Tuesday, November 1, 2016

First Graduate, Then Initiate

I am an advocate for eliminating pledging from the fraternity experience - an idea that gets a lot of opposition whenever it gets raised.  Undergraduates and alumni alike seem to really like the idea of pledging, and most seem to consider it a critical element of fraternity life.  I still don’t like it, but if we need to have it, let’s make the most of it.

What if, instead, we doubled-down on pledging?  If it is truly a critical piece - the preparatory period for a young adult to learn how to live the values of the fraternity/sorority - then let’s not leave it to just 4, 6, or 8 weeks.  What about 4 years instead?  I’m not joking.

What if fraternity and sorority members weren’t officially initiated into their fraternity or sorority until the day after they graduated from college?  That’s right - undergraduate students would be “pledging” their organization for the length of their undergraduate years (or at least from whatever point as an undergrad they accept their bid for membership).

Graduating seniors would go to commencement, walk across the stage, flip the tassel, have a nice lunch with family and friends, and then head over to the chapter house for the initiation Ritual.

Here are some intriguing benefits of such an idea:
  • If everyone in the undergraduate chapter is a “new member” or “pledge,” then the power dynamic of pledge vs. active is removed.  All are striving towards the same goal: initiation.
  • Undergraduate members would learn the values and expectations of the organization, and their initiation could be contingent on how well they lived those values during their college years.  Perhaps someone could not be initiated unless their peers and advisors vouched for their character.  The deadbeat Seniors would drift away and would never be allowed into full membership.
  • Fraternities and Sororities could set a GPA requirement for initiation that takes the entire 4-5 undergraduate years into account.
  • Once initiated, the recent graduates would receive information on getting involved in a young professionals chapter of their organization in the city/town to which they relocate.  And, the excitement of initiation could mean they are more inspired to be involved as a recent alum.
  • If it turns out a particular fraternity isn’t a good fit - there is more flexibility to change one’s mind.  If I accept a bid to one sorority as a freshman, but then discover as a sophomore that another sorority is more congruent with my values, then I move on.  No letter to the headquarters promising that I won’t divulge secrets would be required.  Does that make you nervous that people would be jumping from org to org in a chaotic fashion?  What are you afraid of?  Shouldn’t we embrace the goal of matching personal values with organizational values, no matter how long it takes to figure that out?
  • Because of that same flexibility, national fraternities/sororities would be more accountable for providing a quality experience.  In a way, they would need to make the case to the undergrads for four years that the fraternity or sorority is something to be proud of.
Of course the idea isn't perfect.  Would uninitiated men and women be interested in operating an organization they aren't fully members of?  Maybe the friendship and fellowship would still be enough of a draw to make that happen.  Many other issues would need to be worked out.  However, member apathy, hazing, and alumni engagement are perpetual problems we have no bold answers for.  Maybe there is a solution to be found in waiting until a young person experiences one of the proudest moments of their life - graduation - before they receive an experience equally as profound - their fraternity initiation.



(This post has been updated since its original post date of 10/11/2011)

11 comments:

  1. As you said, the concept is not fool-proof or without holes. However, the stretch thinking is just what we need.

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  2. very interesting, as usual. One logistical issue and two push backs:

    1. part of the beauty of a well run Greek org is that the older (initiated) members teach the new, younger ones the facts, the values, the habits of adulthood. Knowing what I do about life out of college of a 20 something, I believe we wouldn't have any initiate around to teach.

    2. So besides having no designated 'teachers' around, this idea also creates (yet another) sense of shopping around... a lack of commitment until, basically, the whole show is over. I believe that part of the beauty of the current process (with its many flaws) has a young person committing to something and being held accountable to it - charged with making the organization into something of themselves, not simply shopping around until some org sells them.

    3. If we're re-imagining Greek life, let me throw this down: why are we tied to universities at all? yes, it's where the orgs started, and yes, the people in school are the right age to be 'shaped', but if we are truly values-based organizations that strive for a better world, why must our members already be part of elite learning institutions? why not just take this thing 'on the road'?

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  3. Tys makes some great points... great concept though.

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  4. John, I have long advocated the exact same thing in my "WHAT IF?" statements. In addition to removing power dynamics as an undergrad, it also sets the fraternity up to be a life long involvement expectation as opposed to "something I did in college". Older new members still have the ability to teach, train, and mentor younger new members. Personal behavior is another aspect to be considered...if a potential member doesn't live up to the espoused values of the fraternity, perhaps he/she is no longer a good candidate for membership. hmmmm. In the end, it really isn't unlike those fraternities that wait until a charter is granted to initiate colony members. Those colony members are working towards something they value the entire time. And to be honest, some of the best fraternity men I've met came out of colony situations just like that. WHAT IF?

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  5. This is similar to what NPHC/NALFO groups already do. Granted, it is different in some regards and they have their own share of concerns but maybe we should share ideas across Conferences (pros/cons).

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  6. Very interesting thought and something I was somewhat a part of in college. I pledged a local fraternity my freshman year and was initiated. At the beginning of my junior year we became the colony of an international fraternity. One caveat of becoming a colony was that we had to increase our chapter/colony numbers to at least 25 which meant that we had to take on at least 10 new guys without a "pledge" period. This was the early 90's and surviving the pledge period and the hazing was a badge of honor. The decision to allow at least 10 guys to become brothers without that pledge period was probably one of the hardest decisions we had to make as a Chapter. In the end, we made the move and welcomed a group that doubled the size of the Chapter/Colony. Having people joining without "earning" it made for quite some difficult times and resulted in a few people being asked to leave eventually. I think that if new people were allowed to join semester after semester and instantly become "equals" without "earning" it, it would be more difficult than it sounds. Once we became a Colony, we still held "pledge" periods for new people, but we did all have the common goal of being awarded a Charter to become a full Chapter. We worked for two years and received our Charter the weekend before my Graduation. I have to say that getting the Charter and finally getting to wear those letters was as sweet as getting my diploma at the time. I stayed involved for probably 5 years after graduation to help the Chapter as the original author suggests might happen, but I think I would have done that either way and getting initiated at the end wasn't the driving factor. It was really more that I still had a lot of friends/brothers that were active and enjoyed the fraternal time hanging out with them.

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  7. This is yet another attempt to liberalize the college fraternity. The notion people have that they can have something while giving nothing has pervaded American society. That is the biggest lie ever told to the American people. The truth is coming out at the national level as the free spending ways of our government are ending because they are unsustainable.

    I find this post to be somewhere between scary and disgusting. I was in a colony and the ideas he have look nothing like my colony, which became the most successful fraternity on campus a year after we initiated. There was most certainly a power dynamic between colony members and people who wanted to join.

    That power dynamic is essential for their success. This generation already thinks mommy will always be around to help, or that the fair police will make everything okay when they feel weren't treated properly in a situation. Our schools might have started telling kids they are all each special, and unique, and colleges may try to break down every barrier possible so people feel "included" or that they are a very important part of a "diverse" culture. That's all fine and good, until one realizes the real world has not changed on bit. No one cares if you're black, white, or Asian, Christian or Jewish, as long as you are good at your job and make money for the company.

    The biggest strength a Fraternity gives to its brothers is the ability to go into their profession already having faced a level of adversity few other college students face. That starts on the first day of pledging, when you are, in effect, told you are not good enough for this organization yet. It is essential that pledges go through a certain level of adversity before initiating. I am not speaking of hazing, but a serious and honest character review of the pledge by the brothers. That includes telling the pledge bluntly what those deficiencies are. If they can sustain themselves through that process they deserve to be initiated. However to go through such a rigorous process for four years would be totally mentally draining for any man, regardless of character.

    Beyond the lack of any structure of how pledges would be instructed or any defense for the total lack of commitment your plan requires it is completely antithetical to the traditions of the college fraternity. If this is because you did not enjoy, or value your own experience enough, I am sorry. That doesn't give you the right to try to ruin it for the rest of us.

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  8. Anonymous wrote:
    "... a serious and honest character review of the pledge by the brothers. That includes telling the pledge bluntly what those deficiencies are. . . . But to go through such a rigorous process for four years would be totally mentally draining for any man . . . ."

    What, a regular assessment of one's performance is too draining? Like, say, grades throughout a college course, or employee reviews by a manager, and perhaps teammates?

    We should all seek critiques of our behavior from peers and mentors throughout our lives, let alone during our college careers. Why should it be limited to a pledge period?

    Rather than put people through a short-term wringer, use the power of brotherhood to cultivate a sustainable, balanced process of fair criticism. Let it include frankness, yes, but also encouragement and support. The goal is to grow individually and as a team so that we can achieve excellence. State it that clearly, then live it. Let the senior benefit as much as the freshman.

    This approach is nothing revolutionary. I have documentation showing my fraternity's chapters practicing such criticism as a part of chapter meetings in the 1860s, before pledging even existed.

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  9. This is absurd. While yes there are some interesting points, I completely disagree with the entire idea. You are forgetting that even though we are members for like fraternities and sororities are COLLEGE experiences.

    - even if you remover the active v pledge dynamic there will always be a seniority and age difference.

    - Those "deadbeat" drifting seniors will have already put in year of hard work and leadership and deserve to sit back and watch other members take over what they have helped build.

    - alumni networks are meant for networking, if we were to keep our entire social life with just our Greek organizations through our entire lives we would not go far.

    - Chapters already have grade requirements to stay a member, and even higher requirements to hold positions.

    - part of being in a chapter is loyalty, part of being an adult is sleeping in the bed you made. What is to stop people from switching houses every 5 minutes? It would create chaos and cause drama. And it would be too easy for a house to fall apart if people could walk away for another house at any moment. People could switch houses depending on what mixers were planned for that semester.

    - I think it is the individual members that should make the national head quarters proud, and making them selves proud. If every head quarters were fighting to steal each other's best member what is to stop them from buying them.

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  10. Towner Blackstock wrote:

    "What, a regular assessment of one's performance is too draining? Like, say, grades throughout a college course, or employee reviews by a manager, and perhaps teammates?"

    It is not the regular assessment, but the withering ferocity of it. In all the given examples the critique is on a single aspect of ones life, how effective they are at their job, their proficiency in one course, or athletic prowess.

    In my chapter pledges are reviewed every three weeks. This review covers ALL ASPECTS of their lives, from time management, to grades, to their involvement (or lack there of) with the chapter, to their social skills and how they conduct themselves in public. After each review the committee gives a letter to the pledge and their big brother for them to review and work from. The pledge has until the next review to fix the behavior or they are dismissed from the process.

    Something that needs improved can be as little as a brother seeing a pledge not hold a door for a woman on campus, or as serious as a pledge partying all weekend and then performing poorly on exams the following week. Furthermore we criticize them on their involvement in other organizations. For example, my chapter is heavily involved in student government, so if the chapter hears that a pledge is not performing well at his position in student government, he is told to change his behavior there as well. My chapter will not tolerate people having a bad image of us because one of our member's poor job performance. In a similar light we always have upperclassmen in ROTC, where the older cadets are in charge of evaluating the younger ones. If a cadet brother hears that a pledge who is also in ROTC is not held in high esteem by the upperclassmen and cadre staff of ROTC, that will severely hurt them in voting. Not properly saluting an officer, or completing a physical fitness requirement can end up being something the brothers point out as a deficiency during review. It is not merely "you don't have the alphabet memorized" or some silly thing like that. We want great men, and to be great you must be well rounded and competent in all their endeavors.

    I had a Top 10 financial industry internship where we had weekly performance meetings, about a third of which resulted in an intern being let go. Multiple interns quit just because they couldn't believe how "attacked" they felt, and they didn't want to be in an environment like that. I thought it was easy as pie. The only thing I got criticized on were my actions for the 4-5 hours a day I spent at the internship. When I pledged my fraternity I was criticized on any and all of my actions. Simply put, you don't get to take a break from being a gentleman or striving for excellence.

    I made serious changes to myself throughout my pledge process, and joining my fraternity was the best decision I have ever made. But by the end of our process my pledge brothers and I were worn down, and just wanted it to be over, as I said the criticism was withering. We could not have taken that level of criticism for 4 years, but those 12 weeks were invaluable.

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  11. This is really interesting! After completing graduation, we have thoughts on how to build a suitable career; therefore, we used to take preventive and positive steps to deal with our career goals. Otherwise, we are facing different types of loopholes in our career path.
    Career Tips

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