Let me begin this topic by stating that I have been a member of a fraternity for almost 48 years and during my 42-year career in Student Affairs, I had responsibility for Fraternity and Sorority Life and/or Greek Housing for most of those years. Likewise, my undergraduate experience as a fraternity member was a very positive one and during my alumni years I have also had very good experiences as a national officer and committee member, chapter and faculty advisor, leadership training workshop facilitator, keynote speaker, etc. I have said many times that, if done right, the fraternity experience is one of the best experiences a man can have but, if done wrong, that experience can be one of the worst experiences he can have.

What do I mean? If the experience is handled properly, the fraternity and its Ritual will instill in the member a sense of purpose and a set of values by which he will live his life. The undergraduate experience will be a tremendous leadership lab where he will learn and develop skills in listening, empathy, compassion, communication, conversation, appreciation for diversity in all of its forms, motivation, self-understanding, integrity, delegation, supervision, etiquette, philanthropy, volunteerism,  service to and treatment of others, etc. A member who has this experience can and should come out of it as a role model for others and one who, as an alumni member, wants to ensure that that experience continues for undergraduates of the future.

On the other hand, if the experience is not handled properly, the fraternity will teach members all the wrong behaviors and values: alcohol misuse and abuse, hazing, apathy, irresponsibility, sexual misconduct, damage and disregard for people and property, etc. From all of my years of experience in working with fraternities, my observation is that you can trace most any problem in a fraternity to a failure to hold oneself and one's brothers accountable for these behaviors which are contrary to the fraternity's values and Ritual. These poor behaviors seem to recur, time and time again, and result in negative consequences for fraternity chapters and their members. Tragically, these consequences sometimes even include the deaths of members, prospective members, and guests (invited and uninvited).

So, that brings me to the issues on which I encourage your comments:

1) Can we ensure, and how do we ensure, that a chapter stays in "the positive zone" and provides the right experience and values for its members. For example: Do we require adult supervision and advisorship? Do we prohibit alcohol in the house or at any events unless there is third party responsibility? Do we require periodic training and workshops on selected topics?

2) If we cannot transform a chapter or cannot ensure that chapters provide a positive experience, is it time to terminate that chapter or abandon the fraternity system? Is progressive discipline with such chapters an effective strategy or are the problems so inherent and ingrained that we should eliminate the fraternity system?

Your comments, please!

About the Author

Edward F. D. Spencer, Ph.D.

Edward F. D. Spencer, Vice President Emeritus for Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, retired after a 42-year career in administration and teaching at Virginia Tech and the University of Delaware.

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