Economists and politicians alike often suggest that small businesses are “the engine of the American economy.” They are not wrong.
Small businesses and entrepreneurship drive economic growth. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 99% of all businesses in America and employ 46.8% of the private sector workforce .
The American fraternity system was once overwhelmingly comprised of local fraternity and sorority organizations, which eventually chose or were forced into joining inter/national organizations to meet the needs of state regulators and campus administrations.
Having worked to grow fraternities for more than 6 years, I spent much of my career researching campus fraternity communities, policies, and partaking in the competitive dog-and-pony-show of modern fraternity expansion. The vast majority of institutions I studied or worked with opposed and prevented the establishment of local fraternities without an inter/national organization behind them.
Many institutions with existing local organizations, such as Young Harris College or Lake Superior State University, would often encourage those organizations to petition for membership in inter/national organizations or considered policies which would only allow for future fraternities to be affiliated with inter/national groups.
I remember reading about the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at the University of Chicago when they separated from the national organization. In a Facebook group for Student Affairs professionals, the comments wreaked of disdain and ridicule – suggesting that the chapter was doomed without a national backing.
We should not hold such animosity toward local fraternities (or sororities). They, like small businesses, offer unique potential to challenge the status quo of the fraternity system and to allow the current generation students to make use of their independent spirit and modern talents to offer fraternity experiences which better align with the values and mission of the host institution.
As someone who regularly suggests that fraternities should ditch their obsession with campus recognition, I hope that my pals who work on college campuses take note of that last statement.
Here are some reasons to transform from an enemy of local fraternities to one of their greatest advocates:
Local Organizations Occur Organically To Uniquely Address Needs of Fraternity+Sorority Communities
The manner in which fraternities and sororities grow their organizations is about as hit-or-miss as if we just let a group of 10 students decide to start their own fraternity or sorority. We have all been entranced by the insane numbers put up by modern recruitment methods, but almost every new chapter becomes engulfed in the “campus culture” within 2-5 years of its establishment.
Real change must come from students recognizing the need for change and operating outside of the traditional fraternity council system. To do that, we must be willing to accept new kinds of fraternities and sororities which operate outside of the traditional councils established and overseen by stagnant national umbrella groups.
Many Umbrella Groups Advocate For Their Existing Member Organizations At The Expense Of Entrepreneurial Students
The statistics suggest that the oldest national umbrella groups do more to stifle competition than they do to promote the fraternity or sorority experience. The National Panhellenic Council (NPC) in particular has not added a new member since the 50’s, and no NPC member organization was established after World War 2.
Supporting local organizations means supporting modern students creating fraternities and sororities based on modern values. Why force students to join organizations whose baggage, policies, and values are representative of a different century?
Local Fraternities Established With Contemporary Values Are Proven Game-Changers
Despite the stagnant memberships of the NIC, NPC, and NPHC, younger umbrella associations such as the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO – which recently turned 20!) are the successful result of student initiatives to grow the fraternity experience and address unmet needs.
When fraternity/sorority alumni or professionals speak of the founders of their organization, they point out that they were a group of students who wanted to do something different. It is hypocritical to then deny other students that opportunity because our affiliations might dwindle in size or relevance as a result.
Local Fraternities+Sororities Offer Opportunities For Colleges & Universities To Influence The Fraternity Experience
Local and regional organizations, which preserve their own future along with that of their host institution/s should be nurtured by campus administrations.
It is still my opinion that the students be allowed to associate freely and as they wish, but local fraternities (and chapters of national fraternities) cannot exist without their host institution – recognized or not.
They also align with local charities and volunteer opportunities, which would hopefully help service stop being about hours and start being about relationships.
Championing Local Organizations Will Pressure Inter/National Organizations To Adapt – Students Win
Whether it’s chapters purchasing their own insurance or eliminating blanket “Standards of Excellence” checklists – I believe that allowing students to focus on their interests and the needs of themselves and their local communities is a key component in fraternities addressing our greatest areas of need.
Remember: every major advancement in the fraternity experience comes at the vote and effort of students. They own our organizations, and our peculiar strategy of ignoring or restricting their control is part of why the fraternity experience is in such a stagnant, backward place.
Greater support for local fraternities means greater pressure for national organizations to meet the needs of their student members. Greater support for the right to associate places greater pressure on campus administrations to meet the needs of their student members. Those are both good things.
When students win, fraternity wins.
Every fraternity man or woman has their entrepreneurial founders to thank.
Local fraternities are they key to diversifying the fraternity experience, challenging the rigid status quo of our oldest institutions, and better aligning the fraternity experience with higher education.
All in favor of a “Support Your Local Fraternities” bumper sticker comment below.