Sanguine et Purpure Blog


Questions, comments, information?


The Oracle


Reflecting the Light of Fraternity*

By Robert J. Kerr & Marcie S. Tucker

University of Northern Colorado

According 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. 

  Given this new landscape, we suggest the following elements represent the current path for the undergraduate fraternity world:

  1. Expand your intellectual horizons.

  2. Create and support viable and productive Greek communities.

  3. Collectively develop group potential for the betterment of society.

  4. Enhance and support the actualization of individuals’ sense of self.

  5. Appropriately challenge authority.


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. 

“The 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).

The 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).

 Whereas these 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 of conformity.

The Challenge of Building Community

 Experience has 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’, 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. 

Clearly 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.

  1. Expect, support, and reward interfraternalism.  This needs to e done at a campus and headquarters level.

  2. Reduce the level of programming in the chapters and at leadership training programs.  There must be more time for reflection, dialogue, and interaction between student peers.

  3. Create a universal “money back” guarantee for all new members who resign within 30 days of joining, regardless of the organization.

  4. Support All Greek Councils by AFA, NPC, NIC, NPHC, and NALFO.

  5. Support and reward campus communities who appropriately challenge authority. 

  6. Expect, support, and reward chapters for positive, effective innovation by both the headquarters and campus officials.

  7. Provide a uniform volunteer training program utilizing regional campuses as the training centers.

  8. Create a positive conflict resolution program for members and new members alike.

  9. Support the disciplinary approach of “three strikes, you’re out” for campus chapters.

  10. Eliminate 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.


  1.   Brubacher, J. S., & Rudy, W.  (1976).  Higher education in transition:  A history of American colleges and Universities, 1636-1976 (3rd ed.).  New York:  Harper & Row. 

  2.   Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R.  (1994).  First things first.  New York:  Simon & Schuster

  3. Emerson, R. W.  (1871).  In  Dictionary of Quotations.  Evans, B. (Ed.).  (1968).  New York:  Delacorte Press.

  4. Schneider, B. (1987).  The people make the place.  Personnel Psychology, 40, 437-453.

About the Authors:

Robert 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.

Marcie S. Tucker 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.




Copyright © 2000-2006 Sig Ep South  and Sig Ep West
Last Updated: 2008-03-14 18:23
Questions or Comments? Contact: Webmaster