Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Like a Fraternity"

Fraternity men and women often feel like they are under attack.  And, to be honest, they often are.  It’s true that newspapers are more likely to print a negative story than a positive one.  And, it’s become common for university administrators to publicly chide the fraternities and sororities on their campuses in the hope that the students will accept it as a call to action.  Even those of us who advocate strongly for Greek-letter organizations can join the chorus of critics. 

Because of this, fraternity and sorority members can feel isolated and misunderstood.  We believe that we’re the only ones who truly understand the power of our experience.  How often have you heard or used the phrase “you just don’t get it until you are a part of it?”  It makes us defensive and possibly insecure. 

We feel unloved.  Disrespected.  Misunderstood.

However, I was reminded of something in the past week:  fraternity is still a powerful word.  One that deserves to be cherished.

In the midst of our worry about how the media and general public regards us, let’s not forget that “fraternity” is a word that people often race to when they want to describe the best of human relationships.

I was watching a special on ESPN that featured many football players who had won a Super Bowl ring.  One of the players told the host that winning the ring was made all the more significant because it meant that he joined a “fraternity” of men who shared the same achievement.  He looked around a room full of athletes who had achieved the pinnacle of excellence in their profession and decided the term “fraternity” applied best.

I was also watching a CNN feature on the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-Black fighter squadron in WWII that is the subject of a new movie, “Red Tails.”  One of the airmen, Wilbur Mason, reflected on his time with his peers and found the word “fraternity.”  The full quote reads:

So it was like a fraternity. There was a tremendous amount of brotherhood because guys were helping each other, you know. A fellow couldn`t perform to some degree or could bear something immediately, his buddies would jump in and try to encourage him and teach him.”

Imagine the bonds forged by these pilots, who were not only battling racism, but also the fears of death and war.  That type of bond and connection deserves only the strongest possible word.  Yeah, fraternity sounds right. 

Fraternity is also a word uttered by firefighters who pledge an oath together and then walk into a building falling down.  Police officers and others who know the value of brotherhood when stepping into harm’s way also know the term very well.

Back to football: I remember an article a couple of years ago that caught my eye because of its title.  It was an essay entitled “We Are a Fraternity,” written by a former NFL player regarding the tragic death of Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry.  For this author, the term fraternity meant the unique shared experiences that brought together men who would otherwise have never connected.

A Google search for fraternity is not always a pretty picture.  The fact that the media will find and exploit the worst of us is now a given, and hardly worth complaining about.  In some minds, and in some places, the term fraternity has been trashed.  It’s the punchline for a joke, or the way to describe juvenile behavior.  Honestly, there will always some measure of negative public perception that we wish weren’t there.

But in those moments, when we feel the world is against us, let’s remember that our primary identity – fraternity – is still a word that positively symbolizes eternal bonds.  And this will continue, as long as we honor  the power of that word.  We simply cannot take it for granted.  

When others in our world choose to use that word to describe the best aspects of their lives, it’s as though they are saying to us: “you may have some problems, you may not be perfect, but when you are at your best, you are exactly what we aspire to be…”

“…a Fraternity.”


  1. Thanks for the great post John! My fraternity experience is hard to explain to those who didn't have one. I met my best friends through Delta Gamma and I don't know who I'd be without her!

  2. Great post, John.

    In Phi Kappa Psi, we often use a quote by Ralph "Dud" Daniel, often known as Mr. Phi Psi

    "Let us be who we say we are...a Fraternity, not a club; run by Men, not boys; and based on Ideals, not Expediency."