If Jean Twenge, author of “iGen,” is to be believed, the current and rising generation of college students are sadder, lonelier, and more likely to commit suicide on the whole. That is not to speak for the exceptional qualities of modern young people, but it is a truth repeated throughout the news and, finally, taking hold of fraternities and sororities.
I, like many, wonder why that is. Twenge suggests there is a direct correlation between increased adoption of smartphones and social media and depression after ruling out other factors such as the economy or high pressure school work. I will write another post relating the points of her book to the fraternity experience, but I began to think back to my time in college.
I specifically began to recall moments of celebration, and how often I found myself surrounded by men and women who were cheering, chanting, or drinking to celebrate a legitimate victory. It is something that I imagine many of us take for granted, as there are few places of work so committed to growth and celebration as a college fraternity.
We would celebrate when new members accepted our invitation to join, when they would complete the ceremonial rites of passage to consider themselves full members, when we would win a dance competition, or when we would win an intramural game.
We would celebrate any meaningless award, a successful philanthropy event, or even just our love for one another singing “Piano Man” at the top of our lungs at every bar or party. It didn’t matter if there were five or 60 of us at any of those celebratory moments – we knew to cheer for our brothers when they did well.
When a brother would do something exceptional, we would give him whichever trophy we had recently won as the “Brother of the Week” trophy. We would award “Roses” (and “Razzes”) at the end of every chapter meeting, often acknowledging one another’s individual accomplishments.
A member of another fraternity wrote “Faggot” on orientation leader signs posted around campus which featured one of our members during my junior year. We had several group discussions, to the extent that I called a chapter brother and staff member of our National Office to help me facilitate one of the discussions, to determine how best to respond.
Despite the tension of those conversations and the happenings of the campus around us (a “Rally Against Hate,” successive newspaper articles sharing every possible opinion and half-apology possible), we simply defined our house as a safe space and attended an intramural volleyball game – our dear member was the captain of our team – against the fraternity of the offending member.
Our cheers shook the room with every point he and our team scored, and we stormed the court when the game had finished. This is an important element of celebration – We do it because we care. In that moment, one which I will never forget, we affirmed our love for our brother, and our allies sitting on our side of the stands affirmed their love for our brother (as well as their love for “us”).
Some celebrations were less wholesome, such as our “F*** Phi Sig” party after we lost a lip-sync competition due to a technicality, but even those moments helped establish the fraternal bond we speak of today.
These moments are common among sports teams, and great companies often celebrate small, large, and personal wins with true enthusiasm, but it is something otherwise missing for most college students. Fraternity is where friends celebrate friends, and that is a true “plus” for young men and women determining their adult identities.
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 found myself stunned and giddy on my way home from the trip after realizing how effortlessly friendly and vulnerable we all were with one another over the weekend.
We cheered for his marriage, but we also cheered for the bond which brought us together, the bond which taught us to cheer on and build one another up to the highest possible heights.
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 it is rare to see as much a showing of support as fraternity brothers and sisters show for one another.
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 an initiation ceremony.
That is what it means to build a home away from home – to be brothers. We help one another or work together to accomplish amazing things, and then we celebrate. Imagine if more college students could have that sense of comfort and care in four of the toughest, most experimental years of their life!
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: (Something new I’m trying – 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 – the types of things which land us in the news for cheering 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.