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:
*service/impact was not provided as an option in the multiple-choice questions and therefore does not appear in these results
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?
- A feeling of belonging on campus
- Coming out of my shell
- A social circle on campus
- Increased comfort in social situations
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.