What does it mean to be "interfraternal"? Is it an action, an affiliation, a mindset, or some combination of those things? There is pressure placed among fraternity students, leaders, and professionals to be "interfraternal," but demands for interfraternalism can be co-opted to benefit one person, group, or worldview.
We often associate this term with participation in Inter-Fraternity Councils (IFC's - at the student level), membership in the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC - for inter/national men's fraternities), or contributions to professional associations like the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA - primarily campus-based, Student Affairs staff).
This article will explore the meaning of interfraternalism beyond participating in these all-encompassing and increasingly expensive associations.
Interfraternity and Interfraternalism defined:
Hyphenated or not, "interfraternity" is defined as "between fraternities." Dictionary definitions of "fraternal" include "of brothers" or "like brothers." Fraternity organizations exist to foster brotherly relations, and interfraternity organizations exist to foster brotherly relations between different brotherhoods (fraternity organizations). Simple, no?
With that in mind, we can say that anything which leads to a more brotherly relationship between fraternity organizations or members of different fraternity organizations should be considered "interfraternal." So, if you are being told to do something in the "spirit of interfraternalism" just ask yourself: Is this helping me or my organization foster a closer relationship with other fraternity organizations?
We can also say that a man is NOT an interfraternal man by his declaration alone. We can suggest that one is not interfraternal because they give money to another organization's philanthropic cause. One is not interfraternal because they are a part of an interfraternity organization (like an IFC, the NIC, or other councils and umbrella associations).
No person or organization is interfraternal because they take part in interfraternity initiatives such as a Greek Week or because they sign on to a joint press release. Interfraternal organizations may do all of those things, but there must be true meaning and alignment beneath the activity.
Interfraternalism as Inter-Organizational Collaboration
Of the 10+ fraternities that have severed ties with the NIC since 2017, four established the Fraternity Forward Coalition (FFC) in the summer of 2020. A fifth, Alpha Tau Omega, is a member of both the NIC and the FFC. Another group, the "Harm Reduction Alliance," is comprised of four fraternal organizations: Alpha Chi Omega, Pi Kappa Phi, Sigma Nu, and Zeta Tau Alpha.
Harm Reduction Alliance members have organized several initiatives, including COVID-19 "mask up" posters and mental health services through Active Minds. FFC projects generally "revolve around advocating for fraternity men and advocating for our right to exist," according to Gordy Heminger, President & CEO of Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity.
As mentioned, Alpha Tau Omega is a member of both the FFC and the NIC, and all four Harm Reduction Alliance members are members of the NIC (men's groups) or the NPC (women's groups). Both groups demonstrate "interfraternalism" outside of the big umbrella associations, but they are not necessarily the NIC's or NPC's "competitors."
Still, it is important to understand the Fraternity Forward Coalition and the Harm Reduction Alliance and the tone they set for the future of interfraternalism: single-issue, low cost, and purely collaborative.
In conversations with leaders and staff of several FFC member organizations, a recurring theme was "like-mindedness." Heminger notes that this allows the FFC to take decisive action more quickly because the members (as well as any potential future members) understand the limited scope of the coalition. For example, in advocating for the fraternity experience, they work on recruitment policies with colleges and universities which may be too small to fall on the NIC's radar.
The NIC, for the sake of comparison, consists of 58 member fraternities. Finding consensus among all those groups is difficult. Moreover, the NIC is generally unrestricted in its scope. An example: all NIC members were expected to adopt uniform Health & Safety guidelines/programs and to support its "Campus Support Model." The issue of congruence is further complicated by the fact that some NIC fraternities are members of other umbrella associations with different expectations for standards or priorities.
Cost is another thing to consider, particularly when looking at the old associations. (NIC, NPC, AFA, etc.) Membership in the NIC is not free nor is it cheap - particularly if your organization pays extra to sit on the "Governing Council" (here's a list). Membership dues for governing council members reach tens of thousands of dollars per year. The cost-to-benefit ratio will differ according to your perspective, but there is no question that the money could be put to other uses. (a fraternity's educational programming, salaries/staff, digital content/services, to name a few.)
The FFC does not have a full-time staff, and organizations agree upon whichever initiatives they wish to support as a coalition. From my conversation with Heminger, FFC operational costs and individual initiatives each set organizations back hundreds - not thousands - of dollars at a time. Even when added up over the course of the year, they don't come close to the five-figure sums many fraternities are paying to the NIC.
Sometimes interfraternalism does not require a new organization or coalition. Two organizations working together is also interfraternalism.
The FFC and Harm Reduction Alliance are not the only examples of this leaner, focused form of interfraternalism. Phi Sigma Kappa and Phi Kappa Psi launched their "Phi Chats," digital programming for personal and professional development. Chapters and alumni independently collaborate and organize at all levels of the fraternity experience in the form of independent advisor committees, joint philanthropy events, or even parties.
There may not be an immediate desire to dismantle the old fraternity umbrella associations (even if they keep our students openly segregated.) but bilateral or multi-lateral alternatives seem to be experiencing a moment. These modern interfraternal efforts help organizations better define what they value, which sets them apart from competitors.
I once wrote that Kappa Sigma exemplified a "new normal" for fraternity organizations. That claim turned out to be relatively true. Even Sigma Phi Epsilon, who originally used "New Normal" as an anti-hazing/branding effort, left the NIC to highlight its position as a partner to higher education. The cost of an all-encompassing, "always in solidarity" umbrella association is not always worth the benefit. This decentralized view of the future is occasionally scorned in fraternity professional Facebook groups or at conferences. But it works both ways. Maybe other fraternities or sororities will partner with SigEp to strengthen their alignment with Student Affairs.
Interfraternalism is more than a public face and a joint press release. Interfraternalism, like fraternity membership, is about relationships. We will be better off when more chapters, campus-based offices, inter/national organizations, and alumni organizations collaborate on issues that are important to them.
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