Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Manning Fraternity

“I don’t like the perception that it was a plan…that I was an NFL quarterback for a while and now I’ve got these boys and I’m going to mold them into being NFL quarterbacks. Not so. You might can do [sic] that. And they might can be [sic] an NFL quarterback. I’m not sure you’re going to have a good father-son relationship. That’s what I wanted.” - Archie Manning 

I’ve always been intrigued by the Manning family, which is likely the most significant family in football if not all of professional sports. As an Indianapolis resident, I’m naturally a Peyton Manning guy. Not only do I admire the way he approaches football, but life as well. My kids have received treatment at a childrens’ hospital that bears his name for goodness sake. While I don't root for Eli as much, you have to respect him for winning as many Super Bowls as his more famous bigger brother. 

What is most intriguing to me is the family dynamic itself, starting with parents Archie and Olivia. As parents raising three boys, my wife and I were interested to watch the documentary The Book of Manning on ESPN which details how this family yielded three athletic, successful, and accomplished men (Cooper was a great football player too but a disorder called spinal stenosis caused him to give it up in college). Even more than football, the Mannings have always projected a high degree of character and humility in all they do. They were great kids that became great men and as such, they had great parents.

Essentially, if the Mannings were a fraternity on your campus, they’d be almost everything we’d want in our Greek organizations.  (Archie is a Sigma Nu and Olivia is a Delta Gamma, by the way).

With that as the theme, what might the core values and principles of a Manning Fraternity be, and hence, lessons we can absorb?

1. Relationships Are More Important Than Football.

“I think what I miss most about football is the guys. Not winning or losing or catching touchdowns. It was the locker room, and the bus rides home. That was the good stuff." -Cooper Manning

One thing is evident in story of the Manning family - to be a quality person meant being able to build quality relationships. Whether it was with family, teammates, friends, and others, a focus on personal success meant nothing if you burnt bridges along the way. The Mannings raised their boys to be good teammates, friends, and brothers to each other.

In fraternity, there is nothing more important than the relationships you build. And like a family. those relationships are glued together by shared values. It’s what makes brotherhood and sisterhood truly unique concepts and transcendent from friendship. If you are a high achiever in fraternity and are seeking positional leadership, awards, and recognition, by all means go do it! But, remember that positions end, awards collect dust on the wall, and recognition is easily forgotten. Relationships remain, and last a lifetime. 

2. If we devote quality time to each other, we all grow stronger.

Archie Manning became a father while he was still an NFL QB (for a terrible Saints team that never had a winning season in Archie’s tenure despite him being a pro bowler himself). He would take the kids to the locker room, not to expose them to football only, but to be able to spend time with them. Archie’s relationship with his father was not very close and so he made it a point to be a present and attentive father to his children. Time matters. Not just the quantity of it, but the quality as well.

As a fraternity man or sorority woman, you have been given a gift. You get to ride your undergraduate college years in a vehicle like no other. This vehicle is not built only for you - but for all those brothers and sisters around you. The trip will be wasted if you don’t stop to take the time to truly get to know your fellow riders, find out what makes them tick, learn from their life stories, and build bonds that can help sustain you during the rocky times.

3. Embrace the differences in each person.

Each of the Manning kids had a different personality. Cooper loved to have fun, Peyton was very driven and serious, and Eli was independent and laid back. Each of those qualities came to be a hallmark of each person later in life. And having three different children with different personality styles is a challenge for a parent. Each one requires a different type of communication style, different approaches to feedback, and is motivated by different things. 

And then consider one of the most interesting parts of the Manning family story: Cooper. If not for spinal stenosis, Cooper could be a star in the NFL too. But he isn’t. Hardly anyone knows his name. His siblings have achieved the pinnacle of success in their professions and their parents have been photographed, filmed, and interviewed at every step along the way. In some families, this could have made the other brother bitter or resentful. It might have led to a breakdowns in the parent-child relationship. But because the Mannings viewed football as less important than relationships and character, and actually lived that way, you’d find no bigger fan of his brothers than Cooper. And while not famous, he’s just as big of a success in his profession and at home, with three children of his own (and one named Arch).

If your prime criterion of a good person is their character, then the other stuff stops mattering as much. Embrace the fantastic differences in personality, social styles, interests, and career paths that your fraternity contains. Don’t judge those things negatively or place false levels of importance on them. Enjoy them for the rich tapestry they create.  As life goes on, you’ll learn that such opportunities to be with so many different types of people won’t always be as easy to come by, and you'll miss it.

4. If you’re going to sign up for something, go all out for it.

“My dad’s rule was that if you’re going to sign up for something, you had to stay with it, no matter what it was.” - Peyton Manning

There is a great scene in the documentary when Peyton recounts a time in high school when he signed up for musical theater in order to avoid another class. Turns out he needed then to perform in the school play, and Peyton decided if he must, he might as well do his very best. Watch the movie to see Peyton do a fairly impressive tango.

It’s too bad that this kind of attitude doesn’t permeate our chapters. If it did, we wouldn’t struggle with member apathy as much as we do. However, it can certainly permeate your experience. You can personally decide to give as much as possible, and take as much as possible from your undergraduate experience. Since fraternity is a lifelong commitment, it also means to do as much as you can to be a contributing alumnus. For whatever reason, you signed up for this, so give it your all. As the Outward Bound maxim states, “if you can’t get out of it, then get into it!”

5. Common pursuits bring us closer together.

Cooper (the oldest) and Peyton has a fairly standard brother relationship as children - somewhat close and somewhat distant. There was a fair amount of rivalry and fighting. As a father to sons, I see it all the time. The boys can move from moments of pure love to pure hatred in the blink of an eye. In the end, brothers try to stake their own identities and thus, can lose the closeness they had in younger years. It's shared experiences that brings it back.

What brought Cooper and Peyton together in an irreversible way was the opportunity for them to play football together. When Peyton was a sophomore, he was the starting QB and Cooper was the senior star receiver. They made each other better and that shared experience overwhelmed any personal animosities or histories they may have had.

In fraternity, your Ritual, your creed, and any other expression of your organizational values are the shared experiences that should overwhelm any personal issues you may have. There are going to be fights, and disagreements, and hurt feelings in any human endeavor - especially one so based on relationships. What causes a fraternity or family to survive those things is the strength of the shared experience. The more you remind the members of the oaths and obligations they have all subscribed to, the more likely they are to get past the petty stuff. 

6. Be accountable for your actions.

In the film, Peyton recalls a time in high school when he wasn’t the most coachable kid. He always felt he knew how to do it better than the coaches and even one time told a coach that they lost because of him. Instead of siding with his all-star son, Archie drove Peyton to the coach’s house that night to make him apologize.

In your fraternity, what happens when a brother steps out of line? And not only those times when he might break a law or do something blatantly unethical - but also those times when he isn’t acting as his best self. Are you there to “drive” him back to the right choice? It’s easier to ignore the behavior, or even justify it, but easier choices never built stronger men or women.

Those would be, from what I’ve learned, the cardinal principles in the Fraternity of Manning. There are many other individual qualities the Mannings possess that we could discuss. Peyton is legendary for his level of preparation. Eli is well known for how calm under pressure he is. Archie and Olivia were so humble that they would dress incognito and take seats amongst the regular fans so as not to be a distraction away from whichever son was playing on the field.

They aren’t perfect. The documentary focused on their best qualities as a family, and surely there was struggles and hard times and controversy that we'll never know about.

And you might notice how little this article has focused on the game of football. I believe that the Mannings are successful because the game was always just a vehicle through which they could express the best versions of themselves. It’s where the character instilled in them by their parents and other relationships was actually put to the test. Their character only grew stronger by the lessons they could draw from the experience of football.

And isn’t that what fraternity can be for you? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Greek Life (and Ewoks)

Guest essay by Patrick Ryan

When my sister joined Greek life a year after I did, I told her, “Welcome to the best headache you’ll ever have.” It was hard to articulate what I meant by that, but I’ve found an analogous argument that explains it better than I ever could. This is a 2005 essay written by Andrey Summers and originally published in an e-magazine called Jive:
“My girlfriend doesn’t understand what I see in Star Wars. We’ve had several soul-crushing arguments about what exactly makes this series so important to me, and every time I have found it more and more difficult to argue my case.
There is a diabolical twist to Star Wars fandom, you see, that defies comprehension, and yet is the life-blood of all Star Wars fans. It is this:

Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.

If you run into somebody who tells you they thought the franchise was quite enjoyable, and they very-much liked the originals as well as the prequels, and even own everything on DVD, and a few of the books, these imposters are not Star Wars Fans.

Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.

The primary fulcrum for the Star Wars fan’s hate (including my own) is George Lucas, creator of Star Wars. Unlike Trekkies/Trekkers who adore Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Star Wars fans hate the father of their obsession. We hate the fact that George Lucas got it wrong from the beginning, creating incest between Luke and Leia. We hate the fact that he wrenched Return of the Jedi off of Kashyyyk and set it on Endor with those tiny, furry Hobbit bitches he called “Ewoks”, which is a syllabic anagram of Wookiee if you’re obsessed enough. We despise the entire existence of literally half of the Star Wars movies, blaming George Lucas’ greed and flawed ‘vision’ for everything.

Star Wars fans also hate the original Star Wars trilogy. We think Mark Hamill’s acting was whiny, the pacing was flawed, and Empire was better than Jedi, making the end of the series a let-down. We hate the way Boba Fett died, and we hate the cantankerous, arthritic duel between Vader and Obi-wan. We don’t understand why the storm-troopers can’t shoot worth a damn, and we don’t get why “an entire legion of [the Emperor’s] best troops”(ROTJ, Palpatine) can be overpowered by a tribal society of midget teddy-bears armed largely with rocks and twigs. Star Wars fans hate omnipotent war-machines that get their legs tangled in strings, or slip on logs. They hate Darth Vader’s face and that stupid harmonica thing he was playing. Star Wars fans hate the original Star Wars trilogy.

There is also, as you probably know, a series of Special Editions that have replaced the original Star Wars trilogy, and these are also hated by Star Wars fans with an even more scorching fervor. Star Wars fans hate the glaring CG changes made to scenes we already hated to begin with. We hate that Han Solo now killed Greedo in self-defense, and then stepped on Jabba the Hutt’s tail (which we liken to Carrot Top stepping on Fidel Castro’s tail). We hate the fact that the ghost of Alec Guinness (whose name is an anagram of Genuine Class, by the way) now stands next to Hayden Christensen (whose name I tried to re-arrange into a flattering anagram myself, but only came up with “Nn…Dense Chest Hair”). Star Wars fans are unsure if Fidel Castro has a tail or not, but we hate the Special Editions of the trilogy just the same.

There is of course also a prequel trilogy to Star Wars. It is newer, more epic, more expensive, and more visually stunning than the original trilogy. Star Wars fans know this, and so we hate it even more. We hate it with the burning passion of a setting pair of twin suns. Jar Jar Binks, Midichlorians, technology that is blatantly more sophisticated than the “later” original trilogy…we despise all of it. There’s nothing a Star Wars fan hates more than a Star Wars prequel. They demystified Boba Fett, contradicted countless lines in the original trilogy (Obi-Wan: “He was our only hope.” Yoda: “No…there is another.” Obi-Wan (not in script): “Oh, right, I f*cking held both of these kids as they were born in Episode 3. Sorry Yoda, I just plumb forgot!”)

Star Wars fans think Mark Ha…uh…Hayden Christensen’s acting was whiny. And the pacing was flawed.

Now that I have covered all of this, you can finally begin to compute why I can never prove to Emily that Star Wars is a monumental event worth devoting one’s life to. The very nature of the argument means I have to defend Star Wars, and since I am a Star Wars fan, I don’t actually understand how to do that.

Maybe I’ll put it like this. To be a Star Wars fan, one must possess the ability to see a million different failures and downfalls, and then somehow assemble them into a greater picture of perfection. Every true Star Wars fan is a Luke Skywalker, looking at his twisted, evil father, and somehow seeing good.

My earlier statement needs slight revision. We hate everything about Star Wars.

But the idea of Star Wars…the idea we love.” 


Much like Star Wars fans hate Star Wars, Greek undergrads hate Greek life. We hate trying to convince other people to join, and dread formal recruitment at the beginning of each semester. When the recruitment chairman tasks us to go out and recruit each week at chapter meeting, we look the other direction.

We hate all the bullshit that happens during chapter meeting. We hate having to argue with other brothers every Monday, and be steaming mad as a result every Tuesday.

We hate going to four meetings a week and feeling like nothing’s been accomplished, only to have officers barking at you to do more stuff that you don’t want to.

We hate doing philanthropy and service activities, but are really glad that going to Raising Cane’s on Wednesday to “support cancer research” counts as an hour of service.

We hate getting 10 emails a day, with each one telling you that you have more shit to scoop up before Sunday.

We hate getting dressed up for meeting, and choking on our ties for three consecutive hours.

We love drinking during the weekend, but hate that everyone outside of Greek life says that all we like to do is drink.

We hate how happy and optimistic the freshmen are every Fall, and can’t wait until they realize they’ll start to hate it in Greek life eventually, too.

We love meeting other Greeks at conferences, and we always tell them that we love our chapter, even though we hate it.

We can’t wait until the upperclassmen graduate, because we hate them too.


It’s hard to explain to people outside of Greek life why we like it at all. It’s all a big headache, and when confronted, it’s hard to understand why anyone would like it.

I’d like to end this with the same sentence as the Star Wars bit, but I don’t think that would do it justice. We love the idea that we have a house to ourselves, and we get to make the rules. We love the idea that we can get better grades than everyone else on campus. We love the idea that we can make a difference in our community. We love the idea that we are self-governing. We love the idea of being independent and responsible for ourselves.

But we hate all the work that’s involved in actualizing these ideas.

The idea, though…. the idea we love.

And when you realize this, you realize why retention rates are so low, and why we hate Greek life much more than we anticipated hating it from when we joined. When we talk to potential new members, we don’t talk about all the work that goes into our final product. We don’t talk about all the arguments that happen every week. We don’t talk about the tension between members. We don’t talk about getting kicked out if you don’t make the required GPA, or getting fined hundreds of dollars because you didn’t do enough service. We don’t tell them that some of your closest friends won’t be allowed on the property you live on just because they chose not to follow the standards we all swore to uphold.

In a strange way, when we join Greek life, we have become our own parents, coaches, and teachers. We push, push, push ourselves to be the best that we can be, and if you don’t do your best, you are surrounded by disappointment. It’s an easy trek to start, though a tough trek to finish, but at the end of your four years, you’ll know that you are a better person because of it.

Patrick Ryan is a 2015 graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University and a member of Theta Chi Fraternity (Gamma Phi Chapter). He is currently attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law, eagerly anticipating graduation in 2018.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Your Fraternity as Christmas Characters

If the people in your fraternity universe were characters from favorite Christmas movies and TV shows...

Have a great holiday season.  See you in 2016!


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Answer to Our Fraternity Image Problem

A very interesting juxtaposition occurred this past week related to our image as a fraternity movement.

In one high-profile case, fraternity leaders gathered at the Association of Fraternity Advisors meeting and charted a new way forward for the North American Interfraternity Conference, which is the longstanding trade association for fraternities.  Part of this innovative and widely-praised plan includes an increase in proactive public relations and a sophisticated approach to dealing with the media.  The ultimate goal is to “advance the fraternity brand.”

In another high-profile case, one chapter of one fraternity at one campus decided to do something so heartwarming, that it was picked up by many media outlets and went instantly viral.  The brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at UCLA have taken to supporting a young cancer patient whose hospital room looks out upon their house.  They surprised her by spelling her name in their Christmas lights as well.  Read more of the story and try not to be in a good mood the rest of the day.

Both of these situations can live and operate in the same space, and actually, they complement each other quite well.

However, as the NIC story emerged, I appreciate that the SAE story also came about and re-centered us on what will be truly effective in our efforts to enhance the image of fraternity and sorority life: our actions.

Negative press has always been a problem in Greek life, and it unfortunately tends to always be a scapegoat.  If only the media didn’t portray all of those negative stereotypes!  It’s increased tenfold in recent years because of how one negative story can now spread like wildfire throughout social media.

One of the earliest lessons of fraternity life I learned and still carry with me is that when you focus too much blame on media representations of fraternity, you are giving the media the power to define you.  I was told as a young fraternity member to take the power back and focus on changing behaviors and living the values of my fraternity.  And I’ve been trying to do that ever since.

And so, here are some young men at UCLA who had no reason to befriend this cancer-stricken girl other than (1) their values told them to, and (2) they have compassion in their hearts. 

The girl’s parents, nurses, doctors, and everyone who was touched by this story now have a viewpoint on fraternity that they likely never had before.  And it’s a viewpoint that could not have been reached through some sophisticated PR campaign.  For these individuals, the next negative press account of a fraternity behaving badly will be seen as an outlier, and not the norm.  It’s the opposite for the general public. Why the difference?  Because these individuals engaged with fraternity men living their values.

We don’t live out our values for the sake of good public relations.  However, it’s a fact that fraternity men living their values is still the best public relations strategy we can ever employ.

I don’t think we will ever convince the public at-large of the value of fraternity and sorority life.  The odds have become stacked too highly against us, and any proactive communications strategy we do (no matter how sophisticated or how well-funded) will always be undone by one story of one idiot fraternity member doing something that matches the stereotype of frat. 

Our movement, however, will not be undone by that one idiot.  It won’t be undone by the public at-large’s perception of us. 

If our movement is to be undone, it’s because we lost the grassroots support of influencers
touched by our members doing acts – large and small – that reflect their personal and organizational values.

In other words, if I had a choice of swaying 1,000 members of the general public to appreciate fraternity life, or one parent of a high school student instead, I’d take the parent.  We can’t get everyone on our side, but we can get the right people to be there.

We know we are noble organizations that get hijacked by fools who want to use us as vehicles for personal gain and self-indulgence.  We know the power of the values we instill in
our members.  We know the difference we want to make in our members’ lives and the communities around us.  So how do we convey that? 
One person at a time.  One interaction at a time.  One values-based act at a time.  While this is simpler than some broad PR campaign, it’s not easier.  But it will be way more effective.  A broad PR campaign can be there to lightly assist this personal outreach.  Most of the time, these types of campaigns only serve to build greater pride in membership of those already affiliated – which isn’t a bad outcome.

Do you want to make a difference for the future success of fraternity and sorority life?  Stop 
worrying about getting good press or building your brand.  Do this:

In honor of the efforts of these young men at UCLA and the young lady they support, let’s start something called Project Lexi.  Every fraternity that reads this blog should find a child battling an illness and adopt him/her and their family.  Simply make their lives better and easier, perhaps right now during the holidays.  Show them what it means to be a member of your fraternity or sorority.  Wear your values loudly and proudly. 

Do this because your fraternity calls upon you to live this way; to step forward instead of standing still.  Don’t worry about the P.R.  If we act in accordance with our values, that will take care of itself.

And along the way, we will do what we were always born to do: make the world a better place.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Senior’s Thanks

“Gentlemen, please be quiet!”

The roar of the room continued unabated.

“Gentlemen, please!” the President shouted again.

“Guys SHUT UP!” offered the much more forceful Vice President, who was blessed with a thunderous voice. The room finally settled down.

“Thanks Seth. Welcome guys to our annual Thanksgiving dinner. Rhonda did an absolutely wonderful job – let’s thank her.”

Rhonda answered the cheers and applause by standing up to take a showy bow. She knew how to handle these guys after several years in service to them.

The President continued: “Don’t start eating just yet. Before we do, let’s go around the room this year and each person can say something they’re thankful for.”

Moans and groans were accompanied by someone shouting “let’s impeach the president!”

The room cheered and a dinner roll found itself narrowly missing the President’s head. He laughed. “Hey – this is what my family does, and I claim each you as family. Even Landry.”

“F*#@ you” said Landry.

“Let’s start to my left.”

“I’m thankful for food. Can we please eat now?” the first brother quipped.

“Keep going,” said the President.

“I’m thankful for all you guys,” said the next brother. He was met with a chorus of sarcastic awws.

The next brother said “I’m thankful for Delta Zeta!” “Damn right!” shouted another.

And around the room they went, one after another, some comments serious but most were half-hearted and meant to show one’s wit in favor of one’s vulnerability.

And then it was the Senior’s turn. He was the only Senior to arrive tonight, and some of the youngest guys had only met him a few times.

“I guess I’m thankful for a lot,” he started. “But I’ll be clear tonight in saying that I’m thankful for this fraternity.”

“Okay let’s eat now!” interrupted the first brother.

“Hold on,” the Senior said. “I’m not finished.”

“I’m thankful for every moment – good, bad, or otherwise – spent in this fraternity so far. I’m thankful for every man seated around these tables tonight. I am thankful for the fun times, the laughter, the hijinks, the pranks, and more.”

He continued: “I am thankful in equal measure for the times that were uncomfortable, challenging, and miserably difficult. Maybe even moreso. I tend to think most of who I am was forged by the fire of hard times.”

The room had become very quiet.

“I am thankful for all of you that came to my grandpa’s funeral. You made that sad day exceptionally special.”

“I am thankful for Doug. I bet you a million dollars I would have never met a guy like Doug if not for this fraternity. And I’m thankful for Jeff. Those who know me know that Jeff and I have never gotten along. In fact, there are times we downright hated each other. We may never see eye-to-eye, but Jeff, I respect you and I am absolutely thankful for you.”

“I am thankful for all those who surround us and try to make us better. Our alumni board, our chapter advisor, Rhonda. They have made a choice to give a part of their lives away, so that our lives can be stronger. That’s selfless stuff guys. We owe them our best – and consider that every time you’re about to do something stupid.”

“Speaking of that, I’m thankful for surviving all of my stupid moments. I’m going to make sure the lessons I’ve learned are passed on to you.”

“I am thankful for Delta Zeta too. And every other sorority on this campus, for making us work at being gentlemen. Our future wives will appreciate it.”

“I am thankful for the courage I’ve seen in this fraternity over the years. The courage for Paul to take that step to leave the fraternity so that he could get his act together. The courage for Bryce to help Paul realize that. I’m thankful for Gavin’s courage in coming out. And I’m thankful for the courage all of you had in learning to first accept it, and now appreciate it.”

“I’m thankful that we’re all there for each other. I wonder if we’ll truly ever appreciate how special it was to have these connections during this time in our lives.”

“I’m thankful for that guy from the national office who was here last week. Yeah, okay, boo if you want, but think about his vocation right now. It’s to visit dopes like us, help us better understand the power of this thing we belong to, and ultimately help us live closer to the ideal. I’m thankful he came into our lives and I know you are too.”

“I’m thankful for our potential. I’ve decided that potential is like a wild bird that is hard to grab, and harder to hold. But I’ve seen us hold it. We’ve held it in those moments in which we stepped outside of ourselves to help a brother in need. We’ve held it when we’ve stared down the popular choice and went for the right one instead. We’ve held it when the moment stood larger than us, but we found a way to rise to it anyhow. But we’ve also let the wild bird go. Too often. But, in a way, I’m thankful for those moments too. Why make this whole thing easy?”

“I’ll say it again - I am thankful for this fraternity. I am thankful for each and every word of each and every oath I’ve ever said in its name.”

“I am thankful for the badge you allow me to wear, which is a privilege earned by faithfulness to our Ritual and creed.”

“I am thankful for the chance to sit here with my brothers a different man, a better man, than I was three years ago. And I promise to all of you, and to this fraternity, I will do all in my power in the life ahead of me…to make you thankful for me.” 

The room was made silent by his words. 

What couldn’t be heard, but could be seen if you were there, were small acts of men telling other men how much they were loved. One brother gripped the shoulder of another. A brother gave a sharp punch into the shoulder of the brother next to him. Another brother wiped away a tear before it could be seen. 

The almost spiritual quiet was finally broken by that first brother, speaking a little more gently this time. 

“Can we eat now?” 

The President smiled wide. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's Time to Leave Washington DC

There is a great analogy used to describe the differences between the logical/rational part of our brain and the emotional part. The emotional side is like a large elephant and the rational side is a man riding that elephant. On occasion, the man can steer the elephant where he wants it to go. But, should that elephant get riled up and start charging, there is nothing the man can do to stop it.

And that is the primary reason why the fraternity groups pushing to pass the Safe Campus Act should withdraw, lick their wounds, and find a new initiative. The elephant is running wild.

There are some logical reasons why the Safe Campus Act makes sense (or at least portions of it). Rape is second only to murder in terms of egregious crimes (think of how often you hear “murderers and rapists” used as a blanket term for the worst of our society). And so, to think that such a crime committed on a college campus might not have to involve the police or legal representation is strange at a minimum.

Now – if reading that paragraph made your blood boil, then notice the elephant running wild in your mind. You probably thought to yourself, “why would he give a flip about the accused, what about the victims?! Why protect the rapists?!”

Being concerned for those falsely accused of a crime that egregious, having empathy for victims of rape, and having hatred for those who actually commit the heinous act are ideas that can all live in the same space.

There are great arguments on the other side of this issue as well (found amidst the moral self-righteousness that has become a bit suffocating). It’s a contentious issue with strong points on either side and we should be careful to not assign evil motives to those holding a position different than ours.

Oh wait, it’s 2015. We do that all the time now.

The fact of the matter is, the emotion in this debate has won and supporters of the Safe Campus Act have lost the ground to make their case. It’s time to make it go away.

Let’s think about our whole presence in Washington.

We don’t need to be in Washington DC to influence or advocate for an issue. It’s not the only place where change happens (in fact, it may be the place change goes to die). I believe that the allure of the congressional offices, the swanky receptions and dinners, and the ability to feel like the levers of government were moving by our gentle hands seduced us into a bad and dysfunctional relationship.

We’ve spent over a decade lobbying with no significant legislation enacted to improve the state of the fraternity/sorority industry. Millions have been raised for the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (unfortunately dubbed the Frat Pac).  Millions that could have been raised instead for efforts to grow the fraternity industry or provide education to our members.

This controversy over the Safe Campus Act is a gift. It’s a way for the industry to say that it’s time to regroup on these legislative initiatives.

In fact, it’s time to go on hiatus and leave Washington DC altogether.

There is an argument that a presence in Washington is always needed because our single-gender status and right to freely associate is always in jeopardy. It’s hard to believe that if those core issues were ever truly in serious danger we couldn’t ramp up an effort to advocate and fight for our rights quickly.

Just ask yourself how many attorneys are on your national board right now. Multiply that by a factor of one-thousand. We’ll be okay.

Leaders in the NIC and NPC: you shouldn’t be blamed or called nefarious for trying to be a champion of Greek life and our members in the halls of government. Don’t be too proud, however, to close this current saga for now. Whether these newest efforts are just or not, the emotional charge is too great to overcome. Soon the damage to our reputation might be as well.

If this is an issue we really have passion for, let’s take it back to the grassroots and have them help us figure out a way forward.

Let’s start doing again what we do best, which is not shaking hands with and embracing congressional staffers, but rather, shaking hands with and embracing our own members.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fraternity Bacon...or...What Causes Cancer in Greek Life?

Thanks World Health Organization for taking the fun out of bacon.  Now, every time I bite into my BLT, I’m going to hear the sounds of tumors forming instantly inside my body. 

Bacon can cause cancer, according to the WHO.  And they’ve added it to their long list of carcinogens – a list meant to make us paranoid about doing anything other than sitting in a padded bunker eating pieces of lettuce.

But hey – good news!  Fraternity is not on the list!  Yet.

While this is a no-fun list by the WHO, it is actually quite helpful.  The list isn’t saying that these things will always cause cancer, but could.  Pickled vegetables, leather dust, and coffee are also on the list.  So, if you’re trying to preserve your body for a long life, the list is a helpful guide of things to avoid or take in moderation.

Although when it comes to leather dust, go big or go home I say.

Greek life needs a list like this.  Maybe this could be the next project of AFA or AFLV or NIC 2.0:  create an annual listing of things that cause cancer in the fraternity movement.  It could be a list that is added to or subtracted from based on new data that’s acquired.

This list would be a guide for fraternities and sororities that want a sustainable future, as well as a guide for professionals who work with Greek life to detect warning signs of impending doom

Now – you and I could probably create this list based on conventional wisdom about what ails the fraternity/sorority movement.  Such a list might look like this:

Fraternity/Sorority Carcinogens
1. Hazing
2. Passive recruitment
3. Parties with alcohol
4. Theme parties that degrade women or minorities
5. Chapter houses

But instead of guessing or relying on conventional wisdom, it’s time for some individual or organization to lead a meaningful research effort into what inspires fraternity excellence or diminishes it. 

Something only ends up on the WHO list if science has proven it deserves to be there.  It’s time we got scientific about the fundamental causes of poor health in Greek life.

PhD and Masters students – here is a chance for you to do essential research that can make a real difference .  Here are three research questions, that together or separate, could help make a data-driven list of behaviors that jeopardize fraternity/sorority sustainability and that could inform our future practices:

  1. What are the most common detectable predictors (warning signs) for a fraternity/sorority that will have its charter revoked within the next 12-24 months?  (study chapters that had their charter revoked and look for themes that were present 1-2 years earlier)
  2. What are the common denominators for all fraternity/sorority chapters that have been suspended or closed due to a tragic event in the past ten years? (perhaps compare those with the habits in common of chapters that have won their national fraternity’s top award in the last ten years)
  3. What are the common themes in the experience of fraternity/sorority chapters that are closed or reorganized within five years of being chartered?
The research from these three studies could provide the data needed to finally understand what causes a Greek organizations to fade, decline, or disintegrate altogether.  Armed with this knowledge, we can see warning signs before they become horrid front-page stories.  And, we can make smarter choices within the fraternity experience. 

Maybe we'll still eat bacon every once in a while - but we'll understand it can't be the biggest part of our diet.

With over 200 years of history, the fraternal movement ought to know what it's greatest carcinogens are.  We ought to have definitive answers on the things that give our organizations "cancer."  It doesn't mean we'll always listen - but not knowing can no longer be an excuse.



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Don't Judge Institutions For Having Flaws, But For How They Respond To Them

The response to Pope Francis’s recent visit to the U.S. was heartwarming for many reasons. He’s a true servant leader who has inspired so many and his gentle leadership makes him a person easy to admire. It was especially nice to see the reaction of Catholics, who are presently living through a very positive moment in the life of their institution. 

It hasn’t always been positive. In fact, the Catholic Church has been in a pretty steady swirl of controversy for a long time. I am not Catholic, although I attend mass with my very-Catholic wife and our kids, so it’s the closest thing to a religious affiliation I have. Certainly, I’ve watched the child abuse scandals in the church with concern and compassion for the victims. Many Catholics have left the church because of it, and yet many others remain loyal. I’m convinced that most who left didn’t leave because of the child abuse incidents themselves (as sickening as those were), but rather because of the church’s perceived weak response to the incidents, or total lack thereof. 

How we engage with the institutions in our lives is an interesting study in human nature. There are moments in which we are proud of our institutions, and moments in which we are embarrassed by them. 

It is impossible for an institution to be perfect. Discomforting headlines about the Catholic Church, your Alma mater, your favorite sports team or league - and yes, fraternity and sorority life, will always be there.   
In any institution, there will be bad actors. In any institution, there will be dramatic and traumatic incidents that move the ground beneath our feet. All institutions are flawed. No one should hastily jump on a bandwagon of disdain towards other institutions lest the ones they believe in become immersed in hot water as well. And they will.

Where we can be judgmental, and where we can show disdain, is in how an institution reacts and responds in those critical moments when their flaws emerge. 

Embarrassing moments within our institutions can shake our pride. If an institution doesn’t respond to those moments responsibly…that can shake our faith

Here’s an example from politics: Republicans have long been branded as the party of family values – marital fidelity, child welfare, pro-life positions, etc. And so, when a Republican is found to have cheated on his/her spouse, or engaged in criminal behavior, or caught doing something “sinful,” it’s a common hue and cry to say Republicans are hypocrites for preaching family values. 

Not necessarily. The individual engaged in the behavior is most certainly a hypocrite. However, the institution can still carry its values and beliefs and promote them through their response. If a Republican is found to have run afoul of the institution's values, and yet he/she holds on to their position or basically feels no serious ramifications, then the institution indeed deserves a label of “hypocrite.” 

But, if the institution forcefully responds and serious ramifications are felt by the individual, then isn’t that actually a powerful statement of credibility and alignment with values and purpose? Shouldn’t that actually strengthen the institution’s position? Shouldn’t that be cause to celebrate the institution? 

In our world, that would mean we would collectively cheer every time a member or chapter is held accountable.  But, that doesn't happen very often because we're still smarting from whatever incident led to that action.  Instead of focusing on "did you see how Alpha responded to that situation," we say "did you see what happened to Alpha?"

In today's fraternity and sorority industry, we are being held hostage by the next headline-grabbing incident. Because, what comes next is a media barrage of outrage to dismantle the whole movement.  A group of immature imbeciles chant racist statements on a bus, and there is a call to take down the entire institution. Some fools hang sexist banners from their fraternity house balcony and the institution is judged to be dangerous place for all women. Some sorority girls make a bikini-laden recruitment video that goes viral and the response is that the institution is homogeneous and regressive. 

It seems like the world judges us for the behavior of a few. (Just as we do for other institutions so we shouldn’t be surprised). 

Somewhere in your network of chapters is at least one chapter that hazes its new members. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored. Having some chapters that haze does not make your national fraternity a hazing organization. Just as having some child predators in their midst does not make the Boy Scouts an organization of pedophiles. It’s how we respond that defines us. 

We can battle back against this by not falling for it ourselves. We have become hyper-sensitive to every negative story about Greek life and are constantly running scared. Bad stuff is going to happen folks – it always has. Yes – let’s try to reduce the number of incidents, but living and dying on each one is no way to thrive. It only feeds the beast. 

What matters most is not the first story. It’s the second one. It’s the one that describes how a national organization, or chapter leaders, or campus officials plan to respond. 

Is your national fraternity cracking down on hazing like it should? Or any other plague on the fraternity/sorority system? Or, does it feel more wishy-washy and heavy on “super secret double probations” that don’t mean anything? 

Are we really serious about values-alignment, or not? 

Is your IFC or Panhellenic imposing consequences on chapters that do not observe community standards? Or, do we wink and turn the other cheek. If it’s the latter, then our institutions deserve every criticism we’re receiving. 

Of course, it’s not that simple. The church believes in redemption. We believe in learning moments. How do we square that with a desire to be tough on those who violate our values? One way is to ensure that there is no question about what is considered right and wrong. Hazing is wrong – always. Sexual assault is wrong – always. Our members start their journey at the age of 18 or 19 and that means they are adults who should understand these issues. They just need to be told once and then they should be expected to understand the consequences of their actions. 

If you want to be proud of this greater fraternity/sorority institution again, it starts with being proud of what happens when our own members step outside of the values we hold dear. Are you proud of how your national organization reacts? Or your campus? 

Or do they too often shake your faith? 

This is a call for us all to start judging our fellow organizations and campuses by what matters - not the fact that incidents occur - but rather how they respond.