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Mythic Leadership: Atlas, The Titan Who Carries The Heavens

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There are few categories of mythic gods in Greek Lore. Many of the most popular gods and goddesses are known as the Olympians, and they include Poseidon and Athena (which served as the lead characters in the first Mythic Leadership entry).

Preceding the Olympians were the Titans, and one of the most famous Titans (particularly among libertarians) is Atlas. Most of the Olympians were born from Titan gods, and the story of Atlas starts with a great war between the two. I will save the story of the Titans versus the Olympians for another post, there are plenty of lessons there, but what is important to know is that the Olympians (lead by Zeus) won the war, that Atlas was eventually the leader of the losing Titans, and that he was the most severely punished of the Titan gods. 

His penalty was to bear the weight of the heavens, and so most depictions of Atlas are that of a strong man painfully bearing the weight of the Earth.

As he was the holder of the Heavens, Atlas was positioned at the “end” of the Earth as far as the Greeks were aware, so very few mythical heroes ever encounter Atlas. The tales of these heroes shine additional light on the lesson behind Atlas.

Hercules

Atlas’ first encounter was with the famous Hercules, who was required to gather apples from a garden tended by the daughters of Atlas and guarded by a fierce dragon. 

Hercules convinced Atlas to gather the apples, to avoid the suspicion of the dragon, and offered to bear the weight of the Heavens while Atlas fetched the fruit as payment. Atlas agreed, but secretly intended to use the apples himself to win his freedom from his burden and to leave Hercules bearing the weight of the world. 

Having figured this out, Hercules agreed to hold the Heavens, but asked that Atlas temporarily take his place so that Hercules could adjust to a more comfortable position. Once the weight of the world was back on Atlas’ shoulders, Hercules ran with the apples, never to be seen again. 

Perseus

Perseus is the only other hero to visit Atlas, and he asked the Titan for some hospitality while passing on his journey. Atlas feared that he would again be tricked and refused. 

Spurned, Perseus is said to have showed the head of Medusa (that chick with snakes for hair) to Atlas, who was turned to stone and now sits forever petrified as the mountain range in North Africa which bears his name.

Takeaways – Mythic Leadership

Drawn By Me . . . NEAT

The story of Atlas is an extension of a recurring theme among the Titan gods – paranoia and conspiracies. The war between the Olympians and Titans was born out of a paranoia that the king of the Titans – Cronus –  would be overthrown by one of his children (which he had done to his own father). In an attempt to trap his children so that they wouldn’t attack him, his wife protected Zeus and conspired with him to save her children – thereby making the prophecy come true.

Atlas’ interactions with Hercules and Perseus continue this theme of sinister schemes resulting in the downfall of the schemer. Atlas is repeatedly punished for his missteps, each of which born out of a desperation for freedom from continued punishment.

Moral: Relying on schemes, tricks, or technicalities is an easy way to become a victim of that same setup – even if you perceive yourself to be an unfortunate victim. Leaders can often become so consumed with that which threatens their success or their own pain that they mistake opportunities for threats. 

Had Atlas honestly assisted Hercules or Perseus they may have returned the favor and helped him devise a way to permanently rid himself of the burden of the Heavens. Instead, his tactics drew resentment and his tragedy worsened. (Many of the 10 Commandments of Ethical Leadership are focused on minimizing resentment). 

Additional Thoughts: In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the Titan is pitied as an attempted leader forced to carry the weight of the world due to his ability. After all, Atlas was not the reason for the war between the Titans and the Olympians (that would be Cronus), he simply took up a position of leadership with the losing side. 

A famous exchange from that book (one of those. . . “oh neat, that’s the title of the book…” moments):

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

To shrug.” 

Atlas Shrugged

We often reselect competent student leaders to lead our initiatives. We often expect the world of fraternity/sorority chapters for little in exchange. As often as we tell a Chapter President to be conscious of his time and workload, we advisers and fraternity/sorority professionals must make sure we are not taking advantage of our students’ desires for growth, attention, or a recommendation.

At one point in college I was a Student Ambassador (campus tours), Chapter President, Executive Director of Greenfeather, and a Manager at the recreation center. I had twice overslept before a morning shift at the recreation center and I remember speaking with my then-boss about my workload. (Sidebar: I am VERY thankful to have had her as a boss to learn from)

She helped me feel comfortable stepping down so that I wouldn’t have to run morning shifts, and convinced me that I don’t need to be at the apex of everything I do – especially if I am not passionate about it. 

You are not raw material to be molded into the perfect tool for another person – you are a human being. Accept your limits, and try not to focus on more than three or four different tasks/roles at a time. The weight will eventually be too much to bear. If that is something your adviser, boss or leader doesn’t understand, then you might want to make the case for new leadership.


What are your thoughts from the story of Atlas? What are some additional lessons not mentioned here? Which story would you like to see in the next installment of Mythic Leadership? Leave a note in the comments below or tweet to @FraternityNik

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A “Higher Standard” Is A Personal Commitment. (Why Fraternities Are Leaving WVU)

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Different people have different standards, sure, but the world’s obsession with holding some people to a higher standard than others is regressive and causes tension in society. It leads to what young ones call “cancel culture,” and it basically means that anyone who disagrees with you can be “cancelled.”

Let’s build up this argument bit by bit. First, the common definition of a Standard. 

Standard: (1) (n.) something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.

Dictionary.com

A standard is consensual and applies equally across the board. Society has attempted to establish common standards since the dawn of civilization. The Ten Commandments, The Bill of Rights, and Kouze’s & Posner’s Five Exemplary Practices of Leadership are what we would consider attempts at standardization. They are broad, and they are generally considered valuable to society and at the individual level.

The 1st Amendment

The freedom of speech, religion, expression and association are inalienable (meaning they are inseparable from your human existence) rights held by each individual. That goes to say that each individual is allowed to adopt their own belief system so long as it does not infringe on the standard that everyone else is entitled to that same right.

Social tension arises when a person’s belief system is not applied equally across the board. We see this in politics all the time:

We have one standard of a member of our own political party or someone who speaks in favor of our political party and a different standard for members of other political parties or who position themselves as our opponents.

The two major political parties have impossibly positioned themselves opposite of one another on every fathomable “issue.” The only “standard” is to beat the opponent – which is why a Democrat in Indiana can get re-elected by bragging that he votes with Trump 62% of the time, but a Democrat in California would be disowned for such commentary – that lack of national identity applies to the Republicans as well. (see: House Liberty Caucus)

We have one standard for a singer/rapper we like and a different standard for a singer/songwriter we see as our fave’s rival or enemy. We have one standard for the CEO of Apple and an entirely different standard for the CEO of Comcast. The list goes on and on. 

What this variation in the application of our standards does is generate resentment. Some people don’t understand why we only say “Black Lives Matter” or “Believe Women” because they want the standards to be uniform. Some people don’t understand why we say “All Lives Matter” or “Believe Everyone” because they believe that some are afforded more “passes” than others and that the standards should be uniform. 

At the end of the day, the majority on either side are arguing in favor the same exact thing, but their alignment with different parties requires that we find a way to disagree even when we are vying for a common answer to the same question: Why do we give passes to some people and hold others brutally accountable?

Let’s pivot to fraternities. 

Each fraternity may have its own standards and expectations. One fraternity may wish to grow to the largest possible size – another to achieve the highest possible grades – another to volunteer more than the others – etc.

To then apply one person’s, or a single group of peoples’, standards on the whole of a fraternity community should be a cause for concern because it limits the ability of those people to associate as they wish. That is not to suggest that there be no rules related to fraternity chapters, but why do those rules need to be different than any other student organization?

Wouldn’t every student organization benefit from “alcohol-free” programming?

If not (take a beer-tasting club, for example), then why hold some students and organizations to different standards at the university level where a common code of conduct is meant to apply to all students? Discriminate in which students you accept to your university – not how your staff treats them once they are enrolled. (discriminate meaning “choose” within the boundaries of the law. . .)

A lawsuit was recently settled between “Young Americans for Liberty at UC Berkeley” and the school. The club was denied recognition because its mission was determined to be too similar to that of other organizations at the institution. When threatened with a lawsuit the University leadership chose to change its policy to be neutral toward the mission statements of student organizations.

Leaders in the fraternity and sorority space can learn something from this outcome – as the same issue recently presented itself among organizations with Greek-letter names at WVU [2]. It should not be difficult to understand why some fraternities established an independent IFC at WVU (read: “not difficult to understand” does not mean you must agree with it).

Many organizational leaders were unconvinced that deferring recruitment to the spring term was fit to be a universal standard and some fraternities severed formal ties with the University as a result of this and other differences of opinion. It was considered too technical or targeted to be broadly enforced. After all, deferred recruitment imposed by a university administrator could be interpreted as an admission that fraternities are detrimental to the development of a student and that literally any other club is not.

Worse for those who fear underground fraternities: What if students became creative with the way they established fraternities? What if a “German Club” operates exactly like a fraternity in secret, but isn’t held to any of the standards of the IFC? There would be an “underground fraternity” with recognition by a school (unless they are caught or someone gets hurt).

The issue is not that fraternity members wish to be regressive heathens who kill their own members. The issue is that some students are held to different standards than others, that many are aware of it, that they are pushing against those policies, and that we are responding by disparaging people as if they were simply regressive heathens determined to kill their own members.

That is why I advocate in favor of a simpler set of standards and greater personal attention to fraternity chapters. [3]

This doesn’t only apply to college communities; it applies to national organizations (from which several chapters have disaffiliated over the past year or two) and it applies to umbrella organizations (several fraternities have left the NIC over the years, for example).

In each of those cases, the chapters or fraternities are disparaged by the “pro-recognition” professionals in the field, because we don’t actually care about standards, we just want our way of thinking, talking and being to win over whatever puts itself into opposition. (see: Higher Ed professional Facebook group’s response to SigEp at U.Chicago’s disaffiliation or the social media reaction to Kappa Sigma’s national video which *GASP* didn’t include men doing community service).

I regularly hear fraternity/sorority professionals wax on at association meetings that we aren’t given the respect, freedom, or funding that we deserve. . . Well, how can we expect that level of respect when we deny it to our student members?


Revised 10/2018 – Text referring to the implementation of a deferred recruitment process at WVU and The University of Pittsburgh and their exclusive connection to any one professional were removed as they inaccurately conflated correlation with causation. Enjoy!

There Is No Wrong Way To Eat A KitKat

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“Can’t Even” culture is silly, but one of the silliest things I see on social media is people complaining about how other people eat certain foods. Who cares if you pour the cereal or the milk first – do you and leave everyone else alone. 

It is one thing to expect someone to chew quietly, keep the table clean, and refrain from belching around guests, but some of us “literally freak out” and “literally cannot even” after seeing something like the following picture:

Stop huffing and puffing: There are many ways to eat a KitKat, and even if the above image does not depict the best way to make the most of your KitKat bar, a KitKat is marketed as a single “bar.”

“…Break me off a piece of that KitKat bar”

KitKat jingle

The first part of that quote, along with the technical design of a KitKat result in the common understanding that a KitKat is meant to be broken into 4 separate pieces (or 8 if you have a King Size. . . or 2 if you have a Halloween/snack size)  which are then individually consumed.

Still, even the method of eating those individual pieces is up for debate. Take for example the Kourtney Kardashian Method (KKM – with over 3 million views. . . seriously where are people from?):

I tried the KKM, which inspired this post, and I must admit that doing so changed my ways. The candy is more enjoyable, lasts longer, and the consumer has an opportunity to appreciate each of the variety of flavors and textures of a KitKat bar.

At the end of the day; though, a KitKat is simply made to be eaten, and consuming a KitKat bar means that it is fulfilling its destiny.

I might raise an issue if someone throws away a perfectly good KitKat bar. They are a wonderful candy and, as far as I recall,  one of the few made without high fructose corn syrup (give me that real sugar, baby!). As long as someone is eating it; however, I am not going to raise a fuss. Different people enjoy KitKats in different ways. 

Fraternities too have an ultimate destiny, and that is to serve as a family away from home for college students. They do and have always done things families do for family members: Keep them accountable, build them up, help them launch their future, and support them through tough times. 

That sounds like a valuable experience on its own, especially for those students without supportive families behind them – so why do we obsess over every minute detail regarding how that family is built? Why do we encourage that fraternities become expensive programming bodies with hired professionals and a laundry list of expectations and functions to complete throughout the year. What family operates in such a robotic, impersonal way?

While working as a Director of Fraternity Growth I would often pitch to potential campus partners that our organization was different – and it is. The vast majority of campus professionals I worked with would emphasize the need for something different at their school, and would warn us that they needed a fraternity that would shock the system.

In almost every case; however, the chapter was expected to do the exact same things as every other chapter on campus immediately after establishment. When my partners said “different,” what they really meant was a fraternity chapter that would do everything asked of them without question to show the other chapters how to obey the checklist.

At this school you are not a fraternity if you don’t participate in the lip sync. At this school you are not a fraternity if you don’t have a house. At this school you are not a fraternity if you don’t at least try to win all of the trophies we offer. . . 

Well, what about if students don’t care about those things? By the looks of it, 70% or more of students at most college campuses don’t care about those things. How do we appeal to them? Do we make the lists more complex? Do we further limit and intensify the definition of what specific things need to be completed in order to be a “fraternity”? Would eating KitKats be more enjoyable if we demanded that everyone apply the KKM?

Our laser focus on getting the checklist of leadership just right, zero tolerance, prevents chapters from focusing on things which would allow their members to stand out to find people who would like a family away from home, but are uninterested in vying for trophies and P.R. stunts.

It is a shame that I would be turned down from setting up a chapter at a school because a few chapters were “struggling,” and that the only way for those struggling chapters to be considered successful is if they grew and did everything all of the other chapters were doing.

Many still fail, succumb to debt, or take years to get to where we professionals want them to get, but in reality they could just simplify their expectations, grow to a size they are comfortable with, and be each other’s family.

Within 3 years we forget who won which award, how many hours a chapter completed, what type of event they did, what the banner they hung from their house said or the names of a majority of their members. We encourage students to meet all of the fraternities because the only thing we allow to be different about them is their personalities – everything else is very often the same. 

The “right” way to do fraternity (according to most professionals, speakers and umbrella organizations) is repetitive, forgettable, and it distracts students from being creative with their fraternity/sorority experience.

It would be wonderful if we would allow more students to enjoy their KitKats fraternity experience in a way which suits their passion. Not everyone should be required to subscribe to the KKM checklist leadership in order to eat their KitKat have a family away from home.

4 Questions For The North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC)

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No one would suggest that I am the first or most relevant person to voice concerns with the NIC, its policies, or its practices, but perhaps I am one of the few to consistently, publicly question the organization and to push for principle-based alternatives. Naturally, my suggestions (from opening the NIC to women’s organizations [1], to suggesting that better action could be taken to prevent hazing [2]) occasionally cause friction with those who disagree.

After this year’s NIC meeting, when the members passed a resolution banning hard-alcohol in chapter facilities [3], I sent four questions to an NIC representative after we discussed my feeling comfortable with sharing any thoughts or questions before writing about them on the blog.

It has been a month with no response, and so now seems like the right time to encourage any and all of you with similar curiosities (even for reasons with which I have little interest in) to respectfully reach out via Facebook, Twitter, Email, whatever, and politely ask any or all of the questions below:

  1. Has there been any discussion or plans to share proposals being discussed/voted on at member meetings on the nicindy.org website or through member organizations?
  2. Do you know of any fraternities which inform their members or voting delegates of NIC proposals prior to the meeting? (I’d be interested to learn more about how they do that)
  3. Is there any discussion or plans around a student advocacy board or any sort of direct, democratic engagement of IFC officers in any NIC efforts? I don’t see it in any NIC 2.0 notes, but I know there is a lot going on behind the scenes so I may have just missed something. 
  4. Does the NIC publish or intend to publish the member dues structure? It is referenced a few times in the Constitution/Bylaws, but I haven’t been able to find a breakdown of how the dues are assessed (the only dollar amount mentioned is the $500 application fee). I understand if you cannot share that information with me. 

Would receiving answers have changed my expectations of the NIC? It’s unlikely. Would an answer (even, as written, “[We] cannot share that information with [you]”) have been better than leaving me and others to speculate? Yes.

Would any answer have led to continued conversation? Hopefully.

Would that conversation have allowed for us to organize a sensible private or public discussion on the matter? I’m not sure – but the impression I get is that if you want an answer from our umbrella association your best bet is to be an uninformed news media personality disparaging the association on live television.

The NIC account tweeted this today:

I recently posted some tips on advising [4], and the final point made was “Do What You Say You Will Do” or “DWYSYWD” (pronounced doo-we-see-wid). The NIC is our compass and our captain. Unfortunately, the crew (the students) may never come to learn how to operate the ship, let alone where it is going until it has already gotten there. It is impossible to speak on behalf of people to which you refuse to listen.

I don’t need or deserve an answer to the questions – I was simply trying to make good on a commitment I made with NIC staff to give them a chance to speak for themselves before I post a critique, but I now wonder if that invitation was genuine. I may not deserve an answer, but students certainly do.

So, if you are a student, recognize that you are the captain of your fraternity experience. And if those 4 questions piqued your curiosity – I urge you to ask them of the NIC or your national office.

Mythic Leadership: Athena Versus Poseidon – The Value of Mutual Benefit

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Mythic Leadership is a mini series which focuses on some of the great stories of human history, explaining the lessons learned as they apply to leadership in fraternity chapters and beyond. As a Greek man (ethnic/nationality – in addition to fraternity membership) I have a soft spot for these tales, but “Mythic Leadership” will expand beyond Greek Mythology and explore stories from a variety of civilizations. 

The first entry hits on a topic I enjoy writing about: the value of mutual benefit in leadership. A great story to fit this concept is that of Athena versus Poseidon in the famed contest to determine the name of the city of Athens.

Athena Versus Poseiden

Towns, cities, and city-states would often adopt patron gods, to which they would offer tribute or worship in exchange for protection or well being. Upon its establishment, Athens had trouble determining which of the gods would best lead them to a prosperous future.

Among the most powerful of the Greek Gods are the Olympians, those which most of us know very well. Olympians include Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and many others, but two particular Olympians were at one point battling to win the favor of one of the most prominent city-states. 

Although it was, according to the story, not yet named Athens, the city-state of Athens is known as the birthplace of true democracy, and it developed the most powerful navy among the city states. It was prosperous, a regional leader of vital importance to the Greek people, and home to the famed Acropolis.

Athena. Kappa Kappa Gamma members will be happy to know she loved owls.

When it came time to choose a patron god; however, the people of Athens struggled between Athena, daughter of Zeus (the king of sorts of the gods) and goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and warfare – and Poseidon, second in command after Zeus and god of the seas, earthquakes, and horses. 

Both were well-revered, powerful gods, and both served as patrons for other villages, and so to overcome their indecisiveness the King of Athens, Cecrops, asked that the gods participate in a contest to see who could provide a gift of true value to the city-state. 

Poseidon went first and he struck his mighty trident into the ground, which erupted with steam. From the split in the earth came a spring, but the water turned out to be salty and of no use to the Athenians. 

For her turn, Athena too struck the ground with her spear, then planted an olive branch into the earth, which grew into an olive tree. The olive tree represents peace, but also prosperity – producing food, oil and wood for the people of the town. 

Impressed by Athena’s gift, Cecrops selected her as the patron god of Athens, a decision which enraged Poseidon, who then cursed the city so that it would never have an adequate supply of fresh water. (Despite being situated in a wonderful place to establish a navy, Athens has historically suffered from a shortage of local freshwater). 

Takeaways – Mythic Leadership

Poseidon is #BeardGoals

As a leader, always remember that it is up to you to earn the trust and support of your followers – without which you are merely another person acting alone and inefficiently. Leadership cannot be demanded, it cannot spring from threats, policies, or established hierarchy (Poseidon was after all Athena’s uncle and one of the most powerful gods) – it must be earned. 

The greatest way to establish trust among one’s followers is to create opportunity to develop a relationship that is mutually beneficial and forward-thinking. Poseidon’s spring would have addressed the water-shortage of Athens, but Poseidon was consumed with an egotistical desire to demonstrate his strength as the god of the seas and earthquakes, and so what he produced was representative only of himself, and not his affection for the Athenian people. 

The olive tree, on the other hand, was both symbolically and practically useful to the people of Athens, and it is all the more important that the goddess of wisdom, warfare and skilled craft produce something which advocates against deadly warfare and yet still provides for the people who depend on it. (Ares was the less honorable god of war who represented the more brutish elements compared to the honorable strategy and wisdom demonstrated by Athena). Much like our fraternities and sororities adopt symbols and values, the people of Athens adopted the values of Athena to apply to their collective future.

With this choice, Athens became a major power and prosperous city-state, and was essential in establishing a league of city-states capable of fending off threats from the militaristic Sparta and overbearing Persian empire. People will always choose to follow he or she who offers them respect and a good deal, and that’s something we must practice as fraternity leaders. 

You may have been voted President of your chapter, alumni group, or national organization, but your position is not the basis for your authority or respect. Unless you came into your position through secretive, underhanded or coercive means, you were likely put into that position because you were deemed the best option by the people to help them. It is wise not to let the extent of your authority get the best of you – shortcuts are not an honorable means to lead.

It is important that you recognize as a leader that you use mandates and rules as last resorts – each of which comes with some form of threat attached. Lead by demonstrating what good can come of your ideas and you will be followed faithfully. 

I should also note that the people of Athens still respected and offered tribute to Poseidon, even if he was not the one after which the town was named. Sailors would often pray to Poseidon before departing, and depending on the livelihood of individual people they may have offered tribute to any number of gods or goddesses for any number of reasons. Athena; however, was the one to which they entrusted their collective future and whose values they espoused as a city-state. 

Exercise: Reforming A Typical Fraternity/Sorority “Standards of Excellence” Checklist

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I post often about Checklist Leadership, how it distracts students from developing worthwhile chapter identities, how it encourages less selective recruitment, and how it fails on its promise of churning out leaders (read: good decision-makers) after college. 

All that said, the only example of a reformed “standards” setup has been references to the changes my team at Delta Sig made to our Accreditation to reduce the number of “mandatory” items from 35 to 10 and to allow for greater freedom of choice for chapters to choose what they are recognized for.

Today I am testing out an exercise where I look at a fraternity/sorority campus community’s “Standards of Excellence” packet and suggest changes in line with greater self-government and niche development. 

SJSU made their Standards of Excellence publicly available and easily found via a Google search (Thank you SJSU!), so we will be using theirs as a template. It is just as bloated and complex as the vast majority of campus/fraternity/sorority checklists, and so many of these suggestions will likely apply to your school/organization as well.

Below, you will find the SJSU Standards of Excellence along with two suggested sets of revisions. 

Revisions Set 1 – Better Time Management – Objectives:

  • Reduce the amount of time chapter officers spend putting together submissions
  • Reduce the amount of time campus professionals and volunteers spend grading submissions (sometimes there are so many packets and so many items within each packet that campus professionals reach out to one another to help grade each others’ packets. . . for real – I’ve volunteered for 3 friends). 

Revisions Set 2 – Better Overall Outcomes & Management – Objectives:

  • The focus of submitted items is based on helping chapters find effective ways to address their goals and concerns
  • Point qualifications are eliminated, instead, several items are selected as “Mandatory” and the rest are effectively used to help chapters define their niche and to determine any awards.

For the purpose of set 2, the “mandatory” items are those which typically contribute to a chapter’s closure – Retaining/growing membership – Risk Management – Financial Stability. Items related to those will be considered “mandatory.”

Keep in mind that SJSU requires that a chapter score a 1,300 to be “in good standing.” The issue is in the way the points are (or are not) weighted to stress the importance of what a chapter needs to function vs. what looks nice in a press release. I don’t care about your press release, I care about the outcomes of your fraternity experiences.

The Standards are presented in galleries. Feel free to click the images to get a better look. 

Here we go!

“Scholarship” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Require an academic plan only if the chapter fails to meet the criteria in numbers 4, 5, 6, & 7 and make this a bonus item.  (Academic plans can be copied from the internet and you need to focus your attention on the workings of chapters with poor planning. If they need help than inquire with their advisers, national office or other chapters for assistance, but a plan alone is worthless.)
  • No suggestions for #2 & #3 – I’m not sure if there is another way to get this information, but at least it’s just bonus points. . . which goes to say that it’s ultimately irrelevant (See: Set 2)
  • Combine #’s 4& 5 and Combine #’s 6 & 7 – The way they are currently set up means that chapters with strong GPA’s score well in numbers 4 & 6 and may get bonus points in 5 & 7, and that chapters with low GPA’s score well in 5 & 7 if they improve, but the room for improvement for high-performing chapters is limited, and so you’re selling them short. 
  • With newly combined 4/5 & 6/7, include or statements: An example: 20 points if the chapter meets/exceeds the All Campus GPA (why are you limiting them to being better than their gender? That’s silly) OR Chapter’s overall GPA (stop separating new members from initiates) improves by 0.15 or better OR Chapter maintains an overall GPA above a 3.0. 

“Scholarship” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • The only mandatory items should be their GPA performance.
  • If the chapter underperforms then they should be required to take part in academic consultations the following year and submit their academic criteria and initiatives (read: not a “plan”).
  • There should be one common set of standards for all members (new and initiated) based on their GPA and whether it meets a universal standard for the chapter. 

“Chapter Education” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • The Event Confirmation Form should be held on file and should include an agenda and the other requested information. There is no reason for a separate submission – chapters will just summarize things to meet the criteria.
  • New Member Education Plan – Given the number of points here, and that chapters are required to reach 1,300 points to be in “good standing” I’d just recommend chapters copy & paste any new member education plan resource they can find on the internet to save them some time. The ones that write stuff up just to meet these points are likely doing that anyway. 
  • 3, 4 & 5 are completed by staff, no suggestions here

“Chapter Education” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • Scrap the required elements of the Chapter Retreat. Request all other information as a part of the Event Confirmation Form & advise accordingly. – Remember: We’re going for something qualitative.  Take note of red flags and address them, don’t make the haystack too large so that you miss red flags.
  • Scrap the required elements of the New Member Education Plan: Instead, require that it abide by all campus and fraternity policies, or mandate that all chapters adopt certain requirements in their NME plan. You can still require that it be submitted, but use this as an opportunity to make sure it meets a simple, minimum standard – then offer suggestions for improvement. 
  • New Member Workshops & GREAT Sessions: I can’t comment on the standards themselves, but I would not make the “New Member Workshops” mandatory for the chapter to be in good standing – I might suggest that the expectation be that new members do not continue with their membership until they pass the required elements with an 80% or higher. As for the GREAT Sessions – Why stop at 80%? Just go to 100% and offer an excused absence policy. It’ll only take 20% of a chapter missing risk management information to get it shut down.

“Chapter Finance” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Accounting Procedures sound nice, but vary from treasurer to treasurer in practice – Request instead that the chapter provide proof of a zero-balance to its national office (if applicable), it’s landlord (if applicable) and the university (if applicable). If it owes any debts, THEN request that it submit its accounting practices, tools used, and any plan to recover the missing debt. Make this item a Bonus item (but mandatory for chapters in debt)
  • Budget – Why? This stuff can be made up. The members need to know how their money is spent – it’s their money. 
  • Council Dues – The school/council should have on file which chapters owe debts. If there is a disagreement then require that the chapter provide receipts. 
  • University Funding – This should ultimately be eliminated, as it shouldn’t help a chapter get an award BECAUSE it utilized university funding. 
  • Apply the logic of University Debt to the rest of this section

“Chapter Finance” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • The only mandatory item should be that the chapter owes no debts to the above-mentioned parties if applicable (national office, landlord, council, university). If the chapter owes no debts then all should be well. 
  • Perhaps it’d be helpful to request that information at the end of the fall term and then again at the end of the spring. If there is an issue at the end of the fall, then require that the chapter submit an accounting plan/budget/etc. as a part of this end-of-year packet. Let the adviser handle the rest. 

“Chapter Management” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Advisor Relations can be handled with a phone call from the Campus Professional. The only reason this shouldn’t be the case is if the Campus Professional cannot be trusted, in which case they should be fired. A 2 minute phone call running through that checklist means time saved writing, reading, and storing the “letter.”

“Chapter Management” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • If the chapter must abide by the school’s code of conduct then why require a separate one?
  • Dates & Deadlines Compliance: Recognition paperwork should determine if a chapter is recognized, not a loss of 5 “points.” Hazing agreements should determine if a chapter can recruit members, not a loss of 5 “points.” . . . Catch my drift? Give your deadlines more meaning than a point deduction. 
  • Conduct/Policy Compliance Should Inform the rest of this section – Chapters with violations fail. Chapters without violations do not. Chapters with violations are required to submit relevant material or take part in other requirements (Say for example the GREAT Sessions). 
  • Meeting Attendance – Meetings do not indicate whether a chapter is successful. Limit the chapter’s voting rights or file a complaint with an HQ or adviser if a President fails to attend meetings, but don’t assume that a lack of attendance means a chapter is a failure. Make your meetings worth attending.

“Community” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Public Relations – Irrelevant. Screenshots of what? Everything they’ve posted? Pay attention to the chapter’s website and social media and flag anything inappropriate and address it then. Then “deduct points” if they receive a flag. What if a chapter has 10 members? You think managing a website and Facebook account are more important than meeting potential members face to face? It’s not. 
  • Campus Life, Alumni Involvement, Family Involvement – Event Confirmation forms (as previously mentioned) should be on file and marked off a checklist when they take place by the staff. 
  • Greek Community Relations – This information should all be kept by the staff and council officers – they should all be bonus points. 
  • Interaction with other chapters – Event form should already be on file. 

“Community” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • None of these should be mandatory outright. Instead, the chapter should be required to choose 3-5 out of the 9 to complete for points toward winning awards (not toward recognition).
  • What is the goal of public relations and newsletters and why are they separate? A better way of putting this might be to combine them and then to explain how they promote their vision through their communication channels. 
  • Eliminate the service requirement of 60% attendance for 3 hours – A 60% at a 3 hour road cleanup is not the same as 60% at a 3 hour Habitat build, but they’d both be worth 50 points. Some chapters don’t care about this, so require that they host 2 events and explain the outcome of those events (50 pints of blood donated, 40 miles of road cleaned, 350 bedpans changed at the hospital, etc.)
  • Should an event where alumni meet and talk with parents count for both categories? If not already, then yes.

“Leadership” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Event Confirmation Forms should already be on file. 
  • External Leadership Programs can mostly be confirmed by the council representatives or staff grading the packets. The chapter should receive a list of confirmed attendees and then be required to submit additional information if they don’t meet the 10% requirement.

“Leadership” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • Transition Meetings: Keep the Confirmation Form – Require an Agenda along with the 3-5 items the chapter would like to focus on in the “Community” section rather than some bloated explanation of every thing they talked about. . . Let’s get to the outcomes and what the campus staff should be expecting to work with the chapter on for the following year. Chop! Chop!
  • Campus Involvement/Leadership: Back in 2007/2008 our chapter made up the German Club on campus. They took over all 5 of the leadership positions and they’d watch a German film once each semester. More is required of a Chapter President than just about any other “President” on a college campus, and that doesn’t count toward this? Unnecessary. A fraternity experience is a worthwhile experience, stop demanding that student leaders overexert themselves. Otherwise this should simply be another optional submission under “Community” if it has nothing to do with the chapter itself
  • There are elements of this which are unfair and unnecessary. The quality and instructions taught at each of the listed leadership programs (not including what may be provided by a chapter’s [inter]national organization – if applicable) will vary greatly, as will what each student takes away. Make this an optional submission under “Community.” 
  • Actually. . . just combine all of this with “Community” and move “Transition Meetings” to “Chapter Management”

The requirement of a binder is from 1980. Fraternity/Sorority staff could save everyone time (themselves included!) by calling the respective advisers and offices to the confirm the information requested here – assuming they are trusted to check boxes on a list. 

The rest can be provided via binder, but why not open up the opportunity of a video (along with a written transcript)? Why do they need to meet with a staff member to help complete the packet? Is the packet more important than the outcomes? No. It isn’t. I answered that for you. 


These are just one person’s recommendations to streamline, simplify, and add importance to one school’s admittedly representative “Standards of Excellence” program. 

In all honesty, I’d rather they scrap all of this (and any “Fraternity/Sorority of the Year” award), require that a chapter abide by all university policies for all student organizations, and then advise each chapter in submitting whatever packet they need to submit to their national/international organization. 

Completing 2 packets in a year is silly, and one of the BEST FRATERNITY/SORORITY ADVISERS I KNOW uses/used the above method. Have a great weekend!

How You Can Help End Deaths Due To Hazing

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I recently finished reading Chad Ellsworth’s (of Caped Coaching and a Theta Chi) book, “Building Up Without Tearing Down,” and it encouraged me to reflect on my experiences with hazing as a student, fraternity professional and now an alumnus.

Each year I find myself less compelled or moved by Hazing Prevention Week, and I think a large part of it has to due with its reliance on slacktivism (another anti-hazing banner. . . neat) or the fact that it is a time to charge top dollar for anti-hazing educators (another anti-hazing lecture. . . neat).

We know that people haze and that some people probably like the idea – but we do not have any legitimate counter-argument to compete against. Because of the manner in which deaths due to hazing occur, hazing prevention is in a stagnant place. Our responses are the same as they have always been:

  • Condemn the behavior
  • Draft a new policy
  • Review or close the chapter
  • Require anti-hazing lecture education

Deaths due to hazing have increased as we have passed more state laws and funded more anti-hazing organizations, speakers and coalitions, but that seems to be the only solution offered to the problem of dangerous hazing. What gives?

Part of the problem is probably that most deaths due to hazing are accidental as well as the widely reported statistic that most students who have been hazed in college were or are unaware that they were hazed. We have painted this beautiful gray area around hazing so that, for example, any mention of the words “scavenger hunt” is immediately shut down without really explaining what would or would not qualify as a hazing event. 

The scariest element of dangerous hazing activities is that many accelerate from innocuous to dangerous over a period of a few years, often in secret, and become deadly because the chapter is operating in a form of crisis mode (as are their national organizations and campus professionals). No one, I repeat, “No One,” makes effective decisions in crisis mode.

So – here are some thoughts for chapter officers, chapter advisers, and general members to nudge their chapters away from these dangerous trends. (I admit that they may not well serve a chapter with a well-established hierarchy and hazing ritual to prevent an accidental death this fall term.)

Chapter Officers: Institutionalize & De-Escalate

Your job as a chapter officer is to create simple, well-rehearsed, and well-recorded processes for new member education. Here’s what I mean:

  • Determine what defines the way your chapter makes decisions. If someone suggests something outside of this vision then use that as a means to discredit the suggestion. 
  • Demonstrate by example: While I was chapter president and a senior member of our chapter I’d often sit with our new members, offer them important positions, and would emphasize that they needed to consider what they wanted the chapter to be and that my job was to help get them there. Disregard the hierarchy and tradition – few will actually challenge you (if they do then your chapter is, unfortunately, in legitimate risk).
  • Identify some brothers who understand what it means to educate new members and ask that they be present during new member meetings, that they help new members complete objectives, and that they serve as big brothers. Your education plan should prepare new members to be members of the chapter – nothing more and nothing less. Expect the same thing of all members (new and initiated) and let that determine whether a man/woman is ready to initiate.
  • Don’t waste effort getting hazers to recruit. You know the members who never come to anything and somehow expect the most out of new members? Yeah, let them stay home during recruitment. . . and ritual . . . and don’t tell them when parties are happening. 
  • Reach out to your national fraternity office, your campus professional, and representatives from your umbrella organization to enact legitimate anti-hazing reform. 

Chapter Advisers: Offer Alternatives & Explanations

Too often a chapter adviser will say “No” to something, suggest that it is or can be construed as hazing, and end the conversation. That is a wonderful way to make students feel discredited, unappreciated, and as if they are a nuisance. The key to advising is building trusting relationships, so consider the following when working to eradicate hazing:

  • Reason with chapter officers that expectations of new members should prepare them for expectations of brothers. Why is it a good thing for new members to run every morning but suddenly unimportant for initiated members to understand the health and discipline benefits? Focus on persuasion rather than coercion or lecturing. Ask them to better explain what they are trying to do.
  • Provide alternatives to what exists within Greek Life. Look toward orientation practices of companies and nonprofits and share that information with your chapter officers. Do this throughout the year so as to prepare for following years and so that you are not over-communicating.
  • Be present if you can at new member meetings, chapter meetings, recruitment meetings and ritual ceremonies. Pay attention to how members talk about new members, how they talk about potential members, what they look for in potential members and whether or not they take ritual seriously. Identify which brothers raise red flags. 
  • Be the example for your executive board. Sit with the new members, invite them to lunch or dinner, and show brothers what it means to care about and respect their future friends for life. If you want to get rid of the hierarchy then do it yourself. You will inspire members to follow suit.
  • Ask new members if they understand what is expected of them when they are initiated. If they can’t come up with a clear vision of what it means to be a member of the chapter, you know the education is ineffective and can use that to push reform. 
  • Reach out to your national fraternity office, your campus professional, and representatives from your umbrella organization to enact legitimate anti-hazing reform. 

General Members

You can get a great idea of what I’ll say here based on what is listed above. You may not have the power to change the rules of the chapter, how it conducts new member education or whether or not hazing occurs, but you can make it wildly uncomfortable for your chapter to continue to haze. 

  • Set the example and disrupt tradition – As mentioned above, do what you can can to disrupt needless hierarchies. Sit with new members, talk them up, help them study, learn about who they are and share the great things you’ve learned with other initiates. You can encourage other members to care more deeply for the well being of each new member.
  • Use the legislative process – In my Junior year I requested changes to a test we made all new members participate in after witnessing several members demonstrate some worrisome behavior (yelling, throwing chairs, fake slapping people, etc.). By vote of the chapter, we limited the event only to senior members in good standing and the executive board and we changed the questions to be factual and relevant to our experience. It was a small step aimed at preventing a slippery slope. 
  • Tell on your chapter early. In Chad’s book he details a hollowing experience of reading a letter he wrote detailing his chapter’s hazing practices to their university vice president. You may join a chapter where the situation is already terrible, and I can’t speak to your experience (I’m sorry), but if you are noticing that things are veering in the wrong direction then share this post with members, officers and advisers who agree with you and explain the specific situation as to why you are sharing it. 
  • Reach out to your national fraternity office, your campus professional, and representatives from your umbrella organization to enact legitimate anti-hazing reform. 
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