Over the last several months, I’ve spent some time reading through past issues of our fraternity’s national magazine, The Emerald. There are some truly inspiring words in these magazines. And those words are spoken in a tone of voice that we have too quickly forgotten in today’s fraternity world. That lapse in memory is not confined to Sigma Pi Fraternity, but to all of today’s fraternity men who opt to willfully disregard the decades of success that fraternities have achieved in building strong, tradition-minded, masculine men. Of course, in today’s world the very notions of traditionalism and masculinity are under attack so it’s no wonder that today’s fraternity men are so quick to bend (and, ultimately, break) to the incredulous, anti-male demands placed on them by those in perceived authority positions. More on that as we go along…
Here are some inspiring thoughts from Brother William D. Akers of Zeta Chapter, the sixth Grand Sage of Sigma Pi Fraternity. Incidentally, Past Grand Sage (PGS) Akers served as Grand Sage for a 4 year period; why is today’s Sigma Pi Fraternity seemingly so against Grand Sages serving more than one, 2-year term? That might be something to think about, I guess. In any event, PGS Akers delivered the comments below to an assembly of Delta and Kappa Chapter undergraduates in 1914, while he was serving as the fraternity’s Grand Fourth Counselor.
“In college life as well as in the business world there is no room for the passive type of man. A dead man and a lazy one are exactly alike, except the lazy one takes up more room.”
I’m sure that we’ve all heard several iterations of this idea over the years – that if one is not being a productive member of society, then they’re not really living life and might as well be dead. Or that if an employee is not pulling his own weight, then they are actually dead weight and should be fired. I believe PGS Akers’ point is that as fraternity men, we must be active in the affairs of our chapter. For the undergraduates reading this – don’t get your defenses up just yet! Too often, today’s young men see a call for involvement as an unwanted burden on their freedom or a tax on their time. That’s not what “involvement” should be, regardless of what instruction you may have received locally. To avoid being the “passive type of man” that PGS Akers refers to, today’s undergraduate man just needs to avail himself of the activities that his chapter should already be engaged in. For example, if your chapter is mixing with XYZ Sorority on Thursday night, then go to the mixer! And if you have a few free minutes during the day that Thursday, then why not ask the Social Chairman if there is some small piece of the planning for the night’s activities that you can help him complete?
Further, to avoid the passivity that PGS Akers warns us about, today’s undergraduate man should attend his chapter’s weekly meeting, philanthropic, and service events. Again, these should be part of your daily activities as an active member in your chapter in the first place. This isn’t a call to new action, but rather a call to existing action.
Where PGS Akers’ comment begins to challenge us, I believe, is when it is applied to the larger population and its growing number of phobias and general mania around fraternities and fraternity men. Strong undergraduate leaders are not the ones who simply take what they’re given and regurgitate it for the next “leader” to read and hopefully do the same. Strong undergraduate leaders take the information that they’re given, question it in a thorough and independent manner, and then decide which elements of the material are best able to advance his chapter to its goals and his brothers to their goals. The most important part of that decision-making, though, is when the leader takes the material that he has found to be bogus, biased, or not worthy of propagation and tries to ascertain why it was included in the first place. Was this information included in an effort to disrupt a positive, yet traditional environment? Was it an oversight on the part of the person providing the material? Is it a poorly-veiled attempt to fundamentally change the perspective of the leader and his brothers? And if the answer to that question is “yes,” then why is the leader’s perspective trying to be modified? The answers to these questions (and more) should determine how the leader’s next actions.
“We Greeks, and I mean to speak with modesty, are the highest type of American manhood.”
This comment should hold true today as well, though I fear the forces of anti-masculinity and anti-traditionalism which are ripping through our culture are too often preventing fraternity men from exhibiting the highest type of American manhood, that is, traditional masculinity. The conflicting, often biased voices in today’s conversation on what it means to be a fraternity man often leave fraternity men confused at best or uncaring and aloof at worst. Today’s young fraternity leaders need to cut through the nonsense and demand clear, concise language from their leaders. If they suspect someone from their university or one of their elected leaders in the fraternity is communicating in double-speak, then they need to stop the conversation until the party they are speaking with plays fair.
That is the method by which today’s young fraternity leaders need to position themselves if they want to represent the highest type of American manhood. Be tellers of truth and promoters of real equality. Do not allow someone – anyone – to be held to a lesser standard because of their position, gender, race, socioeconomic class, etc. Fraternity men should only work pleasantly in those systems where all people are treated equally. However, what I think most fraternity men will find is that today’s college environment is stacked against them because of their skin color, gender, and/or choice to embrace a traditional view of fraternalism. Fraternity men must work to change that growing bias because bias in any form is unacceptable – particularly on college campuses.
“[Those who are jealous of fraternity membership] view us through glasses which magnify our sins and fail to even show our good points.”
Boy, it’s like PGS Akers gave this speech in 2014, not 100 years earlier! How true is this statement? Earlier in his speech, PGS Akers describes the people who are consistently anti-fraternity as “individuals who fight us through jealousies.” What is most distressing about PGS Akers’ comment here is that it is so relevant to today’s hostile environment for young men, and young fraternity men in particular. Also disturbing is that if you apply PGS Akers’ statement to any aspect of life outside of fraternity membership, then you’re likely to get a similar outcome. Imagine this being spoken in 2015 and replacing “fraternity membership” with “investment banker” or “tech millionaire.” The point is that when you’re a fraternity man, you are likely receiving a considerable amount of seen and unseen anger from a population that is jealous of your very existence because of what your existence represents in their known-only-to-them minds. It’s hard for us, as leaders, to take the comments of Akers’ jealous populations seriously because they are spoken from a place that we can’t enter nor can we innately understand (nor should we attempt to understand). Most of their comments are spoken from a place of jealously and an attempt to diminish you by neglecting all of the good you provide while highlighting your negatives.
My chapter at Monmouth University has had to deal with this weak-mindedness in at least one Greek Advisor. This individual loved to denigrate my undergraduates’ accomplishments and took every opportunity to do so, which were numerous since the chapter was winning many awards during that time – most notably winning Sigma Pi Fraternity’s Most Outstanding Chapter Award (#1 in the nation in their tier). He loved to put my guys down because his graduate school indoctrinated him to promote an extreme position held by too many student affairs employees. And that position is that they should receive external undergraduate successes by challenging the students do to more and reach higher. Do more? Reach higher than #1 in the nation? Really? For those student affairs employees who may be reading this commentary, please take this former Greek Advisor’s pigheadedness as a lesson. Sometimes the student affairs employees need to check their biases and jealousies at the door and simply say, “Wow – you guys did a great job! We’re proud of you! Congratulations!”
“To know that you have warm personal friends, who are intensely interested in you and in your success is one of the greatest of motive forces, and makes us do our best.”
Preach on, PGS Akers! Isn’t this the very core of motivating forces that propels fraternities forward in the right direction? Namely, that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you have a group of individuals behind you “who are intensely interested in you.” Further, they are intensely interested in your success! What greater squad is there to roll with than people who actually care about you, right?!
For my part as an alumni advisor, I’ve increasingly become intensely interested in the professional successes of my young alumni. When I hear about one of my young alumni upgrading to a new company, receiving a promotion, or getting a raise, I find a growing level of pride in their accomplishments. In a similar manner, when one of my young alumni decides that they want to go back to school to earn a master’s degree, I become proud of their decision to expand their academic pursuits. And it’s that pursuit of excellence – the pursuit of being something bigger and greater than you are today – that I find so great and admirable!
A word to the undergraduate Sigma Pi leaders reading this commentary: you will not receive this type of lasting, post-graduation support from your Greek Advisor or from any of the negative voices that you hear while you’re running your chapter. As PGS Akers instructs us, the negative voices only want to magnify your sins and fail to recognize your good contributions to society. Lucky for us, we’re members of a true brotherhood of men. We celebrate each other’s successes and share the aggravation of each other’s setbacks. Those on the outside don’t understand that connection, but they do understand how to criticize their personal interpretation of that connection. Let them spew their hate because it further degrades any perceived authority that they assumed to have in the first place.
“…the strength of our fraternity and the future of the fraternity are in your hands.”
These words are as true today as they were when PGS Akers spoke them in 1914. Remember, when he delivered this speech PGS Akers was speaking to a group of assembled undergraduates from Delta and Kappa chapters. And even though we have over 100 more chapters today and we are a much more complex organization working in a much more biased environment, the truth is now and remains that the future of the fraternity is in the hands of our undergraduates. In a very real sense, as a group the undergraduate votes at our biennial Convocation far outnumber the combined votes of our alumni clubs, past grand officers, and other individuals who are allowed to vote during the business meetings. In a much more theoretical sense, the future of Sigma Pi Fraternity rests in the hands of those undergraduates who are willing to stand up to the hypocrisies that they face on a daily basis. Those undergraduates who are willing to question, in a gentlemanly manner, those with perceived authority regarding their hypocrisies are the ones who will lead this fraternity into the future.
“…the duties of our latest initiate are of more importance to the Fraternity than those of the Grand Sage. While the former may have no official duties to attend to, he is actively engaged, either in building up or tearing down our reputation, a matter of more vital importance than any official business could be.”
This comment follows the one immediately listed above as a further indication that the future of the fraternity is set by the undergraduates, not our alumni. Sure, our alumni may be in elected or hired staff positions, but the work of the fraternity has always existed at the active chapter level. This doesn’t take away from the many great and varied efforts of our alumni clubs and alumni volunteers. Our alumni volunteers, especially, are the workhorses of Sigma Pi Fraternity. Theirs is a labor of love and, if done correctly, their work bears more and better fruit than any other effort put forth by any other constituency in the fraternity.
Yet still, the people who are most important to the fraternity’s future are not those with the shiny medals around their necks or the ones who get up each morning to go to work for Sigma Pi. The most important people in the fraternity are the ones who were just initiated into the brotherhood and have their entire lives ahead of them as men of Sigma Pi. Will they be actively engaged in building their chapter and, through that effort, making the national fraternity stronger? Or will they be one of the better-off-dead lazy men that PGS Akers notes in one of the earlier quotes cited above?
“Sigma Pi wants MEN, – men of brain and brawn, clean men, men who love and honor their Mother and Father, these are the men who will love and honor our Fraternity.”
During recruitment season, I wish that our leaders promoted this quote more to our undergraduates than anything else. In the last 10 or so years, many student affairs employees have co-opted Phired Up’s “values-based” recruitment model and demeaned it into becoming yet another battering ram to use against traditional fraternities and sororities. By “traditional fraternities and sororities,” I am talking about those chapters who look to find certain characteristics in the people that they recruit. That is, to find groups of kindred minds who are diverse by their origins and life experiences, but share common characteristics that are valued by the members of the chapter. Sigma Pi chapters should take PGS Akers’ suggestion and look for young men to join our fraternity who are MEN! Find guys who live clean lives, take care of themselves, and honor tradition both in their families and within the fraternity. These days, society is too quick to rewrite history in an effort to make tradition always appear biased, angry, or discriminatory. And while that may be true in some cases, the history of thousands of fraternity and sorority chapters across the country is not a history of discrimination. Even for those chapters who were founded by organizations that had exclusionary policies at their national levels – those policies no longer exist and likely haven’t existed for decades.
Today’s undergraduates do not need to be brow-beaten into thinking that they are exclusionary and that they need to take a more inclusive approach to recruitment. That’s nothing more than extremist jargon that seeks to dismantle traditional forms of masculinity (and femininity, for that matter). As PGS Akers states – Sigma Pi needs to recruit MEN.
Here are some other interesting points that I found in the January 1915 issue of The Emerald:
- The Directory of the Fraternity lists the 6 Grand Counselors and then it lists an “Executive Council” that includes 4 additional men who appear to be in leadership positions. I’ve said for a long time that our national organization is hindered by the fact that we only have 7 members on our national board of trustees (the Grand Council plus the Past Grand Sage). Organizations of our size should have 11 to 15 contributing members on our board of trustees. It appears that the founders and early leaders of our fraternity well understood that need for increased engagement and more hands to help move the fraternity forward. I wonder what happened that the number of elected leaders was reduced? We should go back to a larger number of members on our board of trustees.
- The Delta Chapter called PGS Akers the “Patrick Henry of Sigma Pi,” which is a really great compliment if you know American history.
- One quote that I didn’t use from PGS Akers was, “…wells of fraternalism whose waters are brotherly devotion and loyalty to ideals.” I bring that up because I believe that people spoke and wrote much more beautifully 100 years ago. We live in a world where the word “literally” is bastardized and “like” is overused to death. Reading these old magazines is a great reminder of how wonderfully speakers spoke and writers wrote 100 years ago.
- There’s a nice, two page profile of Byron R. Lewis in this issue of The Emerald. It was nice to read about the man who did so much to build the foundation of Sigma Pi Fraternity.
- During this period in The Emerald‘s history, each issue was “sponsored” by a chapter of the fraternity. In other words, the bulk of this issue talks about the Phi chapter at the University of Illinois because this was the “Phi Number” issue of the magazine. There are some great pictures of the University of Illinois in the magazine and some discussion about campus history. I encourage the undergraduate members of Phi Chapter to take a look at this issue of The Emerald just for the 100 year old pictures of their campus.
- This issue also marked the first update from the Delta Chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity. According to their update, they started from the Mag Piis Club which was colonized into Sigma Pi in spring 1914. Our current Sigma Pi Manual (why isn’t it called the I Believe Manual any more?) lists Delta as inactive from 1913 to 1914. That doesn’t seem correct if we colonized them in spring 1914 and they were an active chapter by January 1915.
- During this time, The Emerald featured a section called Exchanges. In this section, the magazine would reprint the best selections from other fraternities’ magazines, copies of speeches given as they related to fraternalism, and articles from national inter-fraternity conventions. Interesting idea – especially about the speeches.
- Finally, a company named Schloss Manufacturing Company advertised on the back page of The Emerald. They were advertising Sigma Pi Greek letter banners for either 85 cents (an 18″ x 30″ banner) or $1.25 (a 24″ x 30″ banner). I think we’ve experienced a little bit of inflation since then!
I encourage everyone who has an interest in Sigma Pi Fraternity’s history to check out the online archive of old Emerald magazines. If you like this stuff, then they are a treasure trove of information!