Fraternity and Freedom

I’ve heard it said that when America was formed, it was held as a grand experiment in man’s ability to govern himself.  Models of self-government were mostly theoretical at the time, and so this country became the first to really test that idea.  Although there have been many stumbles along the way, I think the experiment has worked pretty well.

I’ll let the politicians and pundits debate whether or not we’re drifting closer to, or further away, from that ideal.

Nonetheless, if America can be judged as an experiment in self-government, then I believe that the American fraternity or sorority can be judged as the same - albeit on a smaller level.  Our earliest forms were established by men and women without the permission of the colleges they were attending.  Back then, students did not have to submit paperwork to a campus office in order to gain “recognition.”  If they felt something was important enough to establish, then they went forward without apologies.  Now, it’s fair to say that our earliest groups also didn’t want or expect anything from the colleges.  We weren’t looking to compliment the mission of those institutions back then.  We wanted to be left alone.  We wanted to govern ourselves.  That spirit remains, but is being challenged.

To read the rest of this essay, as well as many others, order your copy of Forever Fraternity: Essays to Challenge, Celebrate and Advance the College Fraternity


  1. John,
    I think this is a really interesting article and point. My men in IFC are becoming more and more self-governing. One thing I tell them is that, unfortunately because of the high profile fraternities have, either they self-govern and establish standards/trends or my office will have to. I don't like doing it; I'd rather have the chapters agree on what a fraternity should look like and be held to.

    One positive aspect left out is that when peers create standards for and with each other, they are more likely to hold one another accountable.

    Thanks for all you do and all you make us think!


  2. I’d agree that the trend is building momentum. Just this semester, the undergrad chapter I now advise became subject to “standards of excellence” for Greek orgs, which eventually will act as a checklist of minimums to maintain recognition. It was started by university staff, but the line items were compiled by student leaders to at least open the door to self-governance and peer policing.

    I also completely agree with you that the ideal position for third party advisers and oversight bodies should be to limit “building the experience for them” and allow the member’s leadership to be developed. At the same time, for those chapters not at the upper levels of achievement, can something that carries a risk of punishment bring focus to chapters that might be viewed as stumbling?

    - Wes