The Problem with Fraternity "Colonization"

Guest essay by Brent Turner 

Remember when you joined that house chapter and met some of your fellow pledges new members? Rush Recruitment was an exciting time filled with anxiety and anticipation, as you and other rushees potential new members hoped to join a new community of lifelong friends. The frat guy fraternity man culture on campus needed a transformation through positive change, with a focus on risk management education and harm reduction.

We've come a long way, yet we have a long way to go.

This week we saw multiple postings on social media related to Columbus Day and the 'true' story of history often untold. I want to expand on the notion that history tells this story of exploration and discovery, often omitting death and demise of the indigenous people of the native land. Let's bring that to the fraternity/sorority world.

Our organizations have evolved over time to be inclusive of the current context, particularly with our language. In fact, we as a community have changed several of our terms over time. But there is one word/concept that I feel needs a revolution: COLONIZATION.

Colonize (verb)

1. to establish a colony in; settle.

2. to form a colony of

Colony (noun)

1. any group of individuals having similar interests, occupations, etc. usually living in a particular locality; community

The definitions above seem suitable in building community, but when placed in a historical context we uncover the problem.  When we 'colonize', the actions assumed are to have a western civilization interrupt a native culture, promote power and privilege, and become the dominant leader of the land. But often that's not our goal. Rather, we intend to be recognized in the campus community and by governing councils, succeed with high expectations, recruit diverse and inclusive members, and sustain on campus with a focus on values-based recruitment and programming. The goal, however, is to promote positive change and growth within the entire community on that campus. 

Growth and expansion are crucial efforts for sustainability and success, as each of our organizations have intentional plans for the future of our membership across multiple institutions. I was honored to be a founding father founding member (this is another issue as we continue to welcome trans* and gender inclusion) of my fraternity the spring of my sophomore year, so I have been a product of a ‘colony’. 

So what if? What if ‘colonization' become the next phrase we transform to meet modern context? What if we stick to extension and expansion? What if ‘colonies’ were renamed associate chapters, pre-chartered organizations, societies, interest groups, establishments, etc? I commend those organizations that have courageously and progressively changed their culture and language and I urge others to challenge these terms. For some it’s just semantics, but for others it may reflect a lifetime of oppression and pain.

I challenge us all to continue to transform our values into action, through positive social change, cultural competency, and inclusion. We have an obligation to cultivate a place for all students, promote community, and challenge words that often have a negative connotation, history of oppression, or meanings that do not reflect today's context.  Let’s shift from micro aggressions to micro (if not macro) affirmations. It’s my hope that inter/national headquarters colonizing seeking charters on campuses consider this idea when recruiting new colonies associate chapters. 

Brent Turner serves as the Executive Director of Student Involvement at Northwestern University. He has been actively involved with the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, American College Personnel Association, The LeaderShape Institute, UIFI, and his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. He can be reached at

It's Time for the Choir to Stand Up

Guest Essay By Dave Westol, Limberlost Consulting 

National Hazing Prevention Week (NHPW) 2014 has come and gone although a number of campuses designate a week at other times during the academic year for that important purpose.  Seminars and workshops are held, discussions occur, and people from many different departments and areas of a campus spend time talking about a practice that has become a malignancy in clubs, organizations, teams and indeed men’s and women’s fraternities and sororities.

A BFNM (Best Friend Never Met) of mine is Dr. Fran Becque.  Fran, a proud alumna of Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, authors “Focus on Fraternity History”.  Her blog is an oasis for me and many others in our movement—in the midst of so much negative news, I know I can turn to her work and find historical perspective and a refreshing break from the day-to-day, not to mention interesting information about all of our organizations.

Fran recently noted that we are “Preaching to the choir” in terms of hazing.  And I agree, with one additional point.

The term “Preaching to the choir” means what?

That we are encouraging those who are already at the place of worship, not to mention volunteering their time to enhance the service, to be faithful.  They don’t need to be encouraged.  They get it.  They are there.  The people who need to be reminded to be faithful aren’t there.

True.  But what do choir members do before they sing?

Let’s see.  They practice?

Yes.  Hours and hours, sometimes, for one or two songs.  Not that I would know with my voice.

They wear robes?

Yes.  They uni up.  They also may walk in together, sometimes in formation or particular order.  What else?

Hmm.  They sit together, sometimes in an area reserved for them.

You are getting to the point.  Now, the choir director, who is usually in front of them, may tap a small wand or other device…and then she or he raises her hands…and what happens?

The choir stands up.

Yes.  The choir members stand and often rise together…something like the offense on a football team coming out of a huddle by clapping their hands together.  It is a gesture of organization but also of unity.  For the choir, it says, “We’re ready.  We’ve practiced.  We’re unified.  We’re ready”

And that simple act of standing up is what is missing from our chapters.

That applies to hazing…and also to all of the other issues that arise in fraternity and sorority life.

Our members—most of them, anyway--understand right from wrong.  And we have, as Fran notes, many “choir” members who get it—who know that the values and ideals of their organizations are timeless and that those must be perpetuated.  We are sitting right where we should be.  We are robed up.  We are ready.  We don’t need to be preached to about hazing or sexual assault or dumb party themes or risk management.

But we aren’t standing up.  We’re still sitting.

We sit and listen.

We sit and watch.

We let the worst of our members in our chapters speak and act in ways that embarrass us at events and on social media.  And then, those same members rush back to our sisterhood or brotherhood and insist that we defend them because...”I’m a sister/brother and you owe it to me!”

We allow the loud jerks, the has-been young alumnae/alumni and outspoken boors to make decisions for us.

We allow those afflicted with ego, self-aggrandizement and TSM/TFM disease to dominate our meetings.

We bystand when the facts, circumstances and situations call loudly for upstander behavior—to act.  Or at least to speak.  On our feet.  Emphatically.  With purpose.  With meaning.  With sincerity.

September, 2014, will be recorded as a bad time for fraternities and sororities. Numerous high-profile incidents have occurred that quickly undo all of the good things that we do and have done. 

Yet, if just one person—just one—in each situation would have stood up in a chapter house or a meeting or at a gathering and said, “This isn’t a good idea.  This isn’t right.  This is not us” the outcome could well have been different in each of those situations last month.

Are you in the choir in your chapter?  Showing up for meetings? Reciting our creed or credo with meaning and in a thoughtful way?  Being a good member?  Proud of being in your organization?

Then get on your feet.  Get your voice back.  And say something.

One adage used in the 1800s when officers rode horses in battle was, “One man on a horse is worth six on the ground”—that the size of the horse plus the elevation of the rider was superior to any other way of leading troops.  Soldiers were more apt to follow a leader on horseback.

Today, one woman or one man on her or his feet…will make a difference.  And more than six times a difference.  You can change the course of a 250-member chapter.  If you stand up.

We need you on your feet.  Today. 

Dave Westol served as CEO of his national fraternity for eighteen years and now has his own consulting company, Limberlost Consulting, Inc., in Carmel, Indiana. He has served on the board of directors for FIPG, Inc. for sixteen years and has been honored with the Gold Medal from the North American Interfraternity Conference for service to the interfraternal community. He can be reached at