I imagine myself standing in front of the men of the Alpha Chi Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity at Stetson University. (Wow. That’s a mouthful.)
We will not get into why I am presenting to them; it’s hypothetical, anyway. The point is I am standing in front of a group of men from around the country. Some might even be from entirely different parts of the world.
Some work to pay for their member dues and some haven’t paid since their first month. One or two look almost exactly like that one fraternity jerk in that one movie; they act like him too. The rest are all “frat,” but in an unexpected way. You could walk into that room and be like, “Huh. Didn’t expect this crowd, but cool.”
Anyway – the above picture flashes on the screen. I pulled it from the University’s digital archives. It’s a photo of members from the same chapter in 1945.
We could have any number of discussions about the history of our fraternity. We could talk about the ritual and the most celebrated men of our fraternity and our chapter. I bet I could create two day-long workshops discussing the values of the fraternity, how they came to be and what they should mean to us. But, instead, we’re just going to try to get members to think about life.
We’ll start with: What do you notice about this picture?
What was different about life in 1945? Which things or events did not yet exist?
What was different about Stetson in 1945?
What do you know about this fraternity’s history at this school?
What can you say you definitely know about the alumni members in this picture?
Do you think you would have been welcomed into the chapter in 1945? Why or why not?
What don’t you know about the alumni members in this picture?
Which question would you ask first to any of the people in the photo?
What do you like most about the fraternity experience in 2020?
A conversation can go in any number of directions over the course of ten questions. Ten chapters might have ten completely different experiences. One group might acknowledge that, no, they are not sure whether or not some of those men attended local KKK rallies. Another might focus almost exclusively on pre-internet social life and technology. Both are valid conversations, and each can be nudged in a productive direction by a thoughtful facilitator.
There are also many avenues for continued or expanded learning. I might follow this meeting up with an old Stetson newspaper article about the fraternity, and then a list of members who were known for good (and evil) deeds. Some who don’t know much about the school may choose to learn it. Others who don’t know much about the fraternity may choose to learn that. Many may leave the meeting thinking it was weird and wishing never to deal with me again.
Short on time? Need to lead a talk or workshop? Unable to hire a curriculum-writer? Whether you are a chapter officer, advisor, or just need a quick activity for a group of people:
- Find an interesting or throwback image or video clip.
- Choose several open-ended questions (you know something about the topic at hand, right?)
- Ask and listen