Pause for a second and take a deep breath. Now picture this: You’re a university student back in the 1800s. Since you’re going to university in this era, you’e already in the top 5% or so of society and you spend your day walking from lecture to lecture. These lectures, as some of them still are, promote a very linear learning style. The only other way to study what you have learned in lectures is to read more about it in the library. There are no student groups. In fact, student groups and student coagulation are explicitly banned. There are no CSL classes. There are no student networks. There are lectures and the library. That’s it. There is no student life.
Because of this, the power for student learning is in the hands of the university. The pendulum swings completely in their favor and students have no ability to take their own learning into their own hands, beyond attending lectures and studying harder. Student groups and student coagulaton in any organized society are, again, explicitly banned. If found to be a part of a student group, you will be blackballed and expelled from your university and unable to attend any other institution of learning. Keep in mind, if you’re even going to university at this time in world history, you’re in the top 5% or so of society and if you graduate, you are guaranteed a position of power and wealth in some capacity. So your instinct is just to follow the system and do the work that is necessary.
Does this seem fair to anyone who is reading it? It shouldn’t. So what did students do back then to fight the system, to take their learning into their own hands, to balance the power between students and the university, among other things?
They started forming underground groups. They had to be secret, because if they were discovered, they would be expelled. No question. These groups couldn’t let just anyone be a part of their group for a number of reasons. The first one is secrecy. Every person you added to these underground groups exponentially increased the likelihood that it would be discovered. Another reason is that the purpose of these underground groups was to give the students with the biggest dreams, the most passion and a love for life an opportunity to meet like-minded people. To share their life wisdom and lift each other up to a higher level of learning and understanding of the world.
The reality then, as it is now, is that not everyone chooses to bring out the best side of themselves. These undergroud groups wanted people that would put blood, sweat and tears into not only their individual lives but also into the betterment of the organization and in turn society. They wanted people who recognized that if they weren’t living life to the fullest, then on some level they were dead. They wanted people that would be willing to die to make a difference in not only their own lives, but more importantly, the lives of their friends, family and everyone they interacted with.
Was everyone like that at that time in university? No. Is everyone like that today in university? No. These organizations understood, however, that they were only as strong as their weakest link and that if they were going to risk their academic careers for a common dream, they could only allow entry to impact students.
These groups of underground students became known as fraternal organizations. Not the ‘frats’ that today occupy most of student life across the United States and to a lesser extent Canada, but true fraternal organizations with the mission and purpose to better society. They would have some fun along the way of course, but at the end of the day, their purpose was one that was larger than mere individuals. They were meant to be a stepping stone for future leaders of society to develop and learn from other future leaders.
Have ‘frats’ lost this identity through the years? Yes. Overall, many have forgotten this noble goal that was the cornerstone of any fraternal organization. Does this mean that in the future many of these organizations can’t make the changes necessary to start to live the values, ideals and missions that their past brothers brought together? No.
There is the capacity to bring together a group of the biggest dreamers, the most passionate and the hardest working students on campus. The potential exists for these students to come together so that they can lift each other up and learn from each other. And if they do this when they go into the world, they will have developed not only a network, but a family of like-minded people who will each make their mark upon society.
Because that is what a fraternal organization should be about. Fraternity means Brother. No bro, broski or dude. It means Brother.
A number of organizations are already taking the necessary strides to redefine themselves again by excellence. True social excellence. Will all these groups achieve their goal? No. But those that do will not only take a lead role in revolutionizing student life here at the University of Alberta, but in the long run serve as a stepping stone for those that will someday revolutionize the world in their own way.
Ryan Vermillion is the current Phi of the Mu Theta Chapter of the Zeta Psi Fraternity.