Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations

A Case Study Exploring the Influence of Fraternity and Sorority Membership on Gender Identity Development

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Meagan Docherty (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Christina Lunceford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Member)


The fraternity and sorority experience has been well-documented in the media, research, and popular culture. Proponents of membership insist upon its positive impact and value, while critics question the continued presence of fraternities and sororities on college campuses. Critical analysis of these organizations is essential to move them forward and ensure their value. There is ample research on membership outcomes such as academic excellence, leadership development, civic engagement, and moral development. However, there is little research about how fraternity and sorority membership influences identity development, specifically gender identity development. The purpose of this case study was to examine the role fraternity and sorority membership plays in shaping the gender identities of members at a Midwestern, public, four-year research institution. The research questions are: a) How does fraternity and sorority membership influence the gender identities of members? b) How do fraternity and sorority members make meaning of their perceptions of and experiences with cultural gender norms? c) How do fraternity and sorority members perform gender? and d) How do fraternities and sororities both reinforce and challenge traditional conceptions of gender? This study was situated in a constructivist research paradigm because the research questions focused on how participants constructed meaning and understood the influence of their fraternity and sorority membership on their gender identity. An embedded single-case study methodology was utilized, using more than one unit of analysis and offering a discussion of themes both within and across cases. The findings of this study support the notion that fraternity and sorority membership has the potential to influence the gender identity development of members. From the data, five major themes emerged to indicate how participants made meaning of their fraternity or sorority membership in relation to their gender identity: a) identity as a fraternity man or sorority woman, b) performance and expression of gender within the community, c) gender performance during member selection processes, d) ways in which traditional conceptions of gender are reinforced, and e) ways in which traditional conceptions of gender are challenged.