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I am a member of a small fraternity and this has hindered our relations with sororities. They say that they do not want to plan events with us due to our small numbers.
It’s hard to get a big percentage of the house to go to events because many are busy with other duties. Aside from that there is a big division between the younger and older members. Many of our brothers would rather play video games at the house than invite girls and socialize. How do I go through addressing these issues that are hindering the chapter’s progress?
It seems that your small fraternity is facing a few different issues here. The first thing that ought to be addressed is the division between your members. You all presumably joined your fraternity for similar reasons: brotherhood, leadership & social opportunities, etc. Somewhere along the way, though, the opinions on what the fraternity stands for – or should stand for – started to diverge, and now you have the split between your younger and older members.
What you as a member can do is to start to piece together a shared vision among your brothers. This starts with honestly hearing out both sides of the divide. A good way to do this is by hosting a brotherhood retreat.
Get all (or as many as possible) of your members out of the house and off-site for a day or weekend so that you can air out all of the problems and begin to address how you as a chapter want to move forward. Make sure everyone is given a chance to speak; as actives you all have equal rights and a great deal invested in the direction of the fraternity – be it three or more years of history or the same amount of time to look forward to. Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised about the nature of your divide. Sometimes petty differences evolve into much larger problems simply due to the lack of healthy confrontation.
As soon as everyone has had an opportunity to speak their mind, the next step is to refocus the conversation to defining the vision of your chapter. You may or may not already have a vision statement of your chapter or national organization. You can use this or create one that may be more specific to your circumstances.
Keep in mind that your vision statement should intentionally be left over-arching so as to serve as both an inspiration to you and your brothers and also as guidelines when setting goals. For example, the vision put forth by the national headquarters of my fraternity states “Our men will strive for excellence by living our core values.” The statement keeps things simple and is rooted in the foundation of the fraternity – its core values.
With your vision in mind, work as a chapter to come up with a list of goals – actionable, measurable objectives – that can be achieved through contributions from everyone. What do you want to do immediately after leaving the retreat? What about in three months from now? A year? It is again very important during this stage to have everyone’s thoughts represented in your goals.
Don’t just focus around one or two aspects of the fraternity; ie. social or recruitment. Some members might not want to be engaged in that way. That’s fine. That doesn’t mean they don’t have passion or interest for the fraternity necessarily. Try and make sure that you have at least one goal for each and every function of the chapter. That way, as you find out what the currently disinterested members want and what motivates them, you will be able to help them channel their energy into the fraternity in a positive way.
You may find that one or more individuals are not on board with the new vision and goals and would rather continue forcing a divide. Don’t dwell on this – not everyone will always be completely happy with the direction of the fraternity. These members will either come around or eventually drop. Focus instead on achieving your goals and utilizing your members (especially the young guys) in the manner in which they are getting the maximum benefit from the organization. Your chapter will also likely see a jump in turnout to your events through enhanced buy-in and camaraderie.
Now to get to your original question with sorority relations: unfortunately there isn’t a “hard and fast” rule to making it easier for a small fraternity such as yours to setup events with larger sororities. At the end of the day, they have to keep the best interests of their members in mind when planning – imagine putting yourself in their situation where most of their girls would likely end up bunched together paying money to hang out with their sisters. That’s something they could do any day of the week!
So, level the playing field. The first way you can do this is to make your social gatherings smaller and more intimate. It may be helpful to remove the notion that alcohol must be present to have a good time with sorority women. This opens the door to a wide variety of possibilities. Maybe you invite the new member class of your favorite sorority over for dinner with your new members. My chapter actually did this, and it is time and again one of the favorite moments for the pledges. We had the actives prepare the meal and serve it, and then also join to even out the numbers.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can pair up with another small fraternity and co-host a sorority. This is a great way to improve your interfraternal relations while enjoying a social event on a larger scale.
Also – don’t forget the small things. It is a much more rewarding experience to have mixers with women that you actually know. Build a relationship with them! Organizing serenades for their new members or delivering flowers on founders’ days goes a long way improving your standing.
One last thought: don’t try and “get big” just for the social scene – I have seen chapters try to do this in the past and fail out of a lack of shared vision. Divides in the fraternity will only go on as long as men continue join for the wrong reasons. Establish your vision for the fraternity and stick to it. The quality of your members will soon attract more quality men and the size issue of pairing with a sorority will be a thing of the past.
This answer was written by Dan Ulmer, a brother from Sigma Pi and new contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!