Category Archives: purpose of fraternity

Time Well Spent

From “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You,” published earlier this week in the WSJ:

1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.

The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.

Full list available here with a mix of more sound advice and some other not-so-inspiring advice (see No. 10).

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It Isn’t Just Semantics

VMI cadets reenact Sigma Nu's founding during the 2010 College of Chapters in Lexington.

Huffington Post contributor Ellesha LeCluyse has a bone to pick with the media’s use of “frat” over “fraternity.”

I know that trying to change the general public’s perception of Greek life is a completely different ballgame, but the connotations associated with the word frat are all too often negative and should be avoided.

Being a part of a fraternity or a sorority is a very meaningful experience. Fraternities are colonized based on values and ethics that their members try to live up to a hundred years after their founding.

Media portrayal of Greeks is rather poor. In order to give credit to organizations that are run by students to enhance their own college experience and have an impact on the world around them, an extremely positive step would be to call fraternities by their actual name.

Read Ms. LeCluyse’s full commentary here.

For a previous breakdown of “frat” vs. “fraternity” click here.

And, finally, see the Generating Positive Press resource for ways your chapter can increase coverage of major events and milestones.

Time to stop blaming the media and start living the ritual

By Leadership Consultant Spencer Montgomery

In such a short history, fraternities have evolved immensely and have experienced a vast shift in cultural identity. Many would suggest the only constant among all this change has been the values we say we represent, but are we sure about that?

Over the past few months, I have questioned what fraternities actually represent; not by what we say, but what we do.  This question demanded that I take a closer and more detailed look, so I decided to follow “fraternity” via Google’s alert system for the past month and see what was being reported on the Greek life I love so much.  To say the least, I was beyond disappointed.

Turns out, there has been a lot of negative coverage on fraternities lately.  It seems as though the media is relentless in their pursuit to find any and all negative byproducts of this system.  I can hardly blame them; no more than I can blame the media for those actions being made in the first place.

Too often, we jump to the same tired defense, arguing that the media fails to report all the good we do.  But is the good we do good enough?  Have we reached a point where we truly believe that six community service hours justifies the mental distress of an 18 year old?  Do we think raising 6,000 dollars can replace a life?

Like it or not, these horrible acts are committed.  And yes, they will always be the only aspect of fraternity reported by the media.  But is pointing out the good we do even an appropriate response?  It’s like we just accept this behavior as a necessary evil to all the good we do.  I just can’t bring myself to believe that.

Instead of fighting against what is reported, let’s give the media nothing to report.  We say we hold ourselves to a “higher standard” yet too often there is a report of alleged hazing or sexual assault by a fraternity member.  Look, we will never be able to control what is reported, but the one thing we can control is our actions.  Let’s stop playing into the stereotypes that we created.

I guess what I’m asking is at what point will we truly do what we say we do, without exception.  Reaching that point includes everyone in the community. Regardless what you think your level of guilt is in all of this, if you’re not doing something to actively stop those who are, you’re not doing anything to help our cause either.  Remember, the next time you turn your eye to what you think is minor hazing, it was that same bystander behavior that led to the death of an 18 year old being the top story on CNN.com.

Are we so far off the beaten path that we can’t come back to the pure state that we once were? Are we so concerned with fulfilling social norms that we dismiss the very reason we exist as an organization? Is the type of man that our fraternities originally sought even relevant anymore?

If you are looking for an answer, I don’t have them.  Sorry.  What I do know is that I took a vow to my organization, promising to be a better man and to make a difference. I’m committed to this vow. I commit to never giving up on our high ideals. I truly believe in Fraternity.

I’d like to challenge the fraternity men who continue to dismiss the values by which they vowed to live:  I challenge you to start living to our high standards and stop making those men doing the right thing defend your actions with their own.  I challenge you to stop giving the media stories to report.  I challenge you to earn your place in this Greek life I love so much.

Are you a fan or a fanatic?

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. -Aristotle

We all have strong convictions about something. It could be a political belief (“taxes hurt small businesses”), or a historical narrative (“FDR ended the Great Depression”) or even the eminence of a favorite sports team (“Chicago Cubs are the best baseball team ever”).

Maybe it’s something as simple as a favorite TV show (“Hands down, Entourage is the best show to ever grace the airwaves”). Whatever it may be, everyone is passionate about something.

In everyday usage, “fan” describes someone passionate about a sports team, a TV show, a musician, and so on. “I’m a lifelong Redskins fan,” one might say in casual conversation, or “I’m a huge fan of Tom Petty.

But the root word of fan carries a much different, and more harmful, meaning. Merriam-Webster defines fanatic as “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” (Synonyms include “extremist” and “radical.”)

For a fan of the Detroit Lions a win brings him a sense of joy, but he can acknowledge, after observing the team’s record over the past ten years, that the franchise is not the best in the League.

For a fanatic, on the other hand, evidence doesn’t matter. The Detroit Lions are the best team in the League, period, and no amount of reason or logic will change his mind. It sounds silly in a sports analogy, but from time to time we’re all prone to such blindness in our decision making in other areas of our lives.

So what happens when we’re confronted with new evidence that conflicts with an existing worldview? How will you react? Will you take a big gulp, swallow your pride and change your mind? Or will you frantically search for stories that confirm your narrative and ignore anything that refutes it?

Thankfully for us Sigma Nus, the anecdote to fanaticism is right in front of us. Our founding principle of Truth expects us to make decisions based on sound information, even if it might not support our existing belief.

In short, Truth calls on us to keep an open mind–to consider the possibility that we made a mistake in our thinking. It requires us to walk away from a false paradigm no matter how psychologically painful it might be.

Which brings us to the #40 Answers in 40 Days Campaign. Beginning tomorrow, and continuing through National Hazing Prevention Week, hazers will be confronted with a steady assault of evidence and logic that questions a deeply rooted worldview—a worldview that regards the arbitrary mistreatment of new members as a legitimate way to build lifelong friendships and commitment to the fraternity.

For hazing’s True Believers we ask one thing: Consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

HuffPo: Want to Build a Better World? Go Greek

Collegians participate in teambuilding activities during 2009 College of Chapters in Lexington, Va.

Huffington Post College published a piece today explaining why fraternities and sororities are well ahead of other student organizations in discussing and solving common campus issues. Here are some of the highlights:

In truth, the college Greek system may be one of the healthiest forms of community in our nation, and any student who refuses to consider entering the community may be doing himself or herself a disservice.

In that light, the college Greeks have actually been heroic in their attempts to move beyond conformity in order to achieve diversity. Brian Johnson, an African-American professor at Bloomsburg University and Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for Academic Excellence, is a sought-after speaker and consultant on multicultural issues among Greeks and other college audiences.

“As I travel the country speaking to student leaders about stereotypes,” he says, “I find a great number of students who, with their national organizations, are pressing for a return to the true mission of fraternal organizations — those being service and philanthropy, academic excellence and being good stewards to the campus community.”

The genuine challenges that fraternities and sororities face are hardly unique to their communities. What may be unique is their collective commitment to addressing their challenges head on.

Read the full story here.

(HT Drew Logsdon)

Lessons from IBM’s 100th Birthday

IBM celebrated its 100th birthday last month and the iconic company’s history offers several parallels for fraternities.

On values-based recruitment:

In those days, Big Blue was the place everyone wanted to work and invest. It recruited the best graduates from the best universities, imbued them with its core values of “excellence,” “customer service” and “respect for the individual,” and sent them out in blue suits and white shirts to sell the world on electronic computing.

On doing the right thing, even when it may not be popular (for example, taking a stand against hazing):

Here’s a company whose researchers won Nobel prizes, whose executives stood up to discrimination and prejudice before it was fashionable, and whose name could invariably be found on the list of major donors of the best universities and cultural institutions. And its computers outfoxed the world’s chess champion and took the crown in Jeopardy.

On upholding the company’s core values in the way they were meant to be:

It wasn’t, however, just the strategy that had gone awry. As Steve Hamm writes in a book commissioned for the 100th anniversary, “Making the World Work Better,” some of the core beliefs that had carried the company through other periods of transition had become impediments. Respect for employees, according to Hamm, “had morphed into a sense of entitlement, “excellence in all things had turned into a decision-inhibiting perfectionism, and “the best customer service” became an exercise in giving customers what they said they wanted rather than presenting them with the breakthrough innovation they never knew they needed.

On the willingness to break tradition:

By 1993, things were so desperate that IBM for the first time reached outside its ranks and hired Lou Gerstner, an executive with RJR Nabisco, as chief executive. Gerstner mounted a painful rescue that included closing facilities, selling off businesses and firing 35,000 employees. Gerstner’s strategy was to move IBM out of low-margin equipment manufacturing while moving more aggressively into software and corporate outsourcing of computer services. Under the current chief executive, Sam Palmisano, who took over in 2002, that strategy includes a strong focus on cloud computing, strategic consulting and data analytics.

Read the full story here.

Fraternal Musings on the Fourth of July

By Don Densborn (Indiana)

“And for the support of this Fraternity, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

It is the 4th of July, so in accord with the tradition to which we all subscribe as Americans, I am re-reading the Declaration of Independence.

Why are you laughing?  We all do it, right?

OK, admittedly reading the Declaration on the 4th is a bit odd.  I am a traditionalist at a time when a lot of tradition seems to be tweeted to the winds.

I attribute my odd practice to the fact, when I was in high school, I was required to memorize the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.  I became addicted to great words conveying great ideas.  Who would not recognize the timeless words, “When in the Course of human events..,” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”  Ol’ Tom Jefferson sure knew how to coin a phrase for the ages.  He knew his words would be etched into history.  He understood his audience would include future generations he would never know.  Thus he took great care.

I believe a lot of people think Jefferson’s preamble to the Declaration is the entire instrument—far from it.  There was a committee that helped Jefferson, and the work of that committee included a comprehensive list of grievances against the “King of Great Britain” intended that the Colonies be “Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,” culminating with the following:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Reading these closing words this time, I was given to substitute “Fraternity” for “Declaration” in the first phrase.  The preface to this writing was thusly “borrowed” shall we say—borrowed, but not without basis.

For much like our beloved country, our fraternity firmly relies on the “protection of divine Providence.”  The earthly Knights—or Swiss Guards—of our protectorate are our staff in Lexington and elsewhere, led by Brad Beacham and Brad Hastings.  They are young, honorable, talented men who have dedicated their lives and worldly pursuits to a set of common ideals over personal fortune.  They personify the Life of Love and should inspire our gratitude and respect.

“We mutually pledge”—we all mutually pledged loyalty to Sigma Nu and our Knightly vows.  To “pledge” means to make a “solemn promise.”  By their Declaration, our founding fathers made their solemn promise to one another and to a set of common beliefs.  They did so in anticipation of great toil and grief—possibly death.  As members of the Legion of Honor, we similarly vowed, whatever the sacrifice, to serve each other and society according to a set of ideals and a common purpose we deem most high.  According to our Creed, “in the fresh morning of our youth,” we subscribed to the “common brotherhood” of men, the “continuity of the Divine” and the “solidarity of mankind.”

What’s more:

“Our lives”—we pledged to believe in the Life of Love for until death.

“Our fortunes”—we pledged to lend a “Helping Hand” and do all we can to ensure the perpetuation of our fraternal ideals throughout the world, forever.

“Our sacred honor”—quite simply, ours is the Honor Fraternity.  It is our raison d’etre.

You get the picture.  As an analogy, it is nearly perfect.  Some 94 years after the Declaration of Independence, our founding ideals were set to align with it, and 142 years hence from that date, Sigma Nu soldiers on under the same indelible banner.  You can’t tweet that away.

With this in mind, I read the results of a poll which were published recently in the Wall Street Journal.  The question posed was:  “Are you happy?”  Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were “Pretty Happy,” and another 30 percent said they were “Very Happy.”  In a time of political tumult and a dreadful economy, it is interesting to witness that our level of happiness is not dictated much by politics or the economy.  That’s quite telling.

Perhaps, despite all angst of the moment, we take long measure of our blessings when presented with such a question.  If one is blessed by a loving spouse, wonderful children, good health—and has not missed a meal lately—how can he not be happy in the overall scheme of things?  Or maybe happiness has to do with loyal friends, fulfilling work, financial security, the beauty of nature, the wonders of human achievement, the blessings of liberty, the rewards of an honorable life well-lived, and/or a loving and forgiving God?  Quite simply, we live in the greatest place in the world and the greatest time in history. We have a lot to be thankful for, and we know it.  On that basis alone, how could any witting man not experience happiness, at least in a relative sense?

Relative happiness, sure, but what’s more?  I would answer that “What’s more?” is the complete joy that comes from giving—giving behind the ideals in which you believe—giving in support of the institutions of goodness in the world—giving to perpetuate the type of relationships which helped mold you into a man and shape you for the better—in short, giving to ensure that the world you will leave behind one day will be better than the one you inherited.

My guess is that when a member of our Brotherhood reflects on the influences in his life that shaped his sacred honor, fostered his life success, and rendered him, at the end of the day, happy, he will find Sigma Nu prominent among them.

Quite simply, we are blessed to be part of the greatest fraternity in the world.  Sigma Nu deserves another 140 years and beyond, but she needs our financial support.  There is a line in the movie “True Grit” to the effect that there is nothing free in the world except the grace of God.  I believe that also free is the will of man. We are free to put our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor behind that which we believe…the Life of Love, the Way of Honor, and the Light of Truth.

Thus, I pray that, for the sheer joy you will experience today—and for the benefit of generations of tomorrow you will never know—you take time this Independence Day to pledge an appropriate measure of your fortune in support of the great ideals and work of our beloved Fraternity.  It will be etched in history if you do.

Br. Densborn is a past Regent and longtime volunteer for the Fraternity.