What it Means to Belong: Why Greek Membership Matters

by Colleen Coffey, co-author of I Heart Recruitment

As some of you may know, my full time job is not/ was not authoring I Heart Recruitment with Jessica. I work full time as a mental health advocate and speaker. As coincidence would have it, before Matt joined PUP full time he was also a mental health advocate. How do mental health and fraternity/sorority recruitment have anything in common? Josh Orendi and I were pondering this very question over dinner last week. The answer? Quite a bit, actually.

When I think about the purpose of Greek life, I often find myself wondering, "why does this matter?" I mean, at the end of the day fraternity and sorority life are important. Being a member is a lot of fun and we do a lot for our campus and local communities. I especially enjoy the mentorship I get as a young alumna from more established women in my organization. These things are cool and should not be discounted, but really- could I not find this purpose elsewhere? What is it that makes fraternal membership different than anything else? The obvious answer for me is that I am able to subscribe to a common set of values, shared by every other Alpha Sigma Tau in the country but the other, less obvious answer, is BELONGING.

Recent research by Joiner (2005) and earlier research by Baumeister and Leary (1995) documented the need to belong as a fundamental component of mental health. In fact, these scholars contend that a lack of belonging puts individuals at a greater risk for suicide. Mental health concerns have reached endemic proportions for University students. Furr, Westefeld, McConnell, and Jenkins (2001) revealed, through a multi- institutional study, that 50% of college students experience depression. The 2006 National College Health Assessment supported these findings, indicating that 42 percent of college students feel so depressed at times that it is difficult to function. That same study showed nine percent of students reported seriously considering suicide during the previous 12 months. I would argue that the sense of belonging that comes from Greek membership is like nothing else in the world. Belonging to one of these groups, in turn, has the potential to strongly positively impact the mental health of its members. Further, both the recruitment and new member processes have been studied and shown to significantly positively affect self-esteem (Brand & Dodd, 1998; Hirt & Spruill, 2008).

The very core of who we are and what we do in fraternity and sorority life is about belonging. It may be optimistic, but I would say that most of you are in healthy chapters that care about your members and work to make the Greek experience the best it can be for everyone. If that is true, you are doing something remarkable for the self-esteem of your members but also for their mental health. By giving people a place to belong, I think (and I have data to support it) you are doing a lot to positively influence the quality of life for every person in your organization.

The next time you are describing the benefit of your organization to a potential new member- tell them this "we give people a place to belong." It may sound cheesey, but deep down it is what people need to hear.

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