“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.