This summer marks my fourth as a facilitator for UIFI, a program that empowers young fraternity and sorority leaders to make legitimate change at their institution.
One of the early games played at UIFI leads to a discussion regarding the multitasking expectations of our chapters and leaders. Here is one of many ironies in the philosophical mess that is higher education:
We know a small percentage of a chapter will step up to lead at any one time – We know that our students are over-programmed – We know that there are major issues that our students need to address
Despite “knowing” all of these things, we Fraternity & Sorority Life professionals have done little to clear the way for our students in combating the problems we task them with combating. We communicate that our field is under assault, that all fraternity men and sorority women should be in crisis mode; but our expectations imply that nothing is wrong or do little to help struggling chapters.
Make no mistake chapters on all ends of the spectrum suffer from our current expectations. A chapter of 10 men may have an easier time getting 80% of its members to a service event than a chapter of 200 men, but why are we demanding that 10 men attend a service project together instead of maybe focusing on them having a chapter in two or three years?
When a chapter is placed on suspension they are given specific directions to be in good standing. We don’t expect a chapter working through a serious hazing issue to complete all of their service requirements, so what is the difference between that and a chapter one year away from closure?
If we clear the path, we can offer specialized coaching based on a chapter’s needs, we can focus with our students on addressing one major issue at a time, and we’ll free up plenty of time and frustration on all ends of the student/professional spectrum. Here are a few key policies to integrate into any new standards of excellence (or whatever you call it) process:
First, determine whether or not you want your fraternity and sorority community to be separate both functionally and socially from all other student groups or not. If the requirements to exist as a campus organization are wildly different between Greek-letter and non-Greek-letter organizations, then stop suggesting that the two are equal.
To be a campus organization, a chapter should have to do no more than any other campus organization. If you have underground groups on campus, get on this immediately; your standards are already a joke.
Separate Awards From Assessment
Now that your fraternity and sorority members are treated like all other humans on your campus, distinguish between awards and assessment. The former should be applications chapters submit to win awards that your community has deemed appropriate; the latter should be a criteria you use in advising a chapter to achieve their stated mission.
This is an important step; chapters should understand that these assessments are centered around coaching and growth, not about ranking chapters or closing chapters.
Hierarchy of Needs
A major issue with most assessment programs is that they treat all chapters the same. Unless a chapter is on some sort of suspension, they are held to the same standards whether they are ten members or two hundred members, whether they have a budget surplus of $40,000 or a deficit of $5,000.
What are the things that most regularly correlate with a closure? Low membership, debt and harm reduction. If a chapter is struggling in any of these areas, all attention should be turned to that area of need until it is addressed; only then should we begin to worry about a chapter’s involvement in other student organizations or how many hours each of the men contribute to the community.
We should not need a chapter to be suspended to put it on a specialized support program. A chapter that has it’s stuff together should focus on increasing its presence and brand, standardizing its philanthropy event and winning intramural championships. A chapter of 10 needs to learn how to make ambitious friends.
Specialize And Empower
We have leveled the playing field, we’ve disassociated our coaching tips from a community’s award system, and we’ve tailored our advising to a chapters need in that moment. Why not give our chapters a bigger share of the pie?
These are groups of adults, they can develop their own goals. We should collect these goals and objectives at the start of each year, monitor the chapter’s progress throughout the year, and then recap and advise moving in to the following year. If a chapter wants to host a series of conversations regarding race in fraternity and sorority life, we should help them achieve that.
Every group must pick something, and so we’ll get a variety of student-driven content to replace our requirements that chapters send 80% of their membership to watch one of our speaker friends talk in a language that few students care to understand.
To put it simply, an assessment program should be about more than standards. It should be driven by the students, tailored to each individual chapter, and designed to maximize a professional’s ability to advise his or her chapter(s).
If the census can be reduced to 10 questions, our assessment programs can surely be less about out-programming hazing and more about creating space for our student leaders to focus on and eliminate it.