Being a Good Man

An Open Letter to Fraternity Men

I’m not sure how to start this or even why I am feeling compelled to write to you today. Perhaps it is because I have a son. My little boy is 10, which means in about 8 years if he chooses to – he’s coming for you. It’s pretty likely he will be joining a fraternity because I am his mom. 8 years may seem far away, but the men that will advise his fraternity chapter are likely joining it right now. At Phired Up, we grow groups. We want you to attract, select, and secure the right people to move your organization forward. I should be an advocate for joining any chapter at any time, but (unpopular opinion alert) – I may not be. At least not how it is right now in a lot of places, not unless you re-engineer how you are doing it.

Right now, in some places across the country, a bunch of dudes get together and host “rush”. This is usually a week with food, fellowship and maybe sports and maybe alcohol where you basically post up and wait for the cool kids to swing by. They come because their Dad or Grandpa or Brother was in an awesome “frat” in college, and it’s just what they are supposed to do. Once a young man is deemed “good,” he’s given a bid, and what ensues after this bid ranges from dangerous pledge processes to lame fact regurgitation and parties. The “right” type of “good guy” will make it through this process with ease and without question, but any kind of guy that’s even a little bit different may struggle. He may struggle emotionally or physically or struggle to keep up with the time demands or just not be clutch enough to hang. Whatever the case, membership is often handed out after this process to those who are deemed good enough, and the cycle continues.

Let me let you in on a secret that is the second potentially unpopular opinion in this post - this is not your fault. For decades you have been handed this cycle, this way of doing things, and been rewarded by whatever powers that be in your respective organizations for doing it over and over. You are praised heavily when, some years, by chance and a little extra effort, you get a bigger (supposedly better) result. To do fraternity in a way that blesses your chapter experience as a good one is actually pretty easy. I think you are better than that.

Fraternity brotherhood is the most beautiful and magical thing when you do it right.

It provides a safe space for men to learn and grow and explore who they are and who they want to become in a zone free of judgment and full of critical thought. It should be the place where you fail forward and can cry like a baby or roar like a lion while you try weird stuff and still have a group of men pushing you towards academic excellence. Fraternity was invented for the gentlemen that want to be extra. For the men that seek enlightenment and excellence and are willing to question, learn, and grow in college and beyond. I 100% believe there are men like this in every. single. chapter. Their voices are often muted by the barrage of traditions that are, at best, slightly heteronormative and at worst abusive.

The only way out of this perpetual cycle of “frat” is to show up and do it differently. To recruit better men and participate in things that challenge you to change you. The solution is so simple:

Make More FriendsBe around people that are different from you. Seek out the unlikely folks, the fringe thinkers, the weird dudes, or the most well-developed humans you have the courage to approach. Don’t sit on your lawn and throw a football and expect that all the right people will show up at your door. Go out there and shake some hands and get curious in conversation about more than just what’s on the surface. Join groups that intrigue you, not ones that you are already into. Take classes that may challenge you and say yes to stuff that is physically safe but outside of what’s comfortable for you. When you do these things, you are in the right places to meet more of the right people.

Be About Something
Be about something that’s different than every other group on your campus. Be about something controversial. Be about something that actually matters to you and your members. Be about one thing and fiercely commit to that. Don’t choose the usual suspects like brotherhood, scholarship and leadership. Everyone does that, and truth be told, many of them are not very good at it, and when you are about something cool, those other things tend to fall into place anyway.

Pick a cause, a stance, a big audacious goal.
Make something better, make people better.

(A few examples: decrease the homeless population in your county by 10% this year, fund a full scholarship for one incoming freshman next year, raise enough money for your football team to have much-needed new equipment, fund a new campus counselor, advocate for student healthcare so that 100% of people on your campus have access to it, find and restore historical documents for your campus, increase recycling in your community by 15% this year, start a tutoring program focused on students with learning differences and train your brothers in how to help that population, sponsor a little league team, host senior prom season for area nursing homes, commit to actually knowing and living your ritual more than ever, invent a textbook regifting program, start a worm farm- I don’t care what you choose- just choose something and have the moxie to go all in).

Make Meaning
Mattering matters. If you are really brothers, act like it by compassionately and generously making one-on-one time for each other where the topics are:

What are you struggling with?
How can I help you through that?
What are you excelling at?
How can I help support that?

No, this is not a gavel pass or a hash session in chapter where you share hookups and aced tests. This is a genuine connection where you can talk about anything from first dates to tough professors to identity to parents to shame to pride.

Recruit The Right People
Put people in your chapter that are about something, too. Men that are inclined to do it right with you and are willing to stand up to what was and stand for what is to be.

Maybe there is a little more to it than that, but at the core of all of it is that relationships make men better.
Experiences that are worthwhile make men better.
True brotherhood makes men better.
Better men show up when other better men are around doing better things.

And I hope my son is brave enough to be a better, different kind of man.

My 10-year-old is also a heart transplant recipient. He’s quiet and kind, structured, and sometimes can smell pretty gross. He’s not an athlete or a true scholar. He’s a survivor, and he’s going to need help to become someone even better. He will need help that I can’t give him in 8 years, but a fraternity experience probably could if it’s the right one. Please get to work because now, more than ever before, I’m watching, and so are thousands of other mothers around the world. We are counting on you to evolve into something more.

Headshot Circle_CocoWritten by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre, Growth Consultant