
Share a cheer and dinner after a successful intramural game. Take your “family” out to a shooting range (or whatever you think is fun) to celebrate a successful end of final exams. Give people dues discounts for great grades and throw a formal as a way of celebrating a year’s worth of accomplishments.
Moments of celebration are the moments during which we are most susceptible to accidents – such as publication of a tasteless cheer, wearing a tasteless garment, or worse, celebrating to the extent that we forget to care for the life and well-being of our brothers.