Fraternity as a Force for Social Change

It’s beyond time to change the way we talk and think about fraternities and sororities and their role in our modern times.

Ever since fraternities were founded, their relevance and purpose has been questioned. Because they started as secret societies, formed in opposition to the institutions their members belonged to, fraternities have been under attack and constantly criticized. This causes us to have a reactionary posture in our DNA. To often wait for the incoming fire before we build a shield.

And it also causes us to look internally and be protective. Our question too often is “how do we protect what fraternity is from these forces acting against us” whereas it could be “how do envision what fraternity should be in light of the world we inhabit.”

The calls to shutter our doors and abolish Greek Life will keep coming, especially when the only apparent contributions to society that the public sees are networking to get jobs and the occasional low-level service project. We can be so much more, and it's time to show it.

I have been in the fraternity movement for 25 years, and I have lost count of the number of committees, commissions, blue ribbon panels, studies, and conferences focused on reacting to our greatest ills: hazing, sexual assault, alcohol consumption, inclusiveness, and more. I don’t question the need for such work, and many of the essays in this blog and in my book deal with these same issues. But beware, especially new entrants into this movement, that when you hear someone say that forming a committee or conducting a study to address a longstanding issue is a “bold move,” it’s actually one of the most mundane and redundant things we can undertake.

What would be bold? To go on the offense. To start thinking about and talking about why fraternity matters to our greater society in 2019 and beyond. We need to discuss this and then deliver messages that indicate that we see the world the way it is today, and we want to be part of the solution. There are vast and truly debilitating social epidemics in our culture today; ones that we as fraternities and sororities are primed to solve.

Let’s look at it this way: by sitting in a reactionary posture and thinking that true leadership is only addressing the issues we face internally, we act like a crumbling brick structure. We try to patch, we try to rebuild, but for every brick that we add, 2 or 3 fall to the ground and shatter. We appear to the world like an institution always under fire and thus always trying to shield ourselves from the onslaught, or pretend that we’re not crumbling. But it’s clear to all that our structure is not as tall or sturdy as it once was.

Being proactive means that we need to consider for ourselves what value we want to offer the greater society. Thinking about the value we offer our host colleges and universities is one part of that, but if that's all you think about you aren’t thinking boldly enough. We are a big enough movement to affect life beyond our campus gates.

So let’s appear to the world like an institution that believes it is vitally important to advancing our culture and building stronger communities. Because we are.

While we put some energy towards solving the issues that plague us (such as hazing), we need to run a parallel track that addresses how the fraternity of the 21st century leads in a world that wants and needs cures for catastrophic social epidemics.

What kinds of social epidemics? The list is long and alarming. More Americans indicate they feel lonelier than ever before. Suicide rates are climbing and the rate among teenage girls is the highest it's been in 40 years. 130 people a day die from opioid abuse. People are finding all manners of destructive ways to cope with the lack of connection they feel in their lives.

What else? How about the #metoo movement and the apparent racism that continues to exist in our society? What about sexual violence and gun violence, and violence of all forms? What about the fact that 7000 students drop out of high school each day?

And as a punctuation point, consider that in my home city of Indianapolis, zip codes only 14 miles apart (a 15 minute drive) have differences in life expectancy of 14 years. This isn’t an impoverished or war-torn city. This is a growing Midwestern municipality. This is in America.

Can the fraternity and sorority movement address these social calamities?

Wrong question.

HOW can the fraternity and sorority movement address these social calamities?

Let’s work towards that goal and prove ourselves to be a structure that doesn’t crumble, but rather is adding new layers of impact all the time.

Over the next several posts, I plan to take on specific social epidemics and discuss how the fraternity and sorority movement can be a force in their dissolution. I encourage you to join me in this quest and consider this institution you love a bit more boldly.

Let's make fraternity a force for the social change our world most desperately needs.

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