Book Review: Brothers and Sisters: Diversity in College Fraternities and Sororities
Christine Girouard, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The college environment provides students an arena for some of the most transformative years of personal growth. Inside and outside the classroom, students are exposed to new ideas, cultures, experiences, and relationships. As professionals in higher education, we provide an environment that encourages students in a multitude of ways. Understanding the needs and current experiences of an ever-changing student population is a constant challenge. It is challenging to meet the diversity of student needs given the broad cross-section of cultural histories, sexual orientations, religious preferences, and abilities. It is essential that we as professionals become knowledgeable about students’ developmental needs, experiences, and the environments where student sub-populations will best excel. Brothers and Sisters: Diversity in College Fraternities and Sororities (Torbenson & Parks, 2009) parallels these ideas as it provides a historical overview and understanding of some Black, Latino/a, Asian, Native American, Multicultural, GLBT and religious fraternal organizations.
Brothers and Sisters is not only informative, but eye-opening to the history and diversity that lies within the fraternity and sorority community. No matter the type of organization, each is dedicated to the betterment of their members, community enhancement, leadership development, and the creation of a family centered environment. The first chapter of this book is especially important and educational for members of the higher education community who do not have a direct connection with fraternity and sorority life, as it explains the origins of early fraternal organizations as student organizations and the several spurts of growth experienced by the fraternity and sorority community. The chapter also shows readers the important role fraternities and sororities have played in the history of higher education and the evolution of student involvement.
The remaining chapters examine the historical perceptions, challenges, and strengths of organizations founded to serve minority students. Not only does this information provide the reader an opportunity to expose him or herself to these organizations, but the ability to discern unique features and characteristics. Originally, the fraternal community prohibited anyone from an underrepresented racial, ethnic, or religious background to join. As a result, underrepresented students rallied around common identities. While some argue historically White fraternities and sororities have struggled to diversify, today’s fraternity and sorority communities are more eclectic in membership and offer a greater diversity of experience, which is surely a measure of societal growth and change. As college campuses have become more diverse, the fraternity and sorority community has become more inclusive of multicultural organizations with specific needs and desired outcomes for their members.
Brothers and Sisters focuses on various subsections of the fraternal community. In reviewing each chapter, the reader is able to see the similarities and distinct differences among the organizations. Cultural fraternal organizations provide an environment that combats the isolation, heterosexism, and racism unfortunately experienced by many students and creates a safe space where students can embrace certain cultural values, traditions, and history. The book also provides the reader not only the traditional perceptions of these organizations, but strategies to help cultural organizations feel welcomed and part of a larger institutional community. In the fourth chapter, Susana Munoz and Juan Guardia suggest that the best way to do this is to speak with the students and ask questions about their history, experiences, and organization. They suggest it is important to provide adequate training and education for those individuals who work closely with the organization itself so students receive the resources they need to thrive (Torbenson & Parks, 2009).
The fabric of fraternity and sorority life has changed with time, as organizations are constantly being added and altered in an attempt to provide a more inclusive environment. This will continue to be true as time passes. Brothers and Sisters is a thought-provoking and educational resource for students and the higher education community to learn how fraternal organizations are similar and at the same time distinct. It also leads the reader to reflect on what changes or growth will take place in the future and identifies the areas in which more information is necessary.
Brothers and Sisters is an easy book to read and understand whether you have worked with fraternities and sororities or have never been a member of a fraternity or sorority. The history and data included in each chapter is substantial, compelling the reader to reflect upon the diversity in the brotherhood and sisterhood of today’s college campus.
Torbenson, C., & Parks, G. (Eds.). (2009). Brothers and Sisters: Diversity in college fraternities and sororities.
Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.