College Fraternal Organizations Offer Experiential Civic Learning and Engagement Opportunities

College Fraternal Organizations Offer Experiential Civic Learning and Engagement Opportunities

Nik Koulogeorge
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7744-8.ch013
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Fraternal organizations are a valuable component of the American higher education experience. Among the many benefits promised by fraternity and sorority organizations is that a student may be connected to a network of powerful leaders in business and politics. As self-funded organizations with democratic processes pulled from the U.S. system of government, fraternal organizations can serve a unique role in preparing college students for a life of civic engagement and democratic leadership. This chapter explores the potential for fraternities, sororities, and inter-fraternal organizations to offer a complimentary, highly personalized, and values-driven form of civic education that may be offered through higher education institutions.
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Introduction: The Naturally Political Nature Of College Fraternities

One of the core promises of membership in a social college fraternity or sorority is access to a thriving and powerful network of alumni members. Fraternal organizations exist to foster close relationships between students of similar backgrounds or interests. Just as a college or university will point to its alumni to inspire current or prospective students, so too do fraternal organizations celebrate and promote the successes of their alumni members as possibilities for students of today.

The nature of a fraternal social organization lends itself to civic engagement and democratic leadership. Moreover, fraternities and sororities exist to foster relationships, and what is a community if not the productive outcomes of interpersonal relationships? So, fraternal organizations naturally lend themselves to building the deep and productive relationships necessary to put together a functional community. We must answer whether modern fraternities and sororities are living up to that ideal and - if not - what they can do to help prepare future generations to lead society to new heights.

At the start of the 2010s, the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) and Center for the Study of the College Fraternity (now the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform at Pennsylvania State University) published a series of statistics equating fraternity members with the leaders of the free world. These statistics were once published on fraternity and student affairs websites across the country, but their accuracy in the present day is difficult to determine, and they are no longer a part of the “official” pitch to recruit new members to fraternal organizations. Still, they paint a picture of how fraternities and sororities present themselves to the public and potential members. The following statistics are credited to the NIC and published on the University of New Mexico (2016) website:

  • There are over 9 million Greek members nationally.

  • 85% of Fortune 500 executives belong to a fraternity.

  • 40 of 47 Supreme Court justices since 1910 were fraternity members.

  • 76% of all Congressmen and Senators are fraternity members.

  • 63% of U.S. President's Cabinet members since 1900 were fraternity members.

  • All but two Presidents and two Vice Presidents of the United States since the establishment of the first social fraternity in 1825 were Greek.

  • Fraternity and sorority alumni give approximately 75% of all money donated to universities.

It has been several years since these statistics were published, and the NIC does not list them on their website, so there is a chance that some may no longer be accurate. Hundreds of individuals have been elected to Congress since 2016, for example, and the NIC lists 143 members of the 117th Congress and 19 Presidents of the United States with fraternal affiliations on its website (Shelton, 2019). Based on those figures, 32.9% of the 117th Congress maintained affiliations with fraternal organizations, so there may be some decline in fraternal representation in Congress. Still, it is important to understand that fraternity and sorority leaders and organizations have historically marketed themselves as leaders within social and political life. It is also worth noting that the number of living fraternity and sorority members accounts for less than 3% of the U.S. population. The promise stands that membership in a fraternal organization increases the odds that a student will rise to a position of power even if most Congressmen are not affiliated with college fraternities or sororities.

Gallup and Purdue University established the Gallup-Purdue Index to examine the long-term success of graduates in their careers and social lives. The initial administration of the index included interviews with 30,000 college graduates. It indicated that fraternity and sorority members perform better than their peers on most of the quality-of-life indicators, including employee engagement, general wellbeing, emotional support, entrepreneurship, and alumni attachment. (Gallup-Purdue University, 2017, pp. 6-9)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Greek Life: A term used to describe the fraternity and sorority community at a particular college and fraternity and sorority activities.

Fraternal (Social) Organization: An organization with the explicit purpose of forming strong or life-long relationships between members. Fraternal organizations may be organized around a particular interest or background.

Greek: Members of fraternal social organizations are often referred to as “Greek” due to the Greek-letter naming system of their organizations and chapters. This also applies to members of fraternal social organizations without Greek letters in their names.

Interfraternal: Collaborative efforts between one or more fraternal organizations. Some organizations hyphenate the word in their name (e.g., Inter-Fraternity Council).

Alumni: Generally used to describe any member of a fraternity or sorority who has completed their undergraduate education. It is also used to describe organizations which cater specifically to graduated members of fraternal social organizations. (e.g., alumni association, alumni chapter, and alumni dues)

Panhellenic: Collaborative efforts between one or more fraternal organizations. It is a reference to the Greek-letter names of social fraternities and sororities. Some organizations hyphenate the word in their name (e.g., National Pan-Hellenic Council).

Self-Government: The idea that a component of an organization operates independent of a higher authority. In the case of fraternal organizations, this typically refers to undergraduate chapters of fraternities or sororities electing their officers, managing their finances, and leading internal judicial procedures.

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