Fraternal Thoughts in Print!

Big news! 24 of the most-read and beloved posts from this blog have been compiled into a book, Forever Fraternity: Essays to Challenge, Celebrate and Advance the College Fraternity. Discussion questions have been added in order to make the book an educational tool as well.

Order your copy off of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you wish to order a quantity of 20 or more to use for a program or Greek leadership class, contact John Shertzer at for a discount.

An e-reader version will be available soon!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrating the NIC’s First 100 Years

Count me among those who believe in the power of the fraternity experience to change individual lives, institutions of higher education, and the greater society in which we live.

Count me among those who ardently defend our constitutional freedom to associate and never hesitate to remind others of that right.

Count me among those who believe that the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute has been the hallmark of fraternity education since its inception, and thankful that its teachings have been widely distributed.

Count me among those who believe that fraternity is a movement.

Count me among those who are enlivened by spirited debate, excited by diverse opinions, and inspired when uncommon entities can unite under a banner of principles.

Count me among those who believe in the teachings of Ritual.

Count me among those who believe in courageous acts that push boundaries and champion causes that may be unpopular, but absolutely vital.

Count me among those who feel that philosophical models, such has year-round recruitment, expectations for membership, standards of excellence, and values congruence, have elevated fraternities in permanent and powerful ways.

Count me among those who love my fraternity and the spirit of interfraternalism as well.

And count me among those who know that these beliefs have been promoted, sustained, and in many cases made possible by the efforts of the North American Interfraternity Conference, since its creation in 1909.  With admiration for all that’s been done, and excitement for what is yet to come, count me among those who proudly celebrate the NIC on its 100th anniversary.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fraternal Relevancy that Matters

The word “relevance” seems to be all the rage right now.  I’m reading it and hearing it much more often, and I’ve spoken with many Greek Advisors who incorporate that term frequently into their discussions with undergraduates.  Many Alumni programs seem to grapple with the idea of relevance as well.  I have a few observations on that term and its use towards Greek-letter organizations.

When examining fraternal relevance we need to add the question, “relevant to what?”  A thing cannot just be relevant on its own.  It needs to be relevant to something else.   Greek-letter organizations can ask if they are relevant to any of the following:  host colleges/universities, individual members’ lives, and/or the growth of society as a whole.  I think most people are considering colleges/universities when they speak of fraternal relevance.  In other words, when asking about the relevance of college fraternities and sororities, they are questioning whether or not they are still pertinent to the host institution.  That’s fine – but we shouldn’t use that as our only measure.  If we determine that we are no longer relevant to host institutions, then is it over?  No.  We may still be VERY relevant to the lives of our individual members who will achieve great things because of their involvement.  Greek-letter organizations may still be VERY relevant to the growth of our society – particularly American society and its need for leaders and organizers.

If tomorrow, all host institutions decided to cut their ties with Greek-letter organizations, would we go the way of the dodo?  I doubt we would.  Instead, we would adapt.  For instance, we might transform into more community-oriented organizations, much like Kiwanis or Freemasons.  We would find a way to carry on.

I’m not making the case that we ignore our relationship with our host institutions.  In all possible ways, we need to nurture that relationship.  We should be actively concerned with how we impact the academic success of our members.  If we house students on a particular campus, we should ensure that we are creating safe and secure living environments.  Overall, we should act as good partners to these institutions, because partners are what we are.

I understand the need to play nice with our “hosts.”  I value the perspectives and call to action brought forth by the Franklin Square group.  But, I fear that in philosophical and tangible ways, we are handing over our right to exist to institutions of higher education – most of which never really wanted us to exist in the first place. 

In other words, the frenzy over trying to regain relevance to colleges and universities has to be tempered with the following question:  were we ever meant to be relevant?  Were we ever really meant to compliment the mission of the campuses where our founders happened to meet up?  I admit that I am not a “Bairds Manual” aficionado that can speak to fraternity history with precision.  However, my understanding of the founding of our movement is that individuals were looking for something that wasn’t provided in their college experience.  They wanted shared values, camaraderie, spirited debate, and fun.  I doubt they took much time wondering how these new organizations fit into the missions of their college or university.  My interpretation of our beginnings is that we were borne out of defiance to the host institutions, not in seamless companionship with them.  So while we should care about that relationship now, should it really define our right to exist?

Focusing on our relevancy to higher education also puts us on the defensive.  We are always stuck responding to someone else’s needs.  This results in a one-way relationship, with colleges and universities holding all the cards.  Simply by asking the question of whether or not we are relevant to our host institutions, we are positing the possibility that we are not.  We are falsely expressing that we might not matter.

We do matter.  We do make a difference - ask almost any person who has had a fraternal experience.  We have a story to share, and lessons to teach.  Our values are timeless, and every man or woman who passes through our organizations can be better off by having learned them.  If we are to dissolve, it will not be because we stopped being relevant to a university or a college – it will be because we stopped being relevant to those who are yet to join.