Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is the Era of Big Greek Government Upon Us?

I wonder which of the following feels more like progress to you:  the day in which the fraternity movement relies on a strong centralized power structure to keep it accountable to what it promotes and stands for,  or the day in which all fraternity organizations are committed and responsible enough to manage their own affairs and hold their own chapters accountable to their own values and ideals?  Which of those scenarios lie closer to your ideal? 

And, based upon your ideal, how would you assess this moment in our history?

For me, I come from the Ayn Rand school that teaches that if every individual lived to their highest potential, everything else takes care of itself.  It’s a lofty ideal, but I choose to support initiatives that bring us closer to that, not push us further away.

If every national fraternity lived to its own highest ideal, then our movement is healthy and progressive.  We’re not there yet, but let’s take actions with the assumption that we want to get there.

What are some signs that we’re moving away from this ideal?  The creation of bigger
unifying structures, for one.  It’s a natural inclination in times of crisis to want some big overarching structure to take the wheel.  For example, during the Great Depression, government grew substantially because we trusted it would make things better.  When we are fearful, we put too much trust in heroes.  Our belief that a crisis is too big to handle causes us to place irrational faith in institutions. 

Fraternity and sorority life could be in a crisis moment.  It’s hard to tell.  Membership doesn’t seem to be affected yet, but public perception continues to sink faster than my beloved Browns playoff hopes (yes I do realize it’s only the preseason).  At the minimum, many fraternity and sorority national leaders believe this to be a crisis moment.  This has led to increased involvement in Washington DC, leadership changes in umbrella organizations like the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), and talk of a new organization to supplant the NIC.

It’s a great tradition in fraternity and sorority life that when all else fails, let’s just make another organization.

“Big government” in fraternity life is not a new phenomenon.  I  heard a speech from Jeff Cufaude many years ago in which he quipped that most fraternity board members are probably small-government conservatives in their political ideology but more than willing to let their national organizations become centralized and controlling institutions.  Chapter shenanigans over the years have led to the policy manuals getting thicker, not slimmer.  The NIC unified around standards that member organizations were tasked to enforce.  For better or worse, these standards imposed a way of being on these groups.

If we were choosing three words to describe the last 3 decades of fraternity life, I nominate “Thou Shalt Not.”

Fraternity leaders are exploring a new initiative – possibly a new trade association – called the Interfraternal Collaboration Effort, or ICE.  There are many new strategies being discussed in this effort and many smart people involved.  I’m far enough removed to pass proper judgment on if ICE has the right approach.  As an observation, ICE is different from the NIC is a very apparent way.  It’s more. 

It wants to do more, staff more, involve itself on campuses more,  spend more, and cost more. 

Thus, here we are in a moment of crisis and one answer seems to be to consolidate at the top.  To put more into the tip of the pyramid.  To put money behind probably the biggest centralized effort in the history of our movement.   

Hey – this could work.  But do you know what else could?

How about national fraternities having the guts to hold their own chapters accountable to their own standards.  To have the courage to pull more charters, even from those elite institutions with the influential alumni.  To take a stand about what it means to be a member of the organization and stick with it even when it hurts the bottom line to do so.  

Before the leaders of our national organizations put even greater resources into a unified structure, they ought to ensure that their own house is in order as much as possible.  After all, a unifying structure shouldn’t exist to clean up your fraternity’s mess. 

Outsourcing the individual responsibility each fraternity has to manage the behavior and experience of its own members is about as far away from progress as I can imagine.  I suppose you could say we’ve already been moving down that road by expecting campus personnel to enforce our own standards.

I’m not na├»ve.  I understand that there is frustration in the Greek world and it’s searching for a solution.  And there are some central efforts needed to protect fraternities and sororities from dangers like campus’s enacting all-Greek suspensions.

I would favor a solution in which the vast majority of responsibility falls to individual national groups to address their own issues, complimented by a small and lean association that does a few things very well.  In any discussion about new or renewed umbrella organizations going forward, I hope someone is advocating for that ratio.

Fraternity and sorority chapters should understand a very important thing: your Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council are not there to solve your problems.  That’s why you are there.  Handing the keys over to an umbrella entity to make your experience safe, healthy, and significant is like expecting your church to make you holy.  The church can provide a forum for education and reflection, but it’s ultimately your decision to behave in the appropriate way.

Your personal experience, your chapter’s success, and your organization’s destiny still lie in your hands.  Seize it.  And don’t give it away.



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Choice of A New Generation

Guest Essay by Matt Mattson

(Matt and his team at Innova are starting a new campaign called ReThink Greek. It’s a free marketing initiative focused towards the characteristics of Generation Z.  Out of respect for the thought-leading work Matt has done with Phired Up Productions and Innova, I’m excited to share his perspective below.  I’m posting this not as a commercial for the campaign, but rather for his cogent thoughts on our need as Greeks to adapt to changing demographics.)


Greek Life has been dramatically impacted each time new generations have emerged as college students. Especially recent generations.

Gen X brought uncertainty, instability, and a decline in membership. Turns out slackers and grunge rock didn't jive too well with fraternities and sororities.

Gen Y, the Millenials, brought a massive influx of students on college campuses, a new level of inclusivity, and a bunch of technology that has changed the way the world sees Greek Life. We're bigger and easier to notice now. For better or worse.

Generation Z is trickling into our student bodies right now, and they'll undoubtedly bring their fair share of change to fraternity/sorority life. Here's a great resource to understand more about this new wave of students if you're interested.

We better get ready. It’s likely we’ll need to reimagine the way we communicate with this new generation. I know we think we know what we're doing because some of our groups have been around for over 150 years, but this new group of students is smarter than us. The research tells us that they can sniff out a "sales pitch" like no other group before. Their IQs are through the roof. They expect more diversity than most of our organizations can currently represent. They don't want "connections" to help get them a job -- they're going to start their own companies. Their definitions of race and gender are far more blended than most of our organizations are ready for. They see the world differently than many of us. If they're going to be into Greek Life, it's going to be on their own terms.

We need to be the choice of a new generation. We can be, but we must begin today to rethink how we share our story as Greeks.

It's time for our industry to start playing offense, not just mediocre defense. When it comes to telling the story of Greek Life, currently there is no single narrative about the fraternity/sorority experience. There is no proactive story-telling mechanism. The only "P.R." we do as an industry is a defensive "we're sorry" stance when something terrible happens and hits the news. We're better than that.

Think, for a moment, of Greek Life as a single entity. We're huge, powerful, and influential. We should act like it in the way we communicate with the outside world. We have 1 million undergraduates and 9 million total members. We have well over 120 major inter/national organizations. We have hundreds of millions of dollars flowing through our fraternal economy annually. We own massive amounts of prime real estate in nearly every state in the union. The list goes on. We're Fortune 500 level, and if we want to capture the attention of the best students from Generation Z, it's time we start marketing like the big guys too.

Here's the thing. Nobody differentiates between your organization and mine. Whether you're IFC, NPC, professional, honorary, NPHC, NALFO, NAPA, NMGC, or anything else... our stories are connected.

This new generation will make up our entire market over the next several years. Let's seek out the best of them to reshape our fraternities and sororities. Let's be brave enough to put the power in their hands to "ReThink Greek." They're coming whether we're ready for them or not. We can sit back and let them happen to the industry (as we've arguably done with past generational shifts), or we can actively seek the highest quality (and lowest risk) individuals from the pool to shape the future of fraternity/sorority life. Greek Life can be the choice of a new generation.



______________________________________

To learn more about the ReThink Greek initiative:
Campuses and HQs, visit: www.innovagreek.com/rethinkgreek
View the ReThink Greek website: www.ReThinkGreek.com

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Chapter President’s Guide to Starting the Year Off Right

The chaos of August is about to set in on college campuses across the land.  And you, Mr. Chapter President, are about to lead your troops for another few months.  Don’t make it a weak finish!  The following ideas can make the difference between your year being just another ordinary one or a truly impactful one.  It’s all about paying attention to the details and how you start a new semester. Here are some tips to help you start right:

1. Prepare a chapter retreat.

World-class athletes get themselves “into the zone” before they take the field.  That’s what a retreat can do for your chapter.  Retreats are not just all fun and games.  Good ones have a purpose, and I suggest the purpose be twofold: (1) assess the previous year and (2) set goals for the coming year.  Did you attend your organization’s convention or leadership conference this past summer?  Here is a good chance to summarize some of the best of what you learned.  See this post for more ideas to help you prepare a successful retreat. 

Power tip: Invite your advisors and campus staff to help facilitate this retreat.  They have the skillset to do this and would be honored to take part in something that’s so positive and forward-thinking. 


2. Get the team back together.

Huddle up with your officer team as soon as you can to review early plans for the year.  Likely there are some immediate needs in terms of finance and recruitment.  It’s also a way to make sure they are as invested in the remainder of this year as you are.   

Power tip: If you have the means, treat them to dinner (or coffee or ice cream) as part of this meeting.  Show them how much you value their commitment and leadership.


3. Visit with your Greek Advisor.

Schedule a time early on to reconnect with your Greek Advisor in person.  They remain your greatest supporter and advocate on campus.  Besides just catching up, use this meeting as a way to update him/her on how you assessed the previous year and the goals you have for the coming year (great way to pass along the retreat output if you had that first).  Be sure to thank the Greek advisor and ask him/her for any thoughts on how your chapter can perform strongly this year. Listen as much as you speak.


Power tip:  Bring along a small token of appreciation.  Maybe a food product from your hometown – nothing too elaborate or expensive.  It’s just a nice courtesy that your advisor will appreciate.  Also – be sure to compliment him/her on how tan and well-rested he/she looks!


4. Greet your brothers/sisters.

This one may be a challenge for the very large chapters, but it’s not impossible.  Can you stretch yourself to personally say hello and shake the hand of every single member within the first two weeks of returning to campus?  There is no greater show of leadership than personal interaction.  It trumps any speech you can give or any decision you make.  Perhaps tie this to an invitation to the first chapter meeting of the year, so that you can get some brothers/sisters reconnected who have drifted away.  It’s easy to dismiss an email or phone message.  It’s difficult to dismiss a personal greeting and invitation.  Plus, it shows that you care about the most important thing any chapter president should care about – the members. 

Power tip: If you have a chapter house, move in early so you can be there (and your other officers too) to help move in your brothers/sisters.  Plus you can say hello to the parents and make sure they know who you are.


5. Hug your house manager.

He/she may need it this time of year.

Power tip: Don't let it linger.


6. Meet your chapter advisor for coffee.

For many of the same reasons you want to connect with your Greek advisor, now’s a great time to build the relationship with your chapter advisor.  The reason I suggest coffee or some other way that feels less procedural is because it immediately makes it a more relational conversation.  It also shows maturity because that’s how many modern meetings are conducted between colleagues these days. 

Power tip: If you don’t already have a system in place, be sure to use this meeting as a way to establish a regular communication pattern with your advisor.  And then stay strict to that – another sign of leadership maturity (don’t let your advisor ever wonder if you’ve vanished).


7. Prepare extra hard for the first chapter meeting.

Many times, this first meeting of the semester is the one of the most well-attended.  Spend time preparing so that it comes off as professional, efficient, and effective.  Don’t shy away from a little humor and fun in this meeting as well.  If you want members to come back, they need to see value to the experience. 

Power tip: Start the meeting with an open forum for members to share the best thing that happened to them over the summer.  Don’t be too cautious with what’s shared and how – let the personality of the group take over.  You’re likely to find laughs and applause as a result.


Best wishes to a great start to the year, and thank you for accepting the role of chapter president.  If you spend the time to do those things above, and be rigorous in your preparation and planning, then you will find yourself more relaxed and able to enjoy this experience.  Ready, set, go!

 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Answer is Fraternity

Let's imagine none of our organizations were ever founded.  It's 2015 and no fraternities and sororities exist on any campus or in any community anywhere. 

The narrative around fraternities and sororities - especially in recent times - is that they cause problems.  The extent and harmfulness of these problems is such that we would be much better off without fraternities and sororities.  Or so we hear. 

So let's fulfill that fantasy for just a moment.  They're gone.  Or, actually, they were never here. 

Without fraternities and sororities, college campuses would instantly become landscapes clear of alcohol abuse, sexual assault, racism, and hazing, right?  Wouldn't student divisiveness and inequity of social status go away too?  As well as property damage, vandalism, and other mindless boorish behaviors?

Do you believe that these problems vanish if fraternities and sororities go away?  That can’t be true.  These problems exist on campuses without Greek-letter organizations.  They exist in other places in our society that have no connection to Greek life.  While we shouldn’t dismiss the challenge presented to us to address these issues and eradicate them from our groups, it’s fair to say that fraternities and sororities are a place where these problems currently exist, but can’t be considered the cause for them. 

So while we are imagining the disappearance of fraternities and sororities, let’s continue to expect that campus officials will need to address perplexing problems that impact their students' well-being and their campus culture.

Those problems persist, and in our new world in which fraternities and sororities never existed, we sit together and wonder, what do we do now?  

I'm imagining the task force meeting in this fraternity-free world charged with developing solutions to these steady and stubborn problems.  

"How do we encourage students to come together and have honest discussions on these issues?" someone wonders aloud.

"What if students were given safe structures in which they could build supportive relationships? offers another.

"Perhaps some of these issues would be better dealt with if men could discuss them with men, and women with women?"

"It's about engagement! Our students do not have a sense of ownership in their institution and no connection to the campus that's any deeper than their semester billing statement!"

"Students really need to hold each other accountable. Let's give them the chance to lead themselves through these challenges?"

And so on and so forth.  Now - this is a fictional account, but it surely feels like the proper framing of the problem and a true list of potential answers.

And it looks a lot like a fraternity.  

You see, we get so caught up in the narrative that fraternities and sororities are the problem, that we lose sight of the fact that they are a solution.  Or can be, if we use them as such.  

The great irony then is that if Greek organizations did not exist, we’d likely build them anyway.  Because they can serve as an answer. 

So let’s start behaving that way.

In our earliest days, a fraternity served as an answer for free expression, character development, and fellowship - all of which were missing in the higher education institutions of the day.  We were built to be a solution.  

And so today, what can we do to return to those roots? 

Wouldn’t it be great to be recognized as the organizations that didn’t reflect the major campus issues of the day, but defied them.  The organizations that were trusted to be the greatest advocates for hazing-free membership, the safest venues for relationship-building, the strongest proponents for a safe and healthy campus culture.  What if, for example, our members were viewed as so trustworthy that they were deployed to high schools to provide seniors with education on hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault?   

There are fraternities and sororities who have already answered the call.  Is yours next?  

While we are imagining, let's think forward to a day when the call from a public desperately seeking solutions is no longer to shut us down but rather to expand and welcome more fraternities and sororities.  Because we are the answer.  It’s a powerful position to hold, if we’re willing to accept it and put in the work to make it happen.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fraternity and the Fatherhood Crisis

As we approach father’s day, some sobering statistics to consider:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of every three -- live in homes without their biological father. 

7 out of 10 people agree that the physical absence of fathers from the home is the most significant family or social problem facing America.

Research shows when a child grows up in a father-absent home, he or she is...
  • Four Times More Likely to Live in Poverty
  • More Likely to Suffer Emotional and Behavioral Problems
  • More Likely to go to Prison
  • More Likely to Commit Crime
  • Seven Times More Likely to Become Pregnant as a Teen
  • More Likely to Face Abuse and Neglect
  • More Likely to Abuse Drugs and Alcohol
  • Two Times More Likely to Suffer Obesity
  • Two Times More Likely to Drop Out of High School

Only 68.1% will spend their entire childhood in an intact family and the number is decreasing.

40% of children of divorce haven’t seen their father in a year.

40.7 percent of all births are out-of-wedlock.

46% of fathers say they don’t spend enough time with their children.

39% indicate that they never read to their child.

A pew study indicated that mothers are seen as more essential for providing values/morals to their children and emotional support to their children.  (Fathers are seen as more essential for providing money.)

When asked whether fathers generally play a greater or lesser role in raising children than did fathers 20 or 30 years ago,  45% say today’s fathers play a lesser role.

Fathers are twice as likely than mothers to report that they don’t spend enough time with their children (46% vs. 23%).

Only 24% of adults say dads are doing a better job at parenthood than their own fathers. A third (34%) say they are doing a worse job than their own fathers did.


Is anyone aware of an organization that can instill in young men the character necessary to reverse these trends?  Is there an organization primed to inspire fidelity to one’s commitments? Is there any organization out there that can help young men understand the priorities that require the greatest responsibility and seriousness?  

Can one organization, or a group of organizations, be bold enough to create men of such high quality that the importance of their roles in the lives of children can never be discounted again?

I hope there is.  Our society is counting on it.







Sources:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

If You Have a Fast Race Horse, Don't Slow Down

Updated from June 2011

Congratulations to American Pharaoh, the first triple crown winner in horse racing since 1978.  One of the most difficult feats in sports was achieved just a few days ago and hopefully you were able to witness history.

Despite American Pharaoh's success, the most well-known triple crown winner will likely always remain the 1978 winner, Secretariat. He has been the subject of books and movies, and is typically regarded as the best racehorse to have ever lived.  Part of his legend lies in how he finished the triple crown - that final race at the Belmont Stakes.


All the dramatic pieces were in place for the final race, the Belmont Stakes: the champ (Secretariat), the hyped-up challenger (a horse named Champ), and history on the line.  The typical formula (see Rocky or Remember the Titans) for these kinds of stories is that the hero fights the battle of his life, appears defeated, only to valiantly battle back to barely win, sending the crowd into a frenzy.  That wasn’t the case with Secretariat.  He blew the doors off the competition and won by thirty lengths.  It wasn’t close at all.  The outcome was decided almost immediately after the gates opened.

And I found this to be refreshing for some reason.  Secretariat was clearly the best horse at the time and he knew it.  He flew.  And while I can gain satisfaction from the underdog stories, I learned that I could find equal satisfaction in watching a truly special champion just do all that he was capable of.  Without apology.

Relate this to fraternity and sorority life.  On most campuses, there are chapters that are the Secretariats of their Greek system.  They have all pistons firing, and are leading the pack in service, academics, recruitment, etc. 

Our underdog mindset sometimes wants us to tell these groups to slow down.  To let others catch up.  The Secretariats can take so much of the spotlight that they can become tiresome.  It’s like dominate sports teams.  We can get tired of their success, and thus want to see others take a turn.

Slow down Secretariat!

I may be naive about this, but I believe that most of the time, groups that are successful and groups that struggle do not get to those points by accident.  However, our underdog mentality can drift into dangerous territory – fairness.

It’s not fair that some fraternities or sororities are at the top, while others can’t seem to get there!  Every group deserves that success!  There must be equality!

Slow down Secretariat!

Of course, this isn’t a perfect analogy.  There isn’t a race we’re trying to win.  Sometimes, environmental factors can play a role.  Our groups at the top aren’t perfect, and shouldn’t be treated that way.  Caring about the plight of others is a value we hold dear.  I understand all of that.

And yet, I believe that sometimes we actively try to slow lead horses down to the rest of pack instead of expecting the rest of the pack to catch up to the lead horses. 

Slow down Secretariat!

And I don’t think the answer is for the lead horses to stop and try to teach the rest the secrets to their success.  Besides, the secrets are most likely very obvious: focus and hard work.
I think the answer is to just let the lead horses run, in all their glory, for all to see.  If they deserve the award – give it to them.  If they win the competitions, congratulate them.  If they have the highest GPA (again), praise them far and wide.

After all, what you reward is what you get.  What you praise and acknowledge sends a loud and clear signal about what you value.  It may make others cringe with frustration or envy.  It also leaves them with a choice – stay behind or raise their game.

It's not selfish to want excellence.  The greatest service that the high-performing fraternities and sororities can provide to their communities is to remain high-performing. 

For the members reading this, if you have a racehorse that can win by 30 lengths, ride it for all it can give you.  But, a little humility doesn’t hurt either. 

I will probably still always root for the underdog.  It’s a much more compelling story.  There is so much to learn from the grit and determination of someone who defies the odds.  However, I’ll keep it as my goal to also appreciate shear brilliance when I see it.  My enjoyment in the underdog should never give me reason to deny anybody or anything the chance to show their true excellence.

Go Secretariat...Go American Pharaoh...

Go!



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Leadership and the Loud (but small) Crowd

This post is for all the young leaders out there, because the old ones like me will know exactly what I’m talking about.

I hope you feel the internal struggle between taking bold action or staying the course, for that is the journey of a leader.  Should you be aggressive in your vision, or patient and methodical?  Should your leadership be defined by your ability to shake things up, or your ability to be a steward of something that’s already working?  All of these choices are fine, admirable, and acceptable.

However – let me speak to the side of you that wants to do something daring and compelling.  From my experience in organizational life, there is one barrier above all others to your efforts:

The loud vocal minority.

I have seen time and time again a leader or a group of leaders walk down an exciting path of new ideas and compelling new strategies only to be halted in their journey by someone who says “yeah, but [insert name here] won’t like it.”  And then it begins.  The retreat.  The belief that because a certain person or group of people won’t like an action or might even be angered by it, we should stop and reconsider.  And that thinking typically leads to the new ideas being revoked or tamped down so much they might as well have been.

I wonder, in the history of organizational life, what earth-shattering, life-changing, and gloriously-brilliant ideas have never seen the light of day out of fear that a small group won’t like them.

And in membership organizations especially, the threat that a segment of members will leave our ranks paralyzes us way too often.

Let me be clear – I believe the minority opinion is important to hear.  And I think the “squeaky wheels” deserve to be heard as well.  However, that’s why we have a democratic process and procedures like Roberts Rules of Order.  The minority opinion should have an opportunity to persuade others, and it should be made difficult to discount their feelings.

My problem is that those feelings often stop us from even putting forth an idea worth pursuing.  And that the next great idea dies in a committee meeting because we’re scared to make someone mad, or to deal with the slings and arrows of controversy.  The vocal minority tends to overrun the silent majority every time and holds leaders hostage in the process.

We all have these individuals in our organizations.  Those who have held on to even a shred of influence enough to make us overly-cautious.  The unfortunate reality is that we’re often waiting for those individuals to leave our organization (or die) before we try something we should have done years ago.

My advice in these situations is to remember that as a leader, your oversight is to the entire organization, its mission, vision, history, AND membership, NOT just those constantly noisy, angry, and change-averse.

We imagine a mob at the front door ready to attack us, but it never actually comes.  We believe that a string of posts on our Facebook page that opposes our ideas means the whole world is against them.  We imagine our legacy to be tarnished by a battle with an old guard, whereas I've seen it bolstered instead.  I believe, and have borne witness to, that the pain we imagine from going against the loud vocal minority is far greater than the pain we actually feel.   

The regret of giving up on something that could have changed the fortunes of your organization likely feels much worse.

There are some reasons not to act on your own ideas and vision.  Make sure that a few angry phone calls, or tweets, or Facebook posts are not one of them.  Trust your instincts and do what’s best for your organization.

And remember this quote from Deepak Chopra: Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fraternity Needs Even More Tradition

Tulane Sig Ep's after serenading the university president
I love tradition.  I love the spark it can provide an organization.  In my Kiwanis Club, we have lots of traditions, and I’d be upset to see them go.  We sing at the start of every meeting – terribly – but we sing.  It feels good.  I don’t want my Kiwanis meeting to feel like a business meeting at the office.  I want something that touches my emotions and lifts my heart. 

Fraternities and sororities certainly are guilty of being tradition-bound organizations.  Tradition imprints almost all aspects of our identity, from the Greek names and letters we wear to the creeds we state loudly and proudly.

But there is a compelling reason for us to embrace our nature as tradition-bound organizations.  The origin of the word tradition is from the Latin traditio, which refers to something being transmitted, carried forth, and passed from one person to the next for safekeeping.  Organizations that have a great deal of tradition tend to last, because they inherently care about the safe passage of their organization from one generation to the next.

On occasion, there are calls for fraternities and sororities to change or get rid of some of their traditions.  This isn’t unusual for any institution, and neither is the typical negative response and reaction.  Churches come to mind as another organization that deals constantly with the push and shove of keeping or discarding traditions.

Why do we bristle so much when we our traditions are challenged?  It’s because we believe that losing them would mean losing a part of our identity.  And in some cases, it would.

The origins of the word tradition and standard definitions for it may not be enough for us to work with.  I believe in a five-point test to determine if something is indeed a tradition worth celebrating and keeping:
  1. Does it offer unique value to our organization and our members?
  2. Is it a longstanding practice that bridges the past with the present?
  3. Does it raise spirits and breathe life into our organization?
  4. Does it honor our organization, its members, and our legacy?
  5. Is it current with societal views on human relationships?
Thus, it is not the new theme party you started last year that you now believe you can’t live without.

It’s not a practice that includes hazing, harmful and destructive behavior, for that saps life from your organization and doesn’t honor your legacy.  Sorry – your alcohol-fueled big brother hunts or your pledge hell week is not a tradition. 

It can include the fact that your fraternity sings or chants (I love fraternities that sing), but not songs that disparage others or would be considered racist or homophobic.   

It can include awards you give each other, even some that are intentionally humorous or sarcastic.  Humor can certainly breathe life into your organization.  But there are ways to be humorous and honorable at the same time.

Sometimes a tradition to someone else can seem puny and dumb, but even those should not be casually dismissed.  My fraternity held a Senior Wills event each year, in which graduating seniors could pass down wisdom or items to younger members.  I saw men brought to tears over receiving an ugly, tattered, sweat-stained hat from an older member – because it was a piece of them. Other traditions can have no other purpose except to be fun or just produce fond memories.  Fine with me – as long as they can meet the test above.

Here is an exercise for you.  Besides Ritual – which is absolutely your most cherished tradition – what other traditions are sacred to your fraternity or sorority?  Use the test above as an evaluation tool.  Are there any that fall away?
 

Even our traditions that seem old-fashioned can be given new and remarkable life.  Consider lavaliering or pinning, which has been challenged as being hetero-centric and old-fashioned.  Forget the fact that it can be beautiful and symbolic.  Consider this story from Denison University in Ohio about a pinning ceremony that spoke volumes about the women involved and all those surrounding them.


As long as traditions meet the standards above, there’s plenty of room for more.  Let’s continue to find ways to take the best of what we are and who we are, and share that with others.  After all, that’s our finest tradition.