As a follow-on to yesterday’s Vision for Penn State Greeks, I wanted to clarify some things after speaking with some who read it. I also want to offer a practical idea for how we might start addressing the problem of “spiritual meaning” I identified as the underlying problem beneath the surface of fraternity and sorority challenges.
First, a basic history of the fraternity and sorority system is worthwhile for getting a larger perspective on this topic. What’s relevant to note is that fraternities and sororities developed from something, and that “something” was often informally/organically organized literary and civic/rhetoric clubs. These were students who started with a shared interest in what we would today call a “special” interest, like oratory or singing or dancing or political debate. That’s why I pushed back yesterday against the idea of lofty and abstract language. Young men and women will only develop authentic relationships if they are together for practical purposes like singing together. We want practical relationships.
Second, the history teaches us that change must occur organically. It almost certainly can’t be viola’d with a sweeping “reform program.” And it can’t be the result of nostalgic alumni wishing to simply recreate the Greek system of their own time. Whatever happens, it should be something new.
Third, and relatedly, I have no specific plan in mind. There’s no program. I view the Greek issue as fundamental as “Will these places be vehicles/excuses to learn how to be human beings?” If not, can we find some other way to do that within the university structure? All that “other half” stuff that Cardinal Newman talks about in his book, The Idea of a University.
Fourth, because everyone wants a program even though I think a formal initiative would be foolhardy: Why not try something like a “Penn State Greek Corps” that would seek to “enlist” about 200 people. It would seek Greek alumni, but be mostly non-Greek. It would be diverse in age, gender, professional background, etc. These corps members would be asked to build a relationship with their designated fraternity or sorority, and encouraged to experiment. It wouldn’t be a one year tour, but something closer to a decade-long commitment—real relationships. That would be the only real deliverable, and I think it could produce significant positive results. These corps members would be honored at Homecoming. they’d be invited to meet the trustees and star professors at special events. They’d be shown love in various ways for their extraordinary commitment. Penn State would build a relationship with them, too.
After yesterday’s piece was cross-posted to Onward State it picked up 500+ Facebook shares and I heard back from many people who said it got them thinking. If nothing else, I hope that it helps Penn Staters think less tribally and with more heart.