An article by the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values 006 // CONNECTIONS // 2012 • Summer
Why do fraternity and sorority members think everyone hates them?
Even though members of fraternal organizations are often more heavily involved in campus activities, interact more with faculty, and generally have more positive things to say about their campus environment than non-members, they still seem to have the perception that “if you’re not with us, you hate us.” Is it a martyr attitude that makes members feel like victims despite their privileged and positive college experience or some backwards self-fulfilling victim prophecy? A recent study by the NASPA Assessment and Knowledge Consortium, created in conjunction with the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, showed that fraternity and sorority members drastically undersold themselves. When asked what others think of them, 61% of fraternity and sorority respondents said non-affiliated students thought poorly of them, while in reality, only 42% of non-affiliated respondents in the study believed this.
But even those who do make “good” money (what IS good money, anyway?) say, first and foremost, that is not why they do what they do. One executive-level fraternity staff member said, “membership is a lifelong experience and I believe in that.” When asked why he continues to work for the fraternity, he said, “here’s the deal. I know, in the end, that almost all of our members will have a good experience, graduate, and remember their fraternity experience as one of the best in their life.” Another said, “the number one factor for us working here is to better the organization. We’re doing it because we love our fraternity. We’re not in the business of shutting people down, we’re in the business of
In other words, fraternity and sorority members think most nonaffiliated students hate them, when in reality, most of them do not. This got us thinking… it is not difficult to find studies that offer the perceptions of campus peers, but we can think of another group who undergraduate members sometimes claim hate them. “Headquarters,” the enigmatic and seemingly untouchable staff at the inter/national office. Most collegians have We delved into this issue and have some first-hand, behind the never even met any of them. Sure, a consultant scenes information regarding the perception that headquarters comes to your chapter every year or so, but who are staff has of undergraduate fraternity and sorority members. the men and women who really run the show? The people who make the big bucks? More importantly, why do they hate you so much? Or, do they?
We delved into this issue and have some first-hand, behind the scenes information regarding the perception that headquarters staff has of undergraduate fraternity and sorority members. We all know each other here in the land of fraternity/sorority advising so we are sure the HQ staff gave it to us straight.
First of all, most headquarters staff members are not really making the big bucks; let us get that straight right here and now. Do not assume the money your chapter pays for dues is lining the pockets of the staff members. “Are you kidding me?” said one fraternity staff member. “We take all of that money and put it right back into the organization. I don’t get that money. I don’t even get a bonus. I make a modest salary. I think I can speak for everyone in my office in saying that I work very hard and sacrifice opportunities for higher salary, time with my family, and a more active social life so I can help members have success in their lives. Trust me, I’m not doing this for the money.”
sharing the experience of fraternity.” In other words, these men and women do not show up to work every day because they hate their fraternity – or you for that matter.
But what about when you do stupid stuff? They hate you then, right? Well, yes and no.
We asked these men and women how they feel when they hear news that a chapter has done something horrible. One executive-level staff member at a women’s organization said, “I know what we teach, what we value and who we are as an organization, so when a chapter fails to live those values, my first thought is always that we’ve somehow failed our members. I worry there is a disconnect between what we think we’re teaching and what our members are actually taking in.”
They do this because you are their brothers and sisters. They do this because they love your organization and the bond they share with you. Why?
While not everyone thinks they might have failed the chapter when things go wrong, there was one thing every staff member agreed on: hazing sucks. “I was in a chapter that didn’t haze,” a women’s organization leader told us. “My commitment to my organization is strong, and it’s not because I was hazed. So I get really frustrated with members who haze, because they think it will make members better. Yes, my organization is about making women better and helping them grow - but we’re not about going about it that way.” “As a member, it is always a sad experience for me when I find out chapters are hazing,” a fraternity staff member said. “Nothing about my personal experience was like the things I have to deal with.” Not only can he not relate to the experiences, he talked about why they are difficult for him to deal with personally. “It’s hurtful to me personally because I see the ugly; things I would have never experienced in my chapter. I guess, yes, sometimes it makes me mad that these individuals don’t realize how many people they are affecting for the own selfish behaviors.” What about when they have to stand up for you? When the media calls, someone usually has to talk to them. What is that like?
One man said, “I’m the one in my office who deals with the media in these cases and I am dealing with people who hate fraternity; because of this it’s very difficult to do.” He said it is most challenging when it’s a good chapter for all intents and purposes and one member – or a small group of members – does something awful. “In these situations, my job, initially, is to try to control the situation. On one hand, I don’t want to look like the fraternity is trying to cover something up, but I also have to avoid admitting guilt,” he said. In other words, “It’s my job to go to bat for the chapter,” and most times he’s happy to do so. But, when you are a stupid chapter, it is not as easy. “We want to protect the chapter, but we will never, ever condone inappropriate behavior, whether it’s the individual or the group. It’s not what we stand for – brother or not.” Another fraternity staff member agreed, “I see the overwhelming majority of our members doing good things. They do the right thing. But the bad stuff is what sells. It’s frustrating because men this age [18-22] are in the time of their lives where they do risky things and are, in many ways, still very immature.” So really, headquarters staff know better than anyone that one bad actor has the power to taint the entire organization’s name. And that sucks for everyone.
008 // CONNECTIONS // 2012 • SUMMER
So why do bad people join good organizations in the first place? “I don’t think they are bad people, they just make bad choices,” a sorority staff member responded. “They just don’t think clearly about what they are choosing to do. I think they get caught up in the campus culture, or a drinking culture, or whatever, and all of a sudden find themselves in a situation they never imagined they’d be in.”
But if these members who make poor choices are really good people – and are members of good chapters, for that matter – where in the world do they come from? “Honestly, I do sometimes wonder ‘where did these women come from? How is it possible that they are my sister?’”, a women’s organization leader said. One fraternity executive knows one place they come from: “you get what you recruit. If you are using alcohol to recruit… you’re going to get people who have baggage regarding alcohol. You’ve recruited a member under the pretense that ‘this is acceptable and how we do things.’ It’s really that simple sometimes.”
Think about it. These headquarters staff members are people, your brothers and sisters for that matter. “Here’s what I hate,” one staff member said. “When members look at staff as second-class citizens. Like they think I can’t get a “better” job. They forget that we’re a part of the same organization they are. We hold the same ideals, the same principles, the same BADGE.” Like we said, these people are people. If anyone can relate to you, they can. But when they have to stop everything to pick up the pieces of something stupid you’ve done, it’s not easy. “When something bad happens, all things stop and revolve around that. Meetings get cancelled; last minute travel occurs. Resources get spent that we hadn’t planned to spend: money, volunteer time, my time, and more,” a sorority executive explained. In other words, things get put to the back burner to cover the expense and the resources needed to cover your ass. Trust us, these folks are not doing this for their health.
But at the end of the day, they go to sleep and wake up the next – and go back to work. For you. They do this because you are their brothers and sisters. They do this because they love your organization and the bond they share with you. Why? One fraternity staff member explained, “I think it’s because I know in my heart that my fraternity is a good organization… and the good really does outweigh bad. The bad might be more publicized, but I know too many stories of how brotherhood has changed someone’s life for the better. That can’t be denied.” We thank our colleagues who agreed to be interviewed for this piece. For respect of them as individuals and to support an environment in which they were allowed to speak from their personal viewpoints rather than being a spokesperson for their organization, these men and women remain anonymous.