By Manolis Mar
Fictive kinship refers to a network of social ties or kinship that is neither by blood nor by marriage. It describes interactions that transcend the conventional friendship, relations which are at the core of a fraternal/sororal organisation that functions to craft community. In light of negative outcries against public activity and identity of fraternities and sororities within the UCU community, I’ve set out to better understand their social dynamic. Having had the pleasure to converse with some of their members on the subject to be inspired further, I have been granted the opportunity to share my dialogue through this medium.
The conventional expectation of the public image of a fraternity or sorority causes members to be stereotyped. It is a unanimous concern among the members I have conversed with (with the exception of O.D.D. Luna), that their membership would impede the organic creation of a relationship with a non-member, especially when that affiliation be disclosed on an early stage of the interaction. As a matter of fact, this may very well diminish pride derived from membership with the siblinghood in avoidance of social disapproval, which I consider very disheartening.
Thus, I introduce a vociferous request to challenge this assumption of an imposed social hierarchy, based solely upon the existence of such organisations, and for a better understanding of the relational functionality of a siblinghood.
“Allure is what you make of it; hangouts once a week, twice a week, daily… You find your own place.” (Carolina, O.D.D. Allure)
“Everybody is, above all, their very own person.” (Luc, Disputum Primus Erectus)
Within the context of a siblinghood, communication becomes the lifeblood of interrelationships. Whether the society is advancing towards or successfully realises a transparent interaction, siblings lay themselves bare to each other at their core (be it as pledge siblings, through extended siblinghood or as alumni) in a social reality that promises utter support, respect and understanding, and forges a bond beyond friendship (with initiation as a rite of passage).In the case of Alpha Beta Phi, the siblinghood very well expands into a sense of extended family, particularly thanks to their co-ed nature.
A very important aspect of the togetherness lies in the interplay of individuality and community. Members within the societies underline the diversity they experience among themselves with respect to their individuality, and how all these unique personalities unite under one spirit. Agency is therefore encouraged and celebrated, leading to a collective of a variety of characters which, to the outside eye, appear to be a singular rigid social dynamic. This function materialises in the individual sibling with a reflective mechanism, fostering a sense of confidence, respect and self-worth.
“There’s just this enormous support from everyone, a different kind of closeness.” (Sophie, O.D.D. Allure)
“There’s something beyond friendship that I find in Luna, and not anywhere else.” (Emma, O.D.D. Luna)
The societies gather and unite most at impactful instances, which may occur in a moment of personal need of an individual member, a cultural fraternal/sororal practice, or the call for vertical integration of pledge classes. In all cases, this activates the potential in familial members to re-ignite the passion for their togetherness. A position in the board of a society carries the responsibility and accountability that engages the individual further with the spirit of the institution, in a coordinating fashion. Societies with longer histories (Disputum Primus Erectus, O.H.G. Equites and O.D.D. Allure) enjoy relationships with extended alumni networks that are supportive educationally, career-wise and, most importantly, socially. On the other hand, the relative youth of Alpha Beta Phi allows for a close connection to the founding members and a high flexibility in activity.
“It feels like we are touching on every creative layer in ourselves.” (Job, Alpha Beta Phi)
An overarching feeling that campus fraternal/sororal societies have been experiencing is definitely the evolution in the dynamics amongst each other and within themselves as communities. Whether it is the development of a stronger culture (Alpha Beta Phi), re-invention of a traditional identity (O.H.G. Equites), internationalisation and diversification of contact (O.D.D. Allure), re-establishment of a unified and diverse brotherhood (Disputum Primus Erectus) or bridging stronger relationships between members and alumni (O.D.D. Luna), the societies are advancing their kinship potential to support honest, vibrant and transparent familial communities. This matter also very much transcends into their inter-societal relationships, nuancing expected roles in their exchanges far more than one would initially believe (i.e. mixed borrels, mixed dinners between O.D.D. Allure and O.D.D. Luna pledge classes).
“I cannot believe people seriously tell me: ’you’re actually quite nice’. Yes, we are actually quite nice.” (Joshua, Disputum Primus Erectus)
“This siblinghood is just the most emotionally raw and genuine interaction you can have with someone; you can just feel the love.” (Carlotta, O.D.D. Luna)
We are faced with an opportunity. Remaining blind towards the uniting practice of a fundamentally social institution such as a fraternal/sororal community, based solely upon an assumed machination of their identity, without any substantial knowledge of their societal dynamics, places one into the exact role they are battling. I sincerely believe there is an opportunity to embrace the culture of familial society dynamics in a fashion that is free of traditional stereotyping. Fraternity brothers and sorority sisters are, above all, still very much our equals in terms of their contribution to our social, cultural and academic community and should be respected as such.
“We are kind of like an organised chaos, there’s just this subconscious connection between all of us.” (Morgan and Amanda, Alpha Beta Phi)
“It’s the best of both worlds: getting the perfect balance of campus relationships and a structured social dynamic one can always depend on.” (Jamie, O.D.D. Luna)
I must express my gratitude to: Morgan Furneaux, Amanda Holyoak and Job Systma from Alpha Beta Phi, Carolina Silva and Sophie van Dongen from O.D.D. Allure, Luc Lips and Joshua Bate from Disputum Primus Erectus, Gilian Dresen from O.H.G. Equites and Jamie Vatcher, Emma Van Schie and Carlotta Iccolti from O.D.D Luna, for their contributions to this article’s conception.
Let it be known that this is not meant as a piece of empirical research, rather as a discourse inspired by personal experience and case study by means of interviews.