When I was a young man I was not a good man. I wasn’t a terrible man, either. I was the sole, enduring victim of any physical harm night after night of partying might have caused, but to know me and love me was an emotional trial, to say the least. I was self-obsessed and selfish to the extreme but handsome and charismatic enough to take more than one “emotional hostage” in my twenties and early thirties. I had no interest in what it meant to be a good man and no idea what it meant to be a gentlemen.
I’ve always been convinced this is a pretty typical experience for American men in early adult life. Imagine my surprise when I discovered an entire fraternity of young men with a completely different approach. Enter the Chi Phi Fraternity, who may be the least stereotypical fraternity I’ve ever encountered, if what I’ve learned in the movies and on television serve as a good indication of what their life is like.
Here’s a passage taken directly from the Chi Phi Fraternity ‘Beliefs’ page on their website:
The true gentleman is a man whose conduct proceeds from goodwill and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled when necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but with sincerity and sympathy always; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue is safe.
Wait … what? What about funneling beer and taking advantage of drunk sorority girls? What about tips for getting the smell of bong water out of the carpet? A quick scan of their website turns up lots of words like sincerity, respect and chivalry. This sounds more to me like the Boy Scouts or a church youth ministry.
Frankly, I had to know more, so I contacted Christian Trippe, of Melrose, MA and a member of the Lambda Theta chapter of of Chi Phi at UMass, Dartmouth. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell me about your fraternity.
Chi Phi is a national fraternity. You can get the basic information from chiphi.org. At UMass there are 32 guys, all undergraduates.
Do you guys have a “frat house?”
We don’t have a chapter house yet, but we officially meet weekly on campus for regular business and roll together whenever we can.
I’m truly curious to know if the fraternity is serious about being good guys, or if that is all just to cover up the crazy drinking, drug abuse and toga parties.
(Laughs) No, we are serious about being gentlemen. I mean, we have parties and stuff but we don’t allow excessive drinking, rudeness or taking advantage of girls. Just insults or personal attacks are enough to get disciplined. We don’t tolerate racism, bigotry, or intolerance in general, but particularly towards women. Members are expected to take the fraternity seriously and serve as committee members or chairs. We’re also expected to act like gentlemen at all times and be careful with our cash. It’s no joke.
No discrimination at all?
No, the Fraternity truly does not discriminate. Locally we are mostly white guys, but one of our brothers is openly gay and this is totally accepted.
What are some ways the fraternity enforces these standards?
Well, in addition to disciplinary action for insults or personal attacks, there are scholastic standards which must be met. Nationally we require a 2.25 GPA but locally we require a 2.5 to pledge. Once in, if your GPA falls below the standard they offer a program to help their brothers get their grades up for a semester while retaining all their rights and participation. Brothers in this status can’t hold a board position.
We also actively promote and organize charitable giving and volunteer work. Every brother is required to do at least three hours of work per semester in addition to fund raisers for charitable causes. My fraternity brother Zach Boyer is bicycling from Baltimore to Portland, Oregon this summer with the 4K for Cancer.
What attracted you to this fraternity, over other options?
I’m in an engineering program and the values and structure were attractive to me. I need the focus to be on academics if I am going to succeed but I also want to have a good time and help others.
Surely there are other ways to give back?
Yeah, but it’s more than that. Chi Phi has a really easy going, friendly atmosphere. It’s kind of hard to explain. The way the brothers interact with each other is positive and encouraging. There’s no hazing. I mean, we bust each other’s balls and everything, but we are trying to do the right thing.
Why do you think it’s important to do focus on doing the right thing in college?
Well, you know my chosen career is engineering. Most people probably don’t realize how important strong ethics and personal integrity is in engineering. I mean, the consequences for not building a bridge right, or creating malicious software … the potential consequences for poor engineering in the real world can be catastrophic and life threatening and it is important engineers are aware of the importance of their role.
Seems like you’ve given this some thought. Maybe there is hope for the world. What do you think it means to be a good man in the 21st century?
Growing up I went to a Unitarian Church and it taught me not to rush to conclusions before I gained the knowledge necessary to make a decision. I think this is important. People should go after what they want in life as well. We should be happy and share this happiness with others, but you can’t share what you don’t have. So we shouldn’t be afraid to take care of ourselves and pursue personal happiness.
I wrote a paper on this topic, so I have a lot of thoughts.
That’s great…please continue…
I believe all people should be treated fairly and with equal consideration. Everyone should be recognized as having equal rights, and I do mean everyone. It seems like too many people are afraid to work hard because they are afraid to fail. Or be perceived as a failure and this is really too bad. We should give more respect to people who try. It’s important to encourage people to better themselves.
Also, I really admire people who help others, and I think everyone should. We should respect teachers more. I really respect the students studying nursing at UMass. They deserve more than they get.
—Photo credit: PaulPoli/Flickr