Fraternities don’t promote brotherhood

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SMU’s Fraternity Row. Photo credit: Ryan Miller

Ah brotherhood, the rallying call of fraternities everywhere. It is the central principle that these age-old organizations stand behind, but how well do they actually fulfill on their promises of brotherhood? To me it seems as if the fraternity system has morphed into a corruption of the term, not actually promoting anything close to brotherhood.

I suppose that much of this debate could revolve around semantics game and defining what brotherhood is, so I will define what I mean when I speak about fraternities and brotherhood. While there appears to be several different definitions of brotherhood, two common definitions prevail. The first being a description of a relationship between brothers, with the second being an organization of people with similar interests, religion or trade.

While the second definition holds some weight, as the fraternities seem to hold a homogeneous interest, it is the spirit of the first definition that the fraternities appear to pride themselves on. It is this concept of fellowship, brotherly relationships, and being men that seems to be the draw of these organizations.

But from what I see this language appears to be a hollow veil, one that does not actually hold up in the functioning of fraternities. I would be horrified if my actual brother behaved towards me in the same ways that fraternity brothers do between each other. Often it appears as if fraternities promote conformity and following orders rather than individuality, manliness and true brotherhood.

But where do I get the evidence for this claim? I suppose I could speculate on the worst of what happens throughout pledgeship and the “brotherhood building” process based on reports of tragic events, but I don’t even need that to prove the point. All I need is what I see pledges subjected to on a daily basis.

I have personally witnessed pledges forced to do the laundry of older brothers, change their hairstyles on the whim of the fraternity, be forced to carry coins or tobacco products to surrender to other brothers as needed, and consistently fit into a “dress code” to keep a consistent look among the fraternity members.

These acts all appear to be more about conformity than brotherhood and frankly they are unacceptable. They are far more of a subjugation of a subordinate pledge to a superior brother, rather than mutual support among equal brothers. That is not what actual brotherhood is about, bonds that actual brothers share. While brothers may fight and disagree, they certainly do not use power to lord over or subjugate each other. Instead true brothers share a mutual, equal bond while attempting to grow into better, individual strong men.

While I suppose that this mutual suffering among pledges may create some form of bond, that’s an artificial brotherhood caused by an artificial problem. Manhood or brotherhood is not about using your power to force others to do things for you and to be just like you, regardless of their consent or not.

The sad thing is, the system does not have to be this way. There is no logical reason why you would need to make your pledges or future initiates subjugate themselves buying tobacco or doing laundry; the system could actually fulfill on its promises if it was cleaned up a bit. But for now actions like those seem to me to invalidate the whole meaning. While one fraternity may not haze as much as the next, the presence of this in the system is what concerns me.

You can do all of the community service and host all the parties you want to cover up this pseudo-brotherhood, but the practices that members carry out during pledgeship seem to undermine the whole principle. Continuing to hold that fraternities create and promote brotherhood seems to me to be logically fallacious and untrue, and I hope that the pledging process continues to be reformed to rectify this fact so that the fraternities of Southern Methodist University might actually uphold their lofty ideals.

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