Phi Delta Theta combats negative stereotype

By Kelsey Kimbler - For The Register-Herald

OXFORD – Fraternity Phi Delta Theta’s Kleberg Emerging Leader’s Institute brought 1,000 fraternity brothers to Miami University to learn about leadership and responsibility. The recent conference focused on the positive aspects of Greek Life and how to combat the negative stereotype it so often receives.

Phi Delta Theta was founded on Miami University’s campus back in 1848. The ideas behind the fraternity were three different pillars the founders (“The Immortal Six”) thought were necessary to brotherhood: friendship, sound learning, and rectitude.

This conference has changed names a few times over the years, but its most recent incarnation is named after a brother who donated money to keep the institute running and successful. Clay Coleman, Director of Education with Phi Delta Theta, noted that the fraternity “wouldn’t operate well unless our volunteers stepped up and helped us,” — which they seem to do happily.

Dylan Berg, Leadership Programming Coordinator with Phi Delta Theta, said the conference is meant to “provide our up and coming leaders, our freshman and sophomores, with some of the nuts and bolts of leadership that everyone needs to be successful.” It is a “learning laboratory” meant to teach the brothers key skills to succeed in their future.

Coleman explained, “We have three pillars we focus on. The first pillar is purpose — what is your purpose as a young man and how are you realizing that through the fraternity experience. Second is networking — how do we use our networking to network with our 12,000 undergraduates and 175,000 alumni? How do we leverage those networks to help us be the best versions of ourselves? Finally we have leadership — how do we be purposeful leaders? How do we be engaging and really step up? We really pride ourselves at Phi Delta Theta for being the premier fraternity leadership organization in the country.”

They live up to their own hype. The Kleberg conference is the largest three-day event in the fraternity industry which has as many participants as Phi Delta Theta boasts.

When the conference started in 1987, it was called the Leadership College. The idea behind the conference has always been to find commonality within all 180 chapters of the fraternity, to connect the fractions with the greater sense of brotherhood. Seeing the headquarters and where the founders invented the fraternity builds a feeling of community within the young members.

Every chapter is required to send four members to the conference, but they can send whomever they want.

These attendees stay on campus during the conference and they are busy from early morning to late at night. The idea is to keep them busy so they have no time to get into trouble – the conference is a “dry” one, no alcohol allowed.

This prohibition is one the fraternity values. The fraternity is very aware of the negative reputation Greek Life has, and members are looking for ways to both counteract that opinion and prevent members from doing anything which adds to it.

Coleman added, “We’re no different from any other organization, and there are negative issues that happen. That is a threat not only to Phi Delta Theta, but to Greek life as a whole. We must be prudent to address those issues and get to the core. We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of addressing issues and acting swiftly.”

It is for that reason they were one of the first fraternities to participate in having a dry house – meaning, there is no alcohol allowed in their fraternity houses. This and a strict “no hazing” policy allows students like Charlie Block to join the fraternity. Block is a Phi Delt at the University of Arizona in Tucson and he helped build that Chapter up from the bottom. Block also suffers from a traumatic brain injury. He said, “I wanted a house that would foster a safe environment for myself.”

Coleman commented on the decision to go alcohol free in 1997. “We’re not just selling a fun environment filled with booze, we’re selling leadership and engagement.”

Block added, “It’s hard to combat the negative stereotypes that Greek life is faced with today.” Yet, for Phi Delta Theta that is one of their main priorities as a fraternity.

Berg pointed out, while there are negative aspects to Greek Life, there are also quite a few positives. “When a fraternity is done right, there is no place on a college campus where a young man can learn how to work with others, how to run their own non-profit organization, how to work with people ranging from toddlers and young children to alumni who are in the eighties or nineties,” he said. “They get to learn how to be the person they want to be in the future. With Phi Delta Theta, it gives you so much ability to look at who you want to be, and it gives you the network to make those things happen.”

By Kelsey Kimbler

For The Register-Herald