Mission, Vision, and Family: Perspectives on Brotherhood
When talking about the meaning of membership, students in Greek Life will often say that you can only understand brotherhood or sisterhood once you’ve become a brother or sister. On some level, it’s true, but we think we can shed some clearer light.
In the following reflections, outgoing chapter president Peter Granville and incoming president Matthew Christopher review what brotherhood in Phi Kappa Tau means to them.
To get a good sense of an organization – whether it’s a club, a university, or even the manufacturer of your hoverboard – one prominent aspect to consider is the mission statement.
The mission represents the core idea from which the organization springs. Most are clear and directive, like the Google’s mission, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Some are pithy, like Disney’s mission, “To make people happy.” The mission expresses the ideals of the organization in a clear, agreed-upon way.
There’s a lot that most people don’t know about Kenyon. But nobody, inside it or out, knows its mission statement.
It’s not that we don’t have one. Nobody knows Kenyon’s mission because it’s 746 words long, about the length of this blog post. It’s fascinating and evocative, but it lugs around. Although it’s very well-crafted in some aspects, by trying to say so much, it comes across as scatterbrained.
I think that many of the large-scale cultural conflicts I’ve seen at Kenyon amount to a disagreement about what Kenyon is and means. And maybe that’s a facet of any collaborative community, for which no pithy mission statement can serve as a magic bullet. But it seems like we all come to Kenyon with our own idea of what the College’s mission is, highly influenced by our own mission.
So. What’s your mission? What brought you to Kenyon? What do you want from your education? – heck, what do you want out of life?
I’ll tell you mine. My sophomore year, I was having a crisis. I was involved in too much extracurricular business, including a three-season sports team and an 18-hour per-week job. My grades were slipping in classes in which I could have excelled. Trying to make it all work, I wasn’t sleeping more than a few hours per night, and I had no idea where my weird double-major in Math and English was taking me in the long term.
To find a solution, I had to zoom way out. Beyond just asking what I wanted from Kenyon, I had to ask myself what I wanted from my life.
I landed on the idea of family: that feeling of incomparable relationships with other people, that feeling of creation and recreation, that most basic necessity of humanity. One outcome of this decision was that I set sights for a career in higher education administration, hoping to serve as a father figure for a school like Kenyon while raising a family of my own. This helped me calibrate myself and sort out my priorities, but I didn’t get any happier.
I knew my mission, but I didn’t have anyone to share it with. Then I was given the opportunity to serve as a founding father of Kenyon’s first new fraternity in 74 years. And that fraternity is the Zeta Kappa Chapter of Phi Kappa Tau.
I never had brothers growing up. To be honest, I didn’t think I could form brotherly bonds with other men in college, which is to say I considered myself too introspective, not at all the “bro” type. And brotherhood didn’t magically happen the moment that I joined that young group, which in the coming year and a half would become the Kenyon Colony and then the Zeta Kappa Chapter. Brotherhood takes time, but when you can see that it is a part of you, you change a little. Like me, you might even change a lot.
The “a-ha” moment for me was at an event called Leadership Academy, where about fifty undergraduate Phi Taus from across the country gather to develop their skills as leaders. To be clear, I went into the weekend knowing absolutely nobody there. But within two days, when the knowledge sunk in that I was surrounded by fifty brothers who cared about me unconditionally, it felt like anything was possible. Your weaknesses are lesser and your strengths greater when you’re surrounded by your brothers.
The feeling of brotherhood did not come from wearing the same letters on our shirts, and it didn’t come from any sort of inebriation. It came from the fact that we had the same mission. And I am proud to hold this mission along with 24 of my closest friends and the hundreds of Phi Taus I’ve met across the country:
The mission of Phi Kappa Tau is to champion a lifelong commitment to brotherhood, learning, ethical leadership, and exemplary character.
I realized that I wanted to have a family at Kenyon, and I found it in Phi Kappa Tau. To be a brother and a founding father is the kind of thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. It has provided relationships that make me feel human. The proudest moments of my college experience have happened in the company of, and because of, my brothers.
So, again, it’s a question worth asking. What’s your mission?
Do you want to form connections that last a lifetime?
Do you want to improve the community around you?
Do you want to be a part of something larger than yourself?
And do you want to have fun doing it?
Kenyon students don’t all have a common mission. It’s not a completely bad thing, but I believe it’s important to be supported by people with whom you feel united in purpose. Bonded by our mission and ritual, we take that energy and strengthen each other as brothers in ways that pervade far more than four short years. Phi Tau has been amazing for me, and I think it might be amazing for you too.
Rush is in one week. We’d love to see you there.
Peter Granville ’16 is a double-major in Mathematics and English from Sussex, New Jersey.
When you think of the word “fraternity,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Much like me as a freshman, you may think of chapters getting kicked off their campuses for extreme and bizarre hazing, the deaths of “pledges,” and their blatant disrespect for others, especially women.
So, what brings prospective new members to rush events? What do these young men see in Greek life that’s worth the negative stigma they’re becoming associated with? In my experience, the answer to this question is simple: Brotherhood.
According to an article posted in USAToday, all but three US Presidents in the past 190 years have been members of a fraternity, Greek students are 20% more likely to graduate then their non-Greek peers, and an estimated nine million students are Greek. Being a member of a Greek organization teaches you valuable skills such as team building, delegation, and project management; it serves to boost your resume and teaches you how to network with new people. I, like so many Greek students, count my membership in my fraternity as one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. But why?
When I came to Kenyon, I wasn’t even considering joining a fraternity. I had heard of the wile “frat boy” and his rampage across campuses all over the nation, and I wanted no part of it. As I spent more time at Kenyon though, I saw that fraternities could actually be a positive force, and that the groups’ cultures are diverse enough to allow you to find a group that prioritizes the same things you do. Hazing and binge drinking didn’t appeal to me at all, but a sense of family and giving back to the community definitely did. With those ideas in mind, I set out to find a group that fit my interests.
Enter: Phi Kappa Tau. My freshman year CA, Gibson Oakley, was part of an interest group trying to form a Phi Tau chapter at Kenyon. I met a lot of the brothers that year, and come rush season, a lot of my good friends rushed, while I chose not to rush Phi Tau immediately. Over time, I saw the incredible things that Phi Tau was doing in the community and how much my friends benefited from being a part of something bigger than themselves, and I wanted to learn more. I talked to Brian Pragacz, one of my good friends who had rushed, about why he’d joined Phi Tau in the first place. He described to me how Phi Tau was a family, and how it was a “fraternity, not a frat.”
One of Phi Tau’s most important documents, the Creed, gives context to this idea of Phi Tau being a “fraternity.” It opens with “Phi Kappa Tau, by admitting me to membership, has conferred upon me a mark of distinction in which I take just pride,” and closes with “I shall try always to discharge the obligation to others which arises from the fact that I am a fraternity man.” The ideas contained herein show that, as Phi Taus, each of us has an obligation to act to improve our campuses and our world in a manner befitting the honor and responsibility that has been bestowed upon us as initiated brothers. As T.J. Sullivan said, once you join a Greek organization, “you are always wearing your letters.” Everything we do represents Phi Tau, and we hold each other accountable to bring to it honor and credit.
But where does this obligation start? It starts with our bonds as brothers. In 2015, the Zeta Kappa chapter of Phi Kappa Tau adopted an official vision statement in order to show non-brothers what our purpose on this campus is. The statement, written by Tanner Marsh at Phi Kappa Tau’s Leadership academy, reads: “The vision of the Zeta Kappa Chapter of Phi Kappa Tau is that its brothers constitute a family: that they support each other’s efforts to improve themselves, Kenyon College, and its surrounding community – such that each brother comes to embody the creed of Phi Kappa Tau with every decision they make.”
The idea that we look out for each other as brothers, and that together we strive to improve the lives of those around us as much as we can, is the idea that attracts so many young men to Greek life. That idea is brotherhood. Phi Kappa Tau is a family. Phi Kappa Tau is a fraternity of men who champion the ideas of strong character and ethical leadership and strive to lead lives of excellence. After all, fraternity carries the definition of “a feeling of friendship and support.”
All that being said, Greek life is not for everybody, but if you’re looking for an organization that strives towards the betterment of its members, and a lifelong commitment to brotherhood, learning, ethical leadership, and exemplary character, Phi Tau may just be for you.
Rush season is upon us, gentlemen, and the brothers of Phi Kappa Tau hope to see you there.
Matthew Christopher ’17 is a Film major from Howard, Ohio.