by Matt Farrell
Watching a new Greek organization begin is special—there’s no simpler way to describe it. Staff, students and alumni collaborate across campus seeking motivated students that want more out of college for themselves and their community. Strangers of different majors, interests, and backgrounds come together for a positive purpose. It’s entrepreneurship. It’s adventure. It’s college community at its best.
That was my job for the past three and a half years, and it took me all over North America to meet thousands of amazing people. The process brought constant challenge and didn’t always flourish. But even when we didn’t reach the success we wanted, I found all of the above to be true. So, why did I want to leave and take on something new? Well, last year felt different.
All summer, everyone in our industry heard or thought about Penn State on a daily basis. It was an inescapable conversation—a horrific tragedy that uncovered a sickening process. Like any semester, my staff had over a thousand conversations with unaffiliated men looking to join our organization. But this time, talks went much deeper. I was tired of just hearing students’ perception of issues, and wanted to know the reality. When we encountered students who had friends or roommates going through the new member process, we’d ask about what they were doing or how it was affecting them. If we got a vague answer, we’d probe further. Why? It was hard not to. Our role wasn’t to play detective, but we really wanted to know more about the realities our groups would be facing between bid day and initiation. As we got deeper, the responses got more alarming. While the Penn State news stunned many, students (especially at similar Power 5 institutions) saw it as the norm.
During the middle of a conversation with a potential member, he pulled out his phone to get a text from a friend at LSU as news of another death broke. Many people nationally were stunned that it happened again, but the news fit perfectly into discussion we were having. It was chilling to think about, and gave me an added fear of what the group we were starting could eventually become. Our conversation blankly continued, only with the added question of “who’s next?”
We all know the answer by now—as countless more communities have mourned deaths of young men preparing to be initiated. I couldn’t stop thinking about the inevitable challenge that neither our staff nor our future students were fully prepared for. We were creating an amazing home for our group, but also creating a deadly weapon.
I started to hear, and ask myself, some big questions about the new member process. I’d encourage you to do the same.
Does our current format (even when done well) align with our purpose?
Who should be involved?
How should the lessons be structured?
Does our obsession with removing liability actually create danger?
Do we, as an industry, even have a unified vision for what should happen between bid day and initiation?
Almost every question feels like fair game. Maybe it’s time to start from scratch.
Over the past 15 years, Phired Up led a massive national reform to reshape the way our organizations recruit. The results have led to us attracting more quality members than ever before. The results have also shown that better people in our organizations does not lessen our problems. If anything, it’s shown the magnitude of our problems is stronger than the better members we’re bringing in.
It’s time for the next phase of the reform: how we onboard our new members. There’s plenty still to learn, but here are some of my beliefs from my past seven years in the Greek world (half as a student, and half as a staff member).
Many students feel new member curriculum is out of touch with their needs and focused on liability, causing students to feel like they have to go underground if they want the full benefit. Students know the risk, but don’t want to settle for less.
The desire to earn membership is a natural human trait and we need to harness it, instead of denouncing it, to make sure new members are safe.
Students want to talk about what they can do rather than what they can’t.
I believe new member education can address liability, history, AND be exciting and engaging for our new members. I believe that new member education should teach young men what it means to be a member of their fraternity AND what it means to be a fraternity man. I believe new member education should allow young men to work hard together for a common goal in a way that is positive and transformative. I believe new member education should be looked at as “onboarding” our members instead of just educating them. I believe there are ways to “earn” your right of passage into fraternity in a healthy, positive and meaningful way.
In my first three months with Phired Up, I’ve been fortunate to have had conversations like this with hundreds of undergraduate leaders and professional staff. We are ready to reform the mindset behind behind the new member onboarding experience – for both men and women. The movement is spreading across the country as we engage students to be part of the solution.
Who’s with us?
Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.