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.