by Matt Farrell
This semester I went to the most impactful new member meeting I’ve ever attended.
The group sat in a circle. Challenging topics were discussed passionately. Loneliness, confidence, mental health. Everyone clearly wanted to be there. There were tears, hugs and heated discussions. There wasn’t a test at the end.
Oh, one more thing: it wasn’t a fraternity meeting. The organizer actually dropped his fraternity a few years back.
Let me explain.
I was in Myrtle Beach visiting a friend who lives in town. He was raving to me about weekly G-night meetings he’d been attending, as well as the intentionality of his friend Carson who runs the show. Carson had grown up in heavily masculine environments, including football throughout school and a fraternity when he began college at Coastal Carolina University. While he built many strong relationships, the negative groupthink he experienced caused him to drift away from both. He found the groups to be pressured to act a certain way even if that didn’t reflect members’ beliefs coming in.
It’s frustrating to me that fraternity can both attract and lose people like Carson, but it shows that the experience isn’t for everyone. Above all, Carson found fraternity life to go against his values as a man seeking a life of faith.
So he started his own men’s group. The purpose was to get men closer to God, but he chose to do so in a different way–discussing topics relevant to their struggle of growing as men. He wanted men to see the benefit of God without being in-your-face about it, a problem that he had seen plague the development of other faith groups. Carson chose to vaguely call the events G-nights for that reason. Did it stand for God? Guy stuff? Girl problems? Did it matter? That was the beauty of it, according to Carson.
New member education wasn’t on my mind at all coming into the meeting. I went because my personal growth as a man has been tough. Like many young men, I drifted from my faith in college due to a new environment, independence, and unlimited daily distractions. I am not fully ready to jump back in, but wanted the overall feeling of spirituality back.
It wasn’t until the meeting got going where it really hit me that Carson was doing exactly what most fraternity new member groups aren’t.
Carson told me afterwards that he believes young men have two primary needs: to be seen and to be safe.
He felt that the former was hurting men everywhere. Most of the damaging behaviors in other men’s groups he had seen involved guys desperately seeking social approval: the status of being in X group, the party access, the crude jokes, etc. They would do whatever it took to be seen.
G-night was created for men to be safe. They can talk freely about personal hardship, express deep emotions, and touch topics that may be uncomfortable with girls or even family around.
I didn’t fully get this at first. Carson’s group resembled a fraternity chapter much more than a youth group; backwards caps, jerseys, sweats and tattoos filled the room. But they were craving safety.
This particular conversation was about the challenge of relationships. It was a rocky area that many people were reluctant to contribute to at first. Carson set the tone of vulnerability and the importance of everyone feeling safe to share and grow through the experiences of others. As the environment of trust was cultivated, it got deep. Men opened up about previous relationships where physical attraction kept them from emotional connection. Others shared their fears of not finding a partner or comparing their situations to others. One man opened up deeply about an abusive relationship with a parent that made him question his own future.
G-night was powerful, and reminded me of a similar concept I saw play out recently.
God’s Plan became an anthem of fraternities and other similar settings nationwide this spring, playing across parties and tailgates. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given the song was by Drake, an artist who makes music automatically considered cool based on the image built through his massive fan base. Listening to Drake helps people be seen.
But I’d go a step further. The song’s wide prevalence showed people were willing to listen to a message that (to me) mirrored aspects of G-nights. Spirituality was introduced subtly, as it broadly indicated that even in a stressful daily life, God has a plan for Drake and those listening. Specific pressure to be religious was avoided, but a positive message was continuously reinforced. If you want proof, definitely watch the video.
It’s a tough era to be a man, but fraternities can be the answer. Carson’s G-night model provides a blueprint.
If God’s Plan, G-night, and spirituality collectively have taught me one thing—it’s the following lyric.
“I can’t do this on my own.”
What role should spirituality play in our organizations?
Are we utilizing it to the level we could?
Could it further connect us to ritual?
Email me at Farrell@PhiredUp.com to begin a conversation! I’d love to hear your thoughts connected to spirituality and fraternity, and how it could help us make men feel both seen and safe.
by Erin Chatten
If you were to know one important thing about me, it’s that I tend to ask A LOT of questions. I’m an inquisitive and curious human, and the last name of Chatten certainly doesn’t hurt my reputation. Every time I’m around my sorority sisters or on a campus working with fraternity/sorority members or the professional staff, I ask what seems like 10 million questions. Recently, that question has been “What is One Thing You Wish Fraternity/Sorority Would Have Told You Before You Joined?” I expected to get the typical responses of cost and time commitment, but this wasn’t the case. The overwhelming response I get instead is along the lines of…
“I wish someone would have told me how hard making friends was going to be.”
This blows my mind. Here we are, SOCIAL ORGANIZATIONS, and our members struggle to find friends? The more I reflect on this, and the more I dive into question mode to learn why, I can’t help but think that fraternities and sororities have failed to define and create an expectation on what friendship REALLY looks like on the inside of our organizations.
Think about it. We preach brotherhood and sisterhood, which implies a family-like connection with others. We show photos of us laughing and being best friends with each other on our social media and during recruitment. We share stories about the fun things we do as an organization. What we don’t do is set the expectation that this close family-like connection does not come automatically with a bid. Actually, most individuals I talk to shared that it takes anywhere from a semester to a full year to find the people in their organization that feel like family. That connection is there waiting for us, but it takes time to find and build.
I remember being a new member, having just received my bid, and showing up to sorority events or chapter meetings feeling like a fish out of water. It seemed like everyone had a place to belong and that everyone had those best friends. I found myself floating around in social groups, having surface level connections but never finding anyone I felt comfortable getting deeper with. I met sorority sisters who were nice, but had different majors or interests. I met sisters who I honestly couldn’t stand being around. I didn’t dislike any of them, they just weren’t MY people. I had resilience and kept trying, and boy was I lucky to find some sisters that are still a part of my life today. I found a few of them after a semester, but some of my strongest relationships took a few years both in and out of the sorority to fully develop.
Most of your members will not have the resiliency to keep trying to find their people. They will feel left out. Feel like they are excluded from cliques. They will feel like they don’t belong. They will feel like it is their fault or that there is something wrong with them. It’s our job in recruitment and in their new member period to redefine what friendship in a fraternity or sorority will actually be like. Here is what you can do to help redefine what it looks like:
Be Honest- The first (and maybe most obvious) thing you can do is simply be honest with your new members and potential members. In recruitment, don’t feed them lies about finding 100+ new BFF’s the instant they join. We know this is what they want to hear, but this is not reality and they will feel lied to once they join. Explain what to expect, tell them how long it took you to find your people, tell them HOW you found your people. Tell them about the difference between friend groups and cliques. Most likely they aren’t being purposefully excluded, it’s just hard not to have friend groups in an organization with 100 or more people. Tell them that they don’t have to love every individual, they just need to respect them and treat them as an equal.
Be a Connector- Spotting that fish out of water is not hard. Look for the people sitting alone, not engaging in conversation, or who stop showing up altogether. You don’t need to become their best friend, but what you can do for them is to get to know them and start introducing them to other members who you think they may get along with. This is especially what can be done if you are a big or mentor to a new member. Just because you have this title and connection to them does not mean you are forced to create the family-like connection. Your role is to help them find their people and find where they feel most comfortable.
Be Real- Don’t be a “Me Too-er”. The worst thing you can do is fake connection and friendship by feigning interest in the same thing as another individual. If they are talking to you about Harry Potter and that’s not your jam, don’t pretend you like it too. Be real, say that you never got into it, and let them teach you something about their passions or interests. Nobody said you had to like the same exact things to build connection, but you do need to be authentic.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “man- I still haven’t found my people yet”, know that it is okay and totally normal. It takes time. Don’t give up. Your people are out there. Take this opportunity to be real and honest as an individual and ask for help, ask someone to be a connector. Your organization and its members are designed to support you, sometimes they just need a little push or reminder that you are having a hard time.
Strong friendships take time to build. Telling our new and potential members anything else is lying to their face. That’s not the way we retain members and not the way we build trust. I challenge you before you recruit this year to have some real, honest conversations with your chapter about how to have these conversations and set expectations before you recruit your next group of brothers and sisters.
by Erin Chatten
The future of fraternity and sorority freaks me out a little. Yeah, I said it… I’m not just referring to what we see in the news every day, I’m referring to the lack of proprietary value added to a college student’s life by membership in a fraternity or sorority.
What on earth does that mean? Simple. The current fraternity and sorority experience is struggling to meet the needs of our new generation of incoming college students.
Right now, seven universities partnered with Phired Up’s research department to pilot a brand-new longitudinal study that examines the experience of a potential member as they continue through their first year of membership in a fraternity or sorority. We are only in the second phase of three, and already the results spin an interesting tale.
We asked potential members before recruitment what they hoped to gain from their sorority membership. We weren’t surprised to hear a common theme that we labeled “Belonging”. This often included descriptions of individuals expecting to find friends, a family, a place to feel at home on campus, and even mentioned brotherhood/sisterhood specifically. We learned that this is an expectation; potential members come into recruitment or intake expecting that they will find a sense of belonging.
What was truly interesting is what we started to call, “Belonging & _____”. Very rarely did any individual say they JUST wanted to find belonging. There was often this “and” statement that was followed by a “desire” they had for their membership. This “desire” was different for men and women.
We found that almost all potential members EXPECT to receive belonging (friendships, best friends, a place to belong on campus, a family, etc.)
Fraternity potential members DESIRE development for their future (career preparation, resume building, networking, etc.)
Sorority potential members DESIRE opportunities to make an impact (service work, being a part of something greater than themselves, helping the community, changing someone’s life, etc.)
But do we actually give them what they desire?
Currently, we only deliver on what they expect.
About one to two months after recruitment, we asked for the same participants to tell us what they have received from their membership thus far. You can see a side by side comparison here:
What our members are telling us is that they receive social benefits only. And that’s not all that bad! Granted, these results are what new members receive one to two months after recruitment (which for most is the new member phase). Either way, we know that the incoming generation wants instant gratification and instant results, and right now all we are showing them is that they only receive what they expect (and not what they desire).
Here’s the part where I start to get a little freaked out. We also asked non-Greek members (individuals who had shown interest in fraternity/sorority and choose not to join) the same exact question. What did non-members gain from their college experience one to two months after recruitment?
Are you seeing what I see? Social, social, social. Whether an individual joins a fraternity/sorority or not, they still receive the expectation of “belonging”. When fraternity/sorority membership costs money and takes valuable time, we need to start asking ourselves the same question all these potential members are:
Is fraternity and sorority worth it?
I believe in the future of fraternity and sorority. I also believe that the fraternity and sorority experience is going to need to adjust to the desires of the incoming student population if we want to continue to see our organizations flourish.
So here’s my challenge to you: No matter what role you play in this community – volunteer, advisor, president, member, staff – I want you to think about how you can provide those desires to our members. Knowing that the solution to our problems isn’t always creating more programs, how do we let members make an impact? How do we develop them as leaders? How do we prepare them for their future? We need to do this at all levels: the campus, the headquarters, and the chapter, or our future may be more scary than we thought.
What ideas do you have to help deliver on the desires of potential new members? I’d love to hear them! E-mail me at Erin@PhiredUp.com and share your thoughts and questions with me.