Category Archives: ritual

How did you feel when you entered the Initiation Room?

I remember my initiation night like it was yesterday.

Initiation was something all the brothers constantly talked about; how it was something they would never forget and how it was one of their most memorable experiences as a Sigma Nu. I quickly realized why that is so true.

The moment I entered the room I was instantly mesmerized by seeing the officers at their stations, seeing the alumni present, seeing all of the candles, and seeing the different symbols hanging on the wall. During candidacy, the main goal was to become a Knight of The Legion of Honor. Now it was finally happening.

A sense of joy was overcoming me and it was incredible to finally learn all of our secrets. I was so excited during the ceremony that I did not fully grasp all of the secrets that the officers were telling me.

It was also incredible to see alumni there – to show that Sigma Nu is not just something you do during your college years, but a lifelong commitment.

Going through the ceremony, seeing my candidate brothers going through it with me, seeing all the chapter officers participate, and seeing the alumni participate in it made that experience one of the most memorable I have had in Sigma Nu.

//Leadership Consultant Marcus Dufour (Southern Mississippi)

Taking Your Time With The Ritual

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

It’s 9:30 PM and the room I am in lets out a unified sigh as chairs begin to crack and the entire chapter leans precariously forward in anticipation of their usual Sunday night meeting finally ending. There is only one last thing to do before everyone can head home. It is at this point that the chapter begins The Ritual to officially close a chapter meeting.

While the Social Chairman had free reign to pontificate for 15 minutes on themes for the upcoming social event it is this part of the chapter meeting that seems to fly by in the blink of an eye.

By the time it is all done I am bewildered that the chapter’s officers seem to revert into auctioneers for a period of two minutes. But that is not even close to the fact that the majority of the members in the room seemed to mumble along and at times simply remain silent and let the officers do the majority of the process alone.

The scene I just described probably isn’t an isolated one for Sigma Nu chapters and probably not an isolated one for our Greek brothers and sisters throughout the world. I may be off-base but it seems very odd that we tend to rush through The Ritual because we want to get it over with when on the other side of the coin we are entirely okay with vague and rambling officer reports or even mass discussions during a chapter meeting as to what was the funniest moment from the past weekend.

Now I am not saying that this alone is an epidemic nor is it the cause for all the troubles of our organization.  But it does say something about us, doesn’t it?

The Ritual for all intents and purposes is a singular link that transports us back in time to the founding of our Fraternity.

It is a moment in which all of our shared values and beliefs as an organization are concisely explained and shared by the entire membership.

So why the rush?

For Initiation ceremonies did you rehearse it beforehand to ensure everyone knew what to say and when?

If not then we just gave our new Initiates a lackluster product.

In fact, what we did was build this moment up for them, a moment in which they fully join an organization much larger than themselves and that requires a lifelong commitment, and then delivered something that probably seemed rushed, forgotten, and mistake-riddled.

This is why I encourage all of our chapters to not only take their time when conducting this very important and unique part of being a Sigma Nu, but to also feel free to stop midway.

Someone said something incorrectly? Stop and let them say it again.

Someone performed the wrong motion or action? Let them do it over again.

If we are never told the right way to do it or stopped while doing it incorrectly then we will forever go on with a poor concept of how The Ritual should be done.

What are the incentives for all of this?

How about pride in your organization for starters.

Secondly, when conducted correctly, The Ritual comes off as a very beautiful symphony of voices.

Personally, there has never been a moment more impressive as a Sigma Nu than attending a Grand Chapter and hearing a room of 200+ initiates ranging in ages reciting The Ritual as if it was instinctive.

Why shouldn’t we offer that same experience to members in our chapter on a regular basis?

When we start putting The Ritual higher up on our priority list then we start saying something different about our chapter.

We start saying that the shared values of our organization are truly important and that we are not just doing it to simply do it.

We are doing it because for all the years of its existence it remains as the defining language of who and what we are as members of the Legion of Honor.

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

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.

Golf and the honor system

We’ve been preparing a story for the fall issue of the magazine that will discuss the honor system as it exists at VMI and in Sigma Nu. The story will include examples of cultures and subcultures that operate with a system of trust and peer accountability, just as the honor system operates within VMI, Sigma Nu, and a select number of other schools with strong systems of self-governance.

One of the classical examples of a functioning honor system comes from the game of golf. Here are some excerpts from two recent stories on the subject, one from The New York Times and the other from ESPN.

On a golf course in Scotland that employs an “honor box”:

One tradition is unlikely to be altered. A small sign on the outside of the clubhouse reads “Pay Green Fees Here.” Below the sign is a metal slot, where golfers drop envelopes with their money. The course is run on the honor system, with no attendant in sight.

“The system works well because it reflects the traditions within golf of honesty and integrity,” said Hamish Grey, the chief executive of the Scottish Golf Union, which oversees the men’s amateur game here.

And ESPN on a famous case from the 1925 U.S. Open:

More than 80 years after Bobby Jones’ ball barely budged, the story is still told to show golf is a game of honor. The great amateur was competing in the 1925 U. S. Open when, unbeknownst to anyone but himself, Jones’ ball moved ever so slightly as he addressed it in the rough.

There were no referees to call a foul, no officials to slap him with a penalty. Jones’ playing companion, Walter Hagen, didn’t see the infraction, nor did his caddie or any spectators. The tournament title hung in the balance, but when the round was completed, it soon became known that Jones had assessed himself a 1-stroke penalty.

The ball moving did not help him any, nor was it any great violation. But it happened, and those are the rules. So Jones thought nothing of it. That stroke cost him outright victory, and he then went on to lose a 36-hole playoff to Willie Macfarlane.

Jones was asked about his decision by a reporter after the round. His response? “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”

Read the full story here.

If you know of any other groups or subcultures that live by a system of mutual trust and accountability, share them with us in the comments section below.


Four Reasons Ritual is Important to Sigma Nu

By Director of Communications Nathaniel Clarkson

1. Renewal of purpose.

There are plenty of practical reasons to begin every chapter meeting with The Ritual. Most chapters only convene for 1-2 hours per week so opening with The Ritual sets a serious tone for the meeting. The Ritual asks participants to wear coat and tie, which contributes to an atmosphere conducive to accomplishing the business of the fraternity.

Beyond fostering a professional atmosphere and providing other tangible benefits, The Ritual serves a much deeper function, namely, to remind us of Sigma Nu’s purpose. Between the hectic day-to-day activities of running the chapter, sometimes it’s easy to forget why we’re all doing this fraternity thing in the first place. The Ritual serves as a reminder of Sigma Nu’s purpose and a weekly renewal of the oath each Knight swore to uphold.

2. Articulates honorable action.

Without publishing any secrets of the ceremony, the opening of The Ritual essentially asks each Knight to renew the oath he took as a candidate. Moreover, the closing reminds us all that the passages recited each week are not just words; rather, they are a call to action.

While The Ritual is secret, non-initiates should be able to decipher our Ritual by observing our actions. The Ritual serves as a guide for honorable behavior.

3. Distinguishes us from other organizations; unifies all Sigma Nu chapters.

Sigma Nu maintains nearly 180 collegiate chapters throughout North America. Naturally, each chapter develops its own unique culture over time. Some chapters boast 200+ members, each involved in a bevy of other campus organizations, while other chapters maintain a smaller brotherhood all recruited from the football team.

Despite the menagerie of interests among different chapters and even members within the same chapter, each Knight is united by the same oath to live an honorable life.  It’s a moving experience to watch Brothers from Boston, Macon and Santa Barbara stand side-by-side reciting the same ritual during conclave.

While The Ritual unites tens of thousands of Sigma Nu Brothers who’ve never met, the fraternity ritual also distinguishes us from other (inter)national fraternities.  However, the differences are much smaller than most realize. In fact, a confidential study administered by the North-American Interfraternity Conference concluded that ritual ceremonies for the prominent social fraternities showed strong similarities.

4. Teaches us to eliminate hazing.

In a subtle way, The Ritual also presents a problem for the typical hazing logic. According to the hazing narrative, candidates must complete a series of arbitrary tasks to prove they are worthy of initiation.

As the opening to ritual shows us, however, we don’t earn our membership in Sigma Nu by submitting to activities that have nothing to do with ethical leadership. Rather, we “earn our badge” each and every day by remaining faithful to our Knightly vows.

Ritual Ceremonies Exclude Hazing For a Reason

By Leadership Consultant Adam Bremmeyer

“There are no offensive or hazing practices involved in a fraternity initiation.”

For the last couple of nights, I have sat and pondered what this statement means to me. As I have worked with various chapters, I realized the best resource is the actual collegiate members I talk with day-to-day.

I read this statement to members of Beta Beta Chapter during a recent Ritual workshop. Almost unanimously their response was “well we know OUR initiation does not involve any hazing practices but there is no way to know for sure if other fraternities follow this practice.”

This was the same thing that I thought about after reading the statement the first time. I started researching online what society thought of fraternity initiations and rituals and, not surprisingly, it wasn’t too favorable.

Many times when fraternities and sororities are in the public light, it is for reasons that the Greek community are ashamed of. A small percentage of misguided individuals make things a lot harder for those who do the right thing.

According to a simple Google search, most think of initiation as the completion of certain degrading, physical, and mental tasks throughout a semester or a week to eventually earn your membership without any reason or purpose.

It was difficult to find a factual description of what I feel is the definition of a fraternity initiation. The majority of fraternity initiations are sacred within that organization and it is something that is unique to the fraternity and that connects them with thousands of other people over the course of one hundred or so years depending on the organization. It defines the fraternity based on a set of values and principles and gives those members purpose as a part of something greater than each individual.

Because of the secrecy, the idea of initiation is that of Animal House, what we see in similar movies, and what we read in books and magazines. Richard H. Robbins, the author of Cultural Anthropology: A Problem-Based Approach, stated the following in his 2008 book:

The fraternity initiation ritual on most college campuses is the culmination of a period of pledging in which initiates are required to perform various demeaning acts. Particulars may vary from fraternity to fraternity and campus to campus, but in general the ritual stigmatizes the initiates as infants, children, or girls and then proceeds to cleanse them of this negative identity before incorporating them into the fraternity as full-fledged brothers.

I don’t remember any of this happening when I was initiated in the fall of 2006 and, sadly, this is the idea that even many of my friends who didn’t attend college always seem to mention upon learning of my fraternity membership.

I can’t speak for every fraternity but I am sure they will appreciate it when I say the official initiation ceremony of a fraternity is a momentous occasion that was a culmination of hard work, dedication, and strong brotherhood over the course of the semester, none of which was demeaning or made me feel like less of a person.

As many already know, Sigma Nu was founded in direct opposition to hazing and the act itself is not suggested anywhere in the ceremonies or The Ritual of Sigma Nu.

As with many fraternities, the Founders of Sigma Nu specifically made the initiation ceremony without acts of hazing. For those chapters and fraternities that choose to alter these ceremonies, they are not living up to the values they committed themselves to, and are in fact not actually performing the ceremony the way it is meant to be, thus stripping those individuals of a valuable experience.

What I Learned From My Initiation

By Associate Director of Leadership Development Alex Combs

Throughout my development as a candidate, my experience revolved around the concept of becoming part of a more exclusive group.  I was trying to join a group whose values and purpose stood just beyond my knowledge, as I still felt like just another student at my university.  I wanted to identify with that group, those values, and that purpose.  Initiation represented my transition to that more exclusive identity as a candidate, but upon initiation, I learned just how inclusive Greek life was.

I am not suggesting the old, tired claim that our organizations are all the same.  Whether that’s the case or not, it’s irrelevant to my point and represents the wrong kind of inclusiveness.  My point is that despite the fact that our organizations all have different histories, different values, and different ways in which to live those values – aspects that make us exclusive – initiation showed me the aspects that make us very inclusive.

Initiation taught me that we might spend the better part of our undergraduate careers, and perhaps our lives, aspiring to attain an ideal state in our moral and ethical lives.  And the men in that room represented an exclusive group with the willingness and ability to do so.  But initiation also taught me that our aspirations, our achievements, our moral and ethical progress are all in vain if we don’t include the rest of society in our journey.  Every Greek organization has the potential to be great.  If we keep that greatness within our own walls, we’ve essentially done nothing.

Initiation taught me that although we are an exclusive group, we have an obligation to include the world and its people in our lives and do our part to make progress together.

Founders’ Intent: How Ritual Binds Us Together

By Austin Landry (Louisiana Lafayette/Birmingham Southern)

There are Rituals and there are rituals. A ritual for some men is that, when they shave, they start on the same side of the face every day, more like a habit than anything else. However, a Ritual is something totally different. A Ritual is a formal, well thought out ceremony that is meant to be something more than a habit. Some Rituals go back thousands of years.  Some are new and some are yet to be established.

The Sigma Nu Ritual began in 1869 when three young cadets at the Virginia Military Institute decided to form a new organization opposed to hazing, which, at the time was rampant at the Institute. On the edge of the Institute parade ground, three cadets, James Frank Hopkins, Greenfield Quarles and James McIlvaine Riley met and committed to each  other to form an organization opposed to hazing, with Love , Truth, and Honor as a foundation. Thus, the Legion of Honor was formed, an organization now known as the Sigma Nu Fraternity.

Now, more than 140 years later, Sigma Nu continues to hold true the basis of the foundation of Love, Truth, and Honor set by the founders. As with any organization, some form of Ritual was needed to induct new members into the Fraternity. In the beginning, like many organizations, the ceremony was new and resulted in some later changes. In Sigma Nu, in those early days, there was not a formal candidate or pledge process or ceremony. Young men were observed and, by their actions and honorable behavior, were determined to be worthy of wearing the badge of Sigma Nu.

Later, when a formal pledge or candidate process was deemed necessary, an addition to the Sigma Nu Ritual was made to include a meaningful and memorable ceremony for those desiring to be members of the Sigma Nu Fraternity. However, this ceremony did not yet make them full members of the Fraternity.

In many Rituals, the candidate for membership does not really know what to expect from the ceremony. As a result, if the ritual has any substance and meaning, the individual going through the ceremony is nervous about the process and may not remember all that happened in the ceremony. Therefore, it is important for the Ritual to be informative and memorable. The Sigma Nu Ritual is both. Every member remembers the place, setting, and process, both during the candidate and the initiation ceremony. This is one of the things that binds together every Sigma Nu from the first Ritual which was passed word to mouth and was memorized, to the current hard bound Ritual. The Ritual is the symbolic glue that includes the words and actions to which we can all relate, whether in a large chapter of 100 Brothers that is over 120 years old or a newly chartered chapter. Each of our meetings begins and ends with the Ritual for meetings, during which, we are reminded of the commitment we made during our Initiation.

In the same fashion, Greek fraternities and sororities become bound together by means of each of their unique, but related Rituals, creating a common bond of members, both undergraduate and alumni. Without Rituals, we would only be clubs, rather than fraternities and sororities. How many alumni would be willing to go back to the college or university campus to have a reunion of one of the clubs? In fraternities and sororities, all of us are ready to stay in touch with our Brothers and Sisters, whether they live down the block or in Thailand. The Ritual helped provide the foundation of that common bond.

How Did You Live the Ritual Today?

By Leadership Consultant Daniel Hallgren

What did you do today to live your Ritual?

Rereading The Secret Thoughts of a Ritual prompted me to consider how I live the Ritual each day. It is a thought provoking piece that talks about how Ritual should not be so secret that it becomes a mystery to us and our members.

The Ritual should be read, studied, and used as a road map to live a good life.

It should be openly discussed between brothers and taught to our new members once they are initiated.

The meanings of The Ritual should be examined closely and argued passionately.

I encourage you to read both The Ritual and  The Secret Thoughts of a Ritual, and to reflect on their teachings and meaning.

Or to share a passage from each at an upcoming chapter meeting, discussing its current relevance with the membership.

As I write this, I am reflecting on how I am currently living and doing what The Ritual prescribes.

Am I living up to the Oath I made five years ago when I became an initiated brother in Sigma Nu?

Am I living the values and precepts set forth by my founders?

I challenge you to ask these very same questions of yourself and others.

It is only upon reflection and discussion that we can reach an understanding of The Ritual and how well each of us lives up to our knightly vows.

I challenge you to consider where you stand and to help others do the same.

Once you have learned The Ritual, taught it to others, and lived by it, I challenge you to expect the same from our brothers.

Your Initiation Ceremony is Only the Beginning

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

This was it. Twelve long weeks had culminated into this exact moment. I had passed the tests. I knew the history. I was familiar with risk reduction, time management, community service, and leadership concepts. I was also still very naïve.

I knew I was about to go through a ritual that had been passed down through the years but I didn’t really understand the significance of the event until much later.

I remember that morning very distinctly. My candidate brothers and I were waiting with strong anticipation for this moment. However, internally, I was thinking of so much more.

I was about to become a member of not just a chapter with over 40 years of history on campus but also a fraternity of international membership.

I remembered what my father had told me during a phone conversation the night before. “Don’t waste this experience. Don’t be an empty seat. The easy part is over, now the hard part begins. You have nothing to prove to anyone else but you do have something to prove to yourself. Prove to yourself that this commitment wasn’t a half-assed one. Prove to yourself that you’re going to actually do something.”

Honor candidate ritual robe.

He was absolutely right.

When I finally walked into the room for the ceremony I remember feeling extremely excited. So excited I wanted to almost skip the ceremony and go straight to my first meeting. That’s when it dawned on me: This wasn’t the culmination of twelve weeks. This was the beginning of change. I now had a voice. I now had an obligation. There were no more “but I’m just a candidate” excuses. Now I had an obligation to stand for the values of the Fraternity. When the door shut behind us I felt the weight of the silence in the room. In roughly one hour I would be an initiate.

To this day I can’t accurately recreate in my memory what followed because it seemed to happen so fast (it didn’t). But I will never forget those first few moments and my father’s words to me the night before. I believe it is a charge we are all obligated to uphold.

As initiates we have nothing to prove to anyone else, but we do have to prove something to ourselves.

We all have to prove that we will carry through with the vows we took. We all have to prove that our decisions were not made in vain and that we will all leave our active chapters better than when we came into them.

So throughout this week of celebration for our Ritual I encourage every active member and candidate alike to think about what they have done or plan to do. Don’t be an empty seat. Do something.