The World Needs Us Now More than Ever

By Jonathan D. Frieden —

Fraternities play a vital role in helping first-year college students to transition to college life.[1]  Their members are more engaged as students, report greater interaction with members of their communities that are different from themselves, and report higher satisfaction with their college experience than non-members.[2]

Thanks to our unique origin story and special purpose, our Brotherhood provides additional benefits to its members and their communities that are not offered by other fraternities.  Zeta Beta Tau grew in response to the exclusionary policies of organizations at the time, which would not admit members of the Jewish faith.  Our Brotherhood thrived as it created a safe space for those men and, eventually, all men of good character.   As such, our Brotherhood is not an heir to injustice, but a response to it.

We are entering a particularly dangerous period that may be the waning months of the global pandemic that has already ended too many lives and livelihoods.  We continue to observe and try to understand the continuing effects of anti-Semitism and other grave injustices that should have been firmly relegated to history.  All the while, the world has been reminded of the importance of values that have been our watchwords for more than a century:  Justice and Brotherly Love.

Many college campuses were all but closed this semester, and our Brotherhood has been driven physically apart.  Brothers have lost loved ones, resources, and stability.  Everything, from recruitment to programming and development to chapter servicing, has been made more difficult.  If it is true that “wisdom comes alone through suffering,”[3] we are becoming wiser at perhaps the fastest rate in our storied history.

As expected, new initiate counts are down so far this year.  However, our chapters are learning to use new tools to recruit and many have been amazingly successful in “virtual rush.”  For instance, our Chapters at Indiana University (36 new Brothers), the University of Arizona (24), the University of Central Florida (25), the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (21), the University of Maryland (17) have excelled in a virtual-only environment.  Overall, thanks to our amazing Headquarters Staff and undergraduate brothers, we are projected to exceed our pandemic projections for recruitment this year.

We have wisely refocused on our origin, purpose, and values.  That messaging, and our programming to combat hate, providing opportunities for brothers from communities experiencing marginalization to discuss common experiences, and efforts to end sexual violence on campus, are rooted in decades-old organizational values.  Now more than ever, those values are sought by college campuses and undergraduates.  Thus, while the current environment may be unfavorable to the average fraternity, it provides a brotherhood like ours an amazing opportunity.

Our commitment to our values, as they manifest in our programming, conduct, and messaging, have allowed us to remain largely unscathed through recent campus-wide anonymous sexual assault postings and the rise of the Abolish Greek Life (AGL) movement, which seeks to eliminate all Greek letter organizations.  This approach has made us a sought-after campus partner, benefiting our expansion efforts.  The University of Kentucky chose us, over Alpha Epsilon Pi and others, to be the next fraternity on its campus.  Prospective founding fathers across the country are excited about joining a value-based social organization.  We have initiated 27 re-founding fathers at Emory University and 15 re-founding fathers at the University of California – Berkeley.

Times are hard.  Through hardship, the character of our Brotherhood, chapters, and brothers is being revealed to a world desperate for the service of men devoted to Justice and Brotherly Love.

It should be no surprise that the state of the world provides us with unique opportunities, of which our Headquarters Staff and undergraduate brothers are taking full advantage.  After all, the world needs us now more than ever.

[1] Research reaffirms fraternities’ positive impact for first-year students, North American Interfraternity Conference, https://nicfraternity.org/research/ (Accessed: Dec. 13, 2020).

[2] See id.

[3] Aeschylus, Agamemnon.