Letter to the Editor: New Fraternity and Sorority Practices Harm the University
Submitted by Aidan Lawrence-Devine
Disclosure: Aidan Lawrence-Devine is the Recruitment Chair and Vice President for Member Education at Kappa Sigma Theta-Delta and currently serves as the Student Affairs Intern.
As of this past Tuesday, all of Willamette’s fraternities and sororities have the green light to engage in newly predatory recruitment of first year students. It falls upon the whole Willamette community to advocate for healthy and safe recruitment practices amongst and connections to the campus’ fraternities and sororities.
As it stood before late September of this year, fraternities and sororities were prevented from recruiting first year students during the Fall semester of the school year. In the spring, the fraternities and sororities would each host separate, “formal” recruitment weeks, with offers to join being extended to potential new members after they had attended Willamette for a semester and some weeks. The Panhellenic Council (PHC) formally announced on Sept. 22, and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) decided on Sept. 27 (no announcement has been made at time of writing) that they would begin allowing the recruitment of first-years in the fall.
Many of those with neutral or negative feelings towards Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) may think that it doesn’t really matter when these groups recruit. I assure you that it matters greatly. It changes the tone of a student’s entire Willamette career. Bringing first-year recruitment into the fall is a decision that will prove unhealthy for students, for campus life, and for Willamette as a whole. Fall first-year recruitment is inherently predatory. It isolates first-year recruits from the campus community and creates echo chambers within chapters. To be clear: I say this not as an outside critic casting hate upon Fraternity and Sorority Life, but as a member. I currently serve as the recruitment chair for Kappa Sigma. I am one of very, very few individuals who could directly benefit from this change, yet I will continue to advocate against it as long as I am able. Fall recruitment is wrong and it is harmful to Willamette.
Before digging in, I would like to acknowledge that there are a whole host of other issues with FSL at Willamette and beyond that require addressing. These problems extend far beyond the scope of 2019’s follow up-free FSL review. However, at this point in time it is important to focus on this singular, pressing issue and not get distracted by the big picture.
Consider this: you are a first-year male-identifying student. You have class with a junior male-identifying student who you end up sitting next to. He seems to have all the answers regarding Willamette; he helps you navigate WISE and SAGE, he tells you which professors to avoid and which classes you need to take, he sets up a notetaking/study group amongst your class. Two weeks into your tenure at Willamette, as you’re still trying to understand your place socially, he invites you to an event with his buddies. There’s free food, good conversation, and people who create a welcoming environment. You’re bundled along to the next event, and the next, and before you know it, you’ve got a fraternity bid in your hand and you’re about to pledge. You went to the Activities Expo, sure, but you only hung around the tables where the fraternity brothers were, you only signed up for the clubs that your new peers recommended, and you only went to the events where this newfound group helped you feel comfortable.
This is exactly the strategy that first-year informal recruitment encourages and promotes; a strategy of exploiting the power imbalance between 15-25 experienced students and a single first-year. Chapter members find new students who haven’t yet solidified their social footing and lure them into the fold. FSL defenders may argue that other kinds of clubs can use similar techniques. Other clubs are not secret, members-only, quasi-cults with social rules and value-sets baked into their identities (not to mention a 6-8-week education program). Other clubs cannot take over your social life to the same extent that FSL organizations can.
Deferred recruitment in the Spring brings greater choice to the first-years involved as they are already familiar with the campus climate and the activities on offer. Sororities and fraternities also benefit from members with greater connections to other groups and activities (who’s gonna have time to join Burning Bright, RHA, Alianza, or ASWU during a lengthy first semester pledge process?). So too does the whole campus community; the greater interplay between FSL and the campus’ various organizations creates a flourishing campus community that promotes inclusion over division.
I’ll reiterate: fall first-year recruitment is inherently predatory. Fall recruitment removes students a further degree from the general social pool, occupying their free time with pledge education and FSL events instead of diverse campus opportunities essential to finding one’s place in the community. This serves to extend the divide between the FSL community and the campus community at-large. Not only is this harmful for the individual students, but by stunting the involvement of their own members, sororities and fraternities are worse off for it. Sororities and fraternities, like all clubs, exist for the sole purpose of serving and enriching the greater campus community. This effort regresses from the purpose and directly diminishes the quality of Willamette’s community and student experience.
An argument I frequently hear from members of the FSL community along those lines is that fall first-year recruitment is necessary to the survival of FSL at Willamette. This argument may hold some water on the surface — new member numbers have generally declined over the past half-decade — but the implications leave me incredulous. The idea that folks in FSL hold that they need to recruit first-years before they understand FSL’s reputation at Willamette is downright disturbing. If fraternities and sororities cannot recruit first-years when those first-years have an understanding of FSL’s place on campus, that is because the chapters have failed to be productive members of the campus community. Were chapters an actual benefit and enrichment to our community’s myriad populations, first-years would not develop a poor impression of them. If the FSL community wants first-years to not have negative impressions of fraternities and sororities, chapters should consider productive volunteer, philanthropic, and social contributions to the campus community and a host of other campus integration efforts long before a predatory recruitment process. Chapters recruit healthily not by being the first group students encounter, but the best.
Another counterargument I frequently hear revolves around the difference between policy and reality. Proponents say that this change doesn’t matter. That, despite the rule, casual fall pre-recruitment is already commonplace. Just because Student Affairs or OSEL says you can’t recruit first-years in the fall doesn’t mean that you can’t be laying the groundwork for your big Spring recruitment all fall long. As David Stollman, a FSL recruitment instructor, points out in this article that draws all the wrong conclusions, “Deferred Recruitment doesn’t really exist… only deferred JOINING.” In my own role as recruitment chair, myriad advisors and alumni have repeatedly told me to engage in “pre-bidding” (or some other pseudonym) with first-years in the fall.
However, this kind of “I ain’t exactly first-year recruiting, but I ain’t exactly NOT first-year recruiting” is distinguished from actual recruitment by one important facet: pre-bidding does not elicit any commitment from first-years until Spring. This allows them to continue to expand their horizons through fall. Even if they are informally involved with a chapter, they will not be put through an indoctrinating or integrative pledge process before they have a chance to find their place in the University’s community.
I want to be clear: The Kappa Sigma chapter at Willamette will never participate in fall first-year recruitment as long as anyone currently in the chapter still holds any influence over the decision. It is antithetical to the evolving purpose of fraternities and sororities on this campus. A healthy recruitment process is essential to truly healthy chapters which are essential (as is any student organization) to a healthy campus community and culture. Introducing new predatory methods poisons this ideal at the very basis, regressing any gains within or future improvements to the connection between FSL and the campus.
This change is not a bygone conclusion. Encourage first-years you know to wait until spring to consider joining a fraternity or sorority. Your opinions are valuable; contact IFC, PHC, or the Office of Student Engagement and Leadership (OSEL) to share them. Lastly, please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, or further comments that this piece has raised.
Aidan Lawrence-Devine (he/his, ‘22) is the Recruitment Chair and Vice President for Member Education at Kappa Sigma Theta-Delta. He also serves as the Captain of Willamette’s Ultimate Frisbee team and the inaugural Student Affairs Intern. He formerly served two years as the Executive Director of the Residence Hall Association and provided guidance on the University’s Student Life Committee.