It happened recently, the annual media prompt of “why do fraternities still exist."
- From the Wall Street Journal: "Shutter Fraternities for Young Women's Good."
- From Inside Higher Education (in response to the Wall Street Journal):“Renewed Fight on Fraternities”
- And from our International friends at Times Higher Education: "Schools for scandal: can fraternities shed their sinister image?"
Sinister? Ouch! That puts it in a different context…..Even some people in England hate the American concept of fraternities!
Many perceive a dichotomous approach to supporting fraternities –love or hate. I don’t see it that distinctly. I think many people approach it like they do politics – possibly left or right of center. Of course though, many of us who are passionate about preserving the right to belong to these organizations and the positive potential that comes with membership often think that any attack on our credibility is an attack on justice. While I am an advocate, I can’t be unconditional in my support. The reality is that fraternities do right well and they do wrong well too! And the wrong is winning in the public domain. We have some big issues that plague us:
- All male environments can foster rape/sexual assault/sexual harrassment - it is proven with research. Since we know there is a potential for even good men to be drawn toward bad behavior, then we have to do more.
- Members fail to look out for each other when they consume alcohol. This means we have to do more to send a message of identifying the problem, changing the environment, intervening, confronting.
- Hazing undermines our relevance as much as anything that we do, which means we have to do more to help students find meaningful alternatives.
- And, I wish all members could take some (even minor) level of ownership over bringing their organization’s espoused mission to life, which would help them place a higher value on things beyond just being popular and social.
All of the evidence shows that we SHOULD do more. In the Inside Higher Educationarticle I was quoted as follows:
...If we see this coming, we need to do more to make it stop…The issues fraternities and sororities have are felt throughout the campus.... It's our responsibility to counter it in that context if we work with these organizations."
So we CAN do more!
In a past RISE blog, I wrote about our mission of getting "every member active." As evident from the recent new stories, we have something serious to get active about. If we take up that responsibility to 'get active,' how do we address the ills of the fraternal movement? Here are four tips I think each of us could use:
- Acknowledge the issues and don’t try to hide them with the flowery stuff. We want people to know we (1) are for the most part good organizations, (2) know the tough issues to tackle, (3) are committed to holding members and chapters accountable when they fail to live up to expectations, and (4) are advocates while also aiming to improve and advance the movement.
- Find the issue for which you are most passionate and begin to tackle it in ways that are beyond “Follow the law”. At the University of Illinois, the Fraternity Peer Rape Education and Prevention Program (FPREP) engages men in a way that promotes accountability and helps them reconceptualize what it means to be “a man”.
- I think that 20 percent of fraternity men are amazing, 20 percent are awful and 60 percent are finding their way. We need more time with the middle 60 percent because we’re spending most of our time with the other 40. TALK TO the other 60: attend a chapter meeting, make your case, invite them to get on board, tell them you’ll hold them accountable if they don’t and advocate for them if they do.
- And as you get active advocating, challenging and educating, you should remember the ultimate goal of our collective work is to help students give life to their mission, values and purpose each and every day. Alcohol, hazing, sexual assault, and disrespect for others are symptoms of a bigger problem: members often are disconnected from their organization’s espoused mission. The more we can strengthen that connection, the more they might see these things as interfering with their potential.
We each know our own capacity and influence; it is time for us to decide what it is we can each individually tackle, how to effectively/passionately address these issues, and how to engage others in doing so. When we have these decisions made, each time someone asks, “What do you do to fix this,” it will be much easier to say “Well, this is how I am actively contributing to the continuation and improvement of fraternities”.