Is Fraternity Life Doomed?

Will fraternity life be around in 20 years? I don’t know, but I do know that every time I see another headline about the state of fraternity life in 2018, it breaks my heart. For every incident and death, whether due to hazing, alcohol, drugs or just plain carelessness and uncaring behavior, the lives of those left behind are shattered. The what-ifs, shouldas and couldas become a broken record in the thoughts of the survivors.

This weekend and the ones following it are rife with GLO sponsored leadership academies, workshops and opportunities for new officers to improve their skills. No matter what the name, the goals are basically the same – to better the fraternity and sorority experience. A handful of chapter members attend, or maybe it’s only the president. They get fired up and empowered and then they head home. Are those skills and that energy enough to lead  100 or 200 other members whose goals might not be similarly aligned?

As one who studies the history of our organizations, it’s not the first time the organizations have come under assault. From the very beginning, GLOs have been up against anti-fraternity sentiment. It’s been a constant since the beginning. Today, the noise is louder, more high pitched, and omnipresent.

The model of membership in most of our organizations involves bringing in new members each year. The image and future of the GLO is vested in the very youngest members, those who have hardly a clue about the goals, values and history of the organization. Perhaps they’ve heard some stories from older alums or maybe they can quote from heart movies and shows about fraternity life. Maybe they live for the moment and care nary a whit about the lofty purposes of the organization they joined without thinking much about it.

And while most of the incidents involve men, be forewarned that if the men’s GLO groups are forced to leave a campus, the women’s groups will be a casualty, too. The women need to hold the men’s groups accountable for their existence weighs in the balance.

If we as GLO members say we stand for higher aims and live our values then our actions should reflect that. Those who fail to live up to these ideals need to resign or be dismissed. The futures of all GLOs are in the balance.

An early 1900s fraternity hat band ad (Photo courtesy of the Student Life and Culture Archives at the University of Illinois.)




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