Update 2/6/2018: Since publishing this post more than a year ago, I still get hundreds of views and reads each month. I want to preface the article below by stating that I still agree with what I originally wrote, and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have joined in the first place. However, I also believe that my experience in one has taught me the importance of valuing my time and figuring out my priorities. Although joining a professional fraternity wasn’t right for me, I strongly advise people who are interested to make an effort to talk to as many members as candidly as possible to gain a better understanding of the culture and members.
Original Post: Prior to coming to college, I knew little to nothing about fraternities, and the limited information I did know was heavily biased by depictions in media, where members were notorious for burning shit down every weekend and spanking their new pledges with paddles to lawfully initiate them as fully fledged members of a fraternity.
These views changed when I discovered that there were both professional and social fraternities, which identified with common interests, a shared demographic, or similar professional interest. For me, I wanted to find a group of people who would help me succeed professionally and provide me the network to further my career. In addition to that, I also wanted to connect with people on a deeper level and find individuals within that group I could call my friends.
During the fall semester of my sophomore year at Boston University, I helped co-found and bring a chapter of a revived business fraternity with ten other students and friends. Together, we wanted to craft a business fraternity that would epitomize the ideals that we collectively stood for, as well as build a foundation that would hopefully continue to grow as more and more members joined throughout the next several years. With the spring semester of my senior year almost here, my fraternity is approaching 70 members, and I want to take the time to reflect on both the positive and negative experiences I’ve encountered in my professional fraternity.
One of the primary reasons I chose to abandon my incoming prejudices about fraternities and join one was because professional fraternities were known to provide its members an expanding professional network, with supposedly less of the drinking, partying, and hazing that social fraternities were stereotyped to have. Joining my fraternity has provided me the opportunity to expand both my social and professional network, and has exposed me to both people and experiences I would otherwise not encounter. Within my fraternity, we have a lot of members from different parts of the world, with different interests and strengths that others can leverage to grow and learn from.
Because of my fraternity, I can proudly say that I have an easier time connecting with strangers now, due to the constant exposure I have from talking and connecting to people from different cultures and varying experiences from my own. In addition, joining a professional fraternity has taught me how to dress and behave in more of a professional corporate environment. I’m not a particularly extroverted or outgoing person to begin with, but when I meet a lot of new people for the first time, I’ve had enough practice to master the art of faking it, and acting confident enough to keep a conversation going. The point is, when you are constantly exposed to something that you’re not comfortable with, you end up with one of two choices — 1. continuing to feel uncomfortable or 2. learning to confront your fears and dealing with them.
I can easily say that the most noticeable cost of joining a fraternity is the silent acquiescence of having to concede a part of my individuality. When you choose to join a new group or clique, you realize that you become part of that group and become labelled, regardless of whether you desire the stigmas that come with it or not. For me, joining a fraternity has caused others to label me as “a member of that business fraternity”, rather than who I am as an individual. I find this to be the biggest drawback of joining any fraternity, whether it be social or professional. I’ve come across experiences where others who aren’t in the fraternity would label most of the members in my fraternity to be dumb and awkward, just because of the negative experiences that they had with a single or a few members.
Additionally, as our fraternity grows larger and larger, I feel as if many of the original tenets that we initially defined have faded and have since been replaced by new ones that I no longer identify with. Our focus is less on the professional now, and many just view us as a social fraternity now, linked together by a declining diversity rate and increased numbers of irrelevant social and philanthropic events that no longer contribute to the advancement of our academic and professional goals. A lot of the events we organize are mandatory, as if attending them will validate a member’s loyalty to the fraternity and concurrently bolster the event’s attendance numbers, even if the event is undesirable or irrelevant to a particular member. Many of the beliefs that once guided us have since slipped, and I find it hard to identify with many of the members I have to (somewhat) reluctantly have to call my family.
Writing about these negative aspects of my fraternity is difficult, but I don’t want to undermine the positive memories I’ve made in this fraternity as well. I’ve had the opportunity to tour company workspaces, learn from my fraternity brothers and sisters, and develop extremely valuable friendships as well. Now that my four years in college are almost over, I‘ve encountered both the positive and negative aspects of joining a fraternity. Although I no longer have the ability to change the organizations I dedicated myself to in college, I believe joining this fraternity has provided me the opportunity to grow, and also given me the chance to step back and examine what’s most important to me — the ability to use my time the way I want to, to think and act the way I choose to, and to surround myself with the people I value.