The University of Michigan’s Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity chapter recently made news as the chapter entered a legal dispute with the national chapter for admitting women and gender non-binary persons into the organization. The national branch alleges that this addition causes harm to the trademark of the organization, including its image, identity, and goodwill. For all intents and purposes, fraternities on college campuses are groups of people who wish to bond over social gatherings like parties, tailgates, and the like. After college, the fraternities serve as a recognition net for alumni, allowing members from various generations to connect over their mutual experiences in the fraternity. By inducting new members, the Michigan chapter aims to side with progressive ideals of inclusion and disbarring antiquated ideals of gender norms, while the national chapter wishes to instill them.
Inclusion of women and gender non-binary persons into the organization that is historically male can seem like it is undermining the history of the fraternity, but in reality it is redefining the brand and values of the fraternity in a modern day context. In the 1960’s, fraternities nationwide were experiencing similar overhaul as more people of color were joining the historically white organizations. Over the years, it became less and less acceptable for fraternities to outright discriminate against men of color, but over time and with more inclusion, the fraternities were able to grow to be more accepting of people of color as members. Because race is an identity factor, and fraternities were (for the most part) able to overcome it as a factor for acceptance into the organization, the same can be argued for identity-based gendering of applicants. If fraternities were able to change their inclusion based on identity, then they can do it once more, only this time towards gender.
The national chapter filed an injunction on the basis that the Michigan chapter is besmirching the national fraternity by not living up to its standards and causes harm to its trademark. They claim that the Michigan’s chapters response is “inflammatory, unfounded, and legally meritless.” However, inclusion of women and gender non-binary persons does exactly the opposite of that for the chapter, as it is an opportunity for the chapter to rebrand in a more progressive direction. While the national chapter views the change as an attack on the core of the male-dominated organization, it invites non-males to become a part of the future of the organization. This will help with making gender-based decisions for the fraternity’s events. Parties have the opportunity to be run while taking into account the desires of not just men, alumni can have inter-gender connections rather than relying on male-to-male connection. Fraternities nationwide have been held under a great spotlight due to sexual misconduct and gender-based incidents, so by showing initiative and working to de-gender the fraternity, the Michigan chapter can have the opportunity to critically analyze the negative output of fraternity life and improve them with inclusive action.
In short, the national chapter is infuriated that the Michigan chapter is attempting to redefine its set-in-stone vision for an all-male society. But the Michigan chapter is looking past that, seeing a fraternity for what it is meant to be, a group of people sharing common interests regardless of sex or gender.