This post was first published to Fraternal Journal, an extension of Fraternity Man hosted on Medium.com. It is open to all who wish to contribute life lessons or fond memories of timeless traditions related to the fraternity|sorority experience.
One unexpected benefit of my fraternity experience was greater exposure to and understanding of the deaf community.
My chapter of Delta Sigma Phi was the only operating chapter in Florida throughout my undergraduate experience. We were 3–4 hours away from the closest chapter in Georgia. Only one consultant visited over the course of four years. It is safe to say that we did not come expect many visitors to DeLand.
In fact, only two fraternity brothers ever made an unexpected pilgrimage down to DeLand. Both came from our chapter at Gallaudet University and both were deaf. I remember meeting one, who we will call John, while at an intramural game and chatting by texting one another.
A Greater Understanding Working For The Fraternity
I saw our educational programming from the side of the planners while a staffer at the national office. Deaf students were always in attendance, and so I built relationships with many students and our regular interpreters.
Many fraternities|sororities do not or forget to hire interpreters. That may be due to the perceived cost, or just a general misjudgment of the diversity of an organization’s membership. We were lucky (and ahead of the curve, in many ways) to have interpreters. Even still, I noticed several blind-spots in our communication efforts while a fraternity staffer. Our videos were not captioned, and our ritual was a listening experience.
Growing Our Delta Sig Deaf Community
Delta Sigma Phi was one of the first fraternities to charter an all-deaf or mostly deaf chapter. We at one point had three or more mostly deaf chapters operating at the same time. During my time as a member; however, there was only ever one – at Gallaudet University.
I knew I could change that through my role as Director of Fraternity Growth.
Thankfully, members of our Eta Eta chapter at Rochester Institute of Technology approached me to re-establish their historically deaf chapter. Our recruiters established a thriving chapter at the university by utilizing local interpreters and lots of texting. There were finally members from more than one deaf chapter at our national programs.
That may sound trivial or cheesy, but it had a fascinating effect on our relationship with our student members. I was able to better get to know each of the students from our mostly deaf chapters as they got to know and share more about one another.
Fraternity, it seemed, could genuinely serve as a cultural education experience. Students at our Arizona State chapter began to learn American Sign Language (ASL) after recruiting a deaf student. We did not have much to offer in terms of support. Our staff tried to recruit a blind student at a new chapter in the Southeast. Unfortunately, our documents were not in the correct format to use with his reading device.
These were missteps and learning moments, and they have been or will hopefully be addressed soon.
Broadening Our Reach To Share The Value Of Fraternity
There are thousands of deaf members of college fraternities. Still, fraternities still have a ways to go to better communicate the benefits of brotherhood to all.
I am not the only fraternity man to acknowledge the need for broader communication efforts. Unfortunately, it is almost never a conversation at fraternity|sorority conferences. Beyond the deaf community, we face language barriers with native speakers of Spanish, those who are blind, and beyond. Let’s talk less about prohibition and privilege and do more to expand access.
It goes beyond hiring interpreters: Organizations need to consider how their resources are consumed, how their governing documents are understood, and how to communicate with all members. Fraternity leaders must consider how to strengthen sharing and communication between all members.
Leadership Is Communication
For that reason, when setting up a RedBubble store for Fraternity Man, I decided to put all proceeds from the “YITBOS” collection items (linked above) to an eventual fund to support accessible communication efforts within my fraternity.
Such a fund may help pay to caption videos. It could be used to hire interpreters, or to develop alternative methods of delivering the ritual. (deaf students, for example, perform all of our ceremonies with their eyes open because they communicate with their hands. Will we take that into account with our next set of updates?).
I would like to work toward making these considerations a part of our leaders’ native thinking processes. How are we communicating the value of fraternity at the broadest level.
Exposure to people who communicate differently from myself was one of the greatest takeaways from my fraternity experience. I think that too little of the public understands how those worldview-shifting benefits of fraternity membership come into being.
Beyond the “YITBOS” collection, I am happy to help others interested in strengthening their organization’s communication reach. Connect with me via the comments or on social media. Lets talk about what we can create to inspire your members.
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).
Beyond The Easy Explanation
But to compare “Fraternity” to another of Robbins’ works takes away from what it is. Describing it as “pro-fraternity” book probably enables many avoid taking seriously the critiques buried within Robbin’s investigative novel.
To be clear, it is apparent that Robbins believes the fraternity experience offers value. But, as the author writes in op-eds for CNN and The Atlantic, the endorsement is more about what fraternities could offer than our current state of affairs.
I had an unexpected, welcomed opportunity to chat with Alexandra about “Fraternity.” I wanted to learn more about her thought process. 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 :).
Surprising Intimacy & Tenderness Among Fraternity Men
“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. Additionally, fraternities established a local support system among college students, and helped students pursue what they considered to be “elite” at any given time.
An example of that “elite” factor would be the adoption of Greek letters (something students of higher education were taught). Over the years, the network of alumni added to that status, as did plays for big donations and fancy houses.
Quirk Theory For Fraternities
In another of her’ books, “The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth,” (she emphasized that she did not choose the title), Robbins introduces quirk theory. Her Quirk Theory suggests that those offbeat qualities which may result in some being bullied early on in life may later be the drivers of their being embraced. The offbeat may later feel 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
Keeping It Weird
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, “find a variety of men to ensure that they never grow stale.” Oliver’s chapter certainly embraces the concept of quirk theory and is better for it.
FM Sidebar: Oliver’s chapter is not perfect – nor is it presented as such in the book. I will 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,” we can take a moment to consider the universal expectations we set for fraternities. 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.”
An Investigative Novel
I am very interested in Robbins’ style of writing. She operates as a narrator with an inside, personal connection to the characters of her story. It is as if Harry Potter were written with occasional asides by J.K. Rowling to provide greater context or quotes from separate interviews with characters.
The stories of two fraternity men – Oliver and Jake – and their chapters make up the meat of the book. Shorter stories of other fraternity members – a transfer student who experienced membership in two chapters of the same fraternity, for example – are spliced in to maintain attention. Robbins also provides personal observations and opinions throughout the book. This is most true 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.
“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.
Too Much Room For Guessing. . .
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. Perhaps Ben could provide even better care for those men if he felt confident in the help he would be offered had he asked for it.
What does Robbins want you to get out of reading her book?
I asked: 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 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 a few ideas for fraternities to live up that suggested re-branding effort. How could our actions live up to those talking points? Here are her suggestions:
1. “Replace hazing with another difficult challenge”
“Many people – whether right or wrong, and I’m not saying I (Robbins) agree – feel as if they need to “earn something to be considered a true member. I met many men from chapters who did not want to make their pledging process difficult. They 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 challenging 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. I personally 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
Were it not for Robbins, much of what’s written in her book otherwise be unthinkable to consider among current fraternity leadership. The attention she is receiving is essential to helping bridge that gap between fraternity pipe dreams and reality. Our leaders are too far removed from students. They respond to surveys designed to affirm the work of the fraternity|sorority professional world.
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. We would create something which may suffer from occasional abuse. Still – it is far more in line with reality than an edict handed down from the NIC or a university administration. Both are things students Robbins 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.
According to Jean Twenge, author of “iGen,” the current and rising generation of college students are sadder, lonelier, and more likely to commit suicide than any previous generation. That is not to play down the exceptional qualities of modern young people, but more and more fraternities are enacting “mental health” strategies to combat this epidemic.
Where did this sadness come from? Twenge suggests there is a correlation between increased adoption of smartphones/social media and depression. She rules out other possible factors such as the economy or high-pressure school work. It all makes me think back to my time in college. Was I ever happy? Was I ever depressed?
Celebrating My Highs & Lows of Fraternity
I specifically recall moments of celebration. I often found myself surrounded by men and women who were cheering, chanting, or drinking after some sort of “victory.” It is something I imagine many fraternity folk take for granted, because the sense of community which is cause for celebration has all but deteriorated from our increasingly online communities.
My brothers would celebrate when new members accepted our invitation to join and after they completed the ceremonial rites of passage such as initiation. We celebrated after dance competitions or when we won an intramural game.
We would celebrate any meaningless award, a successful philanthropy event, or our love for one another by singing “Piano Man” at the top of our lungs at any bar or party. It didn’t matter if there were five or 60 of us in any of those moments; we knew to cheer for our brothers when they deserved cheer.
We would give a brother whichever trophy we had recently won as the “Brother of the Week” trophy when he did something selfless for the chapter. Brothers awarded “Roses” (and “Razzes”) at the end of every chapter meeting, often acknowledging one another’s individual accomplishments.
Triumph Over Evil
One time, during my junior year, a member of another fraternity wrote “Faggot” on orientation leader advertisements which featured one of our members. We had deep divisions within our group on how to respond. Eventually, I called a chapter brother and staff member of our National Office to help me facilitate one of those conversations.
Despite the tension of those meetings and the chaos around campus (a “Rally Against Hate,” successive newspaper articles sharing every possible opinion and half-apology possible), we simply defined our house as a safe space. Our offended member was the captain of our intramural volleyball team. We packed the stands we played the rival fraternity a few days after the incident. Members and friends of the chapter waved flags and shouted chants for our brother and captain.
We shook the room with every point he and our team scored, then stormed the court after our team emerged triumphant. This is an important element of celebration: We celebrate because we care. In that moment, one which I will never forget, we affirmed our love for our brother. Despite all of the tension present in our conversations as a chapter, we stood together on his behalf.
Bonding Isn’t Always Politically Correct
Some celebrations were less wholesome. We hosted a “F*** Phi Sig” party after we lost a lip-sync competition due to a technicality. Still, the moment a brother stood up and shouted, “F*** Phi Sig party!” to the astonished crowd will forever be etched in my brain as one of my favorite moments from college.
Competitive celebrations are common among athletic or professional sales teams, but they are otherwise absent from most college students’ experience. Fraternity membership offers the support and celebration of a team without the necessary athletic talents. It is ideally a confidence boost open to any student willing to commit to deep, labor-intensive friendships.
It Continues After College
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 was pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly friendly and vulnerable we all were with one another.
We cheered for his marriage, but we also cheered for the bond which brought us together. It was a simple college fraternity membership through which we built that loyal love for one another.
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 the support system of a fraternity or sorority is unrivaled among other student clubs.
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 that ceremony.
That is what it means to build a home away from home and to be brothers. We help one another or work together to accomplish amazing things. Then we celebrate our effort. Imagine if more college students could have that sense of support and love from friends during four-ish of the most essential years of their life.
As Alumni Members
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: (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 – such as publication of 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.