by Matt Mattson
Look at your brothers and sisters. I mean, really look at them.
Look beyond their major or their year in school. Look beyond whether they’re a new member, a chapter president, an officer, a leader.
Look past the letters. Look past the house, the events, the colors, the outfits, the nonsense.
Look for what we really are. Look at the people. Look right at them. Look at their potential. Look at their longings. Look at their scars. Look at their desire to love and be loved. Look at their need to connect. Look at their brokenness and strength. Look at them the way their family sees them. Look at them the way you wish your family saw you. Look at them. Look right at them.
There is something so stunningly and exasperatingly human about fraternities and sororities. Our organizations are somehow centuries strong yet fragile enough to crumble at any moment. Our histories are full of triumphant stories yet mostly made of regular, everyday, forgettable-to-the-history-books, plain old college students.
Our organizations are complicated, just like us. Our organizations are capricious, just like us. Our organizations are filled with drama, just like us. Our organizations are beautiful, just like us. Our organizations are powerful, just like us. Our organizations are difficult to understand, torturously messed up, and intrinsically flawed just like us.
Fraternities and sororities are so damn human, aren’t they?
So, it begs the question, why do we do so many inhuman things?
Why do we boil down a PNMs worth to her looks?
Why do we make the most vulnerable among us prove themselves worthy of our approval?
Why do we determine a chapter’s success by their size or their power instead of the life stories and transformation of their people?
Why do we leave a drunk brother lying on the couch to die?
Why do we make recruitment about how impressive our stuff is?
Why do we abuse each other?
Why do we excel at objectification, appropriation, and intimidation despite our organizations commitment to individual edification?
Why do we display our trophies, our photos, our flags, and our paddles instead of our kindness, our willingness to care, and our surprisingly common stories of individual members who have emerged from our chapters as a completely new version of themselves?
Our fraternities and sororities are humanity embodied. We are microcosms of the human condition. Our oaths and initiation rites are attempts by our founders to name the highest ideals of our species.
Our best defense against the evil sides of our organizations might just be to focus all our energy… not on better events, better programs, better themes, better initiatives, or better policies… but instead on better interactions. If we could clean up the space between our members and other human beings, maybe we could clean up everything else.
If we saw each other as humans. If when we encountered another member, new member, potential member… if we saw the full humanity of that person. If we could see their longings and losses. If we could sense their struggle. If we could imagine their potential (not their potential as “an asset to our chapter,” but their potential contribution to the world). If we could just start to notice who they truly are or might be… and respect them fully because of it. Isn’t that what sisterhood and brotherhood looks like in practice?
As fraternity humans and sororitiy humans we’ve taken an oath to be more… human. Our founders declared for us what that means. We are challenged to be the best examples of humanity, not the tragic bastions of inhumanity too many of our chapters have honestly become.
Fraternity. Sorority. Humanity. These words are synonymous. The human condition cries out for sisterhood and brotherhood. From the moment we are born, and all throughout our life, humans are constantly and instinctively driven to seek the warm embrace of fellowship that our organizations excel at.
We are called to be the best examples of humanity. Individually and as organizations. That is what the modern fraternity and sorority must become.
Look at your brothers and sisters. I mean, really look at them.
by Tyler Blaker (Phired Up’s Video & Media Expert)
I can drive people batty sometimes with my love and obsession with movies. Often I will ask people questions so I can share cool tidbits about films and television shows. Things like “Do you know why windows break the way they do in movies?” or “Do you know why Daleks look they way they do in Doctor Who?” So it was no surprise when I graduated college that, as a gift to myself, I bought the 12 disc special extended edition of The Lord of the Rings films. I couldn’t wait to dive into all of the hours of special feature tidbits.
It usually is a surprise, however, when I tell people I don’t really care about film continuity. When you watch a movie and in one shot the actor is wearing a scarf and then in another shot the scarf is gone, that’s film continuity. Or rather that is a film continuity error.
You would think the continuity error would tear at my soul but it doesn’t. Some of my favorite movies are rife with these errors. This doesn’t make them any less of a great film. Why? Because that’s not the point. A movie should transform you through the power of story and make you leave emotionally changed. And guess what, a few lamps out of place in the background or a slightly darker colored jacket on an extra isn’t going to ruin that. If I were only to focus on these things, I would always leave unsatisfied and miss the opportunity to connect with the art. And if the filmmakers were to spend all of their energy on this, the film would never get done. (Disclaimer: For my film continuity professionals, I do understand that when done correctly good continuity increases immersion of a film and overall effectiveness of the story.)
Oddly enough the fraternity/sorority experience is kind of the same way. We want everything to be perfect in our chapters, with our recruitment, and with our events. We can focus so much on our own “film continuity errors” that the film that is fraternity/sorority barely gets made, and definitely isn’t the great story it could be. Often we miss the point of our fraternity/sorority experience.
Like a great movie the fraternity/sorority experience has the potential to transform you and leave you emotionally changed. Our membership should impact us in such a way that we are changed forever for the better. I know most of us know this but we get lost along the way. During the filming that is our organizational experience our focus is off center and the important bits are blurry and lost.
We need to focus on what is the story we are trying to tell about our fraternity/sorority experience. What are the things that will transform and change you and your brothers or sisters for the better?
Here’s what I mean from a fellow fraternity man’s perspective… It’s not that we throw the coolest and biggest parties every year. And that we believe it should be a main focus of our chapter, to maintain that misguided sense of pride. Nor is it the fact that we pride ourselves on the continuation of following by-law rule 17 subsection L paragraph 3 that states “all formal apparel ties shall be worn 11 inches in length to further represent the 11 founders of our chapter and all those disregarding shall be fined and met with swift judicial board judgement.” That’s focusing too much on the film continuity and sacrificing the story of your fraternity. (Disclaimer: For my fraternity/sorority continuity professionals, I do understand and agree that the right continuity focus in the right areas does increase immersion and overall effectiveness of the fraternal journey. Let’s just not miss the point)
Instead the focus should be on the values of your fraternity/sorority. Living those values out in such a way that your community and the world is improved and brightened by your exemplification. Focus on the relationships with your brothers or sisters and giving that love to each and every member that follows after. Focus on making a difference in the lives of those you touch.
Focus on what matters. Focusing on things like this with your actions and choices will always help clear the blurry and find the lost path. Reflect on the things you do as a chapter and have done in the past. Ask yourself if they really matter and if things should change.
Don’t give your time and energy over to making perfect that which doesn’t matter. Nothing in this world is perfect and we are all full of “film continuity errors” in various forms. Those errors are not the point. The story of your fraternity/sorority experience is what matters.
When you focus on the story of your experience that’s when people connect to you. That is the moment people leave transformed and emotionally changed because of your organization. That makes fraternity/sorority a film well worth making and sharing. I’d buy that 12 disc special extended edition for sure.
by Matt Mattson
Brothers are different than buddies.
This brotherhood thing. This fraternity thing is a life-changing gift that we have a chance to give away only to the people whose lives we want to change.
When I was 18 years old, the greatest gift I’d ever been given to that point in my life was fraternity. It changed my life. It made me a better student, and a better friend. It made me a better community servant. It offered me a sacred and spiritual pathway to becoming the man I wanted to become, in an otherwise average and mediocre world. Since college, fraternity has made me a better entrepreneur, a better community servant, a better volunteer, a better husband, a better father, and every day it challenges me to be a better man.
“We are more.”
That’s the best, most succinct, most all-encompassing, and – the more you let it sink in – the most powerful way I can describe what being a fraternity man is all about.
It seems almost cliche on first glance.
“We are more.”
It’s nothing on it’s surface. Just a collection of a few words housed in a sentence. It’s a humble little sentence that many onlookers would breeze right past, thinking nothing of it. The individual words seem really common, but when they come together they reveal the power of a collection of people who choose to live in such a way as to exceed expectations. We are more. It’s like the brevity of the sentence camouflages the potential that lies within. Three little words that carry weight. Three little words that are timeless. Three little words. We are more.
Fraternity men make the CHOICE to be MORE. We are more gentlemanly. We are more charitable. We are more likely to raise our hand. We are more colorful and loud. We are more enthusiastic and confident. We try more, we achieve more, and we care more. We are more honorable, and more fun. We are MORE because we make the choice to be.
See this fraternity thing is more than most understand it to be.
Fraternity is not a club. It’s not a party. It’s a challenge and a promise. It’s a million moments of truth. It’s old and it’s new. It’s a gift entrusted to me to cherish and then give away. It’s a shared mission. It’s a lifelong expectation. it’s a daily call to action. It’s an ancient tradition. It’s a future of opportunity. It’s a chance to matter.
That’s what fraternity has done for me. It has given me a chance to matter. It has given me brothers who love me, and who I love.
Oh, and I should explain one more thing. Brothers. You might not understand me when I use this word. That’s o.k. Let me explain. Brotherhood is far more than friendship; more than buddies. It’s a shared cause. It’s a common purpose. It’s a commitment to helping each other live as our best self – every day. It’s trust. It’s a promise. It’s a lifelong vow to help me become all that I’m destined to be.
By Abby Ford
One of the best life mottoes I learned from my sorority sisters is that, “it costs zero dollars to be a decent human.” It costs us absolutely nothing to be kind to others, and kindness is something that I wished showed up in our daily sorority lives a little more.
For context, I have spent much of this year traveling to teach sorority women how to be successful in recruitment. I love this work. Almost every program I deliver is wonderful, but if I’m being vulnerable — as I teach women to be — I need to be honest that I’ve had some moments this past semester when I’ve felt defeated… when I’ve felt lost… when I’ve felt hurt.
I can tell you, one of the worst experiences to encounter is standing in front of room full of women as the invited educator for their day… standing there passionately and authentically sharing pieces of your life with these sorority women, in their home… trying to help them in any ways that you can… only to have a large section of the audience make it completely obvious that they are talking negatively about you in their GroupMe and group messages.
I can think of one scenario in particular when a group of women was making it clear that I was being pointed at, laughed at, and clearly being made fun of in their group chats.
That experience was so terrible, that I made the choice to stand up for myself. As much as it would have been easier to just put my head down and keep doing my talk, I made a choice to acknowledge the disrespectful behavior, and politely exit the situation that was too toxic to even continue engaging in. I believed (and still believe) that was the most important educational decision I could have made in that moment.
Many would likely tell me to not let those kinds of things get to me, and believe me, I tried. But, it also frustrated me so much that it made me truly think about the way sorority women treat one another. Being a guest for just a day in a chapter or community and feeling the unkindness and disrespect I experienced that day infuriated me. It hurt to think about how the women I was working with probably treated each other on a day-to-day basis (not to mention how they might make PNMs feel). Far too often do we as sorority women preach empowering each other, only to then tear each other down behind closed doors (or within the dangerous anonymity of a cell phone screen). Because of this, far too often are we standing in our own way of truly experiencing the power of sorority.
When I think about why women’s organizations were founded in the first place, I always think about how they were the safe havens that women had on college campuses where they weren’t truly welcomed. Their time spent together was to help each other with academics, having a space to practice their speeches out loud (because they weren’t allowed to speak in their classes), and actually building bonds of sisterhood through fostering environments where fierce female relationships could thrive.
Part of why I left some experiences within the past few months feeling defeated is because I got to a place where I felt we were all disappointing our Founders. We have cultivated an experience that is too focused on being the trendiest chapter, the hottest chapter, or the chapter everyone wants to hang out with socially. Because of this, we have lost our way in truly supporting one another, regardless of the letters we wear.
I would love nothing more than for us to get back to the place in sorority where we actually do what we say. Where we actually recruit women to our chapters based on our values, actually partake in making our communities and world a better place through service and philanthropy, and actually build one another up through creating positive female relationships. I believe it starts with how we choose to treat any person we interact with at any given time. It extends beyond just our sorority experience, but rather, truly thinking about how we choose to engage with other humans on a daily basis.
It costs zero dollars to be a decent human. How do you add a little more kindness into this world?
by Matt Mattson
Today’s fraternity and sorority leaders, that I talk to… they’re inventors, they’re originators. They’re some of the most driven, brilliant, and thoughtful people I know. They’re trying to build modern organizations for modern students. They’re not stuck in “history” or “tradition.” On the contrary…
They’re ready to create the future of fraternity and sorority.
Here’s the thing. I’m 100% convinced that the way to create that future is to TRANSFORM THE WAY PEOPLE JOIN.
Let me explain.
Great organizations are made of great members, right? Healthy, safe, thriving fraternities and sororities are made up of healthy, safe, smart members who understand the expectations of what it means to live as a sorority woman… to live as a fraternity man.
But to be honest, right now… too many of the wrong people are joining with the wrong expectations about what it means to be a member.
Listen, before I say any more, let me say that none of this is your fault… I think we ask way too much from our undergraduate fraternity and sorority leaders. We’ve given you 150 years of problems and the worst reputation in our industry’s history, and we’ve asked you to fix all that in your “spare time” between classes. I’m sorry. You didn’t ask for this burden of creating the future of fraternities and sororities, but because I’ve talked with a lot of you… I know you’re ready for it… and we’re ready too.
It will require a full transformation of how people join. It will require strategies that are smarter, more relationship-oriented, more data-driven, and more focused on putting the RIGHT people in your chapters. It will require informing and empowering potential members in ways that we’ve never done before. It will require a shakeup of systems and a great big overhaul of processes…
But we can’t just keep doing things like we’ve always done and expect our problems to go away.
We have to transform. And it absolutely starts with revolutionizing who we invite into our organizations and how we go about doing that. Changing the way we market to, recruit, select, and on-board our newest members is the one way I know for sure that we can make a major impact on the overall health and well-being of our organizations.
Let’s start a conversation. We know that there are SEVEN INDICATORS of a high-performing fraternity/sorority growth system. If you want to be “on system,” we want help you fulfill all seven indicators listed below.
by Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
I see you, beautiful.
It was a sunny fall day in Nashville when my life changed forever. I grew up in a household that was kind of lonely. For most of my childhood, I longed to belong, I longed to matter.
On that fall day, when my life changed… when I found belonging… when I found a way to matter… I found sorority. I found family.
And I want you to know that I see you, beautiful women. I see you.
I see you. I know college is stressful. You are pushed and pulled academically and socially in so many directions. There is pressure to think and act in certain ways, to be a certain type of woman, to be glitter clad instafamous humans with perfect bodies and perfect lives. There is pressure to make quota and fill total, to get all your reports in on time, to win at life and in all Greek community competitions, to hang out with the right guys and always say the right thing. There is an expectation for some of you to party – but not too hard- and still pull A’s and to be emotionally well enough to never seem dramatic. To be the perfect daughter, sister, girlfriend, officer, employee, student and to have your whole life figured out in 4(ish) years. Not to mention the importance of being the top tier chapter for social and recruitment capital.
I think it’s all just too much to live up to. Some of us exist in a system that’s broken where love happens incidentally not always intentionally and that makes me feel sad.
Sorority should be the safest place on a college campus. The place where you can become who you want to become and reinvent yourself again with the support of your sisters. This should be the place withOUT pressure or worry that you are not enough, the place where family feelings are palpable and love is real and reckless.
I have found over the course of my career that when we love with our whole hearts first, everything else falls into place. The awards, the likes, the quota and total… the winning at life comes from loving each other.
That’s the experience sorority was intended to create – women we can do life with that love us without condition. My blessing of a job is to help you get there and celebrate you when you arrive – what a gift, what a family, what an incredible place to belong. I see you, beautiful ladies and I will keep looking for you for as long as long as you’ll let me, reminding you that all you have to be is YOU and all you have to do is love.
by Matt Mattson
I once heard my good friend (and Phired Up’s Vice President), Woody Woodcock, say, “Look for the people on the sidewalk of your life. There are people waiting to be noticed, wanting to be noticed, and wishing to be noticed. You were once them.”
Obviously this applies to fraternity/sorority recruitment. But it applies beyond recruitment too, right?
Too many people, especially college students, are longing to be seen, noticed, and known. And not just on the surface level. We live in a world where “likes” and “comments” and “shares” have replaced eye contact, smiles, and handshakes. We also live in a world where today’s college students – Generation Z – are begging for authenticity, longing for real-life human-to-human connection, and are desperate for surprising moments of joy to wake them up from the numbing droll of cynicism and meaninglessness that serves as the background noise of society.
Your handshake… your smile… your question… your genuine conversation… these things can fill people’s souls! Look for the people on the sidewalk of your life.
Maybe they’re actually walking down the sidewalk of your campus.
Maybe they’re a new member in your chapter who hasn’t yet found their friend group.
Maybe they’re a student leader who hasn’t been thanked for their hard work and effort in a while.
Maybe they’re a fraternity/sorority professional or advisor who is feeling a little disenchanted and just needs a real conversation that gives them hope.
Maybe they’re a young man who has leadership potential but never connected with an organization and is just kind of drifting through their semester.
Maybe they’re a young woman who is homesick and frustrated with her major and is just waiting to be included in an organization with purpose and meaning.
Maybe it’s you. I notice you. I appreciate you reading this. If you are, it means you care about making yourself and your organization better. I notice you. I am grateful for you. There are too few people willing to read, try, and work… and you’re one of them. Thank you.
“Look for the people on the sidewalk of your life. There are people waiting to be noticed, wanting to be noticed, and wishing to be noticed. You were once them.”
If you know Woody, you can probably hear his voice saying this in his uniquely calming, always inspiring, charmingly southern, and universally lovable way of communicating. Woody is a guru… not just about recruitment… about life.
By Abby Ford
We are at a place, where I don’t believe that we can continue to sugarcoat things. Being a part of any student organization has its challenges, but the challenges faced by sororities and fraternities are extra special. We need to have real and honest conversations (and actual conversations not a smoke and mirror show) about the tough things we experience in our organizations. It’s hard, and I know that, but it’s time we actually truly challenge ourselves to be better and do the things we preach about doing to the world.
I want to write to sorority women about our future. My sorority has taught me amazing things, and I’m guessing yours has too.
I know I’m talking to the leaders who care. I know the women who will read this and share it with their chapter leaders will probably nod along in agreement. But it’s time for women like us to take action. Will you read along as I rant a little and preach to the choir?
History. We were founded during a time when social meant something completely different than it does now. Let’s stop using the argument that “we need to keep partying because we are social organizations,” because let me tell ya, it’s a load of bologna. Our founders did not risk everything for us to solely care about how we look, or the way we are perceived by men. They risked EVERYTHING so women had a place to come together, love each other, support each other, challenge each other, and make them all around better humans.
Care and Concern For One Another. No one can make you care. You have to realize that on your own, and that’s hard. We join something bigger than ourselves, and that’s tough to wrap our minds around when we first join. We actually need to give a s#*t about each other… that doesn’t happen instantly… things take time and that is okay. We all may have a different reasons to join, but at the end of the day, we make a PROMISE to each other to help each other through the ups and downs that life and college throw at us.
Be kind. The world is a tough place. Kindness is lacking everywhere you turn, to the point that people are so astonished when others show them small, simple acts of kindness. We continue to treat each other like trash, and constantly compare ourselves to one another in our own chapter, and every other chapter on campus. Imagine if we actually were as kind to each other as we like to preach about to others — what if we actually loved our sisters through the good times and bad, actually stopped to say hi and get to know each other. What if kindness was the default in sorority, not the anomaly? (I know that’s hard to read, but I’ve talked to too many sorority women this year across the country who agree with me to not write it down.)
We Are Part Of The Problem. We cannot continue to blame the men for everything, when we continually perpetuate the negative behaviors that persist in our communities. We feel sick to our stomachs when people say negative or untrue things about us, and yet we turn right around and categorize the men and frequently talk about all the parties and date functions we attend with them. We know we are aware of problematic things, and we have consistently made the choice to turn a blind eye, or even worse perpetuate it even further.
We Are The Solution. There is nobody in a more powerful position to transform sorority (and by the way, fraternity too) than the young women running our chapters and councils across the country. We must continue to challenge ourselves and our sister pals to be better.
by Matt Mattson
“The every day real life experience of a sorority leader… the reality… is nothing like what you see in the media,” she said with a mix of exhaustion and optimism. “My reality is less crazy party and far more intense and endless meetings. The best image I can offer about what it means to be a sorority leader is me running across campus, carrying my heels, my bag, my workout gear, and my books, hustling and sweating to get to whatever important meeting I have next. That’s what real life sorority looks like.”
I remember sitting in a focus group on a campus a year or two ago, listening to chapter presidents try to describe to me what the reality of fraternity/sorority leadership looked like. That anecdote above sticks out to me so clearly. I was on this campus to help their community find better way to tell a better story to better people so they could build better organizations. I remember the exasperation on their faces caused by the perception other people had of their organizations that meant so much to them. I remember them telling me about how much they “hustled” as chapter and council leaders. I remember feeling such a deep feeling of respect for those students.
I respect hustle. Anywhere I see it. I respect it among our staff who take tech support phone calls late into the night and who travel countless miles away from their friends and families because they believe in what we do so much.
I respect the hustle among my industry colleagues who do more than talk and post on social media, but are out there trying new things, researching what they believe is important, and loving sorority women and fraternity men unconditionally.
I respect the hustle of culturally-based council and chapter leaders who often feel like the “also-rans” of their communities, who don’t have people around them who even understand the point of their organizations, and who churn and fight and work despite it all.
I respect the hustle of IFC fraternity leaders who own their role in a problematic culture and keep showing up anyway (despite being pointed at and blamed) because they want to make things better.
I respect the hustle of the local organization leaders who feel like orphans and often only have the support (or even recognition) of a couple campus professionals who care.
I respect the hustle of the NPHC leaders who see beyond the social capital benefits of membership, and who understand and act upon the social impact potential that is birthed by their organizing, committing, and hard work.
There’s a sorority president who got up early this morning to check in on a sister who has a big exam this week.
There’s a fraternity brother who is texting a fellow member to check in on his privately shared emotional frailness.
There’s a sorority woman who is arranging a meeting to right a wrong on campus.
There’s a fraternity man who is working up the courage to confront a brother he knows is not representing what they both promised when they joined.
There’s a sorority woman who is making a phone call to another Greek leader to ask them to lunch, to try to build a bridge, to try to improve campus culture.
There’s a chapter leader who is torn up inside because they know another member is hurting, is sick, or is in danger, and they don’t know what to do.
There’s a council leader who is over-involved, over-committed, over-stretched, and overwhelmed, but is saying “yes” (again) anyway.
I respect the hustle. Fraternity and sorority leaders who want to build better, safer, healthier, and stronger chapters are the ones hustling after better, safer, healthier, and stronger new members. They’re the ones making the phone calls, sending the text messages, doing the one-on-one meetings, arranging the service events, caring for the new members, and giving the life changing gift of Greek Life to people who deserve it.
This is one of the biggest reasons I do this work. I want more students to experience the learning, the growth, and the transformation that fraternity/sorority offers. I remember the hustle as an undergraduate. I freaking loved it. It was the hustle of being a chapter leader that gave me purpose. It was the hustle that prepared me to be a successful professional. It was the hustle that brought out my potential.
I respect the hustle.