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.