Am I paying for friends?

12 September | 2010

Our members pay dues, not to make friends but rather to host events that promote our values and ideals throughout the community and to help those that are less fortunate.

When I first stepped foot onto Vanderbilt campus in Fall 2003, I was introduced to the concept of Greek Life. At Vanderbilt, nearly 50% of the student population is Greek, and the first couple of months consist of fraternities having social gatherings and parties to woo potentials to join their respective houses. When I would speak to my friends from high school (who went to other universities) about fraternities and sororities, I would hear very negative comments such as the following:

  • “It costs THAT much money per semester to be a member?”
  • “Why should you have to pay for friends?”
  • “Isn’t it stupid to pay for parties when you can just go to them for free?”

Frankly, I found myself agreeing with these comments. But that’s before I experienced a fraternity firsthand. When seven other founders and I began the Beta Chi Theta, Theta Chapter, at Vanderbilt University, I became the chapter’s first treasurer. Being the one who budgeted, collected, tracked, and reported on the chapter’s funds, I was intimately aware of how we spent each and every penny. So, you ask, what is the money really used for?

  • Social events: Sure, every fraternity hosts parties and gatherings, but there are also other social events that promote cultural events or safe practices. For instance, as South Asian Awareness is one of our pillars we helped host a Garba event, a traditional Indian celebration with food and dancing. Our Lambda chapter at the University of Minnesota holds an annual “Rootbeer Fest” which promotes the idea that one need not have alcohol to have a good time. Perhaps the reason my high school friends thought the way they did was because they only bothered to go to fraternity parties.
  • Service and Philanthropy events: While these can range from large scale events to small events, every one of our chapters and colonies holds several service events. One event that I fondly remember at Vanderbilt was “Vanderbuddies,” an after school program where local elementary schoolers would come to campus and play games on our university lawn. We would play with the kids and pass out candy and other goodies. Our national philanthropy, “Beating Heart Disease,” raises thousands of dollars every year to aid in the pursuit of heart disease research and prevention. These are the kinds of events fraternities hold which are not publicized nearly enough.
  • Donations: It was common practice while I was treasurer to donate money to help other organizations throw an event, whether it was culturally or philanthropically related.
  • Overhead and Paraphernalia: Of course, some expenses such as housing costs, meeting room reservations, t-shirts, etc. will be paid for from the fraternity account. So there are definitely some fun things that we did with our dues, but we were always cognizant of mixing our fun with lots of business.

One very, very important point needs to be made concerning the implication of my high school friends. They assumed that you did not need a fraternity or sorority to have a social life. And of course, they would be right. What they overlooked is that you definitely need an organization to make a concerted difference in your community. In a fraternity, you have brothers connected by shared values who meet each and every week to discuss how to best use their own money to better the community. A group of friends may have the greatest intentions, but they are mostly concerned with their own needs and wants (books, food, and entertainment) to even think about putting together a philanthropy program. Additionally, they also lack the organizational structure and shared values that a fraternity provides. Furthermore, there is a nationwide network in our fraternity that other brothers from other chapters can draw ideas from. What works best? What didn’t work? What’s a great way to raise money to host this service event? These answers are bound to be found somewhere in our network.

So why do we pay dues? Because we realize that our money is not just used for parties. It’s used for events that promote our values and ideals throughout the community. It’s used for helping those that are less fortunate. It’s not used to “pay for friends,” but to aid the new ones we make along the way.

This blog post was originally published by Brother Ehson Afshar on September 13th, 2010.

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