fraternity social probation

So your fraternity or sororityhas been accused of a violation, and now faces a possible social probation.  Greek organizations are social by nature, which makes this punishment especially severe. What exactly does social probation mean?


Being on social probation means your fraternity or sorority was punished by your local governing board – likely the IFC or Panhellenic Council.  Typical probations include no social events for a set period of time, normally one or two semesters.  In addition, many social probations come with a requirement for community service.

Note that social probation is much different than being suspended.  The rules are different at every school, but essentially being suspended means losing all recognition by the university. That means you cannot participate in any Greek activities, or have functions of any kind.  On the other hand, social probation simply means you cannot host social events.

The Impact of Probation

Let’s analyze the impact of being on probation for an entire semester. First, a typical college student is supposed to be in school for only four years. This means that they would be on probation for 1/8 of their college career.  That is a severe penalty.

Being on social probation will have a very negative effect on recruiting. What kid wants to join a fraternity that is limited in what they can do?  It is like trying to get a basketball recruit to come to a school on probation knowing they can’t attend the big dance.  It is possible, but it is much harder.

By far the biggest impact of being on probation is what it does to the morale of the brotherhood. I witnessed this first hand as my fraternity was on probation for one semester when I was in school.

What ends up happening is the fraternity house is no longer the center of the social world for the brotherhood. Brothers drift away to find their fun somewhere else. The lingering effect is huge.

Even when we got off probation, it was very difficult to get brothers to come around the house. They had developed other ties during the semester off – and often those ties became hard to break to get brothers to the fraternity house.

It is also a challenge collecting dues.  There will be brothers who wonder why they should pay for dues when the fraternity isn’t given them as much in return.  This is a definite challenge, and leadership will have to figure out how to provide brothers value in ways other than social when on probation.

Probation definitely has the potential to kill a chapter.  That is why it is so important that you make sure you get a fair hearing, and make sure you know how to lead should your chapter end up on social probation.

Preparing for Your IFC or Panhellenic Hearing

If you were accused of breaking a rule, you need to follow these steps in preparation for your hearing.

First – notify your membership that no one is to speak of the incident – period.  They aren’t to talk about it socially, and they especially aren’t to talk about it publicly.  The only one who is to speak about the probation is the chapter president.

Second – notify your chapter advisor (and faculty advisor if you have one) of the situation.  Come clean – even if it is bad.  The cover-up is always worse than the crime.  The chapter advisor should play a key role in figuring out a strategy moving forward.

Third – notify your national HQ.  One of the reasons you pay them is for very moments like this.  You need their advice.  As importantly, you need their clout to help you with your local Greek Life Office.

Fourth – set up a meeting with your Greek Life Advisor.  Explain to them the situation, and get their advice on how to proceed.  Remember that this is a person of influence.  You need them on your side, and their counsel will also prove to be very useful.

Fifth – Set up a meeting with the IFC president.  Attempt to negotiate terms with him before the hearing.  I never want to be in a situation where I don’t know the outcome of any meeting.  Plead your case to him, and you may get an ally that can help you at your hearing.

Sixth – be very prepared for the hearing.  Have a clear understanding of what exactly you are being charged with.  If you are innocent, be able to provide as much data as possible to prove your innocence.  This could include photos or videos of the incident in question.  This could include statements from people with a first-hand account.  Remember that the onus is on them to prove you broke a rule.

Seventh – be prepared to negotiate.  This should have been part of your meeting with the IFC president.  Explain that while withholding social events is a punishment for the chapter, it does no good for the community.  Instead, offer up community service or volunteer for other activities that will better the community.

Eighth – be sure you understand the appeals process.  If you feel that your punishment was unjust, understand what recourse you have.  No decisions in life are final.

Nine– be sure the appropriate people attend the meeting, and be sure they are properly dressed.  This needs to be treated professionally as it is a serious matter.  This isn’t the time for a brother who loves to hear himself talk to be a part of the meeting.  Really, the fewer people the better.

Finally, should you have a hearing, be sure your chapter advisor is with you.  You need an adult present to ensure the hearing committee doesn’t try to steamroll you.  They are much less likely to do so with your chapter advisor present.

Leading and Having Fun Through Social Probation

This is when true leaders will earn their keep.  If you can lead through a social probation, you can lead through anything.  Some keys to remember:

You must understand your punishment.  What exactly are you allowed and not allowed to do?  If there are any questions, get clarification.  Obviously, it is also a leaders responsibility to ensure the chapter follows their punishment.

If there are events that you want to do, but they aren’t allowed, ask the IFC for approval.  They obviously won’t let you throw a party, but they may allow you to continue with your planned formal.  It doesn’t hurt to ask – the worst they can say is no.

Morale will be the biggest challenge.  Social probation has a tremendous impact on a chapter.  Leadership will have to be creative to ensure that the brothers morale stays high.

To keep the social scene alive, leadership will have to be creative, but remain in the rules. The chapter needs to find a way to have fun, but still abide by the restrictions placed on them.

This is the perfect time to have a road trip or party with other chapters at other schools. Sometimes, social events can be had at 3rd party venues instead of at the house. Brotherhood events are crucial to keeping the brotherhood strong.  Also, a renewed commitment to philanthropy and intramurals will give the fraternity a social outlet.

Be sure the fraternity attends concerts, sporting events, movies or anything else as a group.

Generally, any time you can get the chapter together it will be a good time.  Make this a primary focus.

After Probation

The chapter should have a social event planned to celebrate coming off probation.  This gives the chapter something to look forward to – almost like the light at the end of a tunnel.  Every healthy organization needs something to look forward to.

That said, be sure that the chapter is over-cautious to not violate any rules during this event.  For this reason, it is probably much smarter to have a closed event instead of an open event.  It is much easier to keep control of a date function than a full-party-rager.

Besides that, be sure to put processes in place to avoid doing whatever got you in trouble before.  Social probation is awful, but going through it twice can bring a chapter to it’s knees.

Need Advice?

Should you find yourself in this situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for advice.  I’m always here and willing to assist.

Go here to contact me: https://thefraternityadvisor.com/need-advice/

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