Tens of thousands of students created thousands of fraternity and sorority chapters. Those local groups then coagulated into the inter/national fraternity/sorority system as we know it today. But, each of these organizations started as one group of students at one college.
As noted in this post, the creation of inter/national fraternities was – for the most part – to protect the association rights of chapters and to enforce membership standards. Who sets those standards? Well, the majority of fraternity constitutions I have read leave the ultimate authority in the hands of their voting bodies: which are typically weighted toward student votes.
This is where opportunity lies for real, practical student leadership.
Organize Your Voice(s)
Membership is lifelong. I believe that. So, I chose to campaign to serve on our national board shortly after departing the central office staff.
The point was to show student and alumni members – who often trusted me with their complaints – that they needn’t wait for positional leaders to make change happen.
I was too young to be considered, and made it a central theme of the campaign to challenge the rule. The age restriction was written into the Fraternity’s Bylaws, which for Delta Sigma Phi meant that I had only two ways of getting it changed:
- Request that the national board change the rule (There would still be a slating committee, of course)
- Change the Fraternity’s Constitution so that the Bylaw would violate the Constitution and therefore be invalid.
It was too late to submit a Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution Committee. Our National Parliamentarian couldn’t offer much guidance at the time. So, I sent a request to the national board which promised to discuss it after the Convention. [More about the campaign here – it was fun!]
Sidebar: As of 2019 the rule was eliminated. Yay fraternity activism!
How’d I Miss That?!
Then, after re-reading our Constitution, I came across an important note. (Article IX, Section 2) An undergraduate chapter or alumni chapter may submit an amendment to the Grand Council via certified mail at any time. The Council must distribute the bill to all eligible voting delegates within 60 days. (along with a recommendation from the council)
I decided to look into other fraternity governing documents. Alpha Sigma Phi, for example preserves a majority for the student delegates in business meetings. Even if there are more voting alumni present, their combined votes will never exceed 50%.
How many of these rules, written to maintain student supremacy, are left in obscurity? Why do so few members know about them? How is it that some fraternities teach students about every rule except for those which explain how our organizations work? You’ll complete some hazing course before initiation, but no constitution course!
Who’s the Boss? You’re the Boss!
If I haven’t said this enough I will say it now: Students own the fraternity experience.
They pay the bills and achieve the things we brag about. (service hours, fundraising, etc.) Students choose whether to remain connected to a national fraternity after graduation. As we have seen at Michigan (1), WVU (2), Reno (3), and elsewhere (4), students can work together to disaffiliate from colleges and universities.
Students are our employers or our constituents. We cannot assume authority simply because we believe that they are not prepared for it.
A banker cannot confiscate her clients funds because she believes that the client will not use them wisely. Fraternity leaders and professions would be wise to respect the students’ role in our processes. We would be even wiser to teach them to make productive use of that role.
They say, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Students deserve an opportunity to make decisions more consequential than, “What’s the theme for our fundraiser?”
Every fraternity press release is aimed at appeasing Greek Life professionals, news media, parents, and/or special interests. Perhaps it is time we stop steamrolling our students simply because they haven’t [yet] learned to fight back.
Students: Your Mission
Take some time to look through your fraternity or sorority’s governing documents. Note which component of your organization sits at the top of the chain of command.
Research it as a group project, with each of your new member classes, and/or as an executive board. Don’t just whine when an unenforceable or unreasonable rule is passed – Organize. Talk about it with your advisers and get them on board. This is how we desegregated fraternities – student activism.
All that said – be mindful. Pushing for too abrupt of a change makes it easy to discredit your effort. Craft and perfect your argument. Keep it simple. Build a coalition, and focus on increasing your role at the decision-making table:
- Consider this post on practical tips to address hazing – it’s all about directional movement, not immediate gratification and “Winning.”
- If you are an IFC member, then consider this post about demanding a vote within the NIC.
- Lobby for “Contract Transparency,” because you deserve to know which promises are made on your behalf.
- Put out a platform prior to your organization’s convention and interview or endorse candidates for your inter/national board.
Get in touch. I am happy to consult with you and your team. Free of charge: