Complete History of the Fraternal Values Society
Discovering a pirate’s lost treasure at the bottom of the sea might be an easier task than discovering a positive story about fraternities and sororities in the media. Though students may claim that the media coverage is often sensational—only reporting the horrific tragedies with slanted agendas—these stories are indeed often brought on as a result of the inappropriate and often illegal actions of members. Fraternities and sororities can often be their own worst enemies.
Much has been said about the need for reform within fraternities and sororities. Many schools, especially private colleges in the northeast, have banned fraternal organizations altogether. Institutions have mandated policy changes to eliminate descrimination, hazing, poor academic performance, sexism, alcohol abuse, property destruction, and the list continues. And some schools have taken no position for fear of creating a relationship with fraternities and sororities that might increase institutional liability.
In the fall of 1997 at Miami University (Ohio) a different approach to reform was created—an approach that was initiated by a staff member, and energized by a small core group of students. With each new initiative, more students joined in —working together to create a future of positive change grounded in historic principles. At Miami, the Greek Values Society (The Society) made a powerful cultural change.
Brian Breittholz (Phi Kappa Tau), then Director of Greek Affairs at Miami, brought together a handful of students to help coordinate a new program he had envisioned. Instead of simply telling fraternity and sorority students they had to return to their founding principles with no suggestions on how to do so, he conceptualized a day-long conference that would bring students and staff together to explore this topic and to implement tangible actions. Breittholz was committed to helping students truly understand the values that served as the foundation of most fraternal organizations and to create action plans that would serve as catalysts for personal and organizational change.
Breittholz solicited numerous different sources to fund the conference and encountered much initial resistance. Few believed that fraternity men and women would attend such an event or even see a need to discuss values—much less fraternal values. Funding to support a Fraternal Values Institute was eventually secured by the Phi Kappa Tau Foundation and plans were quickly underway with the group of assembled students.
Over a period of several weeks the students planning the program with Breittholz found themselves caught up in intense debate about personal values, fraternal values, and ethical dilemmas facing students. Planning meetings rarely lasted just one hour—heated discussions continued on at times for hours on end. Change was beginning.
Before the Institute officially kicked-off, it was apparent that this group had a mission to fulfill. Their efforts would not end with the conclusion of the Institute—they were onto something quite unique and special. The group decided to form themselves as a legitimate student organization at Miami University and to use the Fraternal Values Institute as their springboard for recruitment. The more students who could buy-into the philosophy of the group, the greater the opportunity for community change.
Promotion for the Fraternal Values Institute asked students to consider:
- Do the oaths we take at Initiation really mean anything?
- What is the significance of our rituals?
- Are fraternity/sorority values consistent with higher education?
- How can we better reflect who we say we are?
- How will our future differ from our past?
Further, the promotion for the conference stated:
"Increasingly, fraternities and sororities are coming under considerable criticism for the actions of some of our members. Some believe that fraternities and sororities are outdated relics of the past and should be banned from contemporary college campuses. Others believe there’s significant value to the Greek experience and the criticism and demands for reform are unwarranted. Most can agree, however, that in order for fraternities and sororities to exist and prosper in the future, they must return to their historical pasts. The values that guided our foundings must take center stage in our daily undergraduate experience. Rediscovering our heritage and recommitting to our values will ensure prosperous futures for our organizations for generations to come.”
"You’re invited to participate in a truly unique, highly interactive program designed to fully explore men’s and women’s founding fraternity values as they relate to our everyday lives and to the futures of our chapters and our Greek Community."
The Fraternal Values Institute was a success. Over 125 students registered for the program. Those who thought no one would attend the Institute were proven wrong as students eagerly embraced this concept. At the Institute they experienced interactive activities, keynote speakers, and a number of educational sessions. Topics included:
- The Secret Thoughts of the Ritual
- Caring Enough to Confront
- Using Organizational Values to Design Pledge/New Member Programs
- Challenges & Choices…Values and Ethics in Everyday Chapter Life
- Developing Your Own Personal Mission Statement
- Leadership Values as a Guide for Personal and Community Action
- Integrity and Greek Life
- Using Our Values to Establish Chapter Standards
- Creating Brotherhood/Sisterhood Events Using Chapter Creeds
Breittholz was initially thrilled when he found a small group of students who were interested in creating a new one-shot program. Now he had on his hands over 100 students energized and committed to restoring historic values to the current experience. The small group grew quickly and developed a structure, name, constitution and mission statement. The Mission Statement of the Greek Values Society reads:
The mission of the Greek Values Society is to illuminate the central values that guided the founding of Miami’s Greek organizations, and to incorporate these values into the modern day fraternity and sorority experience.
The mission is addressed by:
- Sponsoring various educational programs throughout the year.
- Creating opportunities for ongoing values-centered dialogue and discourse.
- Increasing awareness and personal reflection about fraternal values through programs, resources and support materials.
- Empowering individuals to live their lives according to their fraternal rituals, assisting those who struggle to reach these standards, and confronting members who fail to uphold these values.
- Publicly recognizing those who exemplify their organizational values.
The Greek Values Society was up and going—the first group of its kind in the nation. Around campus students were talking. In chapters, members were challenging the status quo. A new enthusiasm for advancing the fraternity and sorority community by rediscovering and celebrating our past was moving across Miami and across the Interfraternal world as news about the Greek Values Society spread.
The structure of the Greek Values Society was purposely established to be loose in nature. A student could choose her/his degree of involvement. Everyone would participate and/or experience The Society in a different manner. The goal was to impact as many students as possible.
Programs: Greek Values Society
The Fraternal Values Institute was the starting point for many students interested in this movement. The students who attended the Institute were hungry for more, and they wanted their brothers/sisters to experience the same. In response, the Greek Values Society committed to facilitating an educational program for each bi-weekly meeting. Meetings were designed to share information and resources, facilitate learning, and provide participants with tips on how to directly apply these concepts in their chapter settings. Each year approximately 15-20 educational programs would be presented in these meetings. Martin Schreiber (Phi Delta Theta) and Karin Schmidt Cain (Alpha Chi Omega) served as the original co-chairs of the Greek Values Society.
In addition to programs sponsored at meetings, The Society coordinated, sponsored, or supported many other educational activities on campus. Each semester, The Society sponsored a Chaplain Training Program. This program was specifically designed for Chaplains, Ritual Chairs, or Brotherhood/Sisterhood Chairs in each chapter. The facilitator would help these student leaders better understand their roles and opportunities, along with facilitating brainstorming activities with the students on ways to maximize their roles within their chapters.
Why not throw a wedding as well? An examination of vows and oaths wouldn’t be complete without analyzing wedding vows—so the Greek Values Society planned a mock wedding and married two couples. Separate oaths were created and taken, followed by an animated conversation. In lieu of gifts each guest was asked to bring a canned food item that would later be donated to a local food pantry.
Following a moving book club discussion, The Society passionately wanted to bring Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie, to campus. After extensive efforts to secure the funds necessary for Albom’s honorarium, the Greek Values Society proudly presented the lecture “Tuesdays with Morrie: Lessons for Living” on March 16, 1999. The crowd expanded beyond the largest auditorium on campus for this lecture. A telecast of the lecture was broadcast at other sites across campus to accommodate.
In concert with Miami’s weeklong celebration, “Miami Celebrates Character,” the Greek Values Society sponsored a lecture, “The Six Pillars of Character,” featuring Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. Again, the crowd filled the facility and addition lecture space was secured at the last moment to meet student interest.
Valuing scholarship as well, The Society sponsored an Academic Summit for Chapter Scholarship Chairs. During the program, scholarship chairs learned about the available resources on campus, different learning styles, factors that contribute to/detract from academic success, and elements of an effective scholarship program.
In an effort to address membership expectations beyond pledging, The Society sponsored a program entitled, “When Pledging Ends… the Pledges Begin.” The purpose of this lecture and follow-up discussion was to help students understand that their responsibilities to their fraternities/sororities did not end at the completion of pledging…. In essence it was just beginning.
Presentations about The Society have occurred regularly since inception. Numerous chapters have asked the group to present educational programs during chapter meetings. The Society has also presented several values-focused sessions at different Greek and campus leadership programs on campus. Additionally, each year The Society works with the Rho Chi’s from Inter-Fraternity Ccouncil and Panhellenic Council, teaching them methods to effectively discuss fraternal values with prospective members.
The Fraternal Values Institute remained the Flagship program of the Greek Values Society. Over the first three years, the Institute changed in format to better address the needs of students and it continues to be extremely well received by the participants.
Brian’s Book Club
While vacationing in March 1998, Breittholz discovered the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, and fell in love with this powerful story about living and mentoring. Upon return to campus, he purchased 10 copies of the book for members of the Society and asked that they pass on the book to others in the group once they finished. Once the ten students had completed the book he hosted them for a book discussion at his home. Each student brought different perspectives and personal life experiences to the group and shared their own significant life experiences with the group.
Reading books followed by group discussions became a central part of the Society’s functions. In addition to Tuesdays with Morrie, students read and discussed The Measure of Our Success; Morning Sun on a White Piano; The Greatest Miracle; Lessons Before Dying; and The Power of Purpose. Each discussion focused on the themes in the book, life experiences and personal values.
Posters and Print Pieces
Understanding that the majority of Miami students would not be attending a meeting or reading a book, other initiatives to spread the word were designed. During the spring of 1998, The Society developed a series of posters entitled, “What in the World Were They Thinking?” The posters read:
The night may have been cold, dark and stormy, or maybe it was a warm and bright Spring day. The town may have been Oxford, Ohio or Farmville, Virginia for that matter. Perhaps they were in some dark room, or in the abandoned attic of an academic hall. Nevertheless, these young men and women discovered a need for, and came together to create powerful associations unlike any other.
Their unions were based on virtues such as trust, honor, love, loyalty, secrecy, and character, as well as scholarship, democracy and leadership. Their core values inspired their foundings and the functions that became a part of their daily lives. They debated actively, challenging one another along the way to reach their personal best.
Emblems and Greek letters were soon incorporated into the fabric of these organizations, symbolizing their pride, enthusiasm and everlasting devotion. They established rituals, not to be spoken in public, but to be esoteric celebrations of actions affirming their values. They understood the importance of interdependence and community, and the need to leave behind a long –lasting legacy for countless future generations.
Now we’ve been passed the torch. It’s our turn to be the guardians of this special association we call ‘fraternity’ and ‘sorority.’
These posters were designed in four different formats featuring turn-of-the-century photos of men and women. The posters were placed prominently around campus and quickly became the topic of discussion in many group settings. They achieved their purpose. The Office of Greek Affairs received many requests for individual copies of the posters, as many students also wanted to hang them in their rooms. Students were talking.
In the 1999-2000 academic year, two additional posters were created. The first one took a bold stance on hazing. During the year the Office of Health Education sponsored a social norming campaign to address alcohol abuse. The Office used a common headline on all of their promotions—“You’re Here Because You’re Smart.” Since that theme was so widely identified on campus, the Greek Values Society played-off of that slogan. Using a photo depicting a hazing activity, the new GVS posters read, “If you were so smart…you wouldn’t be here.” The poster read:
“Hazing is contradictory to everything we stand for and value. It doesn’t promote ‘brotherhood’—it contaminates it. If they were with us today, what in the world would they think? Think about it. Are we living the vision established by our founders?
Agreeing to participate in a hazing activity is just as stupid and illegal as performing it.
Whether you’re joining a fraternity, athletic team, club, service organization, or musical group, it’s time to speak up. It’s time to stand up. It’s time we came together to eliminate all forms of hazing at Miami. After all, aren’t we here because we’re smart?
If you witness a hazing activity, speak out by calling 529-8725.
A second poster campaign was launched in the spring in an effort to again promote values and to recognize students on campus who life their lives closely in sync with their values. Using the “Got Milk” concept, GVS created “Got Character” posters that featured three Miami students The Society believed were strong positive role models. Although milk moustaches were left off, each student was featured holding a half-gallon of milk or a glass of milk. At the bottom of each poster copy, a line similar to, “and by the way, she drinks milk too,” was added. These posters were highly praised on campus and a decision was made to continue this theme throughout this academic year. In the 2000-2001 academic year, each chapter was asked to nominate members they believed demonstrated character worth emulating for the poster campaign.
In addition to posters, bookmarks with inspirational quotes were created and distributed across campus. Advertisements in newspapers featuring values-based quotes were also purchased and placed by The Society. At the annual Greek Awards program, note cards were left at each place setting. These note cards either contained inspirational quotes or compelling questions that the reader could pose to their table. The Society regularly used multiple vehicles to raise awareness, facilitate dialogue, and change cultural norms.
A newsletter was also developed by the group and widely distributed across campus. Again, this print piece was designed specifically for the student who probably wasn’t attending meetings or programs, but could be impacted by The Society in a different manner. Principles Newsletter was designed to inform, inspire, challenge, and provide a lot of “a ha” moments and opportunities for discussions. Typical contents included news about The Society’s programs, book reviews, inspirational quotes, cool web sites, quizzes and brainteasers.
Recognizing that community service is a value espoused by nearly all fraternity and sorority organizations, the Greek Values Society regularly sponsored service events for Miami students interested in making a difference in people’s lives. Community service activities were conducted in a Cincinnati soup kitchen, at the Bunker Hill Academy for troubled youth, with the Bethany House Shelter in Hamilton, at the Oxford Senior Center, etc. Any student was invited to join in The Society's sponsored monthly community service events.
An integral part of the Greek Values Society mission is to “Publicly recognize those who exemplify their organizational values.” To do so, The Society created the Exemplar Award—a prestigious award presented annually at the Greek Awards Reception to people who serve as powerful examples to us all. The award was initially presented in 1999 to two students: one Greek-affiliated student, Derek Adya (Phi Gamma Delta) who was instrumental in creating the Greek Habitat for Humanity project, and the other student Jeff Griffiths, while serving as student body president, was an outspoken campus advocate for increased diversity. A third award was presented to David Westol (Theta Chi), Executive Director of the Theta Chi International Fraternity, for his efforts in combating hazing across the United States. That year, The Society presented awards to six individuals. The Student body president, was recognized for his efforts in creating the Miami Make a Difference Day event that brought hundreds of students together to perform community service. A student who served as the current coordinator of the Greek Habitat project was recognized for her efforts with this undertaking along with her numerous other volunteer and leadership roles she played on campus. The Dean of Students, Richard Nault (Alpha Sigma Phi) was a recipient, along with Dr. Philip Shriver (past University President and member of Phi Beta Kappa and Delta Upsilon) and his wife, Martha (Alpha Chi Omega), for their tireless support, leadership and advocacy of students. Lastly, the group surprised Breittholz by presenting him with an Exemplar Award for creating The Greek Values Society and for his overall dedication to the fraternity/sorority community.
Certificates were also presented to chapters that had demonstrated outstanding support of the Greek Values Society through participation in numerous programs and activities over that past year.
Some colleges and universities across the nation have chosen top-down approaches to mandate change. Change that is often misunderstood by students. The approach Breittholz took was to bring students together with a vision of possibilities and to let them initiate real change. Many positive changes occurred at Miami in the late 1990s due largely to the efforts of this unique group.
The Mother of Fraternities
The Miami Triad consists of three fraternities that were founded at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in the 19th century. These fraternities, in the order they were founded, are Beta Theta Pi (1839), Phi Delta Theta (1848), and Sigma Chi (1855). Historians of fraternities often compare the significance of the Miami Triad to the "Union Triad" of fraternities that formed at Union College in the mid 1820s.
Other national organizations founded at Miami in the 20th century are Delta Zeta Sorority, founded in 1902, and Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity, founded in 1906. Delta Sigma Epsilon, a national sorority founded at Miami in 1914, merged with Delta Zeta in 1956. Because of the number of fraternal organizations founded at Miami University, the school is often called the Mother of Fraternities.
As the above mentioned history shows, the Mother of Fraternities played another role in the founding of the Greek Values Society in 1997. Unfortunately several years later, the Greek Values Society at Miami University went dormant. Due to Miami University’s role in the creation and founding of the original Greek Values Society - the first group of its kind in the nation – the dormant chapter at Miami University holds the designation of Alpha Chapter of the Fraternal Values Society.
A Convergence of Thought
In July of 2007, Dan Bureau (Phi Kappa Theta), Karyn Nishimura-Sneath (Sigma Kappa), Tracy Maxwell (Alpha Omicron Pi), and Mark Koepsell (Phi Delta Theta) were having their first curriculum meeting in Indianapolis, IN as they prepared for the Fraternal Relevance Institute for professionals working with fraternities and sororities. Out of a mind mapping activity for potential curriculum, the group was discussing the idea of an organization that could continually foster values-based conversation in fraternities and sororities.
Two months later, in October of 2007, Mark Koepsell (Phi Delta Theta), Shelley Sutherland (Alpha Phi), and Michael McRee (Sigma Nu) were having an executive staff retreat for the Mid-American Greek Council Association (MGCA) in Seattle, WA. During their brainstorming and strategic planning about how to engage more students in regular values congruence conversations, the idea of a Fraternal Values Society independently emerged from Sutherland. Koepsell made the connection from his previous conversations with the faculty from the Fraternal Relevance Institute and the executive staff of MGCA of the likeminded direction of a national values-based honor society.
Nishimura-Sneath was hired as a consultant by MGCA to develop some of the initial documents for the Fraternal Values Society. Briettholz was included in these discussions and shared much of the historical underpinnings of the original Greek Values Society at Miami. Koepsell, Sutherland, and McRee continued the revision of these initial documents for the next two years that included the constitution and bylaws, ritual, and structure of the Fraternal Values Society.
During this time MGCA was staffed by Mark Koepsell, Executive Director, Shelley Sutherland, Associate Executive Director, and Michael McRee, Assistant Executive Director. The Western Region Greek Association (WRGA) was staffed by Shelley Sutherland, Executive Director, and Mark Koepsell, Associate Executive Director.
In the fall of 2008, the Boards of Directors of the Mid-American Greek Council Association (MGCA) and the Western Region Greek Association (WRGA) both voted (followed by the appropriate membership vote of MGCA) to consolidate the two organizations into one organization entitled the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values (AFLV). This historic action provides for synergistic opportunities to further serve the fraternal movement through an expanded office staff, services, resources, and publications. The Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values began operation on July 1, 2009. In the fall of 2010, AFLV launched the Fraternal Values Society.