Back when I was the advisor for my local chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity, I signed up to be on a listserv for fraternity and sorority news. Every once in a while I get an e-mail with an article attached to it talking about something in the fraternity world (and since the media is sensationalistic these days, the articles are generally filled with bad news).
A few weeks ago, though, an article was sent out that talked about why some students are choosing to go Greek these days and why others aren’t. One paragraph, in particular, stuck with me:
The current economic crisis has changed the way students think about money, and Fouts acknowledges that perceptions about fraternity and sorority dues are no different. Chapters and student affairs offices, she said, will have to be “line-item specific” as to what these dues are for and how they will be spent to the benefit of the student. She argued that interested students should not be brought to think of their funds as “paying for friends,” as many an old cliché of fraternity life states.
Let me offer some comments. First, joining a fraternity is not paying for your friends any more than paying to go away to college is paying for a new social network or that joining any other organization that requires annual dues is paying for your friends. That’s a tired ass old argument that is so fundamentally flawed in both its view and application that it’s not even worth getting into extreme details here.
Second, I hope that students WILL begin to question where their dues are being applied – both locally and nationally. When I became the President of my local chapter many, many years ago one of the first things that I did was review where our money was flowing…and it wasn’t pretty. We were robbing one group of guys to pay for the next group of guys and creating a ridiculous cycle while accruing a massive amount of debt (it peaked at $9,000+ at one point). It was horrible. The guys who came before me either knew about the problem and didn’t fix it or didn’t know how to dig our chapter out of the hole.
To make a long story short, in the two years that I was in charge, we paid off the entire debt and reorganized our accounts in a more professional manner. Things went from very bad to very good (a little self-promotion, why not?).
When I began as a volunteer and began to dig more into where the money was going at the national level, while I understood the immediate needs and uses of the funds (which were all being used in a responsible manner), I began to worry about the future. My main concern was not with today’s financial issues, but with the financial issues of 2020 and 2050. With that in mind, I changed my main set of volunteer activities from assisting undergraduates (which is a lot of fun and the most rewarding experience in the fraternity) to focusing on how to build the financial future of our fraternity.
Can fraternities and sororities survive the current economic crisis? Yes – if they prove their worth. Fraternities and sororities need to be prepared to show the value that a new member gets for their dollars. If that “benefit” or value is the ability to attend fraternity-only parties, then the fraternity which is selling that product is likely going to find itself in dire straits. Any college student knows that there is always a party if they know where to look. Fraternity and sorority membership should provide lifelong benefits such as a built-in professional network and a built-in emotional support system.
Those fraternities that can prove their worth in the current economic climate will not only survive, but I expect them to thrive.