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Growth Is Fickle. Get Good At It.

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“Bigger is better” is an occasionally destructive mindset plaguing the American people. We imagine that the most popular politicians, rappers, or food chains produce the best content, but that is too far from the truth. 

No one considers McDonald’s the place to get the highest quality hamburger just because it has sold billions of them. 

Fraternities and Growth

Fraternities and sororities, despite their insistence that they adhere only to the highest of standards, often fall victim to the “Bigger is Better” mindset. 

The more we expect of fraternity chapters, and the more campus professionals and the public expect of fraternity/sorority central offices, the more members a chapter needs to be able to complete the leadership checklists and pay for the new programs. [1]

I remember being instructed to convince a chapter with over 100 members that they needed more members. . . it didn’t make sense. For What?

There wasn’t a reason other than we didn’t want them to think that they should stop growing, because growth is automatically good and bigger is automatically better. That mindset didn’t take their goals and ambitions into account, and they rightly questioned our motive. They weren’t in any risk, had a strong recruitment record, a strong local niche, and pulled potential members from consistent channels.

Exponential growth is not necessarily bad, but it is often placed on a pedestal among fraternity folk.  When we encourage a chapter to increase in size, we need to observe if the chapter “grows good,” otherwise we risk being caught off guard when the chapter eventually falls apart.

Things To Keep In Mind If You Are A Recruitment Officer A Fraternity/Sorority Professional, Or An Adviser

I spent 3 of my 4 undergraduate years on our recruitment team, then 6 more years recruiting and overseeing recruitment at my national fraternity. Here are some things our team(s) learned over the course of those 9 years of experience.

1. Have an idea of who you are and what you want to accomplish

The first step to good growth is defining a simple, functional vision for your chapter. Every organization needs to have a direction, and defining the type of things you want your chapter to do will help you sell the experience to the right people.

Chuck might be a good guy, sure, but if Chuck doesn’t like service, and you need him to complete 30 hours every semester, then Chuck should not be in your fraternity. As mentioned in a recent post: A vision trumps trophies when it comes to recruitment. [2] It also makes it easier to let go the people who don’t fit – pity bids are not real bids.

2. Take Note Of What You Have To Work With

You need to align where you want to be with what you have to work with right now. Fraternities (undergraduate chapters and central offices alike) are notorious for BIG PLANS with underwhelming results. Figure out which roles you need filled to accomplish your vision as well as how many of your members are going to be involved in the new member process before you start recruitment. 

You should only have 2-3 times (maximum) the number of new members as there are brothers who can commit to serve as co-educators, big brothers and mentors to the new members (10-20 hrs per week).

Your new members should have an idea of how they would like to participate in the life of the chapter after initiation, and you should spend a considerable amount of time during the new member process helping prepare them to do what they joined to do: contribute.

3. Identify Your Channels

While you are planning for the number of men you can reasonably prepare for membership, your recruitment team should use your vision to determine where you will pull members from. It is foolish to rely only on those men who apply for fraternity rush to fulfill your needs – particularly as college enrollment is set to drop.

If you want to be leadership-oriented, academically-oriented, faith-oriented, etc. – there are probably related clubs that your chapter should meet and collaborate with throughout the year. Position some members as orientation leaders or tour guides – you need members in places where they can refer quality potential members back to the recruitment team.

[For more tactical knowledge on how to make use of these relationships, consider PhiredUp’s resources]

4. 365 Recruitment Is More Inception, Less Smoker Party

When chapters hear “365 Recruitment” there is automatically the impression that “recruitment” needs to happen throughout the year. It does, but you don’t need to plan recruitment events throughout the year. Instead, you need to make sure that all of your events are geared toward recruitment. 

If you are planning a service event, invite some prospective members to help. They’ll get to know your chapter, you’ll get to see if they actually care about what you do, and you have effectively helped them understand what it is like to be a fraternity member. 

Doing this takes a lot of unnecessary work off of your recruitment officer/committee’s plate – their job after “formal recruitment” is simply to help figure out how to make each event something that can involve potential new members or how each event can be marketed to potential members.

5. Set Some Objective Pre-Requisites & Stick To Them

As mentioned in a post from last year [3], every potential member should know exactly how much membership will cost, the real requirement of time, the moral expectations of every member, and your chapter’s vision and goals. 

Do not wait until you are in debt to learn that a member cannot pay or commit 10 hours a week to the chapter because you were worried you’d “scare him off” if you told him upfront. Dead weight isn’t sexy. 

6. Shrug Off The Pressure From Above

Your alumni, campus professionals or fraternity/sorority central office will always want you to be bigger. Beyond the revenue and press releases and such it simply makes them feel secure that your chapter won’t shrink into oblivion – but it is important to recognize that growing wildly is not a recipe for stability.

Responsible growth means knowing why you are growing, planning ahead for what to do with your new members when they arrive, and re-assessing your situation when the time comes again to recruit more people. 

Good Growth Doesn’t Need To Be Slow

It might sound like I’m simply warning a chapter from growing too quickly, but it is all a matter of preparation. If you and your new members understand what needs to happen for the chapter to succeed then it is okay to grow quickly.

Just try not to expect that rate of growth to last forever, and try to accept that there will come a point where adding members offers limited benefit to your chapter experience.

I once consulted a chapter that had whittled down to 7 men. We spent some time together determining what type of man they wanted to recruit and which niches had not been filled by the other fraternities at their institution and determined that focusing on leadership positions on campus and attracting international students for cultural diversity would be their key selling points.

Within a year, they grew from 7 men to more than 20 men, then later to more than 30 men (at a school of <1,000 students), but every single potential member they talked to knew that the chapter aimed to serve as a representation for student leaders and broadening one’s cultural connections. 

They succeeded in good growth because they knew what they wanted to be, they knew the type of men they wanted to recruit, and the new members all knew exactly what they were joining and what was expected of them. Simply planning and communicating well helped the chapter be exactly what its leaders set out for it to be.


That’s it! What are some of your thoughts on “good growth”? Share on social media or in the comments below!

Zero-Tolerance Prohibition Makes Hazing (& Everything) Deadlier.

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Pennsylvania recently passed new hazing legislation thanks to the tragedy at Penn State and the diligent work of the parents of the hazing victim. The North-American Interfraternity Conference’s coalition with parents of hazing victims seeks to enact more prohibitions like Pennsylvania’s in other states and federally with the Reach Act. 

Still, a quick search of deaths due to hazing will show that the number of deaths due to fraternity hazing have increased since the turn of the century, which coincides with increased state-level prohibition, increased fraternity-level prohibition, and excessive spending on anti-hazing educational programming from experts in the field. [1]

“With this bill it is a crime to force a student or minor to consume food, alcohol or drugs or subject them to physical or mental harm that is all too common on college campuses”

Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania

Dear Governor Wolf: Was it legal to force a student or minor to consume anything or subject them to physical or mental harm prior to this new criminal law?

Probably not, but when we confuse writing rules and patronizing pacification with leadership we are rewarded with this type of redundant, backward legislation. [2]

Prohibition Makes Desirable Things Happen In The Most Undesirable Ways.

Let us look at some examples:

Alcohol: The clearest example is alcohol prohibition, which resulted in the closure of nearly 200,000 saloons and parlors across the nation with the passage of the 18th Amendment. Alcohol still existed, and was still consumed, only now it was done in secret and the only means to acquire it was through cartels like that of Al Capone – widely regarded as one of if not the most deadly gangsters in American history. (Chi-city baby!)

As a result of prohibition, these cartels began selling harder alcohol. As is noted in this recent piece by Forbes about marijuana prohibition (getting to that), it was much easier to hide a single barrel of whiskey than 8 or so barrels of beer with the same alcohol content. The product got stronger, more dangerous, and the secret activity around it created a deadly environment for those involved in its sale. 

Cigarettes: Many know of Eric Garner, a New York City man who was killed by police at a time when the Black Lives Matter moment was at its news-media coverage peak (it must no longer drive healthy advertising revenue. . .). 

Garner was killed while under arrest because he was suspected of selling single cigarettes on the street without tax stamps. A pack of 20 cigarettes faces a $5.85 combined state/local tax in New York City. Whether you like or dislike cigarettes or a person’s decision to smoke them, one can be assume that there are more pressing criminal activities demanding NYPD’s attention. 

Marijuana: Returning to the Forbes article – we see noted there that Marijuana, a substance which has not resulted in a single death in the known history of the world, has become more dangerous due to prohibition. 

In addition to the illegal trade and violence surrounding illegal trade of the drug, laws which penalize someone with marijuana for the amount they possess in grams encourages consumers to seek marijuana with higher THC content (the stuff that gets you “high”) often at the expense of the plant’s CBD content (the stuff used to treat epilepsy and which neutralizes the neurosis-causing effects of long-term THC use).

Dealers benefit from more potent stuff because it means there is less for them to transport in general and with each transaction. Containers with marijuana are labeled in states where it is legalized with the anticipated effects and THC content. Which brings us to . . .

Opioids: Incarceration of illegal users of opioids is expensive, does nothing to address addiction, and results in those same addicted abusers returning to prison for repeat violations. We could save lives and money if our focus was, like alcohol, on rehabilitative services. 

“Prohibition does not eliminate desire, but makes it happen in the most dangerous and undesirable way.”

Congressman Ron Paul

Our uneasiness in dealing with fear and addiction drive our desire to banish and blame those things which lend themselves to abuse. It is an interesting phenomenon to watch fraternities position themselves as stewards of mental health while continuing to support policies criminalizing those who exhibit poor mental health.

Discriminating Between Dangerous Hazing & Legitimate Rites of Passage

Perhaps those students and alumni who desire a rite of passage are not criminals. Could we help chapters move away from forced consumption, physical abuse and mental abuse and toward a more rewarding, relevant challenge if conversations about hazing could be had without disclaimers and “amnesty” rules?

Students seem to find a way around each new rule meant to combat hazing: 

  • Shortening the new member period has resulted in the hazing of new initiates or seniors.
  • Deferred recruitment just means that lawless, alcohol-induced, expensive underground recruitment occurs throughout the fall term.
  • Blanket zero-tolerance policies applied to a broad definition of “hazing” results in more potent, less detectable, and deadlier hazing activity. 

The proof is in the numbers, more students have died to hazing this decade than at any time in history. No laws, lectures, or “standards of excellence” programs have made any measurable impact. It is obvious to anyone who can read or who has dealt with addiction: Criminalization is not a solution, but it is the cornerstone of every modern fraternity/university press release.

Anything that gives the impression of “earning” initiation is deemed hazing and immediately shamed and banned. Just say “scavenger hunt” to an ambitious fraternity/sorority professional and watch their face – it will look as if they just heard about 9/11.

We close chapters and imagine that they will be permanently “better” when they are re-established – but the risk management issues persist because nothing has changed behind the scenes.

I wonder. . . would too many people lose their authority, their relevance, or their career if the hazing problem were truly solved? Is that why so many work together to promote costly ideas known to fail?

I doubt it is anything so consciously evil – maybe it is just an issue of pride and the cultish reality tunnel of the fraternity/sorority professional network that chokes out any person with a different idea to address the hazing issue.

Real Hazing Reform

In addition to the three suggestions I have for the NIC’s coalition to end dangerous hazing (link – reform insurance, end checklist leadership, report the stats), perhaps it is time we consider developing real, post-adolescent rites of passage as an essential element of a lifelong fraternity experience. 

Broad, unrefined prohibition is an unworkable answer considered respectable only among those who fetishize authority and power – people who have no place in leading a values-driven fraternity experience.

Dog and Pony Show Laws like Pennsylvania’s, which merely bundle already illegal things together with a different context and title, will do nothing to stop deaths due to hazing. They may actually make it worse.

Five Suggestions To Modernize Our Handling Of Fraternity Secrets & Rituals

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The newest podcast from Greek Life Today features the author behind a photo book featuring the inside of a pre-social media fraternity house. There is not much available on the internet, but what I can see and what I heard in Jon’s conversation with the author (Andrew Moisey. Seriously, check out that episode & podcast. High quality Greek Life media.) captivated me.

Jon asks at the end of the episode what Moisey believes fraternities and sororities can do to address their current challenges. One of the things Andrew suggests is “end the secrecy.” The reasons he offers are not too different than what I once argued in a post about the effect of secret-keeping on our ability to discuss non-secret things within our organizations – let alone with the public. [1]

Conventions 2011, 2013 & 2015

No matter my position on the fraternity staff, I chose to do the most menial work at our Convention. I once refused to find a new staff member to fetch coffee for a national officer and demanded that I be sent to get the coffee – I always make points with dramatic flair. . . shocker.

In any case – I would often serve as the door guard prior to our assembly meetings. Attendees and delegates would be required to perform the secret handshake and say the secret password to enter into the room. Few if any of the 500+ attendees at any Convention were aware of the grip or the password. Many forgot (or never knew) both of them. We would send dozens of men (young and old alike) to the end of the line to learn from a friend.

I believe the grip and password is now reintroduced at delegate training sessions due to the fact that the men who were literally voting on legislation that would change our ritual seemed to know nothing of it.

It should go without saying that one could assume that many of those men would scoff at the idea of publicizing a ritual they remember little to nothing of, but such is the case of fraternity.

100% Beeswax candles are a fun group craft project (you can buy kits online), they’re beautiful, and they smell great.

Instead of going full crazy and suggesting that our ritual be made public I am offering some suggestions to my Fraternity’s leadership and chapters of my fraternity to reduce the mystery (and the resulting public anxiety/resentment) around our fraternity. It may also help more members and the general public understand what we are about – and how beautiful it all is.

I would assume that these ideas can apply to any fraternity or sorority. . . but I don’t know your secrets. 

“We’re all slowly going mad, from poverty and anxiety and mystery.”

Robert Anton-Wilson

Ritual In Meetings. All Of The Time.

Unless your national policy strictly forbids it, incorporate ritual into all of your chapter events and meetings. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed up: address the officers by their proper titles, use the proper hand signals to be called upon, sit in the proper formation, etc.

Thousands of hotel staff across the country have seen the shape that Delta Sigs sit in. . . and it doesn’t matter because none of them know why. These symbolic traditions make meetings more enjoyable and increase the morale and commitment of members. [2]

When I became a Director at our central office we incorporated Ritual into our team meetings and local rituals (like a weekly pass the gavel) into our training process.

While Chapter President I set up Chapter to sit in formation and use the proper signals before our chapter room was fitted with curtains because we had gone more than a year without a proper chapter meeting. Guess what? The secret didn’t get out. The reason is simple: People don’t actually care.

Publish “Exoteric” Rituals Online & In New Member Manuals

Some of our rituals are technically open to the public. These include a housing dedication ceremony and a ceremony for brothers who have passed away. There is no reason for these ceremonies to be contained only to the ritual book. They are beautiful ceremonies and they demonstrate the application of our symbols and values without giving anything away.

Put them on the national website, a chapter website (they’re not secrets), Wikipedia, WikiFrat, in our new member manuals, wherever. They need to be accessible. If five fraternity brothers stay in touch for life and one of them passes away, there is no reason to suggest that the rest pay $1,200+ each attend a Convention or acquire a ritual book to conduct the Bond Eternal Ceremony.

Open Up Pledge/New Member Ceremonies

Some chapters invite parents or spouses to the Pledge Ceremony. Ours reveals little about our fraternity, its symbols, or what they mean. Consider that 10-20% of the men who take part in a Delta Sigma Phi Pledge Ceremony do not follow through with initiation. . . it was designed to maintain our secrets.

That ceremony is a wonderful opportunity for parents to be involved at the start of their son’s journey as a fraternity man. It can also serve as an important moment (similar to most ancient or indigenous rites of passage) where they learn that their son or daughter should try to become self-sufficient.

To follow that up – make your member experience about helping people become self-sufficient (this goes to FSL pros too). Defend this next generation of college students from the helicopter parents which plagued the Millennials.

Chapters – Create Local Ritual Books

If you can’t write down your local rituals – even if you keep it just as secret as the national ritual – then you seriously need to rethink your local rituals and traditions. I am not even saying that as a finger-wagging fraternity/sorority professional; it’s just practical advice.

Furthermore, writing down the specifics of, for example, your big brother ceremony, your pre-initiation traditions, your senior wills ceremony, etc., will allow you to provide clear instructions so that Johnny 6-Pack – Sergeant at Arms 2022 – can’t wildly misinterpret what he “remembers” and get your chapter shut down for killing someone.

Writing the rituals/traditions down is half the battle to making sure they stay intact and making sure they are net-positives for your brotherhood. Relying on memory is for shamans, and I don’t care how much pot you smoke – a shaman you are not.

Provide Redacted Editions of Ritual

Short of going completely public, Fraternities should consider providing versions of their secret ritual ceremonies with the “secret” elements redacted.

What does that mean? Anyone who search the internet for a Sphinx, three pyramids, a lamp, a lute/lyre, and a Gordian Knot – all of which are symbols of hundreds or thousands of other organizations – can probably make a surprisingly accurate guess as to what our initiation ceremony is like or what those symbols represent. It’s not rocket science.

There are some secrets which add to the fun of the brotherhood. The secret behind YITBOS is ultimately meaningless – but fun. The secret grip, knock, password, etc. are ultimately meaningless, but fun. (How many of you actually use them as a security measure?) 

So why not show people that our ritual doesn’t endorse any form of violence and show people that it actually has a modern, relevant message by sharing the unsecret parts and redacting those which give away the few secrets we actually wish to protect?


In Summary: Ignore the most offensive elements of this post and advocate for those with which you might agree. I’ll leave you with this splendid tweet from a member of Phi Kappa Psi’s Executive Council:

He clarified that MIFCA/MAPCA is now AFLV for the youngins out there.

Mythic Leadership: Atlas, The Titan Who Carries The Heavens

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There are few categories of mythic gods in Greek Lore. Many of the most popular gods and goddesses are known as the Olympians, and they include Poseidon and Athena (which served as the lead characters in the first Mythic Leadership entry).

Preceding the Olympians were the Titans, and one of the most famous Titans (particularly among libertarians) is Atlas. Most of the Olympians were born from Titan gods, and the story of Atlas starts with a great war between the two. I will save the story of the Titans versus the Olympians for another post, there are plenty of lessons there, but what is important to know is that the Olympians (lead by Zeus) won the war, that Atlas was eventually the leader of the losing Titans, and that he was the most severely punished of the Titan gods. 

His penalty was to bear the weight of the heavens, and so most depictions of Atlas are that of a strong man painfully bearing the weight of the Earth.

As he was the holder of the Heavens, Atlas was positioned at the “end” of the Earth as far as the Greeks were aware, so very few mythical heroes ever encounter Atlas. The tales of these heroes shine additional light on the lesson behind Atlas.

Hercules

Atlas’ first encounter was with the famous Hercules, who was required to gather apples from a garden tended by the daughters of Atlas and guarded by a fierce dragon. 

Hercules convinced Atlas to gather the apples, to avoid the suspicion of the dragon, and offered to bear the weight of the Heavens while Atlas fetched the fruit as payment. Atlas agreed, but secretly intended to use the apples himself to win his freedom from his burden and to leave Hercules bearing the weight of the world. 

Having figured this out, Hercules agreed to hold the Heavens, but asked that Atlas temporarily take his place so that Hercules could adjust to a more comfortable position. Once the weight of the world was back on Atlas’ shoulders, Hercules ran with the apples, never to be seen again. 

Perseus

Perseus is the only other hero to visit Atlas, and he asked the Titan for some hospitality while passing on his journey. Atlas feared that he would again be tricked and refused. 

Spurned, Perseus is said to have showed the head of Medusa (that chick with snakes for hair) to Atlas, who was turned to stone and now sits forever petrified as the mountain range in North Africa which bears his name.

Takeaways – Mythic Leadership

Drawn By Me . . . NEAT

The story of Atlas is an extension of a recurring theme among the Titan gods – paranoia and conspiracies. The war between the Olympians and Titans was born out of a paranoia that the king of the Titans – Cronus –  would be overthrown by one of his children (which he had done to his own father). In an attempt to trap his children so that they wouldn’t attack him, his wife protected Zeus and conspired with him to save her children – thereby making the prophecy come true.

Atlas’ interactions with Hercules and Perseus continue this theme of sinister schemes resulting in the downfall of the schemer. Atlas is repeatedly punished for his missteps, each of which born out of a desperation for freedom from continued punishment.

Moral: Relying on schemes, tricks, or technicalities is an easy way to become a victim of that same setup – even if you perceive yourself to be an unfortunate victim. Leaders can often become so consumed with that which threatens their success or their own pain that they mistake opportunities for threats. 

Had Atlas honestly assisted Hercules or Perseus they may have returned the favor and helped him devise a way to permanently rid himself of the burden of the Heavens. Instead, his tactics drew resentment and his tragedy worsened. (Many of the 10 Commandments of Ethical Leadership are focused on minimizing resentment). 

Additional Thoughts: In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the Titan is pitied as an attempted leader forced to carry the weight of the world due to his ability. After all, Atlas was not the reason for the war between the Titans and the Olympians (that would be Cronus), he simply took up a position of leadership with the losing side. 

A famous exchange from that book (one of those. . . “oh neat, that’s the title of the book…” moments):

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

To shrug.” 

Atlas Shrugged

We often reselect competent student leaders to lead our initiatives. We often expect the world of fraternity/sorority chapters for little in exchange. As often as we tell a Chapter President to be conscious of his time and workload, we advisers and fraternity/sorority professionals must make sure we are not taking advantage of our students’ desires for growth, attention, or a recommendation.

At one point in college I was a Student Ambassador (campus tours), Chapter President, Executive Director of Greenfeather, and a Manager at the recreation center. I had twice overslept before a morning shift at the recreation center and I remember speaking with my then-boss about my workload. (Sidebar: I am VERY thankful to have had her as a boss to learn from)

She helped me feel comfortable stepping down so that I wouldn’t have to run morning shifts, and convinced me that I don’t need to be at the apex of everything I do – especially if I am not passionate about it. 

You are not raw material to be molded into the perfect tool for another person – you are a human being. Accept your limits, and try not to focus on more than three or four different tasks/roles at a time. The weight will eventually be too much to bear. If that is something your adviser, boss or leader doesn’t understand, then you might want to make the case for new leadership.


What are your thoughts from the story of Atlas? What are some additional lessons not mentioned here? Which story would you like to see in the next installment of Mythic Leadership? Leave a note in the comments below or tweet to @FraternityNik

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A “Higher Standard” Is A Personal Commitment. (Why Fraternities Are Leaving WVU)

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Different people have different standards, sure, but the world’s obsession with holding some people to a higher standard than others is regressive and causes tension in society. It leads to what young ones call “cancel culture,” and it basically means that anyone who disagrees with you can be “cancelled.”

Let’s build up this argument bit by bit. First, the common definition of a Standard. 

Standard: (1) (n.) something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.

Dictionary.com

A standard is consensual and applies equally across the board. Society has attempted to establish common standards since the dawn of civilization. The Ten Commandments, The Bill of Rights, and Kouze’s & Posner’s Five Exemplary Practices of Leadership are what we would consider attempts at standardization. They are broad, and they are generally considered valuable to society and at the individual level.

The 1st Amendment

The freedom of speech, religion, expression and association are inalienable (meaning they are inseparable from your human existence) rights held by each individual. That goes to say that each individual is allowed to adopt their own belief system so long as it does not infringe on the standard that everyone else is entitled to that same right.

Social tension arises when a person’s belief system is not applied equally across the board. We see this in politics all the time:

We have one standard of a member of our own political party or someone who speaks in favor of our political party and a different standard for members of other political parties or who position themselves as our opponents.

The two major political parties have impossibly positioned themselves opposite of one another on every fathomable “issue.” The only “standard” is to beat the opponent – which is why a Democrat in Indiana can get re-elected by bragging that he votes with Trump 62% of the time, but a Democrat in California would be disowned for such commentary – that lack of national identity applies to the Republicans as well. (see: House Liberty Caucus)

We have one standard for a singer/rapper we like and a different standard for a singer/songwriter we see as our fave’s rival or enemy. We have one standard for the CEO of Apple and an entirely different standard for the CEO of Comcast. The list goes on and on. 

What this variation in the application of our standards does is generate resentment. Some people don’t understand why we only say “Black Lives Matter” or “Believe Women” because they want the standards to be uniform. Some people don’t understand why we say “All Lives Matter” or “Believe Everyone” because they believe that some are afforded more “passes” than others and that the standards should be uniform. 

At the end of the day, the majority on either side are arguing in favor the same exact thing, but their alignment with different parties requires that we find a way to disagree even when we are vying for a common answer to the same question: Why do we give passes to some people and hold others brutally accountable?

Let’s pivot to fraternities. 

Each fraternity may have its own standards and expectations. One fraternity may wish to grow to the largest possible size – another to achieve the highest possible grades – another to volunteer more than the others – etc.

To then apply one person’s, or a single group of peoples’, standards on the whole of a fraternity community should be a cause for concern because it limits the ability of those people to associate as they wish. That is not to suggest that there be no rules related to fraternity chapters, but why do those rules need to be different than any other student organization?

Wouldn’t every student organization benefit from “alcohol-free” programming?

If not (take a beer-tasting club, for example), then why hold some students and organizations to different standards at the university level where a common code of conduct is meant to apply to all students? Discriminate in which students you accept to your university – not how your staff treats them once they are enrolled. (discriminate meaning “choose” within the boundaries of the law. . .)

A lawsuit was recently settled between “Young Americans for Liberty at UC Berkeley” and the school. The club was denied recognition because its mission was determined to be too similar to that of other organizations at the institution. When threatened with a lawsuit the University leadership chose to change its policy to be neutral toward the mission statements of student organizations.

Leaders in the fraternity and sorority space can learn something from this outcome – as the same issue recently presented itself among organizations with Greek-letter names at WVU [2]. It should not be difficult to understand why some fraternities established an independent IFC at WVU (read: “not difficult to understand” does not mean you must agree with it).

Many organizational leaders were unconvinced that deferring recruitment to the spring term was fit to be a universal standard and some fraternities severed formal ties with the University as a result of this and other differences of opinion. It was considered too technical or targeted to be broadly enforced. After all, deferred recruitment imposed by a university administrator could be interpreted as an admission that fraternities are detrimental to the development of a student and that literally any other club is not.

Worse for those who fear underground fraternities: What if students became creative with the way they established fraternities? What if a “German Club” operates exactly like a fraternity in secret, but isn’t held to any of the standards of the IFC? There would be an “underground fraternity” with recognition by a school (unless they are caught or someone gets hurt).

The issue is not that fraternity members wish to be regressive heathens who kill their own members. The issue is that some students are held to different standards than others, that many are aware of it, that they are pushing against those policies, and that we are responding by disparaging people as if they were simply regressive heathens determined to kill their own members.

That is why I advocate in favor of a simpler set of standards and greater personal attention to fraternity chapters. [3]

This doesn’t only apply to college communities; it applies to national organizations (from which several chapters have disaffiliated over the past year or two) and it applies to umbrella organizations (several fraternities have left the NIC over the years, for example).

In each of those cases, the chapters or fraternities are disparaged by the “pro-recognition” professionals in the field, because we don’t actually care about standards, we just want our way of thinking, talking and being to win over whatever puts itself into opposition. (see: Higher Ed professional Facebook group’s response to SigEp at U.Chicago’s disaffiliation or the social media reaction to Kappa Sigma’s national video which *GASP* didn’t include men doing community service).

I regularly hear fraternity/sorority professionals wax on at association meetings that we aren’t given the respect, freedom, or funding that we deserve. . . Well, how can we expect that level of respect when we deny it to our student members?


Revised 10/2018 – Text referring to the implementation of a deferred recruitment process at WVU and The University of Pittsburgh and their exclusive connection to any one professional were removed as they inaccurately conflated correlation with causation. Enjoy!

There Is No Wrong Way To Eat A KitKat

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“Can’t Even” culture is silly, but one of the silliest things I see on social media is people complaining about how other people eat certain foods. Who cares if you pour the cereal or the milk first – do you and leave everyone else alone. 

It is one thing to expect someone to chew quietly, keep the table clean, and refrain from belching around guests, but some of us “literally freak out” and “literally cannot even” after seeing something like the following picture:

Stop huffing and puffing: There are many ways to eat a KitKat, and even if the above image does not depict the best way to make the most of your KitKat bar, a KitKat is marketed as a single “bar.”

“…Break me off a piece of that KitKat bar”

KitKat jingle

The first part of that quote, along with the technical design of a KitKat result in the common understanding that a KitKat is meant to be broken into 4 separate pieces (or 8 if you have a King Size. . . or 2 if you have a Halloween/snack size)  which are then individually consumed.

Still, even the method of eating those individual pieces is up for debate. Take for example the Kourtney Kardashian Method (KKM – with over 3 million views. . . seriously where are people from?):

I tried the KKM, which inspired this post, and I must admit that doing so changed my ways. The candy is more enjoyable, lasts longer, and the consumer has an opportunity to appreciate each of the variety of flavors and textures of a KitKat bar.

At the end of the day; though, a KitKat is simply made to be eaten, and consuming a KitKat bar means that it is fulfilling its destiny.

I might raise an issue if someone throws away a perfectly good KitKat bar. They are a wonderful candy and, as far as I recall,  one of the few made without high fructose corn syrup (give me that real sugar, baby!). As long as someone is eating it; however, I am not going to raise a fuss. Different people enjoy KitKats in different ways. 

Fraternities too have an ultimate destiny, and that is to serve as a family away from home for college students. They do and have always done things families do for family members: Keep them accountable, build them up, help them launch their future, and support them through tough times. 

That sounds like a valuable experience on its own, especially for those students without supportive families behind them – so why do we obsess over every minute detail regarding how that family is built? Why do we encourage that fraternities become expensive programming bodies with hired professionals and a laundry list of expectations and functions to complete throughout the year. What family operates in such a robotic, impersonal way?

While working as a Director of Fraternity Growth I would often pitch to potential campus partners that our organization was different – and it is. The vast majority of campus professionals I worked with would emphasize the need for something different at their school, and would warn us that they needed a fraternity that would shock the system.

In almost every case; however, the chapter was expected to do the exact same things as every other chapter on campus immediately after establishment. When my partners said “different,” what they really meant was a fraternity chapter that would do everything asked of them without question to show the other chapters how to obey the checklist.

At this school you are not a fraternity if you don’t participate in the lip sync. At this school you are not a fraternity if you don’t have a house. At this school you are not a fraternity if you don’t at least try to win all of the trophies we offer. . . 

Well, what about if students don’t care about those things? By the looks of it, 70% or more of students at most college campuses don’t care about those things. How do we appeal to them? Do we make the lists more complex? Do we further limit and intensify the definition of what specific things need to be completed in order to be a “fraternity”? Would eating KitKats be more enjoyable if we demanded that everyone apply the KKM?

Our laser focus on getting the checklist of leadership just right, zero tolerance, prevents chapters from focusing on things which would allow their members to stand out to find people who would like a family away from home, but are uninterested in vying for trophies and P.R. stunts.

It is a shame that I would be turned down from setting up a chapter at a school because a few chapters were “struggling,” and that the only way for those struggling chapters to be considered successful is if they grew and did everything all of the other chapters were doing.

Many still fail, succumb to debt, or take years to get to where we professionals want them to get, but in reality they could just simplify their expectations, grow to a size they are comfortable with, and be each other’s family.

Within 3 years we forget who won which award, how many hours a chapter completed, what type of event they did, what the banner they hung from their house said or the names of a majority of their members. We encourage students to meet all of the fraternities because the only thing we allow to be different about them is their personalities – everything else is very often the same. 

The “right” way to do fraternity (according to most professionals, speakers and umbrella organizations) is repetitive, forgettable, and it distracts students from being creative with their fraternity/sorority experience.

It would be wonderful if we would allow more students to enjoy their KitKats fraternity experience in a way which suits their passion. Not everyone should be required to subscribe to the KKM checklist leadership in order to eat their KitKat have a family away from home.

4 Questions For The North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC)

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No one would suggest that I am the first or most relevant person to voice concerns with the NIC, its policies, or its practices, but perhaps I am one of the few to consistently, publicly question the organization and to push for principle-based alternatives. Naturally, my suggestions (from opening the NIC to women’s organizations [1], to suggesting that better action could be taken to prevent hazing [2]) occasionally cause friction with those who disagree.

After this year’s NIC meeting, when the members passed a resolution banning hard-alcohol in chapter facilities [3], I sent four questions to an NIC representative after we discussed my feeling comfortable with sharing any thoughts or questions before writing about them on the blog.

It has been a month with no response, and so now seems like the right time to encourage any and all of you with similar curiosities (even for reasons with which I have little interest in) to respectfully reach out via Facebook, Twitter, Email, whatever, and politely ask any or all of the questions below:

  1. Has there been any discussion or plans to share proposals being discussed/voted on at member meetings on the nicindy.org website or through member organizations?
  2. Do you know of any fraternities which inform their members or voting delegates of NIC proposals prior to the meeting? (I’d be interested to learn more about how they do that)
  3. Is there any discussion or plans around a student advocacy board or any sort of direct, democratic engagement of IFC officers in any NIC efforts? I don’t see it in any NIC 2.0 notes, but I know there is a lot going on behind the scenes so I may have just missed something. 
  4. Does the NIC publish or intend to publish the member dues structure? It is referenced a few times in the Constitution/Bylaws, but I haven’t been able to find a breakdown of how the dues are assessed (the only dollar amount mentioned is the $500 application fee). I understand if you cannot share that information with me. 

Would receiving answers have changed my expectations of the NIC? It’s unlikely. Would an answer (even, as written, “[We] cannot share that information with [you]”) have been better than leaving me and others to speculate? Yes.

Would any answer have led to continued conversation? Hopefully.

Would that conversation have allowed for us to organize a sensible private or public discussion on the matter? I’m not sure – but the impression I get is that if you want an answer from our umbrella association your best bet is to be an uninformed news media personality disparaging the association on live television.

The NIC account tweeted this today:

I recently posted some tips on advising [4], and the final point made was “Do What You Say You Will Do” or “DWYSYWD” (pronounced doo-we-see-wid). The NIC is our compass and our captain. Unfortunately, the crew (the students) may never come to learn how to operate the ship, let alone where it is going until it has already gotten there. It is impossible to speak on behalf of people to which you refuse to listen.

I don’t need or deserve an answer to the questions – I was simply trying to make good on a commitment I made with NIC staff to give them a chance to speak for themselves before I post a critique, but I now wonder if that invitation was genuine. I may not deserve an answer, but students certainly do.

So, if you are a student, recognize that you are the captain of your fraternity experience. And if those 4 questions piqued your curiosity – I urge you to ask them of the NIC or your national office.

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