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Whose fraternity and sorority advisor are you, anyway?

Fraternity and Sorority
November 1, 2018 Jamel Catoe Monique N. Golden

Last summer, we noticed a post in the Fraternity and Sorority Knowledge Community Facebook group that seemed to have sparked an interesting debate. Essentially, the post had to do with campuses where non-social fraternities and sororities (academic, professional, and other special interest groups) were under the purview of fraternity and sorority advisors (FSA).  

In usual fashion, three common and highly anticipated types of participants commented under the post. The first was the group of professionals who discussed the structure of their campus and community. The second group invited others who had experience with this model to join the conversation by tagging their username in response to the post. The final group consisted of professionals who argued that campus-based fraternity and sorority life offices should not support non-social fraternities and sororities. One commenter even stated that these organizations were vastly different from social fraternal organizations and should therefore be treated as any other student organization.

So, our question becomes, “Are there significant differences between social and non-social fraternities and sororities that do not warrant being under the purview of campus FSA?” We argue that academic, professional, and many special-interest fraternal organizations are inherently similar to social fraternities and sororities. Indeed, there are some common ideas about what distinguishes fraternities and sororities from any other student organization. However, we would like to discuss what some of those common ideas are and offer counter-opinions.

Gender-based Membership: Most social fraternities and sororities are single-gender organizations but, there are several social fraternal organizations, like Theta Delta Sigma, that were founded particularly with gender inclusivity in mind. Today, other organizations are finding that gender is much more complex and complicated than the sexual identity one is assigned at birth and are thus making strides towards inclusion. Single-gender membership is not unique to social fraternities and sororities. Despite many professional organizations adopting a gender-inclusive membership, there are still some organizations that limit membership to just men or women.

Personal Development: Perhaps the only distinction between a social and non-social fraternal organizations is the approach to membership development. Social fraternities and sororities are committed to developing members who will make positive contributions to society. Non-social fraternal organizations are understood as being dedicated to helping their members advance in their academic, professional, or other pursuits. In either case, the goal is to make better people.

Ritual and Values: Both social and non-social fraternal organizations practice some form of ritual and their members have agreed to uphold the core values of the organization upon initiation. Generally, peer accountability is an expectation of membership for all of these groups.

Lifelong Membership: Joining a social or non-social fraternal organization often means making a lifelong commitment to the organization (whether or not one upholds this commitment). Many organizations have policies that restrict members from joining other similar organizations. For instance, it is typical that an initiated member of a social fraternity is ineligible for membership in another social fraternity. Similarly, someone that is a member of a professional fraternity, may also be restricted from pursuing membership with a competing fraternity.

High Risk Level: Social fraternities and sororities are often associated with high levels of risk due to the numerous incidents of alcohol/drug abuse, bias, hazing, and sexual misconduct that plague our campus, local, and national communities. To address these negative behaviors, universities have taken action, albeit controversial action according to some, to close independent chapters indefinitely or suspend Greek life altogether. Yet, these concerns are not limited just to social fraternal organizations. In Spring 2018, Syracuse University received national attention when a racist video featuring members of the coed professional engineering fraternity, Theta Tau, leaked on social media. Last month, Delta Sigma Pi, professional business fraternity closed its chapter at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi due to hazing violations.

Taken together, we argue that if the purpose of the FSA is to advise, educate, and to help ensure each organization is providing a safe membership experience, then we do not see why non-social groups are sometimes refused recognition by and support from fraternity and sorority advisors.

On most campuses, the FSA is deemed the expert on all things “Greek” and more often than not, the FSA is also viewed as the go-to for risk management and hazing prevention strategies. Therefore, as a campus professional, we have an obligation to all students, not just those who are affiliated with a social fraternity or sorority. Given the similarities among social and non-social fraternal organizations, particularly as it relates to risk reduction and education, we believe fraternity and sorority advisors’ approach to supporting these groups requires little, if any, modifications to effectively support these groups.

When a chapter receives negative attention, people often look to the campus-based professional for answers. Given the state of fraternity and sorority affairs nationwide, it is more imperative than ever that campus-based fraternity and sorority professionals make a case for the work that they do. We have to be able to demonstrate our value to the institution and oftentimes, our value is measured in our ability to keep our institution and fraternity and sorority chapters out of the news.  As fraternity and sorority experts, all fraternal organizations on our campuses could greatly benefit from our advisement, resources, and support.