New members of Delta Sigma Phi memorize the Preamble to the Constitution prior to their initiation. Many forget it shortly thereafter, and few are required to or ever take time to analyze its meaning, which is strange; It explains the expectations of membership quite clearly.
I have written before that I may differ with some in my fraternity who wish to adopt a “creed.” I don’t really care if we adopt a creed; I just wonder if it is a relevant endeavor beyond fitting in with other fraternities. We suggest in our ritual ceremonies that Delta Sig offers more than a creed – it’s a way of life.
Questions about the Preamble came up in several meetings with potential founding fathers as I and other staff would establish new chapters of Delta Sig. We had the Preamble printed on the inside cover of our folders, and the opening lines generated so many questions that we removed and replaced it with other information in subsequent prints of the folders. I was always a little miffed by this, and my concern was that we chose to hide a part of who we are, maybe because we weren’t well prepared to explain who we are.
So, I hope that this post is useful to new member educators and advisors of my fraternity and inspiring to educators of other fraternities. It is by no means a definitive interpretation of the Preamble, as this is not the definitive fraternity blog, but if you don’t have time or the interest to work it out then you may like what I offer below.
Our Preamble can be broken down into 5 key expectations of membership. They are as follows.
That the belief in God is essential to our welfare
This is the sticking point. “Do I need to believe in God to join this Fraternity?”
In terms of our written standards and expectations – no, but in another, less specific way, yes.
We were established as a fraternity admitting Jewish and Christian students at a time when fraternities admitted only one or the other. Our founders believed in a wider-reaching brotherhood, believing that the common ancestry of all men was of great importance, and that collaboration between men beyond the invisible boundaries of the surrounding society (#CultureHarmonyFriendship) would result in a better world.
So you do not need to believe in God as it is interpreted in any one religious text, but you must understand and value the common ancestry of [hu]man[s], and the equality that such a belief demands of us. Equality is a recurring theme in the teachings of our fraternity.
The liberal arts system of education was established as an expression of the first amendment to the Constitution of these United States. That same amendment protects the rights of any individual to associate with any group with whom they share beliefs, so long as they don’t violate the rights of other individuals.
We owe our existence to our constitutional government and to the school systems established to educate and prepare young men to benefit the world. Therefore, it is expected of a Delta Sig that he protect our constitutional government and our rights (which protect our existence) and support our education systems (which nurture our memberships) so that Delta Sigma Phi (and other fraternities) may continue to proliferate.
I am convinced that there is no line of work that can quite compare to that of working at a fraternity headquarters. I spent five-plus years with one.
Add those five-plus years to my time as an undergraduate member (and office-holder) and my fraternity experience is closing in on a decade!
In my time on Delta Sigma Phi’s staff I worked as a recruiter to establish new chapters, I consulted for several chapters, and managed our growth and chapter services operations.
In that same amount of time I learned to make bow ties, started two fraternity-related blogs (Hey! That’s where you are now!), moved to Charleston, SC and back, and read a bunch of Ron Paul stuff. . . what a whirlwind!
My opinions or advice may not be worth your dollar, but here are some things I’ve learned working for my fraternity’s HQ.
Leadership Is A Skill Set Requiring Practice
There are habits and practices utilized to help people become great leaders, and it pays to make those a more regular part of your own actions. That is what the majority of leadership programming teaches.
Real world practice is required to make any use of your skills. The saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is true. Many of us think that attending dozens of programs has turned us into experts of leadership, but expertise requires practical application.
If that were not true, Hermione would be a better witch than Harry a wizard. . . For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter nerds: Would you rather a learned and practiced surgeon perform your facelift or one who has read all the books on facelifts with minimal practice?
We have many “experts” with little to no practical application in our field. Recall – the average age of a person working with fraternities/sororities is 28. Many leadership programs focus on individualizing which practices or values best suit a person, but don’t set basic standards for what it takes to be considered a great, ethical leader. To “model the way,” as they say, we set an expectation of what is required of a great leader and the common ethical standards a great leader should exemplify.
The Fraternity/Sorority World Lacks Real Competition
The coordinated efforts of fraternities and sororities to improve their position in society, to improve the fact that they are some of the most expensive things to insure next to nuclear power plants, and to improve their ability to “benefit their communities” have either failed or flatlined.
After years of experiencing “The Fraternal Values Movement,” as a student and several more years as a professional fraternity staff member, I can say that very little of what we teach, spend money on or require seems to make additional headway in addressing our greatest challenges. The people who choose what’s acceptable have agreed that service, philanthropy, leadership and values education are the way to make the Rolling Stone not hate us anymore. . . We we are still waiting for that to be the case.
People I’ve known through work put an intense focus on communities at the expense of individual organizations. College campuses establish “common values” that all fraternities and sororities share, effectively smudging the individuality of their community members. National organizations band together and speak in unison and talk up those same, self-depreciating publicity ploys to negate bad news.
Real competition would mean that fraternities compare themselves to others based on the output and quality of their memberships. To compete, we’d have to better support our network of members in their professional lives and students would need to stop recruiting fools. . . problems largely solved. Continued
What a guy right?
Simon Sinek may have led one of the most insightful and impactful TED Talks with regard to Greek Life. I am unsure of how big a deal Simon Sinek is outside of my own circles, but his name seems to have gotten around.
Let me start by saying that I’d be a fool to disagree with Simon’s understanding of leadership and messaging. I think his concept of starting with “why,” then moving to “how,” and finally “what” is a recipe for marketing and planning success that our fraternities and sororities have yet to experience, and I think it was wise to use popular examples such as Apple and Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s my issue with Simon Sinek, this TED Talk, and his associated book “Start With Why?”:
Everyone is starting and stopping at why and nothing is getting done (or done well anyway).
I can’t effectively estimate how many times I’ve heard a man or woman explain the “golden circle” in a rushed interpretation of Simon’s TED Talk and completely ignore the whole “how” and “what” parts, but it happens a lot . . . like almost every time.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the person is a student, recent graduate, “doctor,” or CEO; they all teach it incompletely, most of the time, and it’s because we try to downplay the “how” and “what” to instead focus on the often-overlooked “why” (overlooked pre-Simon Sinek anyway). Here’s a breakdown:
- Phase 1 is determining a “why,” yes, but there are two more circles to get through. . .
- If you don’t figure out the “how,” Phase 2, and put an equal if not heightened amount of time into determining the “how,” then your product is less likely to align with your “why.”
- If you don’t spend time using the “how” to get to the “what,” your “why” and “how” are ultimately worthless.
Apple, one of Sinek’s examples in the video above, does not just say, “We do everything to be different,” and then magically obtain a killer product out of thin air. They don’t just make their products “user friendly;” anyone can do that.
Being a “different” consumer electronics company is their “why,” sure, but that took all of maybe 1 minute for Apple’s founders to determine as a good enough “why.”
How was Apple going to be a different consumer electronics company? It’s simple: Apple’s competitors focus on pushing consumer electronics to their technical limits. More processing power, more programs, better graphics and dozens of options to upgrade your device.
Apple focused on pushing consumer electronics to the limits of practicality. They focus on the effect of tech design on a person’s ability to pick up and use advanced technology with ease.
Steve Jobs, the brainchild behind Apple’s marketing and uniqueness, was obsessed with the curves of his Mercedes Benz. He felt they gave his vehicle a smooth, effortless look that made his ride more enjoyable than any other luxury vehicle.
He hired engineers to give the same curvature and simplicity to his computer products and the operating system within each of those computer products as one would expect the interior of a Mercedes Benz to compliment the design of its exterior.
Apple paid careful, obsessive attention to “how” they did things differently (the why) to achieve approachable computers (the what).
Rather than pay equal attention to the “why,” “how,” and “what,” we obsess over the why, and teach to our students that they need to “start with why.” Then, after we have focus-grouped and turned our “why” into some bland version of “let’s not suck,” we churn out “what’s” and call them “progress,” regardless of whether or not they’ve been effective in helping us progress.
Want to know why there is so much turnover in our field? Care to ask why a school can’t seem to keep policies or programs in place for longer than a few years without major overhauls? It’s because the professionals in charge know their “why” (typically something lofty and ridiculous like changing the world through frat bros) and piece together a “what” out of thin air (a policy banning single-sex groups or fifteen community values which cover the spectrum of positive publicity).
The fix is simple: spend more time in the painstaking, difficult exploration of the “how.”
Knowing why you do something is critical, but it’s not that hard to figure out.
Spend more time in contemplation, or tinkering, or whatever floats your boat, to determine how you do something so that it is uniquely yours and serves as an extension of why you want to do it.
Programs should not be created and launched overnight. Policies too should not be created or changed overnight.
With every sexual assault, or shooting, or hazing incident, or discrimination incident, our audience demands immediate action and we cave, often doing nothing but suppress the problem.
As people who claim to train America’s future leaders, we should find value in restraint and patience. We should teach our students that it is okay not to cave to the pressure of an audience. We should teach our students to be thoughtful not only in why they do something, but how they go about doing it.
Until we stop ignoring “how” at the expense of the more exciting, more marketable, “why” and “what,” we will continue to tread water when it comes to making ourselves relevant to modern college students and overcoming our greatest challenges.
DREAMS LEAD TO PLANS
What Mr. Sinek couldn’t capture with his clever, share-worthy quote designed to summarize his presentation (not for lack of knowledge, but to the detriment of his following), is that the “I Have a Dream” speech was all a part of a plan. A plan that took far more time and effort than determining the dream itself.
We are all told that joining a fraternity or sorority will open opportunities. Many of us got our jobs via connections we have made through our organizations, but many more are limited by the stigma of having the word “fraternity” anywhere on their résumé.
Here are some quick tips to turn your organizations from a potential liability to a great talking point.
1. Start With The Job
When listing leadership or work positions, choose to organize your information in the following manner:
Title – Time Period – Organization.
The important part of being President was in doing things that presidents do, not in the fact that it was for a fraternity or sorority chapter.
I often tell chapters that when raising money they should remove “Delta Sigma Phi” from things they use to market or sell because it makes them more approachable. There are many people who are immediately turned off when they see Greek letters, delay that sting by leading with your position.
2. Bold What You Want Heard
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 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.
Don’t embolden any old word, willy-nilly. Use it as an organizational tool in the same way you’d use bullet points 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
By using bold to bring our your titles, someone can have an idea of your relevant experience. Now you just need to appropriately sell that experience. . .
3. Use Data, Not Job Descriptions
In an ideal world you contribute greatly to your organization. It is a typical practice to list 2-3 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 worked with a $400 budget to close a $18,000 budget shortfall and we didn’t cut a single activity during the term. The statistic is a part of a greater story. Simply saying that we managed a balanced budget doesn’t leave much room for elaboration. Stories make for more enjoyable conversations and are easier to recall than basic job descriptions.
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 an American’s vocabulary.
Pretend your fraternity or sorority is a credit card company; use only the terms a credit card company man or woman would use. Call your brothers members, call your chapter your organization, call a philanthropy event a charity fundraiser and don’t mention ritual; there is no need for that to be on your résumé.
To put it simply do as much as you can to translate your fraternity or sorority experience into a language understood by most humans and organize your content in a way that highlights your talents and accomplishments rather than on whose behalf you were working.
If someone were to tell you about “Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men” the newest book by investigative journalist Alexandra Robbins, they may explain it the way a friend described it to me: “It’s from the author of ‘Pledged’ but this one is apparently pro-fraternity.”
Whatever media has been generated around the book has often taken the same approach of comparing “Fraternity” to “Pledged,” a 2004 publication in which Robbins provides a fly-on-the-wall observation of the sorority membership process, exposing that sororities don’t necessarily do everything right (something anyone aware of double-secret probation knows).
But to compare “Fraternity” to another of Robbins’ works takes away from what it is, and to describe it as a “pro-fraternity” book probably enables we who care and work for the fraternity experience to avoid taking seriously the critiques buried within Robbin’s first/third-person non/fiction novel.
That is not to say that the book or Robbins herself are anything but “pro-fraternity,” but as the author writes in op-eds for CNN and The Atlantic, the endorsement is more about what the fraternity experience could offer than its current state of affairs.
I had an unexpected but welcomed opportunity to chat with Alexandra about “Fraternity,” and wanted to learn more about her thought process, as she more than anyone can explain what she hoped to convey to a public audience when writing the book.
Quotes are provided based on notes and a recording, and have been edited for clarity. I tried to avoid a typical Q&A format, feel free to share your constructive thoughts via message here, on Twitter or Facebook :).
“The intimacy and tenderness of the relationships between fraternity brothers was something I did not expect to be as present as it was. Many of these guys stay in touch for year and years – or decades, even – and meet up throughout the year or attend one another’s weddings (among other milestone events).
“One student put it as his family away from home, and we know that brotherhood is a part of fraternities, but to see how long those bonds lasted was something that stuck out to me”Alexandra Robbins
In “Fraternity,” Robbins provides a brief explanation of the establishment, growth, and longevity behind the fraternity system. She shares early in the book how fraternities were established as a means to rebel against university administrations, as a way to establish a local support system among college students, and to pursue whatever members at the time considered to be elite – their adoption of Greek letters (something students of higher education were taught), the establishment of supportive alumni structures and the subsequent search for wealth in members to fund such structures.
In another of her’ books, “The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth,” (she emphasized that she did not choose the title), Robbins introduces quirk theory – the idea that those offbeat qualities which may result in some being bullied early on in life may later be the drivers of their being embraced and supported by the world once they’ve moved past the social constructs of high school and college.
How can fraternity chapters take quirk theory into account when planning for their own success?
“In one of the stories, and I don’t want to give too much away, you can see how a chapter can go in the wrong direction by trying to play into whatever they perceive to be the ideal fraternity experience, so being a place where people can be themselves is important.
“Different chapters also set different priorities. So to be a place where men can express themselves and be accepted and where a healthier approach to masculinity can be established were some of the qualities of the better fraternity experiences I observed.”A. Robbins
One of the fraternity chapters described in Robbins’ book is led by a sophomore chapter president named Oliver. Their motto is, adorably, “Keep [fictional fraternity name] weird,” which means to find a variety of men to ensure that they never grow stale – certainly embraces the concept of quirk theory and their chapter is better for it.
FM Thought: Oliver’s chapter is not perfect – nor is it presented as such in the book – and it’s important to note that Oliver’s primary goal was to win the top award on campus. When we drill down into what Robbins says about how students classify “masculine,” “good,” or “top tier,” take a moment to consider the universal expectations we set as fraternity|sorority leaders and professionals. Are they limiting the possibilities of how others can perceive the fraternity experience?
FM: What – if any – differences have you noticed in how fraternity professionals or members have responded to “Fraternity” when compared to “Pledged”
“Oh it’s a night and day difference. (laughs) I think many people created perceptions or opinions about me as a person or the type of work I do when I wrote “Pledged,” but it was never about attacking sororities. I try to tell untold, real life stories of students, and what’s interesting is that there are women who emailed me years after that book came out, after they had graduated from college, to express how reading the book changed their perspective and that they understood what I was trying to do at the time. Many of those women emailed me when the book first came out while they were in college to rebut what I had said, but having time to reflect on it affected their opinion.
“Fraternity has been well received and supported once people learned that it has a friendlier approach to fraternity organizations, but my mission has always been to share the experiences and the perspectives of students and particularly those who are not at the top of the public consciousness.”
I found Robbins’ style of writing particularly interesting. She operates as a narrator with an inside, personal connection to the characters of her story – it’s as if Harry Potter were written with occasional asides by J.K. Rowling to provide context and quotes from separate interviews with the characters.
The stories of two fraternity men – Oliver and Jake – and their chapters make up the meat of the book, and shorter stories of other fraternity members – a transfer student who experienced membership in two very different chapters of the same fraternity, for example – are spliced in to keep it entertaining. Robbins also provides personal observations and opinions throughout the book, and particularly at the end, where she offers advice to students and parents directly.
In fact, and in my opinion, Robbins offers the most compelling, pro-student approach to the future of fraternities being presented through mainstream media at this point in time. More than any representative of any fraternity, any umbrella association, or any association president, Robbins is our most articulate, informed and capable advocate in 2019 (as is demonstrated by the two aforementioned op-ed articles).
“Some of the chapters I learned about have a very strong alumni presence and support system who would step in at any sign of trouble and who basically helped run the organization. That seems to be critical, because it helps students feel connected and supported.
“There needs to be an intermediary between a chapter and its national organization. Alumni chapters or boards can fill that role. They help students feel as if they are supported”A. Robbins
One story which stuck out to me was that of Ben, whose chapter expelled a member who put new members at risk with his taste for hazing and authority. In the book, Ben is quoted as saying that calling their alumni for help could easily solve the problem, but that may result in their national organization learning about the situation and “taking it too far” by holding a membership review – something he saw another chapter go through.
We know that national fraternities and campus administrations are not “bad,” and that they are often doing what they believe is right or in the best interest of their liability, but think about it: how many fraternities actually lay out what triggers a membership review to provide clarity and eliminate the unknown from students’ minds?
How many chapters face the dilemma of inexperienced leaders handling serious issues because asking for help is too great a risk to their chapter’s future? Ben ultimately did the right thing, and acknowledges that he is responsible for the well-being of roughly 70 men, but perhaps he could provide even better care for those 70 men if he was more confident in the help he would be offered had he asked for it.
So, what does Robbins want you to get out of reading her book? If a chapter were to create a study group around “Fraternity,” what should those who organize such a group emphasize?
“How to be more like Oliver’s chapter and less like Jake’s chapter. Honestly, just read the book (laughs). I think it would be good for a chapter to discuss how to represent masculinity in the modern world, how they could establish a worthy alternative to pledging – which many still believe should be a difficult experience, and how they can better connect with parents.
“I think they could discuss what their perceptions are of what a good fraternity is, or their ideas about masculinity and manhood, and talk about the difference between how students act compared to what they believe to be typical behavior.”A. Robbins
In an interview with Esquire, Robbins is asked how fraternities can rehab their image. She suggests that they can turn the narrative around, even if it takes a while, by focusing on presenting students with a place to develop their communication skills and a safe space among other guys – “I think that can be valuable on campus and to members,” she says.
With that in mind, I finished our time together asking for two to three ideas for fraternities to live up that suggested re-branding effort. If we were to become organizations looked at to develop interpersonal skills and to provide a safe space for men among men, how could our actions live up to our talking points? Here are her suggestions:
1. “Replace hazing with another difficult challenge”
“Hazing has outmaneuvered outright prohibition, and many people – whether it is right or wrong – feel as if they need to “earn something to be considered a true member. Now, I (Alexandra) met many men from chapters who did not want to make their pledging process difficult, and who wanted to spend that time getting to know one another and they seemed to have as strong a brotherhood as any other chapter, but if a fraternity could create an alternative to hazing – something community service driven which is a challenge to accomplish – it could fill that need.”
2. “Teach guys healthy ways to be masculine”
“It could incorporate that alternative model to hazing, but may also include just promoting more openness among members, connecting with parents, or creating a sort of ‘Healthy Masculinity’ membership program.
“So many fraternity members come to college with this understanding of masculinity established by ‘Animal House.’ In surveys, most students say they think that others at college drink and have sex more than others actually do, and if they were more aware of the fact that they are not different, they may not create those environments which pull chapters down a wrong path.”
3. “Emphasize Diversity”
“Fraternities, and specifically historically white fraternities, need to find a way to encourage greater diversity in their membership, whether that’s through greater access or publicity or celebrating those chapters which demonstrate diversity, because diversity helps break down the stereotypes and impressions students hold of others and help fraternity chapters connect with more students on campus. That may also include greater collaborations with other organizations.”
(She notes that the members of multicultural organizations she met seemed to have better, or even strong, relationships with those chapters which embraced diversity, and I certainly find it hard to avoid noticing the resentment between historically white fraternities, historically black fraternities, and cultural organizations at student or professional leadership conferences).
Reading “Fraternity,” by Alexandra Robbins
Beyond my initial appreciation for her op-eds and her interesting way of presenting her case, much of what Robbins shared in her book and through our brief conversation were things which, were it not for her, may otherwise be unthinkable to consider among current fraternity leadership – which is often far removed from the student or local volunteer experience.
The idea of “replacing” hazing in a “zero-tolerance” world, for example, would require that we accept the potential value of a challenging membership experience (whether that be for all members or just the new ones) and create something which may suffer from occasional abuse – but it is far more in line with reality than an edict handed down from the NIC or a university administration – something the students she interviewed mention hold little weight in their decision-making processes.
I hope that those of you who read “Fraternity” don’t limit your understanding of her work just to “something more pro-fraternity than ‘Pledged,'” and that you consider and discuss with friends the creative ideas shared by Robbins to improve the fraternity world.
OH WOW! A GIVEAWAY!
There is a Fraternity Man email newsletter. It is sent to subscribers every 4-6 weeks, includes a brief letter, insight into new developments, and links to my and other posts related to the fraternity experience.
If you subscribe to it by April 15th with an email address, you’ll be entered to win a copy of Robbins’ book, “Fraternity.” But, Get this! I’m also giving out a digital copy (no audio books, ever, sorry). Every email+address subscriber gets a Fraternity Man sticker. . . so there’s no way to lose.
If Jean Twenge, author of “iGen,” is to be believed, the current and rising generation of college students are sadder, lonelier, and more likely to commit suicide on the whole. That is not to speak for the exceptional qualities of modern young people, but it is a truth repeated throughout the news and, finally, taking hold of fraternities and sororities.
I, like many, wonder why that is. Twenge suggests there is a direct correlation between increased adoption of smartphones and social media and depression after ruling out other factors such as the economy or high pressure school work. I will write another post relating the points of her book to the fraternity experience, but I began to think back to my time in college.
I specifically began to recall moments of celebration, and how often I found myself surrounded by men and women who were cheering, chanting, or drinking to celebrate a legitimate victory. It is something that I imagine many of us take for granted, as there are few places of work so committed to growth and celebration as a college fraternity.
We would celebrate when new members accepted our invitation to join, when they would complete the ceremonial rites of passage to consider themselves full members, when we would win a dance competition, or when we would win an intramural game.
We would celebrate any meaningless award, a successful philanthropy event, or even just our love for one another singing “Piano Man” at the top of our lungs at every bar or party. It didn’t matter if there were five or 60 of us at any of those celebratory moments – we knew to cheer for our brothers when they did well.
When a brother would do something exceptional, we would give him whichever trophy we had recently won as the “Brother of the Week” trophy. We would award “Roses” (and “Razzes”) at the end of every chapter meeting, often acknowledging one another’s individual accomplishments.
A member of another fraternity wrote “Faggot” on orientation leader signs posted around campus which featured one of our members during my junior year. We had several group discussions, to the extent that I called a chapter brother and staff member of our National Office to help me facilitate one of the discussions, to determine how best to respond.
Despite the tension of those conversations and the happenings of the campus around us (a “Rally Against Hate,” successive newspaper articles sharing every possible opinion and half-apology possible), we simply defined our house as a safe space and attended an intramural volleyball game – our dear member was the captain of our team – against the fraternity of the offending member.
Our cheers shook the room with every point he and our team scored, and we stormed the court when the game had finished. This is an important element of celebration – We do it because we care. In that moment, one which I will never forget, we affirmed our love for our brother, and our allies sitting on our side of the stands affirmed their love for our brother (as well as their love for “us”).
Some celebrations were less wholesome, such as our “F*** Phi Sig” party after we lost a lip-sync competition due to a technicality, but even those moments helped establish the fraternal bond we speak of today.
These moments are common among sports teams, and great companies often celebrate small, large, and personal wins with true enthusiasm, but it is something otherwise missing for most college students. Fraternity is where friends celebrate friends, and that is a true “plus” for young men and women determining their adult identities.
A few weeks ago I watched one of my favorite brothers get married to another Stetson fraternity man. I expected to see members of my chapter there, but even with all of my years of preaching the fraternity experience I found myself stunned and giddy on my way home from the trip after realizing how effortlessly friendly and vulnerable we all were with one another over the weekend.
We cheered for his marriage, but we also cheered for the bond which brought us together, the bond which taught us to cheer on and build one another up to the highest possible heights.
Making Use Of Celebration
There are ways to overdue it (scroll down), but celebration is a unique component of the fraternity experience when compared to other student organizations. There may be a Student Government pizza party at the end of the year, but it is rare to see as much a showing of support as fraternity brothers and sisters show for one another.
Consider that the next time you sit through an initiation ceremony. Remember that your organization’s songs, cheers, handshakes, symbols, and secrets are all a meant to be used. Celebrate your friendship and your accomplishments and treat those moments as seriously as you treat an initiation ceremony.
That is what it means to build a home away from home – to be brothers. We help one another or work together to accomplish amazing things, and then we celebrate. Imagine if more college students could have that sense of comfort and care in four of the toughest, most experimental years of their life!
If you work in Greek Life then consider this as it applies to your communication and programming. Show members and volunteers that you care about them when they walk into a meeting or an educational program. Celebrate what you’ve learned together as they depart, and follow up to make sure that they use whatever help you have to offer.
It’s time to stop checking things off of a leadership checklist and pretend like we are doing a world of good. We should all divert our attention to developing rituals of care and celebration so that we may not simply become societies of ruthless rule enforcers.
Reversal: (Something new I’m trying – how can what I’m saying be wrong or taken too far?)
Celebrations can be taken too far, like any good thing. The cause of many accidental fraternity deaths – whether that be due to alcohol poisoning, falls, overdoses, or whatever – are the result of a party gone awry. While I would encourage every chapter to celebrate, it is important to celebrate genuine accomplishments with an appropriate level of enthusiasm.
Share a cheer and dinner after a successful intramural game. Take your “family” out to a shooting range (or whatever you think is fun) to celebrate a successful end of final exams. Give people dues discounts for great grades and throw a formal as a way of celebrating a year’s worth of accomplishments.
Moments of celebration are the moments during which we are most susceptible to accidents – the types of things which land us in the news for cheering a tasteless cheer, wearing a tasteless garment, or worse, celebrating to the extent that we forget to care for the life and well-being of our brothers.
I will not be running for my fraternity’s governing board in 2019 as I had done in 2017 (read more here).
It was fun, but the fun part was more or less trying to introduce some sense of campaigning into my fraternity’s process, compared to the current situation of most members having little more than a written statement and the decision of a slating committee to guide their vote.
There will be no Nik4GC 2019 website with a full platform as there was two years ago, but here are some things I would like to see happen within the governing organization of Delta Sigma Phi – things which I hope other existing/potential candidates will adopt.
If you have similar thoughts specific to your fraternity or sorority – something focused on greater self-government, member empowerment, and/or greater transparency – then feel free to shoot me an email or comment below.
If you are a Delta Sig, then please shoot me an email for a PDF version of these proposals along with some additional details to share with officers, advisers, or your voting delegates.
Address The Age Requirement Injustice
Any undergraduate student of Delta Sig, no matter their age, may be elected to our governing board, but the case is trickier for alumni members.
It does not matter if you turn 30 the day before a Convention, or if you, as a 30+ year old man, were initiated moments before submitting your application and position statement to serve on the Grand Council, any alumnus above the age of 30 – no ceiling, by the way – will be considered eligible.
This does not make sense for a number of reasons:
- There are 2 undergraduate positions with full rights/responsibilities on the governing board (typically 19-22 year old students)
- A slating committee vets and recommends a board to be voted on by the Convention, and challenges typically come from those who have campaigned well enough to win
I was not ready to serve on the board in 2017, but I do not believe that a magical moment of clarity grants worldly wisdom to all at the stroke of midnight on their 30th birthday.
Update: The bylaws have been updated! The national board voted to strike the age requirement, opening up the nomination process to alumni of all ages. Cheers to my Fraternity :).
Cut off Vision 2025 at 2020 and launch a new 3-5 year plan.
Since our Fraternity embarked on a 20-year strategic plan in 2005 the country has entered a recession, iPhones were invented, smartwatches were invented, and we have fallen behind on every statistic we cannot fluff.
It is time to recognize the changes to our environment: that we will never be the largest contributor of Blood, Sweat & Cash to the American Red Cross – a multi-billion dollar charity – for example.
We can cut Vision 2025 off at 2020, and spend the next year developing a new strategic plan with a realistic timeline. Three to five years is the sweet spot for planning, and its focus should be limited to 3-5 initiatives. Vision 2025 is too dated, too bloated, and does not appeal to what we know of current college students (Gen Z, iGen, whatever you want to call them).
Give up on campus recognition
We should never again close a high-performing chapter because a university’s combative, uncooperative staffers or administrators will not allow it to rent rooms on campus.
RIP Delta Sigma Phi San Luis Obispo Chapter.
Reform program & convention fees
Our organization wants online education to be a central element of its future training initiatives. We have sunk six figure sums into The LAMP (Delta Sig’s online learning platform), and that’s fine. . . if it works. Just as our educational initiatives will adapt to the internet, so too should our fee structure.
Small chapters, those which most often close due to debt, are overwhelmed by the Program Fee. when combined with the Convention Fee they amount to nearly $2,000 in charges per year.
A group of 10 men have more important things to focus on then sending 4 members to Convention – it is why we retooled our accreditation process in 2015 to a hierarchy of needs model – and so we should not only rethink the need for a Program Fee, but also make changes to our Convention Fee. (Details in the aforementioned PDF, but basically chapters should only pay for 2x the number of delegates they receive).
Just as citizens expect a level of transparency with their elected government representatives (and their respective bureaucratic institutions) so too should fraternity members expect an equal or greater level of transparency from their elected representation.
Dues-paying members and/or Fraternity officers should expect annual insight’s into the fraternity’s income and revenue as well as meeting minutes or detailed summaries of Grand Council meetings.
Additionally, whereas student dues ultimately fund the North American Inter-Fraternity Council, Delta Sig should model the way and grant members insight into how much the Fraternity pays in dues to the NIC, into upcoming proposals being voted upon at NIC member meetings, and into the Fraternity’s delegates’ intended votes on any given proposal.
It takes time and work to share this kind of information, so I want to be clear that I am not suggesting we share so much information that our members can micromanage the staff or council, we just need clearer, more insightful communication.
While President of my chapter at Stetson University I was called in to a meeting to help determine the winners of the annual awards doled out by our Student Affairs professionals. Stetson staff from a variety of offices, perhaps even a professor or two, gathered to read through single-page submissions for each award and then debate the winner(s) of the award.
A fraternity or sorority (I cannot recall which, forgive my feeble brain) had submitted an application to be considered for one of the service awards we discussed early into our meeting. We read each of the submissions, and the consensus in the room was that the Greek-letter organization easily outperformed the other applicants. Neat! But. . .
“There are already Greek Awards, we should give other student organizations a chance to be recognized.”-Confidential (i.e. I don’t remember her name)
That opinion, spoken by one of the Student Affairs professionals who worked with a variety of non-Greek-Letter organizations, was immediately adopted as the consensus of the room. I, being one of two students and the only fraternity student, could not make a strong enough case that fraternities and sororities are campus organizations, that we all very recently agreed that the Greek-letter applicant deserved the award, and that “Everyone Gets A Trophy” was not the Baby Boomer’s greatest contribution to American youth.
Fraternity and sorority submissions were not to be considered for the remainder of the meeting and I received an early understanding of the political bullcorn of awards.
More than one fraternity|sorority professional has more than once suggested that all of our organizations are essentially the same, that we are a community with community values and that college fraternity students should not be so competitive.
That is, of course, hypocritical hogwash when one takes into account that most fraternity|sorority campus professionals organize the greatest peeing contests in all of Greek Life: accreditation/standards packets and the awards which accompany them.
How About Nobody Gets A Trophy?
What if we stopped comparing fraternities and ranking them with star ratings or “Fraternity of the Year” awards? I have already made several cases against bloated standards of excellence checklists and their ties to “recognition,” but this is different. Awards are the “carrot” to completing these packets opposite of the “stick” of closure or sanctions.
Here are a few opinions to consider as you prepare for this or next year’s “Greek Awards”
1. They Further Separate Greek Life From Campus Communities
As I mentioned in the tale of my Stetson experience, Greek Award distance fraternities from other student organizations, which therefore encourages and enables university professionals to treat fraternities differently.
This is troubling when we consider how much of an emphasis we place on “campus recognition.” We already deal with a separate class of requirements and penalties when compared to other student organizations. If we are the best, then we should outright compete with the rest. To preach that frat men engage with their campus, and to then silo off recognition of their achievements from the rest of campus is nonsensical.
2. Awards Often Lead To Plateaus
Fraternity and sorority leadership, like all student organizations, turns over from year to year, and the members themselves completely recycle after 4 or 5 years. There is not much institutional knowledge when it comes to remembering how an award was won. My chapter was a perfect example.
I was recruited in a class of 30, astronomical at the time for Stetson’s standards, just after our fraternity won the top award from our campus and the National. Most of our new member class joined an award-winning chapter, and the chapter members were too busy showing off their trophies to explain what we would have to do as members to repeat that success. We lost the major awards within a year.
This happens often. A chapter does well on one year’s award packet and then spirals to hell from there. Beta Theta Pi will not return to Penn State without permission from the Piazza family because a chapter which appeared fine on paper, maybe even great, was developing a culture of carelessness.
3. Awards Are Political & Easily Manipulated
I again point to the story I used to introduce this post. There are always political elements when choosing award winners, particularly when they are based off of packet submissions or when those making selections oversee and guide the direction of a broader community.
There is no relevant reason for an IFC to grant a “Brotherhood Award,” for example, by reading letters submitted by chapters. These awards are just designed to encourage chapters to follow our bloated accreditation/standards checklist or to highlight the values and interests of campus professionals, not student leaders.
4. Greek Awards, More Often Then Not, Celebrate Irrelevant Aspects of Greek Life
Not all fraternities are the same and there is no reason to rank or compare them based on non-essential functions – which is, unfortunately, upon which are built most standards of excellence checklists.
Service is nice, but it’s not essential, and an award for service hours doesn’t capture the true value of service. The same can be said for intramural sports, philanthropic giving, lecture attendance, and many other aspects of Greek Life for which we give awards or consider when choosing the “King of Frat” (Fraternity of the Year)-type designations.
Let chapters find their niche and let their fulfillment come from accomplishing goals. We should not continue to place so much of our students’ attention into collecting trophies – they need their own goals and ambitions.
What is essential to the fraternity experience? Put simply: Creating a place for people to belong in college, finding friends who help you through your hardships, ask you to be better when you fail, and who share ceremonial rites of passage with you throughout one of the most formative times of your life.
Greek Awards can’t capture that, and no award ever will. My chapter won a Fraternity of the Year award in April of 2009; it was forgotten by most students when we returned to class in August 2009. It’s time we start saving awards for something special, rather than trying to maintain the farce that they, and our current checklists of excellence, benefit or broaden the fraternity experience.
Penn State announced that it would soon be housing The Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research – currently located at Indiana University at Bloomington since 1979.
The news may capture our attention for its link to Timothy J Piazza, for whom the center is to be named, but the news – that which affects our future – is the multi-million dollar investment into research of fraternities and sororities by institutions of higher education.
That is great news for the Center, composed of many caring contributors to the fraternity|sorority professional world, but it makes me wonder about other fraternity research.
Fraternity organizations are always conducting research and investing in associated consulting support. In the rare chance that such information is made public, or shared with elected leaders or members of the organization, it is typically done so through a press release with little raw data to back up the claims or decisions being made.
Greek-letter organizations are vocally intent on utilizing data to make decisions, but one must wonder how any organization can be held to that claim without being able to analyze the data themselves? Sharing research data and consulting outcomes publicly opens an organization up for scrutiny, but it also creates opportunities for those who care to offer alternative, possibly better solutions.
An example of what I mean is the press release linked above – which was shared by most fraternity accounts – after some people put out some research suggesting that fraternities hurt students academic success.
There is nothing wrong with rebutting information with better information, but it establishes greater trust for that data to be available for others to look through and confirm – which was not the case for those interested in where that dollar figure came from.
Fraternities and sororities, which already do so much to study the dynamics of friend clubbing, must determine a way to better compile and share that data now that investment into fraternity research has so lopsidedly favored one source.
Real academic debate is hard to accomplish when fraternities partially fund research projects and repeat one another’s mistakes. That sounds like a drag because it kind of is, but as much as the NIC staff and fraternity administrators will benefit from the data of one another, so too will the thousands of voting delegates, committees, and councils of fraternity organizations.
Better research is an objective of the restructure and increased investment into the NIC, so we can hope that a broader sampling of information is provided to members or the masses. We benefit when we can compare data between studies and studies between institutions.
I recall a session from a fraternity leadership program (or several), where students worked through a case study which told the story of Johnson & Johnson’s recall of Tylenol – a move which saved the Tylenol brand and established public trust in its parent company, J&J. How do fraternity leaders and volunteers measure up to that expectation of our students?
The Center for Fraternity & Sorority Research shares a wide range of research with insights into the fraternity world, and its growth is good for the fraternity|sorority world. Fraternities, too, are investing in research to make data-driven decisions, but those decisions make more sense when more raw data is accessible.
Verify that decisions are driven by data by expecting the data behind the decisions.
I remember at one point hearing an alumnus stand and say to a crowded room, “We need to sing more.” I cannot remember if it was a member of my fraternity or if it happened while I attended a program or convention of another organization, but I must say that I agree.
Fraternity songs are mostly choral in nature and those modern fraternity songs I have heard, often rapped by undergraduates over canned beats, are terrible (No offense, but at the same time full offense). I have heard one great “modern” Delta Sig song written by a student at Transylvania to a country tune but it is not a part of our national album (yet).
Still, songs are an important part of the culture of many fraternities, and so I would like to pay greater attention to them.
“Songs of The Lute” – Delta Sigma Phi Track by Track “Review”
“The Lute” is my fraternity’s official songbook. I’m not sure there is a single copy of said book except for a decrepit copy on a piano at the central office. We do distribute CD’s to just about every visitor of said office, but in 2016 or so I uploaded the songs to SoundCloud while managing the national Twitter account and finding it a fun way to share the songs with more students/alumni.
A few new songs have been written and possibly re-recorded, but I am sticking with the CD tracks from the early 2000’s, recorded by members from the Millikin University chapter in Illinois and posted to the Fraternity’s SoundCloud. Without further adieu, the first Fraternity Man Album Review!
1. Dream Girl of Delta Sigma Phi
The best part about Dream Girl is it’s instructional introduction. “Gather around you Delta Sigs, it’s time for a serenade. . .” not only kicks off the song, but alerts nearby brothers that it is time to serenade a lucky loved one. There is only a piano in the background, but the ensemble does a good job with their harmonies and spice it up around 1:05 and with the closing note of the song. A slow jam for the ages.
Rating: Charming and timeless. Keep singing.
2. Emblem of Delta Sigma Phi
The most subtle middle finger imaginable to every other fraternity. Even the “boom boom” part is sung as if it were background chanting at an Orthodox church. Hearing this will be a surprise to many members who prefer to chant it as quickly as possible and at the top of their lungs, but singing it is a nice way to end a classier affair.
3. March of the Delta Sigs
A little sluggish at times, and the piano accompaniment gives me a visual image of an old nun trying to keep up with a rowdy choir of rugby players. The lyrics are fun, and this is definitely a great song to sing prior to an intramural game, but it’d be better without the piano.
Rating: A cappella version pls.
This is what I came here for. Old-timey lyrics which would never fit with hashtag culture, a chipper melody, and a soloist who is determined to become a star is everything I want in a fraternity song (even if he stumbles over the word “start” at one point). I beg of every chapter to learn this song and sing it on the way to your next service project. Leave the windows open too. The world deserves to hear this song.
Rating: The ultimate theme song for expansion teams and traveling consultants
5. Hail Delta Sigma Phi
I’m not here for this one. It is sung beautifully, but it seems a little cultish. The lyrics are riskay if only for the fact that they skirt the line of revealing secrets without even remotely revealing secrets. . . which is kind of punk rock.
Rating: A surefire way to turn off a potential member
Delta Sigma Phi Anthem
Could they no longer afford the piano? This is probably the most vocally interesting song of the bunch, and definitely one for a chapter with talent and time to practice, but I couldn’t understand some of the lyrics and it just seems dated. It would make for great background music or something to sing during an intermission of sorts, but I don’t see much use for it in modern fraternity life. What about this song made us call it an “anthem”? [pretend there’s a shrug emoji here]
Rating: The a cappella treatment that March of the Delta Sigs deserved
7. Delta Sig Rag
This is the kind of song you sing around a table with members each holding a stein of beer (or their legal drink of choice). It’s simple and has enough quirk to stand out from the rest of the bunch. The stops are fun and, HEY, the piano’s back!
Rating: Your last night as a senior before you graduate – this is what you sing
8. Here’s To Delta Sigma Phi
I don’t like this one. It is as if it’s trying to be Travelers but without the right momentum and no mention of having husky offspring to make it seem even remotely cheeky enough to be a fraternity jam. I can imagine that seasoned alumni members might like it, but I do not get why it exists.
MIA The Secret Seal (MIA)
Missing in action along with the newly written songs not yet on the publicly available Songs of the Lute is a tune famous among Delta Sigs: The Secret Seal. Unfortunately, many (mostly fraternity professionals) began to suggest that the song’s theme – some brothers advising another brother how to go about stealing a kiss from his true love – show a disregard for consent, and we did not include it in the SoundCloud upload.
A newer version was introduced at the 2017 Convention, but I don’t think it appeased the doubters In any case, The Secret Seal did serve as a unique tune for the album – offering a slower, almost somber melody with a joyous, chuckle-inducing ending, so perhaps we will find a more suitable replacement in due time.
Rating: “Guess you had to be there”
That’s it! Which fraternity should be next for an album review? Let me know in the comments below or via Twitter (@FraternityNik).
Like all things fraternity, the concept of national consultants visiting chapters every year would have been a foreign concept to our respective founding members. The earliest fraternity “staff” were often national secretaries whose primary responsibility was to maintain records and work with volunteers to determine if chapters were meeting the national standards set by governing boards.
You can see the remnants of these archaic systems in your fraternity or sorority governing documents. In many cases, the Executive Director/CEO is the only professional hired full time by the governing board, and many organizations allow for stipends to be paid to volunteers – from the time in between full volunteer support and full-time traveling consultants.
The question I would like to pose is which would be the best system for the technological reality of 2018. Are traveling consultants an effective use of member dues? Could we re-invest the money spent annually to train and send traveling our consultants on, for example, digital investments, volunteer training, or interactive resources?
I have a habit of wondering aloud things that some would consider preposterous, such as decentralizing fraternity insurance, so I’ll go ahead and do it here as well.
Technology Diminishes The Need For Consultant Staff
Let’s get this out of the way – Consultants were absolutely essential at a time when text and video could not be sent instantaneously and when calling a student meant a phone ringing in a booth and not in his or her pocket. It was an effective way to check up on chapters because the only other options were landlines or snail mail. We live in an entirely different era of technology, but consulting has remained largely the same.
Sure it is fun to grant a consultant access to the inter/national Instagram account for a day, but is that an effective use of modern technology or student dues? Modern students establish many of their relationships exclusively through the internet – there is no reason for fraternities (the supposed experts of social relationships) should be so far behind on the curve.
Resources and workshops which can be facilitated in-person by alumni or self-facilitated by students can be widely distributed with the tap of a screen. Much of what we teach can be provided through video, social media, and blog content (I still think every fraternity should have a Wiki).
A medium sized fraternity will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consultant program, and yet students get 1-5 days of face time per year with their consultant (and not even all of the students), chapters still hide plenty from those staff, and the role’s duties (while certainly fulfilling) are not often in line with what many students are studying in school. Any serious issue with a chapter is typically elevated to staff above the consultant level.
What Could We Do Instead?
There are some things which cannot be accomplished via technology. Fraternity expansion, for example, is difficult to conduct without staff visiting a college campus – assuming most fraternity leaders still daydream about the rapid growth of the early 2000’s in the face of declining enrollment.
Still, rather than hiring a team of 3-12 consultants, a Fraternity could hire a few traveling educators to provide relevant workshops across the country. It could better invest in technology and communication efforts or focus those funds toward training and providing stipends to alumni volunteers. The amount of information a consultant is expected to relay to chapter leaders is as ridiculous as modern standards of excellence checklists, and that is often due to an under-investment in communication teams.
Back to those defunct regional alumni positions – let us reinvest into those positions and our volunteers. Most fraternity consultants will stick around for 1-3 years, and most chapter officers will be in a position for 1-2 years, so it makes the most practical sense to invest in training alumni and volunteers.
If we want a personal connection to the fraternity, why not make it with someone local to the region with life experience and an actual position within the governing body of the fraternity (rather than an entry-level staff member disconnected from the governing processes)
Providing volunteers with high quality resources to assist in their efforts to work with chapters and local advisers is a crucial investment that many organizations have identified as necessary, but few have been able to offer the appropriate attention. These are people who live among students and who can more effectively earn their trust than a 22-year old from a “good chapter” 500 miles away.
What’s Holding Us Back?
Simply put – tradition. Just as fraternity professionals will complain that students haze, binge drink, and sexual harass one another due to outdated traditions, so too do we fail to make any meaningful reform at the inter/national level for that reason.
I was at one point asked to draw up a new staff model. Radical as it was I did away with consultant model in favor of 1-2 full-time member-support staff (who’d be based at HQ and manning the phone lines, social media interactions, & dues collection). You can tweet your questions/issues to Verizon or Whole Foods and have a dedicated staff member work with you – why not fraternities?
Our educational team would be fitted with 2-3 traveling educators, who would basically be highly specialized consultants who traveled on a need-basis and also contributed to the development of educational resources and workshops, which would have doubled or tripled our proprietary content and created a pipeline in the case that our Director ever chose to leave the team.
It was considered “good,” but “too different from anything we do now.” I am not complaining; I fully understand the difficulties of moving change through an inter/national, democratic organization, but it is important to note that we may by hypocritical in asking our students to change everything about how their chapter operates without being so willing to do so at the top.
No model is perfect, but the existing traveling consultant model is an ineffective use of student dues. I also believe that our entry-level staff can be better prepared for the modern workforce by hiring them into positions which translate well into said workforce. As much as I loved my time doing consultant work; I think that our volunteers would better fit the role and that our students would be better served and represented.