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How Can Fraternal Organizational Values Serve as a Crucial Factor in Character Development? Critical Conversations #36

Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services Fraternity and Sorority Faculty Senior Level VP for Student Affairs
February 20, 2024 Ashley Tull Texas Christian University

JCC Connexions, Vol. 10, No. 1, February 2023

In "Recall and Recognition of Fraternal Values and Person–Organization Fit for Members of Men’s College Social Fraternities" (Journal of College & Character, vol. 24, no. 34, November 2023), Ashley Tull and co-authors examine the recall and recognition of espoused values of undergraduate fraternity members and measures of person–organization fit. The results of this study will help researchers and fraternity professionals best understand the extent to which values are being retained in a cognitive way (espoused) and the relationship to values congruence between members and their fraternity. Benefits to members can result from any programming related values-based initiatives that can be developed as a result of study findings as well as improved assessment of values congruence in fraternal organizations.

Ashley answered questions about the study posed by JCC editors.

1. How and why do fraternal values differ with the hierarchy of universal values? Please provide some examples.

Fraternal values don’t necessarily differ with the hierarchy of universal values. In some cases, the language used to espouse them may be different, but the values and enacted behaviors associated with them are similar. An example of this might include the use of a term like loyalty, used often by fraternal groups with a term like commitment that is used more universally. Each may be interpreted a bit differently, but in general most might agree they are similar. An important finding in our research was the difference between a focus on values around self-enhancement by college students vs. a more outward or wholistic focus on values of self-transcendence found universally. This was not surprising because college students are engaged in learning activities that are by their nature self-enhancing. We are interested in learning more about the development of a more self-transcendent focus by college students because many colleges and universities have developed student learning outcomes (both curricular and co-curricular) around acquiring a greater global awareness or worldview. We see college fraternal organizations as a place where this can occur and recommend that related fraternal values be espoused and enacted as a way of further developing these important values.

2. How did the person-organization fit model inform your study and what are some of the advantages for using it in your research?

 The person-organization fit model was informative to our study because we were curious to know the degree to which members would be able to readily identify their values and to later make important connections with ways in which they enact them. We feel that espousing  personal values that are congruent with the values of the fraternal organization(s) could lead to greater organizational citizenship and commitment by members. This would serve to enhance the experience for all involved. We don’t believe that personal values will always align with organizational values completely, but feel the potential for a more enhanced experience exists when more are shared. We do encourage those who work with fraternities on a campus professional level or national level to assist members in conducting values audits that may help them identify with their own held personal values. This can help them in also further espousing and enacting those values held by the organization that the member can develop (e.g., adopting organizational level values to complement their own personally held values).

3. One does not often think of values when thinking of a campus fraternity. Often fraternities have a notorious reputation for breaking campus conduct expectations.  Is such a reputation an accurate assessment of most fraternities in relation to values?   Why or why not?

In some cases, fraternities have earned negative reputations for breaking campus conduct expectations. This would be an accurate assessment in relation to their values. These are the stories that make the headlines in all forms of media (including social media). Many may not know that many social fraternities were founded on religious teachings, as well as important identified values (e.g. loyalty, duty, respect, service/stewardship, honor, integrity and personal courage). These are often recited through ritualistic, and chapter related activities. The simple answer is that those fraternities who have fallen short of expectations could be determined to not have been living by their values. They may be espousing (professing) their values but not enacting (behaving) their values. We feel that values can serve as a good compass for both members and fraternal organizations, a way of keeping their focus important markers for their development as college students.

4. How would you advise young men today when thinking of joining a fraternity to evaluate fraternities on the basis of fraternal values and person-organization fit?

We would encourage those thinking of joining a fraternity to pay attention to the values held by each organization. In most cases, these are clearly identified on organizational websites and in new member manuals, as well as other materials. Those thinking of joining can also inquire of current members about values held by each organization. Potential new members can through their own personal audit and/or self-reflection, think about the congruence (or not) between their personally held values and those of the organizations they are considering. Also, they should take an interest in organizational values that they may want to develop, to assist them personally (e.g. being more scholarly or civically engaged). They can also critically examine the degree to which members of fraternities are espousing and enacting their values. This can occur through personal interactions with current members as well as by observing the actions of the organization.