In 2018 Kappa Sigma cemented their position as the bad boys among Greek Life professionals (henceforth “FSL”) with the Champion Quest 2018 video. Fraternity thought leaders lambasted the organization on social media. Why would a fraternity create a video which shows students at parties? Where are the clips of men performing community service? Why is Kappa Sigma like this?
Those not intimately involved in the discourse within FSL may not understand the meaning behind that final question. Allow me to explain:
Disliking Kappa Sigma is one of those quiet understandings within FSL. The fraternity has made a name for itself by expanding without recognition from college campuses. It is one of the largest fraternities in the world, but not a member of the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC). The fraternity shows a general disinterest in the FSL’s ideological demands.
I do not care much for the video. It is a higher-end rush video with a bunch of generic “we are awesome” commentary. But in a world of watered-down “shared values” and leadership checklists, Kappa Sigma dares to be different. Plus, their members love it. Perhaps that’s why the fraternity continues its contrarian streak. Kappa Sigma’s current leaders care more about Kappa Sigma members than external special interests.
They Promised A #NewNormal
The CEO of Sigma Phi Epsilon embarked on a mini media tour after some high profile hazing deaths in 2017. He spoke of a “New Normal,” which amounted to an alcohol-free housing policy, media tour, and “elimination” of pledging. Basically it was no different than any other fraternity public
pacification relations campaign.
In reality there was nothing new for most of us. Alcohol-free housing policies were already in place in many fraternities, including my own, by 2017. Let’s not forget that Max Gruver, a student who died due to hazing, was a member of an alcohol-free housing fraternity.
I find SigEp’s “Balanced Man Program,” a non-pledging orientation process, genuinely interesting. That being said, their chapters still exhibit hierarchy behavior. The Balanced Man chapter of Sig Ep at my school, for example, hazed their members.
All Cogs In The Same Busted Machine
New Normal shadowed Beta Theta Pi’s “I Am A Fraternity Man” initiative, Phired Up’s “ReThink Greek” campaign, and the NIC’s “myFraternity” campaign. It intrigued fraternity members and professionals, but was too surface level to change the narrative around Greek Life. Bad things still happen, even if we spend student money showing that good things also happen.
New Normal served its purpose to temporarily appease FSL professionals, melodramatic media personalities, and heartbroken parents. It offered flashy, quick fix policies and tough talk so that people knew it was for realsies. Ultimately, the campaign probably did more to reduce SigEp’s insurance rate than to change student behavior.
Look at Sig Ep’s website today: It prominently features a promise to be a partner to higher education. That is important. SigEp in 2019 is guided not by its students or founding vision, but by higher education professionals. This type of pandering undermines the NIC’s supposed commitment to freedom of speech and association.
Update: SigEp has since left the NIC. The good news is that this means they’re fulfilling what this post suggests – that a real “new normal” requires independent fraternities with independent brands and objectives. The downside is that SigEp students will still essentially pay NIC dues, and that there is no real counterbalance to hypersensitive student affairs professionals to protect their right to expression/association (See preceding paragraph)
Enter Kappa Sigma
The real new normal lies outside of the NIC and outside of failed policies from the past few decades. I realized that I was conditioned to dislike Kappa Sigma from my time working at my fraternity’s central office. Working as a vendor serving fraternity members; however, enriched my perspective.
I attended the national leadership conference at which Kappa Sigma unveiled the 2018 video. Their main meeting space was positioned in front of our vendor area, so I got a back row seat at many speeches and sessions. One theme pulsed throughout the event: “We are special. We are Kappa Sigma.”
You Pay The Dues. You Get The Fine Treatment.
Most NIC fraternities host a session led by an NIC staff member to lobby for the umbrella association’s initiatives. The Kappa Sigma conference was the first time I saw a fraternity proudly claim their independence. It was the first time I saw fraternity leaders publicly discuss the faults of the NIC. (Many other fraternity executives/leaders speak ill of the NIC, but only in private conversations or text messages).
That is perhaps where Kappa Sigma is most forward thinking. They have a niche and they stick to it. There is no desire to cave to the pressures which make other fraternities more popular. Students are the central focus of everything Kappa Sigma does. So much so that they are unwilling to sign on to ineffective initiatives for the sake of publicity.
Winning Favor of FSL Professionals
Beta Theta Pi is, or was, marveled for its “Friends of Beta” initiative. They were one of the first fraternities to prominently feature non-members (mostly student affairs professionals) as volunteers for the organization. The Fraternity shells out tens of thousands of dollars to sponsor dinners and keynote speeches at FSL conferences.
Beta became a valued partner, and other fraternities scurried to swoon, spend, and gain equal footing. A fraternity must invest heavily into the professional circuit or risk being labeled a detriment to the future of the fraternity experience and students. I witnessed the dollars spent promising favors to colleges/universities increase year after year as a fraternity expansion director.
None of this prevented Beta Theta Pi from playing home to one of the highest profile hazing cases in recent history. Not “Friends of Beta,” nor “I Am A Fraternity Man,” nor five-figure investments in FSL conferences made Beta a safer fraternity. Only structural change and student leadership can accomplish that.
Despite the lack of NIC membership, the disproportionate number of “unrecognized” chapters, and the number of chapters with fewer than 40 men, Kappa Sigma is no less safe than any other historically white, men’s fraternity. Their programming – from my own observation – is on par with that of other fraternities. I also appreciate that the fraternity refrains from signing lucrative “mandate” contracts with vendors. Kappa Sigma expects people to sell directly to students to get student dollars.
A Community In Public. Better Than Everyone Else In Private.
Every fraternity touts itself and its members as the best and the leaders of the world of fraternity life. Behind the scenes they follow the direction of the many fraternity special interests. Their internal messaging telling their members that they are leading the fraternity world is more often than not a farce.
There is no smoke and mirrors situation in Kappa Sigma. They take the term “freedom of association” seriously enough to be different. Compare that to the cherished fraternities of the NIC, which more often than not just regurgitate its talking points. [Examples Below]
I love no fraternity more than my own, and this post should not be considered an endorsement of one fraternity over the others. My limited time as a SigEp adviser was great and I know and respect many of their staff and volunteers. But I am inspired by Kappa Sigma’s willingness to be different. Their leaders are beholden first to their student members, and that’s how fraternity should be.