In 2018 Kappa Sigma cemented their position as the bad boys among Greek Life (FSL) professionals with the Champion Quest 2018 video. Fraternity thought leaders lambasted the organization on social media. Why would a fraternity create a video which shows students at parties? Where are the clips of men performing community service? Why is Kappa Sigma like this?
Those not intimately involved in the discourse among fraternity/sorority (FSL) professionals may not know the meaning behind that final question. Allow me to explain:
Disliking Kappa Sigma is one of those quiet understandings among FSL pros. The fraternity has made a name for itself by expanding without recognition from college campuses. It is one of the largest fraternities in the world, but not a member of the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC). The fraternity shows a general disinterest in the FSL profession’s ideological demands.
I do not care for the video. It is basically a higher-end rush video with a bunch of generic “we are awesome” commentary. But in a world of watered-down “shared values” and leadership checklists, Kappa Sigma dares to be different. Plus, their members love it. Perhaps that’s why the fraternity continues its contrarian streak. Kappa Sigma’s current leaders care more about Kappa Sigma members than external special interests.
They Promised A #NewNormal
The CEO of Sigma Phi Epsilon embarked on a mini media tour after some high profile hazing deaths in 2017. He spoke of a “New Normal,” which amounted to an alcohol-free housing policy, media tour, and “elimination” of pledging. Basically it was no different than any other NIC-concocted cover-up campaign.
In reality there was nothing new for most of us, just SigEp. Alcohol-free housing policies were already in place in many fraternities, including my own, by 2017. I note that Max Gruver, a student who died due to hazing, was a member of an alcohol-free housing fraternity.
I find SigEp’s “Balanced Man Program,” a non-pledging orientation process, genuinely interesting. That being said, their chapters still exhibit hierarchy behavior. The Balanced Man chapter of Sig Ep at my school, for example, hazed their members.
All Cogs In The Same Busted Machine
New Normal shadowed Beta Theta Pi’s “I Am A Fraternity Man” initiative, Phired Up’s “ReThink Greek” campaign, and the NIC’s “myFraternity” campaign. It intrigued fraternity members and professionals, but was too surface level to change the narrative around Greek Life. Bad things still happen, even if we spend student money showing that good things also happen.
New Normal was just another campaign to appease FSL professionals, melodramatic media personalities, and heartbroken parents. It offered flashy, quick fix policies and inspiring or hard-line language. New Normal did more to reduce SigEp’s insurance rate than to change student behavior.
Look at Sig Ep’s website today: It prominently features a promise to be a partner to higher education. That is important. SigEp in 2019 is guided not by its students or founding vision, but by the higher education industry. This type of pandering undermines the NIC’s supposed commitment to freedom of speech and association.
Enter Kappa Sigma
The real new normal lies outside of the NIC and outside of failed policies from the past few decades. I realized that I was conditioned to dislike Kappa Sigma from my time as a fraternity central office professional. Working as a vendor serving fraternity members; however, enriched my perspective.
I had the opportunity to attend the national leadership conference at which Kappa Sigma unveiled the 2018 video. Their main meeting space was positioned in front of our vendor area. I got a back row seat to many of their speeches and sessions. One theme pulsed throughout the event: “We are special. We are Kappa Sigma.”
You Pay The Dues. You Get The Fine Treatment.
Most NIC fraternities host a session led by an NIC staff member to lobby for the umbrella association’s initiatives. The Kappa Sigma conference was the first time I saw a fraternity proudly claim their independence. It was the first time I saw fraternity leaders publicly discuss the faults of the NIC. (Many other fraternity executives/leaders speak ill of the NIC, but only in private conversations or text messages).
That is perhaps where Kappa Sigma is most forward thinking. They have a niche and they stick to it. There is no desire to cave to the pressures which make other fraternities more popular. Students are the central focus of everything Kappa Sigma does. So much so that they are unwilling to sign on to ineffective initiatives for the sake of publicity.
Winning Favor of FSL Professionals
Beta Theta Pi is, or was, marveled for its “Friends of Beta” initiative. They were one of the first fraternities to prominently feature non-members (mostly FSL professionals) as volunteers for the organization. Beta shells out tens of thousands of dollars to sponsor dinners and keynote speeches at FSL conferences. In some ways, Beta operates more like a vendor promoting a speaker or consulting service than a membership association.
Beta became a valued partner, and other fraternities scurried to swoon, spend, and gain equal footing with Beta. A fraternity must invest heavily into the professional circuit or risk being labeled a detriment to the future of the fraternity experience and students. As a former fraternity expansion professional, I witnessed the dollars spent promising favors to colleges/universities increase year after year.
None of this prevented Beta Theta Pi from playing home to one of the highest profile hazing cases in recent history. Not “Friends of Beta,” nor “I Am A Fraternity Man,” nor five-figure investments in FSL conferences made Beta a safer fraternity. Only structural change and student leadership can accomplish that.
Despite the lack of NIC membership, the disproportionate number of “unrecognized” chapters, and the number of chapters with fewer than 40 men, Kappa Sigma is no less safe than any other historically white, men’s fraternity. Their programming – from my own observation – is on par with that of other fraternities. I also appreciate that the fraternity refrains from signing lucrative “mandate” contracts with vendors. Kappa Sigma expects people to sell directly to students to get student dollars.
A Community In Public. Better Than Everyone Else In Private.
Every fraternity touts itself and its members as the best and the leaders of the world of fraternity life. Behind the scenes they follow the direction of FSL thought leaders and the bureaucracy of their respective umbrella associations. Their internal messaging telling their members that they are leading the fraternity world is more often than not a farce.
There is no smoke and mirrors situation in Kappa Sigma. They take the term “freedom of association” seriously enough to be different. Compare that to the cherished fraternities of the NIC, which more often than not just regurgitate its talking points. [Examples Below]
I don’t endorse membership in Kappa Sigma or dislike Sigma Phi Epsilon, Beta Theta Pi or any other fraternity. My limited time as a SigEp adviser was great and I know and respect many of their staff and volunteers! I love no fraternity more than my own. But, I am inspired by Kappa Sigma’s willingness to be different. They are beholden first to their student members, and that’s how fraternity should be.
I never drank “Nile Juice” from the penis of a statue of a Sphinx. It was never on my bucket list, but the way alumni describe the expired tradition is weirdly enchanting. We would hear about the juice at Homecoming weekends, when otherwise absent adult men heckle students for living in a different era.
Our “big party” during my tenure was Sex on the Beach. I mention getting in trouble for that event as a chapter president in this post. It would be unthinkable to imagine Sex on the Beach happening today as it happened then. I would have been our last chapter president if my brothers had the livestreaming power of Instagram and Snapchat back in 2010.
That said, I would not want a party like that to exist anymore. A woman lied to campus safety about the concussion she suffered from our jello wrestling activity during my junior year. She proudly “defended” the fraternity from getting in trouble, and I felt at once grateful and disturbed. We were never “in trouble.” We placed her in harm’s way. Maybe we forget – or omit – the horrific aspects of our own good times when we tell the tales in later years.
Our Alumni Are Right. Fraternity Parties Suck. . .
Perhaps I will one day join fellow alumni and shame students for going to college in a modern decade with different rules. That being said, I am not sure that fraternity parties suck for the reasons many of us think they suck.
Fraternity parties don’t suck because they are no longer “wild.” They suck because students are not taught how to throw great parties – to be great hosts. They are taught to handle parties like one might handle surgery: sanitized and serious.
Drinking With Gloves On. . .
We who work in Greek Life have mastered the art of policy and safety resources. We roll our eyes when students suggest that fraternities are “social organizations.” We lay out the rules, we prosecute the offenders, and our standard for a “good party” has been reduced to, “no one died.” None of this affects how we socialize with other professionals, but students are rarely present to call our bluff in those moments.
Somewhere along the line, we labeled “party” the same way we label “rush” or “pledge.” Using the word marks you as a human treasonous to the almighty and noble cause of frat life. Parties are a problem to be dealt with – something we seek to amputate from the fraternity experience. Our “solutions” lack creativity, except for the occasional gif in an Alcohol Skills Training Program (ASTP) slide deck.
Balancing Two Extremes
Alumni want parties to be “wild” again, and so students up the ante to create something “epic.” They seek affirmation of their coolness by recording it and sharing those recordings with the usual outlets: TFM, Barstool, etc.
Professionals offer nothing but rules and threats, and so students work overtime to cover their tracks. The combination of alumni and professional desires is an obvious recipe for disaster. That disaster is playing out in real-time all over the news.
What would it take for fraternity parties to be great again? It is actually quite simple: We need to stop acting like Toby from The Office.
Challenging The Party-Planning Process
REMINDER: Follow the rules. I don’t have to say that. . . but I kind of have to say it.
Students: Exclusivity and guest satisfaction are the simplest ingredients to making a party “cool.” People should want to attend an event and the people at the event should forever remember it as a wonderful time. In order to do that, we must limit the number of people in attendance and make sure they remember the party as a good time. Simple, no?
How do we accomplish those two things? To start, we limit guests to friends. Strangers bring all sorts of baggage with them, they care less about maintaining the facility, and may put others at risk. That is simple enough. Make a list of your friends – the people you would like to party with – and invite them to your party.
No Cliques Please. . .
In social settings, groups of 5 or more people do one of two things:
- break down into smaller groups
- consist of one person speaking with an awkward audience of 4+ others watching and uneasily laughing and sipping
Groups of more than five are not fun. So, we limit the total number of attendees so that each brother can make sure that his guests are having fun. You have probably heard something like this while training for recruitment.
An easy way of assigning guests is to let brothers pick their guests.For me, the most fun parties were those restricted to the members of the chapter, those between the chapter and another organization, and those with a guest list. It is that simple.
“I’m Sure It Was Great Because I Remember Every, ****ing, Thing!”
You want people to remember your party as a good time. You want people to explain how amazing you and your chapter brothers are to their friends. In no way shape or form should someone leave your function sick, upset, or offended. That makes a better tabloid for CNN than it does a good fraternity party. How do we keep things memorable and light? It’s simple: drink fewer, higher quality drinks.
Natural Light is disgusting. It should be banished from fraternity functions. Provide drinks worth drinking; you only live once.
Check in with your guests (and brothers!) to make sure they are doing well. You know what makes a party terrible? An ambulance. Keeping tabs on your guests will let you, the host responsible for everyone else’s good time, know when to cut someone off before they pass out in a puddle of puke. Do not get people to the point of puking at your party. It is almost as disgusting as Natty Light. Also, you will probably clean it.
Save The Drama [Momma]
The great thing about inviting actual friends to your parties is that friends”get you.” They watch out for one another. Prevent people from getting unnecessarily offended or from getting into harms way by surrounding them with people who have their best interests at heart.
Emphasize the value of being a good host to your brothers prior to a party. That does not mean you cannot have a good time, but the best fraternities throw parties for their guests. Make your guests count, make your party enjoyable, and you will find an improved reputation. Ensure your guests are having a good time and you can have a good time too!
I visited dozens of college campuses over the course of my career. Fraternity men would always brag that their chapter was “the one others thought was chill.” Follow these tips, loosely based on the policies you are likely mandated to follow anyway, and you might actually be chill.
You don’t need Nile Juice from the penis of a Sphinx to have a jolly good time. You just need to care about your guests, socially train your brothers, and respect your facility.
In Conclusion: No More Toby
Students: I hope that you learned a valuable lesson in making your parties more fun, less about fame, and therefore less desperate or lame.
Greek Life Professionals: I hope that – even if you hate how I went about it – you came to the conclusion that fraternity parties are not surgery. Try considering how to make a party a good time, not just a safe time, and you’ll find it easier to explain rules and policies. Learn to persuade.
Alumni members attending a Homecoming event: Shut up and stop living in the past.
Maybe one day schools will create a space where hosting a fun, rule-abiding party isn’t an expensive circus of hoops to jump through. I dunno – I’m just spitballing here.
Students run fraternities. They recruit the members, put the work into our good statistics, and ultimately own our future. That ownership is not represented in fraternity leadership.
Most fraternity governing boards consist of men several generations removed from the college experience. More and more decisions are made by a professional class of fraternity men and women.
In “Good Profit,” Charles Koch (disliked by many and also great at business) emphasizes the value of “decision rights.” The basic idea is that those best suited to address a problem are often those involved most directly with it. A factory manager will offer insights which may otherwise go unnoticed by far-removed executives.
Fraternities suffer by relying too heavily on the men and women at their central offices in Indianapolis (mostly).
“What Are Our Members Thinking?”
Assessment is the name of the game, and tying a survey and statistics to a press release is automatic clout nowadays. That being said, we should not be so eager to trust all data. Surveys and data are very easily organized in a way to affirm whatever an interest wishes to be true.
That should not be a surprise: We are going to ask about the things we pay attention to. But, it is an ineffective way to gather a pulse on an organization or community. It is most noticeable when the same groups which provide assessments offer solutions tailored to those expected outcomes.
The problem is that fraternity leaders create a feedback loop where they search for specific evidence to justify specific responses. Once again, special interests guide the direction of fraternity organizations more than their students.
How Else Can We Learn What Members Are Thinking?
Ask. I would often receive comments and critiques from members while working at my fraternity’s headquarters. It becomes easy; however, to dismiss those comments as ramblings from members who do not know any better. Organizations seem hell bent on hearing the same things they always hear, but instead through filtered results from a survey they paid thousands to conduct.
There are two simple ways to understand the true needs of members. By “true needs” I mean the way Apple understood our need for iTunes before consumers did. The first is to better involve your leadership in the lives of your members. Fraternities do this, to an extent, but the reach is limited by the tiny teams employed by most organizations.
The second option is to better organize decision rights. That means giving students greater ownership and responsibility.
Why Hire Students?
Many of our students are bright and working through college. Many of the processes handled by the central offices of fraternities and sororities are not location-dependent. That means that they do not require staff to be wherever the office is.
Hiring a team of students positioned throughout the country offers a growth opportunity for some members and a better-informed central office staff.
A thought: Hire a small team of students to keep up with chapters on their accreditation packet submissions, program registration progress, or filing paperwork throughout the year. Hire a team of students to keep tabs on the chapters in their area and to gather feedback. Hire a team of students to follow up on consultant visits (which should be canned anyway).
A Proven Concept
Fraternities change with the generations. Many years ago, volunteers handled the work of consultants and central offices approved all members prior to initiation. Today, organizations like the Southeastern Interfraternity Conference (SEIFC) rely on students for much of what I listed above. SEIFC officers recruit area Inter-Fraternity Councils (IFC) to attend their program. The student members also have a say in the direction of the event’s educational programming.
If your concern is that a student will not have time, tell that to their current part-time employer. There are opportunities for conflicts of interest to affect their work, but those conflicts do not dissipate with age.
Students help billing and apparel organizations connect with their peers. Why not their own fraternity leadership and staff?
Hiring students for part-time work builds a pipeline of potential employees for the central office. Students can work for scholarship grants to cover the cost of their tuition. Any training provided serves as an excellent and unique professional development opportunity.
More important than all of this is the re-investment of dues money and attention back into student members. This is greater than a student advisory council or student members of an alumni-dominated board – both of which are wasteful ways of paying lip service to voting members.
Hiring students provides an opportunity to get unfiltered feedback from our member populations and can benefit the quality of work we do.
We are all told that joining a fraternity or sorority will create opportunities. Adding a fraternity membership or officer position to a résumé; however, can be intimidating. As someone who worked for a fraternity national office for almost six years, I understand the challenge of selling a fraternity experience to an under-informed audience.
Explaining what you did for your fraternity chapter should not be hard. The same should be said for those working for a fraternity or sorority central office. Unfortunately, our esoteric language makes that sales pitch a little more difficult. What the hell is a recruiter supposed to get from seeing that you were an Archon, for example?
Provided below are several tips to better sell your fraternity experience on your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and during interviews.
1. Try Starting With The Title
Most whose advise others on résumé-building suggest that you start with the organization, then list your position. Consider switching that around when it comes to your extra-curricular activities. Cater this to the job for which you are applying.
If, for example, you know that the person leading the hiring effort is a fraternity man or woman, then you can stick with the standard format. Otherwise, try listing your positions before the name of the organization.
There are some universal expectations we have of those who serve as “President” of an organization. You want recruiters to know your skill sets, then to look into where those skill sets came into play. Try:
“Position – Fraternity Name – Time Period”
2. Use Bold Lettering To Format Without The Clutter
Okay so an employer will now see that you were a “President” in 2015, but let’s draw even more attention away from your scary fraternity or sorority name: bold the title to highlight your attributes.
Your résumé should be no longer than one page if you are a recent graduate. Reviewers spend 1-2 seconds scanning your résumé to determine if they want to read it, so there needs to be a way to draw attention to where it’s needed.
Use this as an organizational tool in the same way you’d use bullet points, numbers, or indentations. We want this to guide a reviewer to relevant information, not to be used as a cheap gimmick like glitter to make you seem special.
President – 2015 – Delta Sigma Phi
President – 2015 – Delta Sigma Phi
Using bold lettering in this way creates a miniature set of “headlines” to guide reviewers through your résumé. It will also maximize the space you have available.
3. Use Numbers & Accomplishments, Not Job Descriptions
In an ideal world you contribute greatly to your organization. It is a typical practice to list several bullet points under each leadership position or job title. Don’t let that space go to waste.
Rather than list a bunch of things that all chapter treasurers do (made an annual budget, managed $10,000), talk about what you did differently.
For example, while I was President, my Treasurer and I closed a $18,000 budget shortfall in four months. The statistic is a part of a greater story. Stories make for more enjoyable conversations and are easier to recall than basic job descriptions. You want each of your bullet points to inspire questions from the reviewer. Generate some curiosity around your accomplishments.
Talk about the new program you built, how much more money you raised than before, how you cut expenses or how more of your members became involved. Use numbers and percentages.
4. Speak Human
No one knows what “Sergeant at Arms” means. It’s okay to replace it with a word that fits a non-member’s vocabulary.
Pretend your fraternity or sorority is a credit card company; use only the terms a credit card company employee would use. Call your brothers members, call your chapter an organization, and call a philanthropy event a charity fundraiser. Wrap “ritual” in with “brotherhood,” and call that “team-building” instead of brotherhood. There are very many employers looking for team-players and people with facilitation experience.
5. Link To LinkedIn
Be sure to include the web address to your LinkedIn profile somewhere on your résumé. You may even want to include a QR code if it fits the type of employer you’re interested in working for. If you are submitting your résumé as a PDF then be sure to create a hyperlink so that recruiters can easily click to your LinkedIn page.
This is important, because LinkedIn offers an opportunity to expand what you list on your résumé in ways I will explain below. You want recruiters who are interested in you to have an opportunity to learn more.
6. Build Off Of Your Résumé
Your résumé is a snapshot of your professional potential. Use your LinkedIn account as an extended portfolio of your work. You can import your résumé directly in to your LinkedIn profile. Just make sure to edit it as the formatting may result in some fishiness.
A great feature about LinkedIn is being able to link to your work underneath any job. For example: While working for my fraternity I created a proposal we would use to pitch ourselves to campuses. I also created a brief video highlighting our partnership with the American Red Cross. Both of these are linked under that position.
Whether its a senior research project or a video from a philanthropy event you put together, link it to the respective position. This gives recruiters and the generally curious a chance to look into what you’ve done and see your work first hand.
7. Get Skills Listed & Referrals
You can apply for many jobs on LinkedIn, and many will have a set of skills listed. These skills operate like hashtags for recruiters, and LinkedIn allows you to list your skills and for others to “endorse” them. Look through relevant job applications, see what are listed as the “top skills” required for a position, and add them to your profile (if they fit).
Help your chapter brothers do the same. Whenever possible, get friends and colleagues to endorse you for your skills. You can organize them on your profile so that those most relevant to the work you are seeking appear first (and are more likely to be seen and endorsed by others).
Consider reaching out to professors, employers, and colleagues (including fraternity officers) to write a referral on LinkedIn.
8. Share & Join
Join groups related to your professional interest. Establish groups related to your interest. Some fraternities have different groups for different professions. These are easy ways to connect with brothers who work in your field of interest.
You can also follow hashtags on LinkedIn. If you want to work for a financial technology company, follow #FinTech. Share whichever posts you find are relevant and which may be related to work you’ve done or things you have studied.
A great thing about LinkedIn is that the conversations happening are mostly professional. You may encounter a recruiter or engage with someone who wants to work with you. Create those opportunities for yourself by sharing and commenting as naturally as you would on Facebook or Instagram.
I will not number these off, but connecting your fraternity experience to your future job will do you well in an interview. Review your résumé and jot down some key points you want to hit on if you are asked about your fraternity experience. Keep these at the top or bottom of a notepad you bring to the interview.
You can search any number of “interview tips” posts online, and many suggest you keep notes and ask good questions. Highlight the fact that your fraternity encouraged you to try new things, to collaborate with a variety of people, and to give you the opportunity to learn from failure.
Those are common experiences for most of us who pursue leadership roles in fraternities. Just make sure you are honest. There is nothing worse for your prospects than getting caught in a lie.
Over the course of five minutes I went from business hopeful to business applicant. Then, within 36 hours of filing, I was approved by the state of Indiana to do business. Compare that to my time working for a fraternity: While director of a fraternity growth operation, I courted students and campus professionals for months or years. Eventually, they would casually suggest that they were “open” for expansion.
In many cases, I would send a package of promotional material and perform a one or two day “exploratory” visit. Most desired that I present to the members of other fraternities to earn their favor. We would offer gifts and transport students and alumni to speak on our behalf at the presentations. It was an often elaborate courtship to win the favor of college students so that we may have the pleasure of competing against them.
Imagine a group of thirty students at a large public university. Say this group of students are unimpressed with the 32 fraternity options available to the 20,000 men in attendance. Say they want to build an organization around academics and athletics. Why prevent those men from creating a valuable addition to the fraternity community?
One could argue that the risks are too great, and that without proper vetting the men may not create a stable chapter. Perhaps that would make sense if we could trust chapters and governing councils to properly vet fraternity candidates. The investment to risk ratio is far lower with a relaxed organizational standard.
One could argue that many low quality chapters is a doomsday scenario, and that many fraternity chapters are struggling and could use those members. But why force students to refurbish something they don’t want?
What’s That Saying? “A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships.”
That may be true, but a rising tide will not benefit a ship with a gash across its hull, and old ships rot. Rather than expose struggling chapters to the threat of personal failure, we attempt to prop them up. The issue is, great students don’t always (if ever) want to fix someone else’s mess. They want to make their own. So most failing chapters end up failing anyway.
It is a strange situation – one where we perpetuate the kind of exclusivity we demand ceases among students. This protectionism is a top-down predicament as umbrella associations take up the role of unions for fraternity chapters. More often than not, having the right money and connections lands a fraternity a new chapter at an institution. Not to mention, there are no commonly agreed to standards used by the otherwise standards-obsessed communities.
The Literal Cost of Protectionism
This raises the price for fraternity membership, thereby limiting its accessibility. In no state does the cost of incorporation cost more than $1,000 – compare that to typical fraternity dues. Perhaps a group of students want a simplified fraternity experience. Is $50 per semester enough to join a group with whom to hang out, study, play sports, volunteer, travel, and celebrate?
How could students adapt the fraternity experience to their generational experience? We know that fewer men are having sex , the constant presence of information, that fewer teens are drinking before college . How should that influence the way we prevent harm? Our work on hazing and substance misuse plateaued because the way we address problems no longer speaks to how students experience them.
True Diversity Comes In Structure
Reducing the burden around fraternity recognition at colleges and universities will result in a more diverse community more attuned to the school and its community. It allows fraternity communities to adapt to changes in student habits and demographics.
We can already see the structural differences in historically black organizations compared to historically white ones. Why perpetuate the idea that there is only one way to frat?
It shouldn’t be harder to start a student group than to start a business. So, why is that the case for fraternities? Exactly what stability are we trying to maintain?
“The work we do is important,” or some quote like that is an easy applause line at any fraternity|sorority professional conference. Those conferences are interesting. We affirm our commitment to the development of students, then gossip about how backward and privileged they are at the hotel bar.
The most recent issue of the Association of Fraternity|Sorority Advisors (AFA) e-publication, Essentials, focused on challenging the process. Contributors, most of which work directly with fraternity/sorority chapters, pointed out some of the blind spots they observe among their peers.
We operate as a “Cult of Convenience,” writes Sam Waltemeyer, who acknowledges the difference between “best practice” and “widely adopted.” Dan Bureau asks, “Does getting more resources really mean better outcomes?”
I appreciated the issue, as challenging the wisdom espoused at AFA meetings (among others) is why I started blogging as a young fraternity professional. While we are in the mood, let’s review some bits of advice we regularly offer to students and re-apply it to ourselves. Disclaimer: I am not an academic, and I don’t write like one.
“Respect Is Earned Through Actions – Not A Title”
This is an easy one. You may have worked with fraternities and sororities for twenty years. You may have earned a master’s degree in higher education, leadership, or something else you feel prepared you to serve as a Fraternity/Sorority Coordinator. No matter your title, you must demonstrate respect to receive it.
That means we cannot live vicariously through our students, and that we must respect their wants and ideas. It means that we cannot “respect” our students to their face and then stereotype and generalize them when it can win us snaps at a conference. Earning respect means establishing trust, and requires that you stick with a job and a group of students for more than one or two years.
“Step In When Someone Is Disrespected – Including Yourself”
What does it say when students (or professionals for that matter) leave a room littered with wrappers, spilled drinks, and half-eaten food after a program? Almost every leadership event starts with a rules conversation where we remind attendees to pick up after themselves. If students are allowed to break one of the most basic rules – right in front of our faces – then why should they think we will enforce any other rule?
There should be one question after on every post-event survey: How did the rooms look after a session? That question alone can tell you whether or not you’ve won the respect of your attendees. If you are a speaker, educator, staffer, or volunteer then you must enforce the “leave the place better than you found it” rule.
I have lead and taken part in several fraternity programs where the volunteers all agree to sit with students in the main sessions. At each of those programs, the facilitators end up gathering in the back of the room and occasionally talk through the session. It is disappointing.
“Your First Error Is A Forgiven ‘Misstep’ Subsequent Errors Are ‘Mistakes.'”
Community bans don’t work. Top-down deferred recruitment policies, zero-tolerance policies, and statistic-based sexual assault education don’t work. Press releases by umbrella associations do not change behavior. Stop the madness. . . people are dying.
“Sometimes You Need To Let Your Members Fail”
I serve on the alumni board for my chapter. After a recent non-incident, a university staff member explained the rationale for a mandatory “training” by saying it was their duty to co-parent the students. We cannot become the helicopter parents we so despise. We may facilitate the process by which students address their problems, but students must address their problems.
Some chapters cannot compete. We should not prevent new startups because it might drive the nail in the coffin of a failing chapter. Some students do not value what you value. That does not mean they do not fit in with the fraternity experience. Many of our approaches to nationwide problems, such as hazing, are failures. Learn from it and try something different.
“You Do Not Need Alcohol To Have A Good Time”
Stop getting so drunk at conferences. “When the cat’s away the mice will play,” is not a motto to live by. Implement FIPG recommendations at the next AFA Annual Meeting. Maybe you will come to understand why students feel infantilized by them.
“Diversity Makes Fraternities Better”
You will encounter students who embody everything you hate. For the vast majority of fraternity|sorority professionals. . . probably, like, 90%. . . that means white, male, straight, privileged, conservative, and self-absorbed college students. They have a right to join a fraternity whether you like it or not, and they have a right to define their experience. Earn their trust, win their respect, and persuade them to think differently.
Shutting students down in person or on Twitter is unprofessional. It makes students resentful, combative, and contributes to their self-doubt. If you are aware of suicide statistics among young people, then you can understand why demonstrating kindness is important.
On that same note, break down the invisible walls between our historically white and non-white organizations. Make the NIC co-ed. Stop using the fact that one umbrella association’s organizations are “different” as an excuse for poor practices.
“Flash Isn’t Always Better”
We all want offices of 5-6 laborers focused entirely on the fraternity and sorority experience. That is as silly as the giant concerts chapters throw as “philanthropy” events. If you want students to value substance, then stop with the superficial “standards of excellence” checklists. Stop with the separate awards ceremonies. Stop begging for more money to do more things – you are already burned out!
Focus your attention on advising students. They are not raw material to build your resume. If truly advising is something you feel is beneath you then pursue a more “serious” career. . . these are friend clubs.