A record number of young people, and particularly college-aged men, are committing suicide. Increasing numbers of young people suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. America is generally overweight. There is no need to panic – a solution lies in friendship. Fraternities are all about friendship. Fraternities are well-equipped to tackle these nationwide issues.
Which committee or chairman position is most neglected? Arguments can be made for several positions, but my vote goes toward the Health & Wellness officer/committee. I realized – as a student leader and fraternity staffer – how little fraternities provided in terms of resources for these positions.
How Can Fraternities Build A Healthier World?
Fraternities today are more attuned to well-being compared to two or three years ago. Unfortunately, their approach to their member’s well being seems fragmented and limited in scope. Mental health awareness is the buzz of the education community. As a result, [inter]national fraternities have incorporated mental health resources into their plans and offerings.
If it is anything like our work to combat hazing, alcohol misuse, or sexual assault; however, it may not offer much benefit. Few seem to be taking precautionary steps, such as reducing their standards checklists, to protect their students mental well-being.
Your chapter should approach health and wellness in a way which suits your membership. Listed below are 19 thoughts to consider for a chapter health and wellness program. This may be a good place to start if your chapter does not have a reliable wellness plan. Am I qualified to share this information? In a way, yes. I have an Integrative Health Science degree. Onward!
These 19 thoughts are divided into 4 categories: Preparation (1-4), Resources & Support (5-10), Holistic Health (11-15), and Fun & Stuff (16-19). Enjoy :).
1. Establish Chapter Goals | Preparation
Keep your overall chapter goal simple unless Health & Wellness become a top three priority for your chapter. For example, you may want to make a commitment that all members improve in their physical, emotional and cognitive health prior to graduation. You may set some baseline metrics to track: Body Fat %, Grade Point Average, Completion of Programs, etc.
Most people want to be healthy, so keep this broad enough that it can apply to a variety of people. Not everyone can be shredded or devoid of anxiety by graduation. The goal of any health and wellness plan is to move closer to an ideal.
2. Build the Program Around a Position or Committee | Preparation
Here’s an obvious fact: different fraternities lay out different structures and expectations for their officers. That being said, your chapter has plenty of room to tinker and innovate. Consider a few different set ups while you’re in the process of revamping or starting a health and wellness program.
Click through the options below for some suggestions.
Focus on collaboration and resources if there is a single member in charge of health and wellness for your chapter.
In later thoughts I’ll talk about integrating a health and wellness program into broader chapter activities. This should be the primary focus of any officer without a committee. The important thing here is to keep the scope narrow and easily manageable.
The reason is simple: You can’t be sure that your role will be filled, or taken as seriously, in subsequent years. Working on a resource list and embedding health and wellness into your chapter’s regular activities are the way to go. Combine this with intramurals if you are short on members to fill the role.
Assign specific goals to individual members of a health and wellness committee. The strength of a committee is in it’s ability to focus on multiple objectives. Seek a diverse set of interests for committee members.
There may be a member whose focus is on finding mental health resources. Another member may then focus on overseeing an exercise regiment. A third may focus on “sports,” which basically means you’ve integrated your intramural chairman into “health and wellness.”
This is a great option, as it allows for a more holistic approach to your members’ health. Again, every member of your chapter may not find every thing your committee does interesting. That said, if any member improves due to the work of any one committee member, that’s success.
A third, and more fluid option, would be to organize your health and wellness officers by class. This is something which intrigues me for all fraternity positions, as it creates a leadership pipeline.
Elect or assign an officer to each class year (1st year, sophomore, junior, senior+) to report to an executive board member or chairman. These class officers can help monitor progress within their year, but can also coordinate events among their peers.
Maybe the fall health and wellness retreat (another point on this list) is organized by the sophomore class. Perhaps the juniors organize a yoga session after a chapter meeting. This setup allows for a competitive aspect. Competition works well with fraternity men.
3. Choose “Optional” or “Mandatory” and Stick With It | Preparation
Whatever activities are associated with your health and wellness program must be entirely optional or entirely mandatory. Optional means that everyone, including new members, has the opportunity to opt-out. Mandatory means that everyone, including graduating seniors, must take part.
It shouldn’t be more strenuous for one group of members than another regardless of which choice you make. Finally, if you make it mandatory it is because it is an essential component of your chapter’s operations. That means you take it as seriously as meetings, ritual, etc.
4. Poll the Crowd | Preparation
Use an anonymous or confidential poll to determine what your brothers want out of a health and wellness program. Use a confidential survey to determine what individual members want to improve upon prior to graduation.
After an event or program is complete, ask brothers how they feel about it. Ask them if they have ideas of games to play, places to play them, or activities to take part in. Keep tabs on your members by regularly polling the crowd. You do not have to do what they say. Just stick to what fits within the scope of your chapter’s overarching goal for well-being.
5. Build a Wellness Resource List & Share It | Resources & Support
The best place to start, whether you are an individual or working with a committee, is to survey your environment. Take some time to research and compile as many health and wellness-related resources as possible. Put them into a “bank” that you and/or your committee has access to. This can be done via cloud storage or a physical filing cabinet if you’re old-school
Share these resources with your members in a variety of ways. Post a flyer about healthy stools and urine inside of bathroom stalls or above a urinal. Send a weekly text message with an article related to exercise or meditation. Print out some simple, nutrient-dense recipes to post in your kitchen. Offer advice on what to get in the cafeteria. Go crazy. Resources are fun! (not really, but let’s pretend)
6. Bring in a Nutritionist | Resources & Support
Find someone professionally capable of providing an introduction to nutrition and ask them to speak with your chapter. It could be a professor, a campus professional, an alumnus, or an undergraduate with a personal training certification. Ask them to cover topics like meal preparation, nutrient-dense foods, and dieting.
Beyond that, consider conversations around supplements and disorders. It’s important to cover a wide range of topics and to establish a line of communication. Find someone you trust to occasionally offer advice if you or your brothers have a concern. Again: Keep it professional. Johnny Six-Pack may have a six-pack, but not everyone needs pre-workout, a protein shake, and Johnny’s lessons on boiling chicken.
7. Track Progress – Don’t Get Cray With It | Resources & Support
For the sake of sticking to your chapter’s goal, track progress in some way shape or form. Perhaps you conduct an annual (and confidential) weigh in. You might have a sticker chart to show when members attended health and wellness activities. In any case, you need to be able to point to potential members that your plan is more than a plan. The only way to do that is to point to some recorded information.
It is best, and I will repeat this often, to keep it simple. Until your chapter has gotten into the groove and standardized its health and wellness plan, there’s no telling what the next guy will keep up with. Start slow.
8. Health Journals: Do Them | Resources & Support
Include in your resource bank a list of apps or physical booklets which help people track their fitness. Encourage each member to track something. For example, it can help a brother to record his meals for one week of each month. Even if he improves his eating for that one week, that’s 12 weeks of better nutrition each year!
Apps provided by Fitbit, or which work with an Apple Watch track a variety of fitness-related information. There are journals specifically designed to track exercise and eating habits. Beyond all of that, keeping a regular journal is good for the mind. It helps people process their day. If a brother does not want to keep a journal of his physical health, ask that he keep a general journal anyway.
Thomas Jefferson did it, and he’s great. So. . . enough said.
9. Bring in a Relationship Specialist | Resources & Support
It is obvious, given the media attention, to focus on mental health. What may be less obvious is to incorporate inter-personal relationship education in your health and wellness plan. The relationships we establish with friends, family and lovers are a major influence on our behavior and well-being. Find a book to read as a group or a professional to talk about healthy relationships.
I recently gave away a copy of Aaron Boe’s “In A Relationship” to an email subscriber. [subscribe here, bruh] It is not the end-all-be-all of relationship advice, but it offers a candid approach to healthy relationship advice without going on and on (and on) about sexual assault statistics. Incorporating this into your wellness program may help brothers identify toxic relationships in their lives. It may also help your chapter be better hosts to your guests.
10. Organize Orientations | Resources & Support
Work with your campus recreation center or a local gym to provide a facility orientation to all members. This is essential for chapters with mandatory programming. Ask the staff to explain the features of the facility, its amenities, the types of classes available and how to use some of the equipment.
Gather interest from members to determine who may have use for a personal trainer. Most facilities offer a free trial with a personal trainer, which is enough time to learn to use the equipment. It also works as a great way to set benchmarks. Organize additional orientations for your campus/local counseling office, medical center, and any other available recreation or health services.
11. Offer Variety to Challenge the Muscles | Holistic Health
Some members want to outrun a zombie during the apocalypse. Some want to get “yoked,” and others want to get through a day without contemplating all that’s wrong with them. Improvements in physical health have a mental effect, so keep your members interested in exercise by encouraging variety.
In addition to making things more interesting, variety helps those who are struggling to progress. Following the same exercise routine day-after-day leads to stagnation. Be sure to encourage members to switch up their routine and to try something new – such as any of the options below.
12. Go Outside & Bring Green Inside | Holistic Health
The more you can do outside, the better. Be sure to pack sunscreen for your fair-skinned friends, then get to wherever there is greenery. Treadmills are depressing, but just being around green plants can boost one’s mood. It also contributes to the variety mentioned in #11.
Be sure to bring some easy-to-care-for plants into your chapter facility if you are lucky enough to have one. Succulents require little light, about a tablespoon of water per month, and are small enough to tuck anywhere. Being around plants improves our mood, so why not line your chapter room with green plants to offset the stress of a bid-voting meeting.
13. Group Fitness Is Great | Holistic Health
Working out together makes working out more fun. It also helps most people push their limits. Group classes are not for everyone, but try to incorporate them when you can. I am leaving that term pretty broad on purpose, because group fitness could mean Zumba, Aerobics, Circuit Training, Yoga, or Meditation. It depends on how granola you can get as a chapter.
Yoga in particular is fun to do with a group of brothers or sisters. There are likely classes on your campus, but if cost is an issue then just follow along to a Youtube video. Do it outside, giggle a little bit, and enjoy the stretch. By the way, strength without flexibility is worthless – so get everyone to stretch.
14. Mental Elasticity Activities | Holistic Health
When we read about mental health it almost always diverts to the topic of depression, anxiety, or suicide. Broaden your mind and focus some effort on mental elasticity. That means doing activities (like laughing yoga) for your happiness, but also giving your academically talented members a chance to shine.
Websites like Lumosity help train your brain with a variety of addictive games. Lumosity can also track progress and provides score readouts, which are great for measuring progress. Consider asking members to pick up a second language with DuoLingo. Perhaps you can practice with one another. Organize a miniature spelling bee, a Jeopardy party, or a simple math challenge. Brains plus brawn is sexy.
15. Parks & Recreation | Holistic Health
Don’t rely entirely on intramural sports for your athletic activity. Competing with friends is fun, so organize occasional games or mini-tournaments within your chapter. These also serve as wonderful recruiting opportunities. Just invite a potential new member to “a kick ball game with some friends.”
Get quirky with it. Play touch football, sure, but try for age-old favorites like kick-ball, animal volleyball, elimination, or freeze tag. I once organized a capture the flag tournament for my chapter and some potential members. About 25 of 60 brothers participated and we made some new friends along the way. For a one-off event on a week day I would consider that a success.
16. Integration 1: Brotherhood | Fun & Stuff
If health and wellness are important to your brotherhood, make it a central part of any retreat. Go for a hike. Relieve some stress at a shooting range (if you’re into that). If your retreat lasts more than one day then consider including a ropes course, morning jogs, or yoga at sunset.
The boost to your energy levels and a slew of other chemicals which affect your mental activity will result in better conversations with your brothers. You can easily create conversations around any group health and wellness activity. Start with, “How did that feel?” and go from there. See, facilitation is easy.
Integration 2: Service/Philanthropy | Fun & Stuff
Modern researchers say that modern generations of students are stuck in child hood. Introducing your goldmine: a philanthropic spelling bee.
If your chapter takes well to health and wellness, then consider aligning with service or philanthropic causes associated with the concept. Pi Kappa Phi’s Ability Experience is a perfect example of something that can be integrated into a health and wellness program. Beyond organizing a day to adopt dogs from a local shelter, offer to walk or care for the animals.
If you volunteer for an after-school program, then take time to learn what such programs can do for a child’s confidence and sociability. Learning is a part of health and wellness, as is sharing the love.
17. Put It Online. Get Goofy | Fun & Stuff
Live stream your spelling bee (I’m really loving this idea of fraternity spelling bees huh?) on Instagram, Snapchat, or Periscope. Organize phony press conferences after an intramural win. Share a video with your top 3 movers and shakers at a group Zumba class. You don’t need to put all of this online. Sometimes it is fun to just do things as a chapter, without cameras present.
The content you can pull from a health and wellness program can be social media gold. Just be sure not to make a mockery of your members for the sake of likes and laughs. Be a judgement free zone -unless you’re a chapter of a-holes. . . In that case, good luck at your membership review.
19. Encourage The Heart | Fun & Stuff
It is very easy to give up on health and fitness goals. It is also easy to cheat using unhealthy habits such as crash dieting. Recognize members who take an active part in your programming. Thank the men who show up to your pick-up kick ball game. Give a certificate to the “Nimblest Mind of XYZ Fraternity” for winning a Lumosity tournament.
Give brothers stickers, certificates, pats on the back, gift cards, or whatever it takes to encourage them to keep improving their body and mind. You would be surprised at how many people appreciate a $5 gift card.
I would love to hear how your chapter’s health and wellness program works, what you like about it, and if anything on this list helped. Sound off in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with thoughts or suggestions.