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.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The One Solution for Fraternity Problems That May Make the Most Difference But Won’t Ever Be Considered

The recent rash of incidents that have put fraternities (and sororities, but fraternities mostly) in a very negative light have spurred commissions, committees, and conversations to formulate solutions. There are also ideas coming from other corners such as professional associations, blogs like this one, and white papers from…well…whoever writes white papers. 

Most of the problems we face are not new and most of the solutions we’ll likely hear from blue-ribbon panels won’t be either. The “9 Basic Expectations of Fraternity Membership” offered by the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) in the 90’s and the Standards the NIC championed in the last decade have been attempted solutions. The lineup of speakers and sessions at every Association of Fraternity Advisors meeting in the last 30 years has offered various ideas towards solving pervasive issues such as hazing, alcohol, and sexual assault. 

In short, there is no shortage of ideas. Perhaps there is a shortage of will to implement the ideas…but I digress. 

In all of the recommendations that emerge, we’ll probably hear versions of what we’ve heard before: shorter pledge periods, more hands-on advising, increased alumni involvement, and a menu of things that should be alcohol-free forever more. Including housing. 

Alcohol-free housing is one of the boldest change initiatives in recent memory. Phi Delta Theta has been the biggest champion of alcohol-free housing, and I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Phi Delt has probably had pressure and many reasons to pull back and change their mind – but they have been absolutely steadfast in their belief that alcohol-free housing can change their culture. It’s not perfect, but it’s been a “wow” move in a sea of “blah.” 

But it’s not enough. 

There is one idea that I guarantee won’t come out of any commission or committee, in particular from the NIC side of things. This is an idea that I believe could present the biggest sea change for the fraternity movement and move the needle like never before. While you might hear about alcohol-free housing, what about a bolder move that could forever change our fortunes as fraternities? 

No housing. 

What if the NIC or FEA or any other acronym associated with Greek life declared that it wanted to begin a transition out of the housing business? At least the privately owned or independently-operated houses. Now we’re talking! In a sea of “blah” that one would be an “OMG!”

And a reminder – when I first broached this topic, I shared that my undergraduate fraternity experience included 3 years of living in a house. It was a blast. But, for a sustainable future, houses seem unnecessary to me. I’m convinced I would be as committed to fraternity as I am today without the house experience. 

Imagine if fraternity houses no longer existed on campuses across the land… 
  • The amount of money, time, and energy spent into keeping a structure standing and full could be spent on education, scholarships, funding for national conferences, and more. 
  • No more tragic house fires. 
  • No more falls from fraternity house balconies. 
  • No more part-time underpaid and under-prepared graduate assistant live-in advisors trying to be professional hall directors. 
  • Chapter officers could focus on improving the member experience and forget about occupancy rates, cleaning, furniture, and keeping a kitchen staff happy. 
  • We can finally end our draining 10-year dance in Washington DC trying to get Senators excited about sprinkler systems. 
Of course, there would be some trade-offs. Fraternity houses are great for recruitment because they are visible and (usually) impressive displays that potential members can see. It’s naturally convenient to have events and meetings in a house – although that can be overcome and has been by groups that use a lodge concept or just get meeting space on campus. Friendship is more easily built when living under the same roof, but can also happen otherwise. Ask those fraternities who have no housing right now and they’d put their “brotherhood building” up against yours any day. 

Would this make us just like any other campus club? Only if you believe housing matters more than the Ritual. 

So why would this be a game changer? I don’t have the research (great idea for a thesis or dissertation), but conventional wisdom leads me to believe that the vast majority of negative incidents that result in tragedy, big headlines, and calls to vanquish Greek life altogether involve a housed group. Think about recent transgressions at Old Dominion, the University of South Carolina, and West Virginia. Sexual assaults, hazing, deaths or harmful incidents with alcohol appear to be more prevalent in Greek housing. 

Reality check for me – those things can still happen and do still happen in non-housed groups and on campuses without Greek housing. NPHC groups typically do not have houses and hazing is a big issue they are confronting. The recent news from Baruch College didn’t involve housing. 

But if we solve the issues on the campuses with housed organizations – which tend to be larger or historically more influential in the Greek world – could a ripple effect be realized? We can launch campaigns to change the hearts and minds of members so that they embrace the best of what we can be instead of the worst. We’ve actually been doing that over and over again for decades. But if fraternity houses and the issues they carry inside their walls continue, is that a playing field on which we can’t expect our players to do their best? 

Imagine the previous 20 years without houses. Or the next 20 years. Is that a landscape on which a brighter future for Greek life can be built? 

Campus professionals – imagine that !poof! the chapters on your campus no longer have private houses. Could that make room for you to do more of the inspiring work you want to do? 

Headquarters staff – image that !poof! your chapters now have no residential facilities. How does that impact your insurance fees? What would you love to do with the time and money you get back from not dealing with those issues? 

Despite what could be some exciting possibilities, chances are we won’t be discussing that kind of change anytime soon. Houses are sacred cows for too many. This is unfortunate, because it’s hard to imagine any meaningful change if that topic stays off the table. 

But hey – maybe shorter pledge periods will do the trick. 


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:
View the ReThink Greek website:

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.