Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Future Without Fraternity Houses

What if we, as fraternities and sororities, decided to no longer be in the housing business?


Before you fight back, I’m only wondering at this point.  Although, the more I wonder, the more I think the next era of fraternity may feature fewer and fewer houses.  Or none at all.

I am a product of a fraternity house.  I lived in one all of my college years except for my freshman year.  Beyond some great memories, the experience of living in a house taught me a lot about relationships, leadership, and life.  The house taught us all responsibility, including the importance of keeping it clean.   


We didn’t do a very good job at that.  My mom cried every August when her and dad would leave me behind at the house.  It was a shipwreck.  A shipwreck that I loved.  It’s hard for me at times to separate my fraternity experience from my fraternity house experience.

But despite my love for my house experience, I’m fairly certain that if given a chance to establish a brand new fraternity system on a given campus, I would opt away from houses.  Why?  Risk and liability mostly.  No stairs, balconies, flammable couches, or overloaded electrical outlets that I would be responsible for.

Financial reasons also play a role.  If you build a house, you have to fill it.  Students these days are not as likely as I was to put up with bare-bones amenities and communal living.  For instance, a growing number of residence hall rooms are singles or suites that have private bathrooms.

There was NOTHING private about the bathroom in my fraternity house.


This trend shows itself on so many campuses.  How many fraternities on your campus, for example, can only get their freshmen/sophomores to live in the house?  How many have had to institute mandatory live-in policies or a penalty fee if members choose to live “out-of-house?”

Speaking of on-campus residence halls, how can we continue to compete with those?  Colleges and universities are pouring big dollars into their lodging options in order to stay competitive.  Most campuses have new shiny buildings that make parents temporarily crazy enough to pay exorbitant fees for their sons or daughters to live there.  Keeping up with the Jones’s may bankrupt us.  

Many of our houses nationwide were built during our boom years of the 70's and 80's.  That's a lot of wear and tear, and a major period of repairs, upgrades, and rebuilding is upon us.  Are the tens of millions of dollars worth it?

The work of a fraternity house corporation is getting harder and harder.  I have to think many of them would find private relief in boarding up the house and having members make other arrangements versus trying to keep the place running.

I have to think fraternity headquarters and boards would also find some relief, especially on the insurance side. 

Some campuses have handed over the fraternity dwellings to the university entirely.  They are now owned and operated by the host institutions, which means they set the rules and could change their mind any given year.  I don’t see this as an ideal solution either.  We might as well just move on.

Before you argue against the idea of no more houses, you have to answer the question: is a fraternity house essential for a fraternity experience.  I conducted an unscientific poll on this question a couple of years ago on this blog, and the highest percentage by far said a house wasn’t critical. 

If a house is essential, why are so many brand-new fraternities and sororities (including colonies) some of our highest-performing?  They are likely to meet in a classroom on campus and then live scattered in many halls, apartments, and houses.

Houses weren’t written into our Rituals, or into our constitutions from the beginning.  Every fraternity in America has chapters that do not have houses, yet consider them equal brothers or sisters in every way.

 
So why would there even be a debate?  It hardly seems worth it to have a house these days.  Well, there is a very believable theory that members who have the house experience have a deeper fraternity connection and thus are more engaged with the fraternity as alumni.  The invention  of the fraternity house may have been a big reason for our sustained success over time.  Maybe the solution is MORE houses, not fewer.


Fraternities still need a place for fellowship and to conduct their business.  But does that require a house?  Meeting lodges - which some campuses already have - could be a good option.  If we put our money and attention towards fraternity spaces, and not fraternity dwellings, then maybe we would have a lot fewer headaches and a strategy to meet the future.
 
Can you imagine a future without houses for fraternities and sororities?  Despite the fact that woke up and went to bed in one for three great years, I can.




20 comments:

  1. Not only can I imagine it, I lived it. No fraternity houses on my campus. We still accomplished great things.

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  2. Great post as always.

    Those of us who didn't live in a house but had an incredible Greek Experiences can absolutely imagine a future without houses. A future where members who live together over the years do it entirely by choice or members of one chapter live with members of another chapter, gasp! Members in communities without greek housing eat in a dining hall with unaffiliated students, study in public spaces, and are able to select members on qualities that do not include their interest or willingness to move in.

    I joined at a small campus and my chapter was generally small (under 50 members). Thinking about one semester, I can name at least 4 campus suites that had a member of multiple chapters living together and I'm sure if I thought hard I could come up with many, many more. That is such a valuable experience and can really help make a 'system' a true Greek Community.

    As a consultant I visited a lot of housed chapters and while most members would echo your sentiment of loving their housed experience, I also saw how damning a house could be in recruitment and how much the physical structure impacts the general chapter health.

    As a campus based professional with a community that is not housed now, when members here talk about wanting housing I can't help but groan internally. They have such a great, well rounded community experience that includes members interacting very often, not only with members from other chapters, but with members in other chapters from other councils because they eat together, study together, meet in the same classrooms at night, and therefore then partner for service events and mixers. In my mind that interaction is one of the characteristics of the future of relevant Fraternity & Sorority Communities. We must support and enhance diverse interactions and when our chapters are separated by their physical structures those interactions are limited to the artificially created moments or social events.

    Like you said, a lack of housing does present some campus challenges for meetings, recruitment spaces, locations for chapter retreats and initiations. I watch the students I work with creatively problem solve, share share meeting spaces, work out issues when their reservations conflict, and partner with local community organizations for space. I think that those problem solving and planning skills are as useful down the road as the skill of decorating a bulletin board to schedule the house chores.

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  3. Is any Fraternity house perfect? Of course not. They will always be beset by risk management issues; house chores that are skipped; expensive maintenance and repairs. But what the Author fails to realize is that the University arms race to build “perfect,” isolated, and sterile communities in the Dorms is exactly the type of Balkanization of young lives that Fraternities ought to stand against.

    By living together, we become better brothers and sisters, more engaged with our chapters, our alumni, and our university. Brothers are forced into roles of responsibility available nowhere else. They are forced to hold each other accountable, to look out for each other, and to care for a legacy that has physical embodiment. We become closer precisely because we are bound together by not just an organization and creed, but a place.

    Thus, this article could not be more fundamentally wrong. A Fraternity House is more than mere real property and tort liability. It is better described as a Home. My Fraternity House was the defining location for four years of my life. My best friends were made In that house; my best memories Still reside there. When I return to my campus in fifty years, that house will still stand, a testament to the people who live and have lived there, who work and donate and care for her every day.

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  4. I started at a chapter without a house and then transferred to a school where the chapter did have a house. Both can work. Living in a house has brought me closer to my brothers. As house manager, I have developed skills that will no doubt be of use when I graduate. Living in a house without the watchful eye of Residential Life is a great way to transition into learning how to live on your own. Paying bills on time, keeping a clean house, cooking your own food all are part of growing up and fraternity houses definitely provide a benefit to those who choose to live in them.

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  5. I have a somewhat unique experience as a member of an organization that lost its chapter house for financial reasons. Once the financial albatross of the chapter house was no longer around our necks (and, I admit, we also compromised our standards for membership to some degree because we were trying to "fill the house"), we became much closer as friends and brothers.

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  6. This topic came up somewhat tangentially in a meeting yesterday about, of all things, hazing prevention. I'm sure there's an argument to be made that the existence of a chapter facility makes members more prone to subject their new members hazing, under the guise of tradition. It gives them a central location to conduct such operations, conceivably hidden from the University or Central Headquarters eyes.

    Interestingly, the comment came from a NPHC member, who did not come of age in a chapter facility, and who advises her chapter here without a house. To some, the house represents a marker, a home base, a physical place to identify as a cohesive unit. And, one would assume, a place of safety and refuge from the underhanded hazing that may still go on. I don't know that there's evidence that points to more or less hazing that occurs at chapters with or without a facility, but it made me wonder. If we all knew where each chapter congregated, wouldn't we be better equipped to identify who's acting in accordance with their values (and those of the campus), and who isn't?

    Physical space on campus is a crucial part of students' development. A recent study through the Association of College Unions International http://en.calameo.com/read/000001840eb27a81e0a9c offers some more thoughts on that topic. To our members, the chapter house may be a "third space" for them to exist between home (the residence hall or their apartment) and their work (the classroom) - so the impact of this discussion affects the whole chapter, not just the ones who are living in.

    Can I see a future without housing? Sure. I'm an advisor and house corporation member, so I can see many ways that makes my life easier, and perhaps creates time I can give back to my men in another way. Is that the "right" future? Call me undecided at this point.

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  7. Part of the reason you want to become a member of a fraternity is because you enjoy the company of the other members. Living together helps strengthen the bonds of friendship and creates many lasting memories that brothers carry with them forever.

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  8. A fraternity starts with FRIENDSHIP. And where is a better place to build brotherhood, share ideas AND work together as a team then in the chapter house? It comes down to FIDELITY. Being faithful and loyal to your brothers that you share a house with.

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  9. I went to a school with no Chapter Housing. I helped found my Chapter some 20 years ago. Every so often someone comes back from a road trip or a National meeting pining for a Chapter House. I remind them that it's not a House, but the Chapter that makes your experience great. Granted we are in an urban area (Chicago) where housing would be past insanely expensive, but to my chapter (where I'm no the Chapter Advisor) our motto is "no house, no problem." They are still the biggest chapter on campus, turn in the most commjunity service hours, raise the most money, get decent grades and have the most fun. We win national awards for the things we do and were finalist for the Outstanding Chapter. Housing isn't what you need to be great, good members are what get you to great.

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  10. John and I were Greeks on the same campus, although decades apart and I may be the oldest (67) to reply thus far. Have times changed, you bet. Are houses both a liability and an asset, you bet. Are houses PROBABLY more a liability than an asset for the reasons John and others have mentioned, you bet.
    Here are some additional points to consider. For those alums used to living in a house, whether 27 or 67, the house was a central, easily located, meeting place. When returning to campus for homecoming (possibly also a dinosaur of the past), where do alums meet and greet? For an alum to meet an undergrad f-t-f, he could use Facebook, Tweet, I-Phones, but how many of my generation are adept at doing so?
    Hmmm, that makes me wonder why it is important to keep alums involved. I know, I know. We are not Greeks for four years but for a lifetime, but in the past we needed to keep in touch with alums so that they would step forward when we needed their financial support to remodel the house or build a new one, right?
    And on my campus the guys had fraternity houses and the women had sorority suites in the residence halls (formerly known as dorms). Was it the guys or the gals who had more expense when it came to upkeep of their facilities? After all, there were no beer blasts in or around the residence halls, was there? And how many times did a sorority order a truckload of sand delivered to a suite in order to have a beach party?
    And another thing that is passe. Food service. Not only are fraternity house managers mostly unemployed but so is the kitchen crew. In our fast food, eat any time you want night or day, world few fraternity houses still provide food service, so the kitchen itself is also a dinosaur in a house that is a dinosaur.
    Just more food for thought!

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  11. I am part of the Greek life at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and we have a fraternity house. I could not imagine being in a fraternity without a fraternity house. I have lived in the house for two years now and I would say my experience of fraternity life would be less than half of what it is now if we did not have a house. Living at the house I have learned brotherhood, faith, friendship, and respect. With fraternities these days having so much money I really don't think houses will disappear. If anything they will get bigger and more will be built. When you have a house its like your part of more. Like you are part of it and have a place to call your own. When you have a house there is always somewhere to hang out and party.

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  12. Allissabeth DunbarOctober 31, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    I don't think it would be a good idea to rid of the houses because personally I think it is a place where Greeks can come together and bond. Ridding of these houses would take away an important part of what we, as a Greek community, belong to.

    Allissabeth Dunbar
    University of Louisiana @ Lafayette
    Delta Delta Delta

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  13. I personally do not think they should get rid of the fraternity houses. Being a member of a sorority at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I understand how much the houses can bring everyone together and closer as friends. We use our houses for everything, such as meetings, fundraisers, study time, bonding, etc. Without our house, we would be lost; therefore, I'm sure the frat boys would feel the same way without their house.

    Lori Lapoint
    University of Louisiana @ Lafayette
    Delta Delta Delta

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  14. I go to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and I am part of the great Greek community we have there. I believe having a house is a huge necessity for a fraternity. It is the central spot where we have meetings to handle business and also to party. Members of our fraternity are always there and I think that is a big part in keeping the brotherhood is always being around each other. This is why i couldn't imagine not having a fraternity house.

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  15. Coming from a campus tt has off campus housing for the fraternities but not the sororities, I sometimes find myself being jealous ofother campuses that allow the girls to live in their houses. All the sororities on my campus have houses, but we do not have living quarters. I feel if we were allowed to live in our houses, we would have a stronger sisterhood.

    Jen Whipple
    University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Greek Community

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  16. I am a student at The University of Louisiana and coming from someone who lost their fraternity house, living in a house is a lot better than to not have a house. Having a house makes it easy for everyone in the chapter to come together and have a place to hang out. The fraternity house is always a fun place to be and it helps bring brothers closer together. Not having a house is hard on the entire chapter and can cause a lack of participation from the chapter.
    -Brennan Delahoussaye
    The University of Louisiana

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  17. Fraternity without a house is more like a social club than a place where you develop lifelong friendships and bonds. The sororities at my alma mater have over 120 members and only sophomores live in. Most seniors and some juniors never meet, let alone become friends with, their younger sisters.

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  18. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last week.

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  19. Some interesting and challenging thoughts on this. It's important to remember first and foremost the role that chapter houses have traditionally played in the history of the Greek community in America. After all, at some schools, the question is still asked, "What house did you pledge?" For many chapters at many schools, "the house" isn't just a part of the chapter, it IS the chapter.

    Bringing up chapters that have been founded in the last 5-10 years and are currently unhoused as an example of why houses are no longer needed is totally irrelevant. You may say they are "performing better", but by what metric is this even being measured? GPA? Retention? The process of starting a chapter is arguably so different now than it was even 30 or 40 years ago that while two chapters may share the same letters and brotherhood, you will find the dynamics of a chapter founded in 1907 and a chapter founded in 2007 to be so opposite that they're not even comparable. New chapters now are "colonies", chapters 40 years ago were "founding locals" that became active chapters after several years of independent operation. New chapters now are made up of members carefully handpicked by HQ expansion directors and persuaded to join with "scholarship incentives" - no wonder their GPAs may be a little higher. Older chapters don't have that particular benefit, but what we do have is an established chapter culture that gives us our unique identity, something that a 5 year old chapter won't have a for a long time. For many established chapters, that identity revolves around their house.

    It's been said that a house without a family is not a home. The bottom line is that this applies to fraternities too. While establishing the "family" certainly comes before finding the "home", having a house is an opportunity no chapter should be without. The fraternity house is an establishment of the Greek culture in the United States, and for many chapters, the house has become an expression of their very brotherhood itself.

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