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


  1. Great point. Being ignorant to the hostile nature of the word "colony" is a great example of white privilege. What if headquarters took the new name a little bit further from "associate" chapter to "probationary" chapter? Why not up the minimum expectations for the new chapter beyond paying any fees and hitting "average" chapter size? Then their charter depends a lot more than simple recruitment & bill collection.

  2. Good points Brent. I am also the product of a "colony" at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. We recently received our charter after some two years of being a "colony." I personally have been referred to as a "colonist" in the past and I don’t feel like it's an acceptable term. We were brand new on a campus that has a relatively small Greek community (about 10-15% of students of about 18 thousand total). Other fraternities took us as a joke at first because we were a "colony" but we sure showed them. As a colony, we contributed heavily to the university and Greek community. The highest award a Greek organization can receive by the university is a 5-star, which is based on grades, service, and excellence throughout the year. Our very first year (although I wasn’t in college yet) we earned a 3-star award, which matched or exceeded other chapters on campus, and we were only a colony. The second year (still a colony), we earned a 4-star award and we were doing big things on campus and we had fewer people who doubted us because we were proving them wrong. And just last month (now an installed chapter), we were awarded with being a 5 star chapter and highest GPA two semesters running. Now that we are well established, we are not looked down upon anymore (for the most part). Our Greek community has grown several percent and is potentially the highest it has ever been and I’ve heard both deans and other fraternities credit us with expanding this Greek community. Our little "colony" pushed other fraternities to achieve more excellence and growth. Mainly, I think my point is that colonies are under-minded and as you mentioned, if they weren’t called colonies maybe we would get some well-deserved respect