by Branden Stewart
I joined my fraternity ten (!) years ago this semester. It’s strange to look back and see how different things were then compared to now… I didn’t have smart phone yet (hello BlackBerry in 2008!). I hadn’t ever heard of Twitter, and had just signed up for my first Gmail account. The music from my iPod lulled me to sleep at night as I anticipated receiving my bid and joining a “brotherhood”, whatever that meant…
Once I joined, I was hooked. I dove in headfirst, getting involved in committees and on campus while meeting new people and forging new friendships. I think most fraternity men today have a similar experience. Sure, people’s Razr flip phones and iPods have been combined into an iPhone, and everyone today has more social media accounts than they can reasonably manage. But in 2017, being part of a fraternity is more or less the same as it was in 2007.
I ran across an old email that inspired this blog where I was asked by an alumni brother about my experience so far during my second semester as part of the chapter. Specifically, he asked me if the fraternity experience was what I thought it would be so far after only 9 months of membership. Here’s what I said:
To be honest, it is exactly what I thought it would be because I am making it into what I wanted it to be. While I don’t expect every member to become extremely active, I am doing lots of things on campus to make myself a more well rounded individual and I feel that being a part of Delta Sigma Phi has opened many doors. I am making excellent friendships with brothers as well as sorority women, I have made connections and gotten job opportunities and leadership positions in great places, and I am having fun while allowing myself to become more involved.
More or less, that holds true today for me too. Some of my best friends are the fraternity men and sorority women who I met in college (and after). I’m blessed to work with incredible and inspiring fraternity men and sorority women each day as part of my job. And I’ve had so much fun being part of this amazing community for the last decade.
For the past ten years, I’ve needed fraternity in my life. I needed it to help me in my education and my career. I needed it to help me form lasting friendships. I needed it as a set of standards to which I could always be striving to meet. Being part of a fraternity has made me a better friend, a better leader, a better colleague, a better son, and a better person than I could have possibly been without it. But do young men today still need fraternity? What is compelling about joining a fraternity these days to 18 – 22 year old dudes in college?
For one, fraternity gets you away from your phone and forces guys into tons of in-person interactions. Sure, playing PlayStation in your living center all day is fun and all, but eventually everyone craves real, authentic human interaction. Being part of a fraternity gives you that in droves.
It also introduces you to people who are different than you. At one point, my chapter was made up of almost 90 members. With that many men, there were bound to be those of us who had our differences. And embracing that fact, learning from those members, and building new friendships with all types of people is part of what shaped me into who I am today. With so many of us living in our own “echo-chambers” surrounded by people who look like, think like, and act just like us, it is more important than ever to have diversity in the types of people you spend your time with. When done right, fraternity provides just that.
Most importantly, fraternity challenges young men more than ever these days. I believe working hard to overcome these challenges builds character. There’s so much to juggle as a member of a fraternity on top of just chapter responsibilities: school, family, friends, work, and relationships are just a few. With the added pressure that social media brings to the mix of trying to live a life that is Instagram-worthy, the challenges facing fraternity men are great, but not insurmountable. Putting your time management skills to the test in college will help set the stage for life following graduation.
Being a young man today comes with its own unique set of challenges. The intersection of masculinity and fraternity for college students can have adverse results too: those nasty hazing, sexual assault, and substance abuse stories we hear are real problems for which fraternity men should be held accountable daily.
I’m here to suggest that those things don’t need to be the norm. We can bring in more people like you (if you’re still reading, you’re most likely doing fraternity right) if you help potential members understand the value they could get and the skills they could master as part of your chapter. I said way back in 2007 I was enjoying my fraternity experience because I was making it what I wanted it to be. If you’re an undergraduate fraternity man today, you have the same ability to make your fraternity experience an amazing one.