Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Answer is Fraternity

Let's imagine none of our organizations were ever founded.  It's 2015 and no fraternities and sororities exist on any campus or in any community anywhere. 

The narrative around fraternities and sororities - especially in recent times - is that they cause problems.  The extent and harmfulness of these problems is such that we would be much better off without fraternities and sororities.  Or so we hear. 

So let's fulfill that fantasy for just a moment.  They're gone.  Or, actually, they were never here. 

Without fraternities and sororities, college campuses would instantly become landscapes clear of alcohol abuse, sexual assault, racism, and hazing, right?  Wouldn't student divisiveness and inequity of social status go away too?  As well as property damage, vandalism, and other mindless boorish behaviors?

Do you believe that these problems vanish if fraternities and sororities go away?  That can’t be true.  These problems exist on campuses without Greek-letter organizations.  They exist in other places in our society that have no connection to Greek life.  While we shouldn’t dismiss the challenge presented to us to address these issues and eradicate them from our groups, it’s fair to say that fraternities and sororities are a place where these problems currently exist, but can’t be considered the cause for them. 

So while we are imagining the disappearance of fraternities and sororities, let’s continue to expect that campus officials will need to address perplexing problems that impact their students' well-being and their campus culture.

Those problems persist, and in our new world in which fraternities and sororities never existed, we sit together and wonder, what do we do now?  

I'm imagining the task force meeting in this fraternity-free world charged with developing solutions to these steady and stubborn problems.  

"How do we encourage students to come together and have honest discussions on these issues?" someone wonders aloud.

"What if students were given safe structures in which they could build supportive relationships? offers another.

"Perhaps some of these issues would be better dealt with if men could discuss them with men, and women with women?"

"It's about engagement! Our students do not have a sense of ownership in their institution and no connection to the campus that's any deeper than their semester billing statement!"

"Students really need to hold each other accountable. Let's give them the chance to lead themselves through these challenges?"

And so on and so forth.  Now - this is a fictional account, but it surely feels like the proper framing of the problem and a true list of potential answers.

And it looks a lot like a fraternity.  

You see, we get so caught up in the narrative that fraternities and sororities are the problem, that we lose sight of the fact that they are a solution.  Or can be, if we use them as such.  

The great irony then is that if Greek organizations did not exist, we’d likely build them anyway.  Because they can serve as an answer. 

So let’s start behaving that way.

In our earliest days, a fraternity served as an answer for free expression, character development, and fellowship - all of which were missing in the higher education institutions of the day.  We were built to be a solution.  

And so today, what can we do to return to those roots? 

Wouldn’t it be great to be recognized as the organizations that didn’t reflect the major campus issues of the day, but defied them.  The organizations that were trusted to be the greatest advocates for hazing-free membership, the safest venues for relationship-building, the strongest proponents for a safe and healthy campus culture.  What if, for example, our members were viewed as so trustworthy that they were deployed to high schools to provide seniors with education on hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault?   

There are fraternities and sororities who have already answered the call.  Is yours next?  

While we are imagining, let's think forward to a day when the call from a public desperately seeking solutions is no longer to shut us down but rather to expand and welcome more fraternities and sororities.  Because we are the answer.  It’s a powerful position to hold, if we’re willing to accept it and put in the work to make it happen.