Why Transparency Matters (From Medium)

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Bring on the cheese

As a part of my goal to help students and alumni get more directly involved in their fraternity experiences, I chose to go through the motions of becoming a candidate for my fraternity’s national board.

The reality is that I’m two years too young to be considered eligible, but that’s a conversation to be had amongst brothers for now. I sent in an application, created a Facebook group, even built a mini campaign website, all to demonstrate what Fraternity Activism (#FraternityActivism) can be.

One promise I intend to keep would be monthly online town hall meetings open to all student members, alumni members, and professionals working with Delta Sigma Phi chapters at college campuses across the nation.

I’ve blogged about the effects of secrecy on the ability of fraternities to regain relevance we so desperately seek, and have also blogged about the intense bureaucracy infecting our higher education system and fraternity/sorority organizations. Fraternities and sororities are governing organizations, after all.

Yesterday I had a chance to sit in on a webinar for my fraternity aimed at individuals who give or gave much of their time, money or who are planning or likely to give of their time, money or both.

It was a unique opportunity for the elected and appointed leadership to give a deeper insight into how the organization operates, a move toward transparency which began with a similar presentation in the fall. I think it is a clear step in the right direction, and one step of many on a grand staircase of opportunity to create a truly modern fraternity experience.

My hope is that those webinars continue, and also that they are open to the members at large, that the leadership will engage regularly with students and alumni through social media, and that insights into how successes and failures are shaping the way every, fraternity/sorority organization operates.

Fraternities and sororities are often coupled with a foundation, designed to provide leadership programming to students as well as to provide scholarships or educational grants. Unfortunately, the two are often so married together that one becomes a marketing arm for the other.

Activities of national headquarters (funded by student dues, not foundations) are marketed toward alumni as reasons to donate, which orients our thinking around, “Which metrics are most likely to impress donors?” That’s an unfortunate reality, and one that can only be addressed with a clearer division between national organizations and their foundations.

  • If educational programs are to be funded by a foundation, the staff organizing those programs should be employees of the foundation.
  • If a foundation doesn’t have the capital to hire an educational team, it should outsource program development entirely (perhaps a stipend to alumni volunteers).
  • If students are not meant to pay for programs, there should not be so many programs that part of the bill must be sent to the student members because alumni haven’t considered the programs of enough value to donate.

These are the types of conversation topics fraternities and sororities need to have among their memberships at large – openly and regularly.

Without an openness to discuss actual difficulties with those who experience them, we seclude ourselves further and further from our membership. Conflicts of interest, like the fraternity/foundation type mentioned above, are only discussed in side conversations or in private, which is certainly worse than not discussing them at all.

Students and members are often told that they can share their concerns, and that they are encouraged to do so, but those statements tend to be where the “encouragement” ends. It more often seems as if fraternity and sorority leaders associate bad policy or a failed program with a failed personal career, and that’s simply not true. It is okay to admit mistakes and what one has learned from them. The only time one would be under fire is if the same mistake continues to happen.

Those of us who have led the “maze” exercise know: You are not penalized for a misstep, a one-off error or positive risk, but mistakes, a failure to pay attention when failure happens, are a different story. Hiding the missteps only makes them appear as if they are mistakes.

Otherwise we’ll be the swamps that a future Frat-Trump wants to drain.

[This post was originally posted on the Fraternity Man publication on Medium]