The Sophomore President Syndrome

Tyler Zach

Do young Greek presidents add to the retention problem?

I found myself in the middle of a presidential roundtable discussion in San Antonio, Texas. The event was Conclave, SigEp’s bi-annual national conference. The question we were trying to answer was, “Why are our chapters primarily made up of underclassmen?” Retention of older members was a serious problem across the board. As we talked and debated, we discovered a very unique observation. Well over half of the chapter presidents in the room were sophomores. After this observation, things started to click.

Men have a tremendous need for respect. Most men also have a desire to look up to someone – to follow a strong figure of authority. And why would a junior or senior stick around to follow someone two years younger than himself? How can you submit to a leader who hasn’t really been around that much compared to the rest of the chapter? When a sophomore starts delegating responsibilities to upperclassmen, a weird, awkward atmosphere follows.

So why do we elect younger guys into office?

I don’t think we do it on purpose. There are two reasons that I’ve thought of, but perhaps there are more. The first thing that comes to mind is that a chapter with very few upperclassmen means that there are very few upperclassmen voters. Since friends typically vote for the friends they trust, the underclassmen have a huge advantage during election time because they are in the majority.

Secondly, each year there’s always a super-sophomore standout. Perhaps he was the new member class leader who was a shining star at everything he did – raising money for the chapter, accomplishing a big project or exerting good communication skills. Whatever he did, he did it well. But the problem with the shining star is that no one knows his weaknesses yet. He’s only been around for a year! But, more often than not, the chapter sees his successes and takes the risk of going with him rather than an older guy who lacks momentum.

The younger star may be trying to gain acceptance or a sense of worth during his first year in the chapter and therefore works above and beyond his normal capacity. Or, maybe he actually is a consistent, reliable, hard working leader. Nevertheless, electing a younger guy does have consequences in the House. I think that you’ll find that fraternities and sororities with older, more experienced leaders will have a better retention rate than the others. But who am I to make such a bold statement? Why don’t you give us your thoughts and leave a comment?

Does your chapter have a retention problem? Do you have younger leaders in power? Is it a problem? Not a problem? Do your underclassmen leaders tend to draw more respect than the upperclassmen? Let’s continue to dialogue about this problem.

Tyler Zach is an alum of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at the University of Nebraska-Omaha – where he earned a degree in Management Information Systems. Tyler is currently on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ in Omaha, NE.

3 Responses to “The Sophomore President Syndrome”

  1. There could be more at work than just the ego of not wanting to follow a younger guy.

    After all that happens all of the time in the work place.

    to start you have to look at how large were previous pledge classes? U. S. Universities have a normal attrition rate of around 25% of students dropping out, transferrring etc. while the rate is normally lower when they are involved in the Greek system it is still noticeable.

    if you have a pledge class of say 15 students and 25% wound up dropping out for various reasons, that will leave just 11 of that class.
    that is attrition, but you also find that as students progress in their studies, some reach a point that they need to focus and spend more time on their studies and cut out some of their activities, sadly, the fraternity being one of them.
    I have seen guys quit the fraternity because they got engaged, or married and to keep peace they drifted away from the frat.

    One of the things that keeps the older students interested is to always keep them involved asking for their input, maybe on what mistakes they have seen made while there, things they had wished the fraternity would do that were never done etc.

    The emphasis also has to be on what the fraternity will do for them in the future, if the image is of just partying, people eventually mature past that stage and lose interest.

    just some ideas.

    Bonner Lovern
    Texas Kappa – SigEp

  2. I think every chapter in every organization has retention problems. It’s just the nature of the beast. I come from a traditional chapter so take this for what it’s worth but we didn’t let our new members run for E-Board positions. In our chapter, you are only allowed to run for a position after you’ve been in the fraternity a full year. It has worked well for us. Maybe this is an oversimplified answer to this dilemma but my chapter only allows Seniors to run for President. It solves the problem of younger members not commanding the respect of older members b/c we don’t put them in positions where they need to command the respect of older members. We allowed them to learn and observe before taking on the task of being a leader.

  3. I agree with Brother Lovern. To assume that it is because a person is younger than the older, and the older brothers will not listen to the less seasoned is not an entirely correct assertion. For my chapter, Nevada Alpha, we were a relatively young chapter. We actually happen to be celebrating our 10 years of holding a charter on April 12th. We simply didn’t have the numbers of those who are older to compete with those that are younger to fill positions. Many got preoccupied with their studies, needing to complete those final classes before graduation. Maybe they were already burnt out from holding an executive position. By the time I was a junior I had founded the VP Communications position and held it for two terms. I still had the gusto to run for President twice for the chapter, but as fortune would have it, destiny had other plans for me. Others seemed to find new places to direct their energies, such as living out of the house and hanging out there rather than going to the house to hang out with the guys. Others just weren’t encouraged to remain in an active capacity as they are when they are going through their respecitive challenges (Coming from a Balanced Man Chapter perspective). When those who are younger see that they have to come around to get through ritual and be a part of the chapter on an active level, they are more active. But, when they get older, not as much is required of them; they see that and slow their activity within the chapter. I would suggest giving those older the opportunity to hold Standards Board positions, make them still be a part of a committee or put them in charge of a philanthropy project. If given the choice, after two or so years of being very active with the chapter, those who are older will find a way to take their energy elsewhere. Keep them active and create buy-in into the organization. The chapter will give them much more than they can give the chapter over the course of their undergraduate experience. They just have to remain involved for them to continue to realize the potential that the chapter reveals to them.

    Will Hull
    NV Alpha ’03
    Technology Chair of the SigEp Feds
    Washington, DC Area Alumni Group

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