the Light of Fraternity*
Robert J. Kerr & Marcie S. Tucker
of Northern Colorado
to the January 7, 2000 Chronicle of Higher Education, the American
fraternity world is in decline and few campuses have been able
to engineer a renaissance of the fraternal movement as defined by its
origin. Perhaps a new
perspective on the true path of fraternity is required.
One suited for a world where technology makes illusion real and the
challenges of the college campus are very dissimilar to the challenges of
twenty years ago or even two hundred years ago.
new landscape, we suggest the following elements represent the current
path for the undergraduate fraternity world:
your intellectual horizons.
and support viable and productive Greek communities.
develop group potential for the betterment of society.
and support the actualization of individuals’ sense of self.
The Genesis of Fraternity
The true path of fraternity, while remaining thematically
loyal to our heritage, demonstrates the fluid and flexible nature of a
living social movement.
professors, by and large, had chosen to withdraw from the surrounding
world of competitive materialistic activity into an oasis of books and
abstract ideas; the students, contrariwise, neither understood nor
sympathized with this type of life and visualized for themselves a
'practical' future, the kind which made sense to most American businessmen
and men of affairs” (Brubacher
& Rudy, 1976, p. 123).
appeal of fraternities was “[t]hey furnished centers of sociability and
good fellowship. For students
at the more rigorous denominational colleges they offered the excitement
of release for Puritan austerity…Thus the very existence of these secret
student organization offered an implicit challenge to the college
authorities and their rigid rules and pietistic atmosphere”
(Brubacher & Rudy, 1976, p. 128).
statements could be written in any journal or news medium today, they
actually reflect the sentiments of the early to mid-1800s. When America began her exploration of freedom and
responsibility by winning her separation from England, college life began
developing a character all its own. Initially
fraternities promoted free speech, the right to associate with each other
outside the official college forum, and the ability to pursue intellectual
disciplines other than the established college curricula.
These three freedoms created a community that encouraged individual
differences and debate. However, this is no longer the case on many campuses where
differences are viewed as betrayal and the fraternal movement is the haven
The Challenge of Building Community
demonstrated the current environment on most college campus fraternity
systems is based on a Win-Lose paradigm.
Who has the highest grades, the largest membership, the most
community service hours, and the most immediately employed graduates. This Win-Lose
paradigm is the foundation for the development of the competitive nature
for undergraduate chapters and is seen in the current approach of ‘the
cost of doing business’, as opposed to ‘what is the right thing to
do’. Stephen Covey (1994)
recognizes the fallacy of win/lose thinking.
“We’re scripted with a scarcity mentality by win-lose
athletics, academic distribution curves, and forced ranking systems.
Contrary to most of our scripting, ‘to win’ does not
mean somebody else has to lose; it means we accomplish our objectives.
And so many more objectives can be accomplished when we cooperate
rather than compete” (p. 213).
The current Greek community creates and sustains
itself because it reinforces certain behaviors of its members.
Organizational research conducted by Dr. Benjamin Schneider (1987)
illuminates the human behavioral nature of organizations. While
studying organizational climate, Schneider found that individual behavior
repeated in an organization were those behaviors that were rewarded,
supported, and expected by the organization. An assessment of the our organizational functions, sometimes
referred to as the organizational climate, is a necessary and essential
step in creating awareness of the ways we encourage or discourage our
members to behave in our Greek community.
The Gerbil Mill: Recreating the same ol’,
The fundamental intent of fraternity is the development
of wise and able community leaders, given our current path the Greek
movement no longer leads to the promised land of our founders.
“If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a
better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the
woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door”
(Emerson, 1871). With
fraternity membership experiencing its seventh consecutive year of
declining members, and the ‘first time’ fraternity membership
declining while college enrollments are rising, one has to wonder how we
can develop group and individual potential when our target market is
shrinking and our collective focus is on survival and revenue.
From our perspective with fifty years of combined
experience, we have seen few true innovative changes in the American
college fraternity movement. The need to empower students is still neglected on a broad
scale. The ability to attract
alumni to assist undergraduates is marginal at best.
And most disturbing the support and advocacy of the American
fraternity movement has waned on most campuses and within the communities
we strive to support.
the challenge is to collectively
agree on a new path and to zealously pursue its realization. These efforts
require all constituent groups – alumni, chapter leaders and members,
headquarters staffs, and campus officials.
Without this collaboration
we will perpetually repeat our past mistakes of being more
interested in command and control than encouraging, expecting, and
rewarding responsibility and maturity.
We outline the following recommendations in order to
provoke discussion, encourage research, stimulate dialogue, and free the
imagination to create effective solutions which will result in a healthier
Greek community for all.
support, and reward interfraternalism.
This needs to e done at a campus and headquarters level.
the level of programming in the chapters and at leadership training
programs. There must be
more time for reflection, dialogue, and interaction between student
a universal “money back” guarantee for all new members who resign
within 30 days of joining, regardless of the organization.
All Greek Councils by AFA, NPC, NIC, NPHC, and NALFO.
and reward campus communities who appropriately challenge authority.
support, and reward chapters for positive, effective innovation by
both the headquarters and campus officials.
a uniform volunteer training program utilizing regional campuses as
the training centers.
a positive conflict resolution program for members and new members
the disciplinary approach of “three strikes, you’re out” for
secrecy. The value of our
ritual lies not in its cloaked and veiled initiation theatrics but
from living the principles espoused in the ritual.
We already are held accountable for our behavior by outside
groups, perhaps we begin by holding ourselves accountable as well.
The light of fraternity is fading and requires a vigorous
re-examination of our current path.
We, all of us who care and are committed to the fraternal movement,
must be like the individuals who emerge from Plato’s cave and see the
shadows and fear for what they really are, just shadows.
Otherwise we shall continue to dance to the flicker of flames on
the cave wall and fade from the mainstream of college life.
J. S., & Rudy, W. (1976).
Higher education in transition:
A history of American colleges and Universities, 1636-1976
(3rd ed.). New York: Harper
S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R.
things first. New
York: Simon &
R. W. (1871).
of Quotations. Evans,
B. (Ed.). (1968). New
York: Delacorte Press.
B. (1987). The people
make the place. Personnel
Psychology, 40, 437-453.
J. Kerr is
the Coordinator of Greek Affairs at the University of Northern Colorado.
He has held a variety of positions in the private sector and higher
education. He has been
actively involved with the Greek community since the 1970s.
is a doctoral candidate in the College Student Personnel Administration
program at the University of Northern Colorado.
Her previous experience
includes positions in Greek Affairs, Fundraising & Alumni development,
and Student Affairs administration. She
has been actively involved with the Greek community since the 1980s.