by Josh Orendi
Most fraternities and sororities have moved beyond the word "pledge" ‐ which often carries a negative connotation ‐ to terms such as "candidate" or "new member." In recent years, we have seen most national organizations officially reduce the length of time between new member bidding and initiation by over a month's time. At the chapter level, this shortened the typical "pledge period" from as many as 10-16 weeks down to a more typical 4-6 week time block. Several groups have gone a step further by eliminating their "pledge period" all together! It's true. The trend of new member education appears to be moving toward a full-membership education program rather than a front end loaded process.
All that being said, this article is about one very specific part of the new member process that is more than a century old for many fraternities. It's that sacred rite of passage that many of us had to endure " The Pledge Test. In some cases, this exam comes directly from the national headquarters itself. This feared exam is administered to confirm that "you've learned your stuff" and verify that you are indeed prepared for membership.
Ironically, most undergraduates will admit that they often "help" their new members pass the exam and most national representatives will admit that they never even look at a new member's results. Still, despite the education trends and failure to administer a true assessment of knowledge, many of our undergraduate chapters swear by this "important" teaching tool.
A wiser man than myself once said, "meet them where they are at." If the idea of a final exam inspired Pledge Test is important to the undergraduate membership, then let's provide the chapter with a test that has some educational benefit. Most pledge tests are little more than a history exam of fraternal factoids. If the purpose of the test is to assess incoming members' understanding of the organization and gauge how well prepared they are for leadership responsibilities, then we need more from them than regurgitated facts.
Here is an example of a typical pledge test:
1. What year was XYZ founded?
2. Name the founders of XYZ.
3. Where was XYZ founded?
4. What is XYZ's creed?
5. What is our secret motto?
6. Where is the National HQ located?
7. Name the chapter executive officers.
8. List the Greek Alphabet.
9. When was our chapter founded?
10. What are the fraternity's colors?
Need proof? Here are several pledge tests available on the web by Googling "fraternity pledge test."
http://www.pikes.org/media/documents/OfficerResources/pledged.pdf (pages 60-67)
http://www.apo.org/site/site_files/clearinghouse/ls_2001_apo_pledgetrainer.pdf (pages 21-35)
If we were being totally honest in this article, I should have added a few additional questions that we often see sneaking their way onto the test, such as:
1. Which brother is nicknamed Flounder?
2. What is your big brother's pledge name?
3. Write out your family tree.
4. Which brother has the hottest sister?
5. How many members can XYZ fit into an outhouse?
So, here's a bold idea ". Let's consider questions that might actually benefit our new members. Let's think about a few questions that might challenge them to think critically about the organization and express their own ideas. Let's focus on the parts of the organization that will actually make them better members and even better men. (Knowing my founding father's middle names hasn't yet helped me in my fraternal quest for excellence.)
Try these on for size:
1. What were the conditions that led our founding fathers to create XYZ fraternity?
2. Describe the purpose of the fraternity in your own words based on the vision of our founding fathers.
3. What are the shared commitments of every brother of XYZ?
4. Please define and share the fraternity's position on the following:
a. Misuse of Alcohol
c. Scholastic Achievement
d. Community Service
f. Social Fraternity
g. Sexual Misconduct
5. Explain why it has been historically necessary to create and maintain fraternal secrets.
6. Please explain the role of each of the following, followed by resources available to the chapter by each:
a. National Headquarters
b. Interfraternity Council
c. Greek Life office
d. Alumni Corporation
e. Alumni Association
7. Please identify and describe the primary responsibilities of our chapter's executive officers.
8. Please highlight several ways your money is being spent when paying dues to:
b. Insurance Premium
c. Housing Corporation
e. National HQ
9. Please offer three examples of how our chapter rewards excellence. Also, offer three examples of how we hold members accountable.
10. Is our existence on this campus a right or a privilege? Explain.
11. How does the fraternity serve brothers after graduation?
In recent years, it has been suggested by several University officials that Greek life is a detriment to the health and wellbeing of students. Several case studies have been highlighted including examples of alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, academic declines the semester a student joins, hazing allegations, and community complaints of fraternities violating local ordinances. You have been called to present a statement to the University Board of Trustees. Looking at the school's mission statement (attached) prepare a presentation defending a pro-Greek position that will convince the Board of Trustees of the valuable role that fraternities play in serving our institution.
Clearly this is not an all-inclusive list of questions, but I think you'll agree that we are setting an expectation that incoming members do more than memorize data. The process of learning about the fraternity at this level has both academic and real-life merit. If you're not convinced, keep doing what you're doing. At least they'll be able to recite the fraternity flower.