I am a founding member of a fraternity. As such, I can consider myself having adequate exposures on the life of this type of organization. To begin with, let me emphasize that a fraternity or sorority is a choice of a lifestyle for a lifetime. It has a strong influence on one’s personality. It can make or unmake a person. I have heard of many arguments against being a fraternity/sorority member. Some are true and some are not. Perhaps it would not be amiss to mention that there are organizations of this kind that had been reported of wrong doings that others had even been proven to have transgressed the law. But that doesn’t mean that all fraternities/sororities are that no good. That actually depends on the kind of fraternity/sorority you are in. Hence, if you are interested in joining a fraternity/sorority, it’s wise for you to critically choose one that will fit to your liking. It is unfortunate however, that non-fraternity/sorority people are making sweeping statements which are unfair to these organizations in general.
Many had the impression that fraternity/sorority is only an excuse for hanging out, partying, drinking session, or meeting boys or girls, or for whatever it is you’re into. But these are unkind words because they are not true to all fraternities/sororities. The truth of the matter is that there are fraternities or sororities that pride themselves on academic performance, extra-curricular activities, leadership development, community service, and many other achievements. Actually, the organization is a venue where you can practice the full development of an integrated personality. You and I may have different impressions and experiences about fraternity/sorority. But I am pretty sure that your membership to the organization has influenced your life. I do hope it is for good. But fraternity or sorority is not just for everyone. So, please do not rush joining one. You may have a personality type that does not fit to the life of the organization. Or the kind of fraternity/sorority you are joining may not be the right one for you. Find out the image of the organization in the campus and inquire about its members. Check if you like yourself to be more or less like them. Use your good judgment.
Consider that being a fraternity or sorority member is a choice of lifestyle not just for college life but for a lifetime. Let me rephrase, it’s important! It is not just for fun or meeting new friends. It’s about rebuilding your personality and creating a big family. Suffice it to say, there’s nothing wrong in making fun and meeting people. We are all social human beings. Remember the saying, “No man is an island.” What is only needed is the correct balancing of your time and setting priorities. In the light of being a founding member of a fraternity, it is therefore my desire to share my knowledge and experiences with many people as possible with the hope that they may pick-up some lessons for a better appreciation of what fraternity or sorority is all about. To the students in the tertiary level who are qualified to become fraternity/sorority members, this article will help you decide whether or not to join a fraternity or sorority; after all to be involved in this organization is a serious matter to think about during your college life. And to parents, reading this article will make you more reasonable in dealing with your children who are about to enter college studies. Chapter One
What is a Fraternity or Sorority
Fraternity or sorority is social, professional, or honorary societies for males and females, respectively. The goal is to instantiate in the wider community the sorts of feelings for each other, and the sorts of behavior towards each other, that brothers and sisters are taken to have or display (http://www.answers.com/topic/fraternity). Like my fraternity, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity Philippines (ΣAE Philippines), its number one objective is “to practice true and real brotherhood among members.” But that is too ahead of a long story. According to the website cited above, the Latin word frater and soror, which means “brother” and “sister” respectively, are fraternal social organizations for undergraduate students. In English, the term refers mainly to such organizations at colleges and universities in North America. The website claimed that “Phi Beta Kappa Society founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia is generally recognized to be the first Greek-letter student society in North America.
As Phi Beta Kappa developed it came to be an influential association with membership becoming of an honor and less of social selection.” In the Philippines the website (http://en.wikipilipinas=List of fraternities and sororities in the Philippines) showed that one of the oldest fraternities were the Omega Tau Sigma founded in 1906 at Mindanao State University, Marawi City and the Phi Alpha Epsilon founded in the same year at Central Luzon State University, Muñoz, Nueva Ecija. As the years rolled by the proliferations of fraternities and sororities in the Philippines became unstoppable. The website also recorded 252 fraternities and sororities in the Philippines. Actually, I’ve read many bibliographies but so far there is no clear explanation why these organizations are named in Greek-letter. The best answer I’ve got though is the one from Mozilla Firefox which say that “Greek and Latin were the universal scholarly languages when fraternities were first founded and all college students knew or were learning Greek.
Using Greek made the fraternity sound like a scholarly organization.” Another reason from the same source said that “Fraternities and sororities are run by a Greek Council, with the basic democratic format set up by the Greeks centuries ago. Greek letters are used to set apart and formalize individual organizations with different agenda.” In other words, there is nothing unusual in the names of these organizations. Nevertheless, I can think of some good reasons why fraternity/sorority uses Greek letters to name their organization. First, some Greek letters denote meaning useful to discern the purpose of such organizations. Using such letters allows the organization to play secrecy from non-members, it being the principle of a fraternity/sorority. Second, some Greek letters are used in scholarly fashion. They are used as symbols in Mathematics, Physics, statistics or science subjects. For example, the letter sigma (Σ) in Greek alphabet is a symbol of summation in mathematics or statistics.
In layman’s point of view the symbol means being whole or united. On the other hand, alpha (A) in Greek alphabet is also a symbol for the probability of error in statistics. To Engineers the symbol denotes scientific studies. To me, it also means acceptance of our human limitations without prejudice to improvement. Then the letter epsilon (E) in Greek also means an elementary particle with positive charge in physics. Thus, when you combine the three letters above mentioned, you will have a good fraternity name. There are several types of organizational structures of a fraternity/sorority. The first one is what I will call the single-chapter organization. My observations about fraternities and sororities showed that there is only one chapter of each fraternity/sorority in a college or university. In this type of organizational structure, the fraternity/sorority operates within the jurisdictional limits of the school. The website (http://www.answers.com/topic/fraternity) stated that “an organization that has only one established chapter would be called a ‘local’.” (My fraternity called this organization as Collegiate Chapter). The website mentioned above said further that “A local can authorize (the organization of) chapters of the same name at other (school) campuses.”
Ideally, a local or collegiate chapter must be recognized by the school authorities for proper coordination and supervision. On the other hand the school must have clear set of guidelines for the fraternity/sorority to follow. But the tendency of some chapters if being unable to act in accordance with the school’s requirements for recognition usually goes underground; meaning they operate without the school’s approval. The above cited website also said that “After the first authorized chapter (outside the campus), a local would be considered a ‘national’, even if only two chapters are established.” But this is a misnomer. In fact there is no governing body to talk about at this stage. What exist are only scattered local or collegiate chapters. In this case the individual chapters are run separately by their respective set of government but they established very strong ties between and among the chapter members, and they adhere to the same traditions, rituals, principles and objectives.
After the organization of the first authorized chapter outside the campus, the collegiate/local chapter becomes the Alpha Chapter or the beginning of the fraternity/sorority movement in that country. Its Constitution and By-Laws of the fraternity has to undergo amendments to conform to the needs of the time. The consolidation of the various chapters requires the formation of a national government. And this development would result to another form of organizational structure of what is called the national organization. There are several levels in the hierarchy of this organization. There are the collegiate chapters, the alumni chapters, sectoral/municipal alumni chapters, the provincial alumni chapters, and the alumni regional chapters. It has a Supreme Council that provides the general supervision over the operations and activities of the various Chapters through the Regional Council. This kind of fraternity covers the entire nation/country. An example of this is ΣAE Philippines.
This fraternity, with female and male members holds biennial national convention; it has a website to hold forum, and ventured on the publication of a quarterly newsletter. There are groups (not a chapter) outside of the Philippines, like ΣAE Global Qatar, ΣAE Singapore, and ΣAE Thailand with members who survived in the Philippines but gainfully employed abroad. In a much wider scope and delimitation, there is what is called the international organization.But for this type of organization it would be almost impossible to assemble in one forum mainly due to financial constraints considering that participants will come from various parts of the world. It is even doubtful if they have a governing body to aptly coordinate with the various Chapters to manage this kind of activity. But they are claiming that they are link with each other internationally. A fraternity/sorority is a very exclusive organization that promotes the practice of brotherhood/sisterhood among its members.
However, the practice of such relationship varies from one organization to another. For example, in some fraternities/sororities, inter-courtships and/or inter-marriages are strictly prohibited; while in some these practices are tolerated. Because of the closeness of the members, romantic advances can easily happen. This scenario is a discredit to the brotherhood/sisterhood because this is not what most people expect. Anyway, the over-riding reason for the organization of all fraternities/sororities is to create a family away from home. Hence, Andrew Reeve was categorical in the website (http://www.answers.com/topic/fraternity) that being a member of a fraternity or sorority “suggests a sense of belonging to a unit with which one can readily, if not naturally, identify: the community is a sort of extended family.” Indeed, this exposition is clear, simple, concise, and very agreeable. I think no fraternity or sorority member will disagree with that. I feel this was also what I felt when I joined my fraternity.
My membership explains why I felt secured and happy when I was a student in a place far away from home. My fraternity filled the vacuum of family-ties in a place of strangers. Even in big universities where there are many people you can be lonely if you have no real and sincere friends. Virtually, it can be deduced that there is something in a fraternity/sorority that magnetizes students in joining with it, despite the negative publicity; such as hazing, rivalry among fraternities, or competition resulting to untoward encounters. It is interesting to note however, that even if these Greek letter organizations are banned in some universities/colleges, many Collegiate Chapters continue proliferating; especially with the active support from the Alumni members. The more fraternity is banned, the more it intrigues students that many are joining. In fact fraternity is already organized now in the secondary education level where before it was considered a taboo. They call it “junior fraternity.” This is dangerous. Generally, high school students are not mature enough to engage into a very serious matter like fraternity or sorority. This practice should be stopped by the government.
The old understanding was that it was typical for a fraternity to be all-men group while sorority was all-women group. However, there is such thing as a sister sorority or a brother fraternity. While in theory they are separate organizations, but in practice they are one. They believe in the same principles. They practice the same tradition and they have the same mission, vision and methods of work. As such, there is a good reason to combine the fraternity and sorority to unify the organizations. However, long time ago, there were already fraternities who accepted female members who were highly qualified to the standards of the fraternity. This happened in ΣAE at Central Mindanao University, Musuan Bukidon, Philippines in 1966. This resulted to a mixed-sex organization. Then in the later years, there were merging of the brother-sister organizations. But in some cases, the sorority is absorbed by the fraternity rather than merged, thus retaining the name of the latter.
There are practices in the fraternity/sororities that only the members are privileged of participating and/or enjoying them. These practices are traditions that the organizations are maintaining which are generally symbolic in nature but are closely guarded with exclusivity. In addition to the calling of brod or sis, there are the passwords, songs, special/exclusive handshakes, tattoos, motto, use of badge or pin, frat sticker, or even a frat whistle, colors, flag, flowers, or seal. It has a motto to express the ideals of the fraternity or sorority. They are very significant to the organization. They remind them of their pledge of allegiance to the brethren. Some Greek-letter organizations have acquired juridical personality to conform to local legal jurisprudence. This had widened the perspectives of the organizations to engage and/or participate in some public endeavors requiring permits and/or licenses. For example, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity – Philippines is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission under Registration No. CN200429554. Chapter Two
Why Join or Not Join a Fraternity or Sorority
In a simple language one joins a fraternity/sorority because he/she believes it is good for him/her, and he/she likes to be one of its members. Virtually, common sense will tell us that we would only voluntarily join an organization if it is beneficial to us. And if we do not like the members of that organization we would not also voluntarily join, more so if new entrants would suffer in the process of joining like initiation and hazing. The North-American Interfraternity Council (NAIFC) as posted in the internet suggested to “see some of the ways Greek life can positively influence your college career and the rest of your life.” The first way is “to be successful in life;” which means wanting to do well academically, to graduate on time and find a good job, and to have mentors and friends to help me develop as a student and as a person. This is possible because fraternities/sororities stress academic excellence and many alumni members can help job placement. The second way where your life can be influenced positively according to NAIFC is “to be a better person.”
This means wanting to be a leader, to work effectively and to confront inappropriate behavior, to learn to interact socially, and to be a responsible person among other things. The third way is “to form lifelong friendship.” This means wanting to find a close-knit of friends helping one another with common values and interest. When I started college in 1962 I was a loner, even introvert, and had never been involved in extra-curricular activities. Then I joined a fraternity in 1966, and I became a campus figure. The fourth way where your life can be influenced positively according to NAIFC is “to have fun in college.” This means wanting to participate in campus events, to have stress relieving activities, and meet new people doing new things. Before I joined a fraternity, student life was really boring. All studies without play. I was good in academics but very poor in politics. I was very poor in leadership and human relations.
After I joined a fraternity I became the president of two major campus organizations, the News Editor of the school organ, the Editor-in-Chief of the Annual Yearbook, and was appointed as the Secretary of the Department of Internal and External Information of the Executive Branch of the Student Body Organization. In addition to the foregoing report of NAIFC, Cesar Gonzales, a “Daily Titan Staff Writer” in his article posted at the Internet on December 11, 2009 corroborated the same by saying that; “Being in a fraternity builds friendship and character.” Rightly said; in fact this is a familiar statement one will hear when someone is asked why he/she joined a fraternity or sorority. But his idea that one joined a fraternity “to get the entire college experience and to have fun and meet new people to be able to live the college life” needs further explanation. I quite agree with the idea but I have some reservations. In fact the members that I met for the first time became my brothers and sisters; not just friends. But fraternity work is not all for fun. It is possible that Greek-letter organizations vary in objectives, mission, vision, and methods of work.
But I’m certain that many fraternities/sororities consider membership a lifetime commitment of building a wholesome family characterized by love and unity. Loving is not always for fun. Most often than not, it is denying oneself in order to perform service. Loving someone is accepting a responsibility. Anyway, once you’re a member of a fraternity/sorority, you are expected to participate in many events like meetings, conferences, seminars and other time consuming commitments. And there are of these organizations that conduct group studies and review for term examination. Of course there are fun-related activities like parties, picnics, excursions or sports. But always the purpose is getting to know you. In some ways, being a fraternity or sorority member is more like of choosing a lifestyle than just for leisure. To be a good member one has to be willing and available for these events. But many people have the wrong notion that fraternity or sorority life is all about partying. So unfortunately, negative stereotypes about fraternity/sorority life are abundant and fellow students, even friends will judge you cruelly because of your membership.
This is therefore a real challenge to Greek-letter organizations to prove otherwise. There are fraternities/sororities that academic achievement among other things is a serious concern. Their attitudes towards studying and meeting high scholastic records are very positive. So, when you have this kind of fraternity/sorority, the impression that joining these organizations would eat up your time and result to the neglect of your studies is not at all a sweeping statement. In fact most fraternities/sororities I knew require that those who would enter pledging must have no failing grades. The advantages of joining a fraternity or sorority was also emphasized by Harlan Cohen in his article “Greek Life” posted on September 24, 2007 that there are opportunities for leadership once you join this kind of organization. He said that “so much of Greek life is about achievement and leadership and the students who make up the largest percentage of leaders on campuses are Greeks.” I agree with all of these.
I will disclose latter that all of the founding members of my fraternity occupied top ranking elected and appointed positions in the student body organization and were leaders in civic and social organizations in the campus. But Cohen on the other hand also enumerated the disadvantages in joining a fraternity/sorority. One is “time commitment that competes with study time that the students’ grades may suffer.”This contradicts to the objective of academic excellence of a fraternity/sorority. Cohen further said that another disadvantage of joining a fraternity/sorority is money, pointing out that “there can be an awful lot of incidental expenses.” Actually, this is not true to all fraternities. In my fraternity and sister sorority, our financial obligation was only one peso per week. Then, Cohen also said that “there is also that danger of exposing oneself to temptations of sex and alcohol.”This is possible, but the truth is lack of morality and indulging to vices can happen to anybody; member or not member to these organizations. It depends on the person. Maybe bad company, or poor family upbringing, or lack of prayers can be one of the causes.
But it is not generally correct to attribute the misfortune to the fraternity or sorority. At the Division of Student Affairs in Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, the frequently asked questions by parents regarding fraternity and sorority, according to the internet is “What will my son or daughter get out of fraternity and sorority life that they would not get out of any other college organization?” The answer was: Coming to college is one of the major life changes that your son or daughter will go through. Joining a fraternity or sorority chapter will help make the transition easier. Developing lifelong friendships with the members in their chapter helps make the campus seem smaller. For many members, these chapters become a home away from home. In addition to the brotherhood/sisterhood, every chapter is dedicated to enhancing leadership, scholarship, and philanthropy/community service. These ideals form the foundation of the fraternity and sorority experience, and are upheld within a culture of support and growth through academic support programs, leadership training and hands-on experience, educational workshops, social events and projects for community service and philanthropy.
Another frequently asked question in the institution aforementioned is; “How will joining a fraternity or sorority benefit my child after college?” The answer was: The lifelong friendships your child will make be being a member of a fraternity or sorority will last into post-college years. Membership in a chapter can be a life long experience that is an investment in your child’s future, as Greek organizations have strong networks for their members to use for careers and job relocations. Wherever your son or daughter ends up after college, chance are he/she will be able to find an alumni chapter or members from their fraternity or sorority in the area for professional networking and social support. In my case I co-founded Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity-Philippines to establish support system among engineering students in order to finish the course on time and pass successfully the Board Examination. In addition to our concern for high academic performance, we also wanted to learn leadership in campus organizations and other extra-curricular activities.
And since I didn’t like the practices of the existing fraternity in the campus, we decided to form a new fraternity that will carry out our beliefs, inspirations and ideals. So the issue of expenses, time for studying, alcoholism, or even getting involve with the opposite sex were never a concern in the organization. It was earlier mentioned that membership to these organizations is lifetime. Hence, after graduation the alumni members carry with them the rights and benefits of membership. That’s why in her article posted in the website October 16, 2006 entitled “Greek Life: Advantages”, Naomi Rockler Gladen said that “When you’re looking for a job a few years from now, your skill set often is not as important as your connections.
This is unfortunate, but it’s a reality. Greek membership is a great way to connect with people, both in your pledge class and through members who have graduated and joined the working world.” I know of a prestigious private corporation in Manila, Philippines that is owned by a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon where all the employees; supervisors and rank-and-files belong to the same fraternity. Anyway, the decision of which fraternity or sorority to join, or whether to join at all depends to the individual. Some undergraduate students find membership to a fraternity or sorority an important aspect of their identity while studying and their lifestyle outside of the school. However, many students also feel that being part of a fraternity or sorority is unnecessary and they feel they can get along just fine without joining one. In summary, the reasons for joining a fraternity/sorority are the following:
1. Helping one another;
2. Moral value development;
3. Commitment for service;
4. Academic excellence;
5. Leadership development;
6. Employment opportunities; and
7. Lifelong brotherhood/sisterhood.
On the other hand, the reasons for not joining fraternity/sorority are as follows:
1. It’s a waste of my time;
2. It will just disrupt my studies;
3. It’s expensive;
4. Just partying and drinking;
5. I can have friends without it; and
6. It’s a temptation to be involved with the opposite sex. Chapter Three
How to Join a Fraternity or Sorority
How to join a fraternity or sorority varies from organization to organization. These organizations have very different recruitment procedure. But the website (http://www.answers.com/topic/fraternity) stated that “joining the organization commonly begin the process with a formal recruitment period, often called ‘rush week’ which usually consists of events and activities designed for members and potential members to learn about each other and the organization. At the end of the formal recruitment period, the organization sends invitations for membership. Most organization has a period of “pledgeship” before accepting full membership. Other organizations call this period as ‘initiation period’. There are many terms used to call those under pledgeship and initiation; such words as pledge, neophyte, or tyro. In the website (http://campusactivities.suite101.com/article.cfm/sorority_rituals_ and_initiation), it is stated that “Fraternity and sorority members participate in many secret rituals each year.
During these ceremonies they enjoy, celebrate and affirm their brotherhood and sisterhood. The secrecy of fraternity and sorority rituals has created tremendous interest throughout Greek history. This mysteriousness of these societies has led to many rumors and guesses regarding just exactly what goes on when the Greeks close the doors and initiate new members. While each Greek letter organization has its own specific rituals, there are certain themes and activities that repeat throughout all or most of them.” As to initiation, the foregoing website also stated that “for many Greeks, initiation is one of the highlights of their Greek experience. It involves the entire chapter and is conducted in a dignified and formal manner.
There are usually props and special clothing worn by the initiating officers. The rest of the chapter dresses is a specific color or attire. For example, some sororities have all of their members wear white or black for the ceremony.” Anyway, as to joining a fraternity or sorority, my advice is “be careful in joining them.” But the truth of the matter is that most fraternities and sororities are also very careful in recruiting members. That is why screening is very rigid to the extent that others resort to hazing during initiation. Hence, initiation is very important to these organizations.