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3 Things I Learned About Progress From The Discomforting Parts Of My Fraternity History.

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No fraternity would share a photo like this on “Throwback Thursday,” but photos like these are just as much a part of our past as head shots of our founding members. (From the Stetson University digital archives).

Today is my Fraternity’s “Founders’ Day,” and so I and many others have enjoyed watching friends and unknown brothers from across the world share what Delta Sigma Phi means to them. Like all fraternities, our national organization is also hard at work to raise funds for the Foundation and, by extension, our organization’s educational offerings.

This is not unique to Delta Sig, and many organizations place a Day of Giving on or around their Founder’s Day to capitalize on nostalgic appeal and drive donations (and, in a way, a renewed vow) from members and friends of the fraternity experience.

Like all history, fraternity histories are influenced by those who tell them. American history, for example, is from a predominantly New Englander point of view (They effectively started public education and have been on the winning side of the most impactful movements/wars in American history). I wrote about this in another post and suggested that our telling of our collective fraternity history contains too many redactions.

There is a religious, almost supernatural zeal in our tales of our founding members and in the development of our national brands. This is only offset by the media’s opposing stories which trash fraternities to “shed light” on things we all know took place.

Most founding members of fraternities and sororities were just kids looking for a support system, but I make an effort in my History/Ritual workshops to explain our founders’ visions in the context of the time period, the location, how each of those things impacted the development of our ritual, and the setbacks we faced in the 119 years after that glorious moment on December 10, 1899.

It is from the often overlooked elements of my fraternity’s history that I have come to better understand how progress works and why it can be so frustrating to reform anything in the modern fraternity system – even if one seemingly has the support of a plurality or majority of the members. Here are a few of those moments and lessons.

1. Progress Often Occurs At A Glacial Pace

My fraternity was established by a group of men who sought a fraternity which would allow both Christians and Jews to join. Finding none at C.C.N.Y. in 1899 they chose to create their own.

As the fraternity grew; however, some chapters found it hard to maintain appeal among students at other universities. The presiding practice of the day was to not intermingle and that extended beyond interracial intermingling.

The intention of the men at C.C.N.Y. did not match well with the local fraternities they had absorbed at other schools in other states, and in 1914 the national body determined that it would no longer initiate Jewish men. Several predominantly Jewish chapters broke away and Delta Sigma Phi remained Christian and white until the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s.

You may experience similar periods of regression, even within your own chapter, particularly after periods of explosive growth. That is why it is important to practice “Good Growth.”

2. Those At The Top Are Often The Last To Acknowledge The Need For Change

That change didn’t come about because the Fraternity elected a National President who decided it was time for change; it happened because students began to demand the change. In fact, the larger and more centralized a governing organization is, the more difficult it is for its progressive components to “model the way.”

Our chapters in California and our chapter at Wittenberg University were among the first to initiate black men, and the decision to remove discriminatory restrictions from our governing documents was ultimately driven by more than a decade of regular debate and ultimatums from state and federal governments.

The system is not any different today. Our greatest accomplishments in addressing our most challenging problems will come about through student activism once they recognize their rightful position as the leaders of our organizations.

3. Changing Rules Does Not Initiate Progress

In the early 20th Century my fraternity banned Hell Week. In the early 2000’s it banned alcohol. Although students voted to enact these efforts, those votes are often coordinated by national committees and boards. Sig Ep, for example, passed a similar alcohol-free housing policy and marketed it as the “New Normal” in 2017.

The fact is that prohibitive policies do not change behavior and may actually make dangerous behavior more deadly. Change happens when trusted leaders invest time into and learn from student and alumni members.

My fraternity may no longer restrict its membership to Christian white men, but I cannot suggest that the policy change resulted in a flood of black, latino, or Asian-American members. Policy only goes so far, and while I would never suggest that a chapter is unsuccessful or “bad” due to a lack of diversity, I have written about some deeper, institutional, racial divisions at the higher levels of fraternity+sorority politics. (again, progress is held up at the highest levels)

Takeaway: Embrace All Of Who You Are

Each of those lessons, some of which I came to better understand through my own failures as a leader, professional and all-around human, helped me figure out how to pursue progress. Not everything that trends on Twitter has lasting power, and those men who have stuck around and contributed at the local level are often the ones who help inspire nationwide reform.

I am writing this to encourage fraternity and sorority members to embrace the less glorious elements of their respective organization’s past. Those moments can offer enlightening insight into how we’ve gotten into our current problem-solving cycle of condemnation, prohibitive sanctions, and lecture tours.

They also offer the greatest insight into how change occurs in governing bodies as a whole (#America). The more effort we put into helping students understand those moments of progress, the better chance we have of them putting what they’ve learned at all of our leadership programs to use for the greater benefit of the fraternity/sorority experience.

Why We Should Emphatically Support Local Fraternities & Sororities, The Small Businesses of Greek Life

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Economists and politicians alike often suggest that small businesses are “the engine of the American economy.” They are not wrong. 

Small businesses and entrepreneurship drive economic growth. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees make up more than 99% of all businesses in America and employ 46.8% of the private sector workforce [1]

The American fraternity system was once overwhelmingly comprised of local fraternity and sorority organizations, which eventually chose or were forced into joining inter/national organizations to meet the needs of state regulators and campus administrations.

Having worked to grow fraternities for more than 6 years, I spent much of my career researching campus fraternity communities, policies, and partaking in the competitive dog-and-pony-show of modern fraternity expansion. The vast majority of institutions I studied or worked with opposed and prevented the establishment of local fraternities without an inter/national organization behind them. 

Many institutions with existing local organizations, such as Young Harris College or Lake Superior State University, would often encourage those organizations to petition for membership in inter/national organizations or considered policies which would only allow for future fraternities to be affiliated with inter/national groups. 

I remember reading about the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at the University of Chicago when they separated from the national organization. In a Facebook group for Student Affairs professionals, the comments wreaked of disdain and ridicule – suggesting that the chapter was doomed without a national backing. 

We should not hold such animosity toward local fraternities (or sororities). They, like small businesses, offer unique potential to challenge the status quo of the fraternity system and to allow the current generation students to make use of their independent spirit and modern talents to offer fraternity experiences which better align with the values and mission of the host institution. 

As someone who regularly suggests that fraternities should ditch their obsession with campus recognition, I hope that my pals who work on college campuses take note of that last statement. 

Here are some reasons to transform from an enemy of local fraternities to one of their greatest advocates:

Local Organizations Occur Organically To Uniquely Address Needs of Fraternity+Sorority Communities

The manner in which fraternities and sororities grow their organizations is about as hit-or-miss as if we just let a group of 10 students decide to start their own fraternity or sorority. We have all been entranced by the insane numbers put up by modern recruitment methods, but almost every new chapter becomes engulfed in the “campus culture” within 2-5 years of its establishment. 

Real change must come from students recognizing the need for change and operating outside of the traditional fraternity council system. To do that, we must be willing to accept new kinds of fraternities and sororities which operate outside of the traditional councils established and overseen by stagnant national umbrella groups. 

Many Umbrella Groups Advocate For Their Existing Member Organizations At The Expense Of Entrepreneurial Students

The statistics suggest that the oldest national umbrella groups do more to stifle competition than they do to promote the fraternity or sorority experience. The National Panhellenic Council (NPC) in particular has not added a new member since the 50’s, and no NPC member organization was established after World War 2.

Supporting local organizations means supporting modern students creating fraternities and sororities based on modern values. Why force students to join organizations whose baggage, policies, and values are representative of a different century?

Local Fraternities Established With Contemporary Values Are Proven Game-Changers

Despite the stagnant memberships of the NIC, NPC, and NPHC, younger umbrella associations such as the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO – which recently turned 20!) are the successful result of student initiatives to grow the fraternity experience and address unmet needs. 

There are dozens of national organizations unaffiliated with any umbrella group. They are often looked down upon by fraternity professionals and most were founded after 1950.

When fraternity/sorority alumni or professionals speak of the founders of their organization, they point out that they were a group of students who wanted to do something different. It is hypocritical to then deny other students that opportunity because our affiliations might dwindle in size or relevance as a result.

Local Fraternities+Sororities Offer Opportunities For Colleges & Universities To Influence The Fraternity Experience

Local and regional organizations, which preserve their own future along with that of their host institution/s should be nurtured by campus administrations.

It is still my opinion that the students be allowed to associate freely and as they wish, but local fraternities (and chapters of national fraternities) cannot exist without their host institution – recognized or not.

They also align with local charities and volunteer opportunities, which would hopefully help service stop being about hours and start being about relationships.

Championing Local Organizations Will Pressure Inter/National Organizations To Adapt – Students Win

Whether it’s chapters purchasing their own insurance or eliminating blanket “Standards of Excellence” checklists – I believe that allowing students to focus on their interests and the needs of themselves and their local communities is a key component in fraternities addressing our greatest areas of need. 

Remember: every major advancement in the fraternity experience comes at the vote and effort of students. They own our organizations, and our peculiar strategy of ignoring or restricting their control is part of why the fraternity experience is in such a stagnant, backward place. 

Greater support for local fraternities means greater pressure for national organizations to meet the needs of their student members. Greater support for the right to associate places greater pressure on campus administrations to meet the needs of their student members. Those are both good things.

When students win, fraternity wins. 

Every fraternity man or woman has their entrepreneurial founders to thank. 

Local fraternities are they key to diversifying the fraternity experience, challenging the rigid status quo of our oldest institutions, and better aligning the fraternity experience with higher education.

All in favor of a “Support Your Local Fraternities” bumper sticker comment below.

Mythic Leadership: The Argonauts, Jason & The Golden Fleece

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You may know of the Argonauts as one of many school mascots, and you may associate “Golden Fleece” with Brooks Brothers, but the origin of each comes from an Ancient Greek myth emphasizing foresight, teamwork, and facing one’s fears. 

Background: Pelias, The Killer King of Iolcus

Years before Jason’s birth, the passing king of Iolcus chose his son Aeson to ascend the throne, but it was taken by Aeson’s half-brother, Pelias. 

As is common in mythic tales, Pelias was told that a descendant of another man would seek revenge upon Pelias for stealing the title of king, and so Pelias worked to kill each of the man’s descendants before they could be considered a threat. Aeson was imprisoned, but his life was spared due to the pleas of their mother. 

Jason was the son of Aeson, and was ordered by an oracle at the age of 20 to head to the Iolcan court, where he encountered an old woman struggling in the water of a river. After helping the woman cross the river, and losing one of his sandals, she revealed herself to be the goddess Hera, who was angry with King Pelias for killing his stepmother after she had sought refuge in one of Hera’s temples. 

Pelias was warned by another oracle to guard against a man with one shoe prior to attending a sacrifice at the temple of Poseidon with several kings from neighboring territories. He recognized Jason, his nephew, among the crowd, standing with only one shoe, but could not kill him in such a public place. 

King Pelias confronted and asked Jason, “What would you do if an oracle announced that one of your fellow-citizens were destined to kill you?”

Jason, without realizing that Hera had put the words into his mouth, replied, “I would send him to go and fetch the Golden Fleece.” The Golden Fleece was guarded night and day by a vicious dragon in the grove of the Colchian Ares. Pelias, believing that the journey would prove fatal for Jason, sent him to fetch the fleece. 


The Argo

Jason commissioned a boat, called the Argos, to get to Colchis. The boat held up to eighty men, and was created specifically for the journey.  There is no definitive list of the crew, called the Argonauts, who assisted Jason on his quest, but this story is unique among Greek myths in that it is one of the few focusing on a team of heroes achieving an objective together. 

Among the most recognizable Argonauts are Hercales, Iolaus (his nephew), Argos (the shipwright), Atalanta (a huntress) and Orpheus (a musician). That being said, almost every hero from Greek literature has at one point been associated with the elite Argonauts. 

The journey was long, and the crew fought many mythic monsters and encountered a variety of challenges to learn how to reach Colchis and the secrets to pass the crashing rocks which guarded its shores. The Golden Fleece was owned by the king of Colchis, who presented Jason with three tasks to retrieve the fleece, in all of which he failed. 

Hera; however, worked in Jason’s favor to persuade Aphrodite and Eros to make the kings daughter Medea fall in love with Jason. She offered him assistance in each task, including providing him with a potion to put the dragon to sleep so that he could recover the fleece. Jason fled with Medea, who distracted her father while they set said (he had turned on Jason after the fleece was safely away from the dragon). 

Return to Iolcus

Upon Jason and Medea’s return to Iolcus, Jason found that both his father and Pelias had become old and frail. Jason pleaded with Medea to return some of his father’s youth so that he could properly celebrate Jason’s return. When Pelias’ daughters learned of Medea’s magic, they asked that she do the same for Pelias. 

Instead, Medea tricked the women into chopping up their father by promising to mix his body with the same potions used to return Aeson’s youth. After effectively killing Pelias, his son drove Jason and Medea into exile in Corinth, where Jason sought to marry a Corinthian woman to improve his political ties. 

This resulted in his separation with a heartbroken Medea, who cursed and killed Jason’s Corinthian wife, then fled to Athens. Jason later returned to Iolcus, where he claimed the throne by killing Pelias’ son, though his betrayal of Medea lost his favor with Hera. He died alone and unhappy, sleeping under the stern of the rotting Argo when it collapsed onto his body. 

Takeaways: Mythic Leadership

That story was long, huh? Well, here are some takeaways from the story of Jason, The Argonauts, and The Golden Fleece. 

Social Capital is Fickle– With each of his selfless actions Jason was rewarded with assistance from Hera, Medea, and the Argonauts in the face of the greed and paranoia of King Pelias. Still, good deeds are not always appreciated, something fraternity men often argue in the face of bad news. Jason turned on Medea despite all she had done for him, who then broke her love spell to gain revenge. 

As a leader, you will establish relationships and partnerships which will ideally be mutually beneficial. Still, you should never take others’ favors or interest in you for granted. Self interest is a great motivator, and so it is best to avoid creating unnecessary resentment among your peers. 

The Dangers Of Lusting For Success – By the end of Jason’s tale, he turns out to share many similarities with Pelias, due in part to his lust for power and success. Awards and achievements are nice, but be wary of prioritizing them over your friends and loved ones. Resting on past achievements will leave you unhappy and exposed, shown in this story by Jason’s attachment to the Argo, which eventually resulted in his death. 

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work – It is safe to say that without the Argonauts and countless figures and monsters encountered on the journey that Jason would never have acquired the Golden Fleece. Utilize the individual talents of your teammates to propel your organization forward, and pay attention to the qualities and talents of potential members to determine how they can best enhance your chapter. 

What other lessons can you pull from the story of Jason, The Argonauts, and The Golden Fleece? Comment below!

Who Owns The Fraternity Experience?

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Tens of thousands of students created thousands of fraternities and sororities which inevitably coagulated into the national fraternity and sorority system as we know it today.

As was noted in a recent post, fraternities were created by students and grew predominantly to protect students rights of free association. 

It is a little strange, then, to see how limiting campus administrations can be with fraternity and sorority groups with only passive arguments or the cooperation of  national governing bodies and nonprofits established to defend your right to free association.

In many ways, students created the very organizations which would later seek to assume control over the student experience, but the majority of fraternity constitutions I have read leave the ultimate authority in the hands of the students. This is where opportunity lies for real, practical student leadership.

I didn’t realize the power I had as a member.

Membership is lifelong, and when I had decided to no longer work for my fraternity’s central office I chose instead to create a campaign to serve on our national board. The point was to show student and alumni members who had often complained to me that there was more they could do to change the system.

I was too young to be considered and tried to challenge the rule. 

The age requirement was in the Fraternity’s Bylaws, which for Delta Sigma Phi meant that I had only two ways of getting it changed:

  1. Request that the national board change the rule and allow greater competition (There would still be a slating committee, of course)
  2. Change the Fraternity’s Constitution so that the Bylaw would violate the Constitution and therefore be invalid. 

It was too late to submit a Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution Committee, and our National Parliamentarian couldn’t offer much guidance, so I sent a request to the national board which promised to discuss it after the Convention. [More about the campaign here – it was fun!]

Then, after re-reading our Constitution, I came across an important note (Article IX, Section 2) – An undergraduate chapter or alumni chapter may submit an amendment to the Grand Council via certified mail at any time, and it must be distributed to all eligible voting delegates within 60 days along with a recommendation of the council. 

So many member complained to me while I worked for the central office about feeling like they lacked control – and here was the control. I began investigating. In Alpha Sigma Phi, for example, the value of each vote at their national meetings is based on preserving a majority for the student body. Even if there are more voting alumni present, their combined votes will never exceed 50%. 

Many organizations have these processes built in to assure that students maintain control of the process, but few seem to be promoted or utilized.

At the end of the day, the students own everything

If I haven’t said this enough I will say it now: Students own the fraternity experience. 

They pay the bills, they achieve the achievements, they choose whether to remain connected to a national fraternity and, as we have seen at Michigan and WVU this fall, they choose whether to remain recognized by college campuses. 

Students are our employers, and we cannot assume authority simply because we believe that they are not prepared for it.

A banker cannot confiscate her clients funds because she believes that the client will not use them wisely, and we need to learn to respect the students’ role in our processes. We need to recognize who we work and volunteer for. It is not your fraternity’s National President, CEO/Executive Director, College/University President or any combination of the above. 

“He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and I am making it my mission to empower students to start calling the tunes. Every press release is aimed at appeasing fraternity/sorority professionals, the media, parents, special interests, or some combination of the four. Perhaps it is time we stop steamrolling our students simply because they haven’t (yet) learned to fight back. 

Students: Your Mission

As a part of your new member experience, next executive board meeting, or next retreat, take some time to look through your fraternity or sorority’s governing documents and take note of the chain of command. 

You will quickly realize that you are reserved a spot at the top – that you control every decision. Talk about it with your advisers, and think of what you want to see happen, but be mindful: pushing for too abrupt a change too quickly will make it easy to paint you as uninformed or immature.

Consider this post on practical tips to address hazing – it’s all about directional movement, not immediate gratification and “Winning.” 

Remember: We do not exist without you. No matter how gigantic and imposing your fraternity or the NIC/NPC/NPHC/Etc. or your campus administration seems – “fraternity” is your product. We bow to you.

Fraternity Leaders & Professionals Unwittingly Teach Students To Cover Their Tracks Rather Than Own Failure

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Here and there, things go wrong. Many of us find ourselves in positions of leadership in these situations, and many of us reflexively move to cover our tracks. 

I remember a time as Chapter President, when a report had been filed that our chapter threw a party. Specifically, the campus safety officers who had come to our chapter dormitory (“house,” but honestly more of a dorm) for a regular walk through noted that a few guests on the balcony began to blow whistles when the officers arrived, that a series of whistles went off inside the house, and that the interior was decorated to fit a beach theme. 

We did have a party – it was our biggest of the year – and we were actually lame enough to outfit certain monitors with whistles, but when Nik the Chapter President showed up to the Vice President of Student Affairs’ office the following week the point made was, “You don’t have any proof.”

Perhaps it is just my imagination, but there was disappointment in his eyes. The VP was relatively new to the school, the rest of his staff introduced me as a high caliber leader, and he had to sit in a room and pretend the truth was untrue because no one would admit to it.

Things Don’t Change. . . 

Working on a fraternity staff helped me empathize with the VP.

Students would hide and conceal the truth from me, the Fraternity Professional, just as me, the Chapter President, had done a decade ago. It was never truly a secret – we all knew what was going on – and it was such a shame to be unable to talk about fraternity issues as a fraternity professional because it might result in someone admitting a policy was violated. 

“There was a time when men were afraid somebody would reveal a secret that was unknown to their fellows. Nowadays they are afraid to name what everybody knows”

Francisco d’Anconio

It is more apparent now as a volunteer alumnus for my fraternity and a few others.

Conflating Writing A Rule With “Leadership”

I often focus on the unintended consequences of prohibitive policies [1] [2] [3]. Sure, the policies can be overbearing, and it doesn’t make sense to risk a charter because someone shotgunned a beer, but perhaps there is more to why students spend more time contemplating how to cover their tracks than how to change their behavior. Let’s explore that:

When a chapter brother is accused of sexual assault, why is he suspended from his lifelong membership? Will that help him?

When a group of young men embark on dangerous behavior, why are they stripped of their group, their membership, and – occasionally – their college experience? Will that help them?

What makes prohibitive policies worthy of applause? What is courageous about the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference’s decision to ban hard alcohol from member fraternity houses? That “tough” decision would generate just the right kind of hard ass, tough-talking press release to please parents, the media, and campus professionals. 

Our students and alumni learn to cover their tracks and call it leadership by watching us – the leaders of the fraternity/sorority world. They see how we act, act in the same way, and we lecture them for it.

A Microcosm Of Political Culture

Politicians, celebrities, and fraternity leaders often present themselves as nearly ideal specimens worthy of being cherished as national treasures. They point out every possible flaw in their opposition and struggle to avoid any association with normal human failures. 

It is not bad to learn from the people we see in the public spotlight, but we cannot so easily dismiss our own influence and the negative repercussions of mimicking their damaging behavior or qualities just because we are not famous.

“It’s as if they heard that there are values one is supposed to honor and this was what one does to honor them”

Hank Rheardon (Character from Atlas Shrugged)

Our students know that they will be dropped by their “insurance” if they violate any fraternity policy when the unthinkable happens, and so they find it more important to cover their tracks than change their behavior.

That makes students sound devious, but what is fraternity insurance other than a way for national corporations to cover their own tracks? Students learn to circumvent responsibility in response to a system designed to circumvent responsibility. . . put that in your policy education lecture!

When advisers tell students how to stay out of trouble, rather than how to deal with it and improve, those students apply that knowledge to the rest of their life’s work.

When students see that they are cherished for doing the most (*cough* Standards of Excellence *cough*), then they come to see “success” as “doing the most.” When they move into roles in the fraternity/sorority profession they then do “the most” without offering any creativity or valuable leadership.

What we reinforce will show up in how they present themselves on social media, how they operate as an employee/employer, what they teach their children, and what they expect of others.

There is so much that is right about the fraternity experience, but we must  stop blaming our students for all that is wrong about the fraternity experience. They learn to be superficial, combative, and ignorant not only from their friends or alumni, but from their campus professionals, (inter)national leadership, and umbrella association leadership.

It bothers me to think of the times where my insecurities or anger overwhelmed my common sense when making decisions. It also bothers me, as a fraternity man, to deal with policies which I find to be stupid, ineffective, and truth-deterring. 

Who are we trying to fool? We all know what’s up and which special interests affect how fraternities address challenges. Will there ever be a point where we could be honest?

[This reality may not apply only to leadership within the fraternity and sorority world, but it is our risk-evading leadership which demands our students hold themselves up to a higher standard, and our risk-evading leadership which should lead that change.]

Hey Young People! Voting Is [Not] The Most Important Thing You Can Do.

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Only 1/3 of eligible millennial voters are considering voting according to the latest poll of 1,881 of them (0.000024% of the total number of millennials in America) [1]. Try pretending to be shocked.

Fraternity and sorority professionals and fraternities and sororities themselves are encouraging their followers to vote. Good on them, voting is power and stuff. That being said, politicians saying that voting is the most important thing one can do is about as cliché as saying that this election is the “most important of our lifetime.” We get it, you guys are super important and super serious and need to win.

Here are some things to consider about your vote and the political process in general. Sure these are my opinions. . . but this is my website :).

1. Your Vote Is Your Vote

It is your right as a citizen to be able to formally express your opinion of who is in the best position to lead your local governments, state government, and federal government.

Any talk that a “vote for ____ is a vote for ____” is just a selfish human trying to guilt you into placing their beliefs above your own. If you want to write in, “Lindsay Lohan,” for every ballot line, then fricking do it!

2. Imagine That You Are A Part Of A Hiring Committee

It might be hard to believe with all the fantasy polls and ESPN-style graphics on the “news” showing which party will have control over which chambers, but elections are not actually a sport; they are a hiring process.

If a politician is working to “win” your vote by slandering his or her opponent, then they are not seeking to represent you – they are seeking to beat the other team. Why would you hire someone who acts so childish?

3. Candidate Suppression Is More Well-Documented Than Voter Suppression or Fraud

More than 80% of registered voters in the U.S. vote, but only 55% of the eligible voting population votes. [2]

When you compare the U.S. to the other nations on that cited list; however, take note that those other governments operate as multi-party systems with a variety of candidates representing a variety of interests and, get this, overlapping platforms! [3]. Perhaps hundreds of millions of people just do not fit into two completely opposite political categories. . . 

Candidate Suppression: States across the U.S. have implemented laws which make it tougher for independent candidates or candidates from parties not named “Democrat” or “Republican” from gaining ballot access. [4][5]

In states where those candidates do gain ballot access, they are prevented from taking part in debates [6], receive effectively zero media coverage [7], and/or are excluded from polls [8]. Why vote when you are repeatedly mislead to believe that a person who might represent what you believe and who is on the ballot as a candidate is not a real choice?

4. If You Want To Be Informed, Avoid News Entertainment

The professional teleprompter readers on t.v. are not your friends, they work for for-profit organizations which create drama and conflama around the news to boost viewership, listenership, click, and the resulting ad revenue.

I find it strange that my friends and politicians who complain that there’s too much money or corporate interests in politics never seem to complain that for-profit news corporations endorse candidates, give them billions of dollars worth of content for free, and blatantly ignore other qualified candidates.

ex. Donald Trump underspent almost all of his competitors in the 2016 election cycle – he didn’t even set up a superPAC. He just said what he needed to say to get billions of dollars worth of free airtime or front-page real estate on the news. (Even if the coverage was negative, anyone who knows how Google/Facebook/Twitter algorithms work knows that nothing fires up a base like a verbal assault on its leader.)

It’s cool to have opinions, but it doesn’t make sense from the perspective of a voter to care so much about strangers profit-driven opinions – as difficult as ignoring them might be.

5. Yes, There ARE More Impactful Things Than Voting

  • Run for office: In most cases you’ll get paid when you get the job, and the existing blue team/red team candidates are apparently unappealing to 1/2 of America’s eligible voters. . . so you’ve got something to work with. (ex. I didn’t like the options I was given for my fraternity’s Grand Council so I ran.)
  • Be a service to your community:  YOU are powerful. Do work you believe in, volunteer, help your family, stand up for someone being bullied, and be the change you wish to see – but for real. It is nonsensical to suggest that 400 people in Washington D.C. will ever make decisions perfectly fit for the 300,000,000+ people they represent.
  • Assist a candidate you believe in: Help someone you believe in get on a ballot. Work to convince a friend to run for office. Focus on local and state governments – they are less costly, often “non-partisan,” and you can create a base to support a national campaign.

How Can You Be Informed?

You can’t – no one can be truly informed, think of how many candidates we turn on when their skeletons come out of the closet. But here is a guide to voting with a level head and making the decision that’s right for you:

  • Determine what you want from government by researching political theories. No theory is perfect, because humans are imperfect, but you will probably find one you think makes sense. Consider the “criticisms” in your decision-making process.
  • Realize that no one is as perfect as their Instagram. Every politician, every news anchor, and every one of your happy friends will eventually suffer from diarrhea. No one is perfect, so don’t expect perfection of a politician. That is just a way to dissuade human people like you from running for office. 
  • Recognize that you have a right to keep your vote secret. It can be comforting to know that you do not owe anyone any information regarding which candidates you support or if you voted at all.
  • When listening to someone else’s opinion, remember that they are not perfect, that they may not make great decisions just because you like them, and their their opinion is ultimately none of your business unless you ask to hear them. Even then, see #3 – they don’t have to share opinions with you just because you have asked.
  • Ask yourself if you might be wrong once or twice a year. Online debates are silly and rarely work, and most people just act like arse-faces. The best way to help yourself be open-minded is to actually question whether or not your belief system is flawed. You might not change your mind, but it will help you remember that nothing and no one is perfect.

Go ahead and vote. . . just know that your options as a citizen are only as limited as you allow them to be.

How A Fraternity All About Pizza Can Change The World: The Message Map

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In 2014 I came across a gem of a video while putting together my fraternity’s expansion presentation – The Message Map.

He’s so cheerful!

To many of you, the idea itself may not be revolutionary. It very clearly aligns with Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” and the traditional understanding of human psychology that we best remember things by categorizing them into 2-4 groups, but I would like to help more student leaders and advisers make use of a message map given my experiences. 

Message Map Everything! (My Time At The HQ)

The storyteller in me had unconsciously used the concept behind a message map well before seeing the video. I, like many, was taught to write essays with an introduction, 2-3 supporting sections, and a conclusion. It is a logical way to piece together a presentation, proposal booklet. . . anything really. 

Still, the “message map” gave me a simple way to communicate that pitch to those collaborating with me. Humans are visual creatures, and being able to see something mapped out will speak to someone better than a long-winded explanation or page full of words. The key point of a message map is that it can visually or verbally get your point across within 15-30 seconds.

This is important during recruitment, where you may not have much time to explain what you are about before a student hangs up, wanders to another table, etc.

Our team used the message map to pitch to potential campuses, to design our summer training for the consultant teams, and we used it to set themes for our objectives for the year. In all we did particularly well, and I was floored (partly because I figured my team just ignored my rambling) when 6 months into the academic year, during a staff retreat, some consultants recited our message map perfectly from memory.

In The Chapter

I also worked with a few chapters directly, either because I had strong relationships with the chapters or because they were in interesting situations and could use someone who didn’t give a half of a poop about the traditional consultant playbook. Here are some of the results:

  • One chapter grew from 7 to 30+ men in 2 years by simplifying their message
  • One chapter (this fall actually) doubled in size by simplifying their message with the message map
  • I sat in a chapter meeting at another chapter where general members (read, not exec board members) were questioning ideas for activities based on how they fit the message map

Here’s the deal: If you want a majority of your members to be “bought in,” if you want to improve not only the number of people you recruit but the dedication of those people, and if you want to make the process of completing all 1,000,000 things on your school’s/fraternity’s checklist o’ leadership, then follow the guide below. 

(Consider this the practical application of this post about the value of a Vision over trophies, rush shirts, etc.)

1. Craft Your Message Map

Crafting your message takes some reflection – you need both the “Twitter friendly headline” (your why), and 2-3 supporting points (your how’s). Here are some thoughts:

  • Gather your newest members – ask them why they joined the fraternity and take notes. Ask the same question of members who actually show up to things. 
  • Look through your Ritual and jot down a few recurring themes. What are the major lessons or takeaways from each ceremony. 
  • Gather your executive board, maybe even your chairmen, and look through the previous year’s calendar. Which events/activities did you love, which were just necessary, and which felt like a waste of time. 

Doing that gives you an idea of who your chapter is and what is expected of your chapter in your Ritual. Chances are your “twitter-friendly headline” is going to be something about brotherhood and making people better through. . . this is where your three points (the things which will differentiate you from any other fraternity) come in.

Find an alumnus who is not attached to the past and show them this post and the message map video. Explain that you need them to make sure the idea of a message map stays in place when you’ve graduated from your position.

2. Plan With Your Message Map

Now it’s time to put it in action. Let’s say that your 15-second pitch (the combination of your headline plus your 2-3 points) is as follows:

“The Members Of Pi Zeta Alpha Fraternity seek to build supportive, lifelong bonds by uniting men committed to personal development and a love for pizza”

The mission statement of Pi Zeta Alpha Fraternity – a fraternity I have been dreaming of for years.

Your mission is to look through all of the events that you’ve done and all of the events you need to do per your school’s/fraternity’s checklist o’ leadership

See which activities or events automatically fit in with “supportive lifelong bonds,” “personal development” or a “love for pizza.” Remember: you’ve chosen these things because they represent truths already evident in your chapter’s membership and activities, so this shouldn’t be hard. 

There will be things which do not fit. You might need to do a philanthropy event, but a volleyball tournament might no longer fit with the chosen categories. There’s no need to completely trash the event; just be open to trying something new.

3. Craft & Teach the 30 Second Pitch

Now, if at any point a student says, “Tell me more, how does ‘pizza’ become a part of your fraternity,” you have 2-3 activities which support that point. You or a strong recruiter might say:

We have a pizza party once a month, our fall brotherhood retreat is actually learning to make pizza from scratch, and one of our spring projects is making pizzas from scratch to feed students during finals week.

– The amazing things your chapter can do if it was all about pizza. Booze not necessary.

Would that actually attract any student to your fraternity? I have no idea. People love pizza, but my guess is that no chapter will actually use Pizza as a supporting point. Would I support my chapter if they chose to use “pizza” as one of three themes? Abso-f***ing-lutely.

In any case, you can see how that chapter clearly demonstrates how they bond over pizza – you can even get an idea of how they transform a brotherhood event (learning to make pizza) into a service event (providing pizzas during finals, at a shelter, etc.).

4. Learn The Art of Inception

The only people who should hear the phrase “message map” are your executive board and your recruitment team. This is an important point, because people hate feeling like things are being imposed on them. If you get a chapter of 50 people together to craft a message map it’s going to be generic and some people are going to be livid that their suggestions weren’t included. Skip the drama.

Instead, once your executive board/adviser is on board, start using the language throughout the chapter meeting. Acknowledge that everyone loves pizza, and that it just so happens that you’re going to do a brotherhood event about making pizza, then pause for the cheering.

Then, later, acknowledge that the event was so fun, you’re going to replicate it and donate the pizzas you make so you don’t have to do whatever other service project you were going to do. Continue using the 2-3 words throughout chapter meetings and in how you promote events. 

The third chapter I mentioned above simply kept using their chosen words, “atypical” and “genuine,” in regular conversation. Eventually, the brothers got the point that if they wanted their ideas to be taken seriously, they needed to pitch them as something atypical, genuine, or both. All of the new members were recruited with those words, and so the brand stuck over many years. 

5. Leave It Open To Evolution

Your “twitter-friendly headline” is unlikely to change much over time, and the interests of your members are unlikely to swing wildly from year to year. That being said, do not attach your ego to your message map. Things do change, and it is more important that your chapter apply a message map well then apply the exact same message map five years from now.

This is why it is important to get your strategic-planning-savvy alumni aware of the value of a message map early in the game. Maybe in five years the chapter decides it likes burgers more than pizza. That’s fine! They’ll just swap pizza out and swap the burgers in. Maybe they sell burgers to raise funds for local farms. Great!

The 100% truth is that the most impressive and successful chapters I visited while on the headquarters were able to demonstrate how unified the students and alumni were in buying in to a clear vision of what that chapter offered and what that membership was about. It was during those visits that I realized our accreditation system needed to be revamped to promote specialization and niche-development within our chapters.

Do not be a jack-of-all trades fraternity chapter. Focus on the things you like, and turn the things you are required to do into things you like to do. We might finally convince fraternity/sorority professionals to ditch the checklists once and for all, open their minds, and let students to do things they’re passionate about.

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