The fraternal movement has long been an integral part of college campuses, bringing with it a rich tapestry of tradition, values, and community building. However, as with any enduring institution, it has witnessed significant shifts over the past 7-10 years, both in its function and its challenges. College students today are consuming digital content and engaging with each other and their world differently than generations past. Their understanding of relationships and socialization with experiences has evolved in the time of opting in or opting out of anything they want. Feel like watching Game of Thrones? Subscribe to HBO for a month and binge the show, then drop the subscription. Want to learn how to play tennis? Subscribe to MasterClass for a free trial, learn what you need, and cancel the trial. The widespread mentality of “everything is optional” has created the “Subscription” Generation, and this fundamental shift in how current students view their options and place in the world is alarmingly influential on the role of fraternity/sorority professionals. This article aims to enhance existing strategies and offer new language and perspective for modernizing the way we advise today’s collegians.
Industry Maturation and Shifts in the Last Decade
While fraternity and sorority life has always grappled with societal changes – the industrial revolution, world wars, civil rights – in the last several years, the primary themes have been the global push for diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB); the rise of digital communication and its impact on interpersonal relationships; and more recently, the importance of mental health. Through all of this, professionals in the field have had to adapt, moving beyond traditional advising roles. Their scope now requires a marked increase in emphasis on mental health, a more proactive approach to addressing issues like hazing and substance abuse, and a stronger collaboration with other campus entities to bolster the well-being and success of members. Campus advisors and HQ professionals are tasked with making students see “what’s in it for me?”
Today, as society at large wrestles with ever-present matters of social justice, our fraternity/sorority communities feel the ripple effects. The industry continues to see organizations reassess their historical practices and confront issues related to systemic biases. DIB training sessions, more inclusive recruitment strategies, and the aforementioned collaborations with multicultural offices on campuses are now vital to the modern fraternal experience.
In the wake of COVID-19 isolation, the wellbeing of members has taken center stage. This heightened focus has led fraternity/sorority professionals to implement more comprehensive programs addressing personal wellness, substance abuse, and healthy relationships. Collaboration with on-campus counseling and wellness centers has become more common, as have campus-run peer-education programs. Many national fraternities and sororities now have partnerships with organizations like The Jed Foundation to help provide mental wellness resources for collegiate members.
Since Facebook’s inception 20 years ago, the rise of digital platforms keeps ransforming the way members communicate, recruit, and present their organizations to the world. The role of fraternity/sorority professionals now often includes monitoring online interactions, guiding chapters on appropriate online etiquette, and harnessing these platforms for positive impact, such as marketing, fundraising, or awareness campaigns.
The pervasiveness of digital communication has shifted the crux of human interaction, often leaving a gap where interpersonal skills once existed. These soft skills are critical for this generation of students as they look to the job market. So many fraternities and sororities have enhanced their leadership and life skills education – delving into advanced topics like conflict resolution, ethical decision-making, and effective communication.
With the realization that alumni can be a wealth of resources—not just financially but also in terms of mentorship and networking opportunities—there’s a concerted effort to build stronger bridges between current members and their predecessors. Alumni panels, mentorship programs, and even digital platforms to facilitate networking have been integrated into the fraternity/sorority experience.
The rising costs of higher education, combined with the financial commitment of fraternity/sorority membership, have led to a renewed focus on financial transparency and sustainability. Fraternal professionals are now more actively involved in guiding chapters in financial management, budgeting, and ensuring members understand the financial responsibilities associated with their membership. So how can we elevate the appeal and relevance of fraternities and sororities for current students?
Proving Fraternal ROI to the “Subscription” Generation
The decision to join a fraternity or sorority is a significant one, accompanied by both financial and time commitment. So, what do members gain in return? On the surface, of course, there are the immediate experiences: social events, leadership roles within the chapter, and a “home away from home.” But we have to get students to realize that the deeper value lies in the longer-term, intangible benefits.
As professionals and alumni members, we know:
- Fraternity/sorority members develop leadership skills – not just in title but in practice – navigating the complexities of group dynamics, decision-making, and conflict resolution.
- The network they build spans both their immediate campus and a broader alumni base, opening doors to potential job opportunities and mentorship.
- The personal growth and self-awareness fostered within a fraternal community is invaluable.
- In a world that increasingly values soft skills and emotional intelligence, fraternity/sorority membership offers a unique training ground for a generation that isn’t gaining many of those interpersonal skills through society or daily life.
Fraternity and sorority memberships come with a slew of both tangible and intangible benefits, and understanding these can provide clarity on the holistic return on investment (ROI) that members derive from their involvement – yet, as a profession, we struggle to articulate value to current members and students. We advertise the things listed below, but not effectively enough to reach the target audience. We have to use the information below in small snippets – micro-learning videos or testimonials – to appeal to the “Subscription” Generation.
- Skill Development Workshops: Many fraternities and sororities offer workshops on resume building, interview skills, financial literacy, and other practical life skills. Such hands-on training not only augments academic learning but also prepares members for post-college life.
- Networking Events: Alumni from various professions often host or attend networking events, granting members access to professionals in fields they may aspire to join. This can lead to internships, job placements, and long-term mentorship.
- Academic Resources: Many chapters maintain class notes files, provide study rooms, or even host tutoring sessions to support the academic success of their members.
- Leadership Opportunities: Holding a position in a fraternity or sorority provides concrete leadership experience, from managing budgets to coordinating large events or mediating conflicts.
- Personal Growth: The experience of being part of a larger community challenges individuals to understand and navigate group dynamics, helping them grow in emotional intelligence, patience, and adaptability.
- Lifelong Friendships: While many college friendships endure, the bond formed within fraternities and sororities often extends far beyond the undergraduate years. These relationships provide emotional support, guidance, and a sense of belonging throughout life’s various phases.
- Sense of Purpose: Many fraternities and sororities prioritize philanthropic activities and community service. Engaging in these acts fosters a sense of purpose and instills values of altruism and community engagement.
- Cultural and Ethical Awareness: As organizations emphasize Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, members are often exposed to cultural competency workshops, discussions, and experiences that foster a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse world around them.
- Resilience and Problem-Solving: Navigating the challenges and responsibilities of fraternity or sorority life—from managing internal disputes to coordinating complex events—hones members’ critical thinking skills and perseverance.
The tangible benefits offer immediate and practical value for the “here and now” of college, and the intangible rewards equip members with life skills, emotional depth, and a value system that profoundly impacts their personal and professional journeys. As decades of alumni will attest, both aspects of ROI combine to offer a well-rounded, enriching experience that goes beyond the classroom – and students today need this experience as much or more than the generations that came before them.
Our professional landscape will continue to evolve, bringing both new challenges and opportunities. As we navigate this evolving terrain, it is essential to keep sight of the core values and purpose of the fraternal movement highlighted above. We have the power to ensure the continued success and relevance of fraternities and sororities while upholding a tradition that has enriched lives for generations.
About the authors:
Morgan Brickley started her career in corporate marketing and PR before seeking a master’s in higher education and shifting to the fraternal profession. She currently serves as the Sr. Director of Leadership Programs for Triangle Fraternity. Her past professional experience includes Delta Zeta Sorority HQ, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Louisville. Morgan lives in Aurora, IL, with her spouse and two dogs. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity and has been somewhere on their volunteer roster since 2007.
Chris Graham is the current Chief Chapter Services Officer for Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. His previous professional experience includes Florida State University, UNC-Greensboro, and Winston-Salem State University. Chris has dedicated years of time and effort as a volunteer for many organizations and is the immediate past president of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors. He is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and currently lives centrally located in Dallas, TX, so he can easily travel to visit or invite friends to visit him from all around the country!