Community Service Is Not A Self-Help Technique: Stop Tracking Hours

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Just serving my community. . .

 

“This seems like a lot more stuff for members to do than last year,” stated the person attached to the raised hand. “We are not going to lower our standards,” said the leader of the group, after just having announced new expectations of membership, including a doubling of the number of required service hours. 

We alumni and Greek Life professionals often remind students that service and philanthropy are not simply tools to cover up substance abuse and hazing. We tell them that no number of service hours or dollars raised will ever fill the void left when a young man or woman dies due to the insecurities of his or her lifelong friends.

Pay attention to the next year-end-summary press release from your favorite fraternity or umbrella organization. There is a strong chance that the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) and National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the managers of historically white fraternity’s & sorority’s public relations efforts, will reference the number of hours of service dedicated to the community and the number of dollars given to nonprofits in their next defense of fraternity and sorority.

It’s a wild hypocrisy, one that is often supplemented by the number of students “trained”/”educated,” the number of students living in our non-profit housing or the amount of money we spend on hazing prevention. Amazingly, no number seems large enough to challenge the very public and apparently growing assumption that we are irrelevant and past our prime. Go figure, the advice we offer to our students applies equally to us.

So, to put all of this simply: We need to stop tracking students’ community service hours as if they are trying to get an unfortunate arrest expunged from their record. 

Community service has little to do with an organization being a non-profit, and it has little to do with the number of hours spent working on behalf of a non profit. It is not a means to make a bad person a better person, and it often does little to shift a person’s cultural outlook. If anything, it further drives a wedge between someone of privilege and their community when we are given the impression that 10-30 hours a year spent with people less fortunate than ourselves makes us stewards of our community.

Had I stopped one sexual assault in college I’d consider that a greater benefit to the future of fraternities and sororities AND to my community than the vast majority of my hysterically over-achieving 300+ hours of service.

Had I once raised my voice to prevent one of my new lifelong friends from being humiliated by other insecure men or women, I would have done more for my community than any of those hours.

We are teaching college students that community service is a benefit to them. This is in an attempt to make the idea of serving palatable, because much like managed recruitment, it is unnatural, awkward, and very often has little to do with connecting to a community and very much to do with a photo-op, a time card, and a trophy.

If you want to focus on being a service to your community, here are some ways for your chapter to be a benefit. Hell, I say boycott whatever “hours” rules your school or fraternity/sorority have put in place and simply focus on your members making good decisions in trying times.

If you, as a social friendship club, decide to extend that friendship to non-members, you are building your community. If you decide to support a smaller student organization achieve their mission, you are a service to your community.

If you prevent predatory behavior then you are most certainly a service to your community. If you recruit a group of bright eyed men or women and you nurture them to improve their self-esteem, you are doing a service to your community.

If you are an alumnus who offers genuine advice and support to student members as you would your own child or employee, you are doing a service to your community. If you volunteer as a facilitator, you are a service to your community.

What does the number of hours dedicated to any of those causes matter? I hear Greek Life professionals wonder how to get a more accurate reporting of hours, why waste so much time on such a useless statistic?

Here’s the catch, though: You must not recruit fools and scumbags. 

In fact, those who are ethical people give naturally to our communities in their daily lives. The greatest service you can offer is being a friend, especially in times of injustice or need. That is why fraternities and sororities are naturally important – friendship is essential to a vibrant, ethical, positive community.

I’m not suggesting you get rid of doing service together as a brotherhood or sisterhood; I’m simply requesting that you worry less about the hours and focus more on the relationships. If anything, track the number of positive relationships you build in a year and you’ll begin to notice the good that has come of them.