Fraternity Group Pledges Improved Lobbying Strategy

Facing the departure of some members, along with a new set of challenges affecting the world of fraternities, the North-American Interfraternity Conference is staying strong, emphasizing that it plans to improve its public relations and advocacy approaches, with a goal of building trust.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) wants to turn over a new leaf.

Last week the association announced it passed a set of landmark reforms designed to boost standards and improve the fraternity experience for both schools and students. Its strategy includes creating advocacy programs focused on higher-education partnerships and building a massive public relations campaign to strengthen “the fraternity brand.”

“These actions are the product of a significant collaborative effort between fraternities and our higher education partners,” interim NIC President and CEO Jud Horras said in a news release. “We are appreciative of the commitment NIC members have made to invest in a stronger, more robust trade association that is prepared to serve the needs of the 21st-century fraternity and education community.”

The reforms, which also include a promise to build a new database for member organizations, come at a time when NIC is facing major challenges from both its members and society at large. Last month the association dropped its support for the Safe Campus Act, a bill it had heavily lobbied for earlier this year but that had alarmed victims-advocacy and civil rights groups because it would prevent universities from investigating cases of sexual assault until the victim reported the crime to the police.

A major sorority trade group, the National Panhellenic Conference, also backed away from the bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Matt Salmon (AZ), Pete Sessions (TX), and Kay Granger (TX).

The controversy around the bill was one of the reasons that Lambda Chi Alpha decided to resign from NIC in October. A member of NIC for more than a century, the fraternity left over what Board Chairman Fletcher McElreath said were “counterproductive tactics that we believe are antithetical to our values.”

The Huffington Post recently noted that NIC had published a white paper that highlighted these issues and others that fraternities confront, such as social media platforms that it characterized as “glorifying ‘frat’ culture.”

“We recognize that the problems fraternities face today cannot be blamed on the performance of the NIC,” the white paper states. “We acknowledge that these problems are often caused by some of our members’ inability to self-govern and adhere to basic membership expectations.”

In comments to New York magazine, Ross Bolen, vice president of media for the fraternity culture website Total Frat Move (TFM), suggested that the rise of social media could create long-term troubles for the organization.

Ultimately, NIC’s big challenge is one of trust. In its press release, NIC emphasized the goal of the organization’s reforms is to “instill trust and confidence in fraternities.”

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at the University of Florida. (Artie White/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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