Tuesday, January 20, 2015

For the Melvas in Our Lives

Within the first few weeks of arriving at Miami University as an undergraduate 20 years ago, I went searching for a job.  I needed a work-study position to help pay for room and board.  There was a job fair for such positions at the student union, and after perusing some of the options, I was drawn to a kind older lady seated behind a simple table.  Her name was Melva Brown.  She was the secretary for the Student Activities Office and they needed someone to serve as receptionist and do various clerical tasks.  I figured it was a good option, since I liked clubs and organizations.  Plus, she was really sweet and I kind of felt like someone I should get to know.  I was hired pretty quickly and learned later it was because she liked that I was a clean-cut guy.

Not long after, Melva became more than just my supervisor.  She fashioned herself as my second mom – my Miami mom – someone who would look after me, and she fit the part.  While I was in the office, she would ask about my life and keep tabs on both the academic and social side.  If I was late to work because of some exploits the previous night, she would act disappointed just like a caregiver should.  But, the ice would eventually thaw and I would go home that day still feeling loved and supported.  She got it.  She had high expectations, but she knew I was just figuring it out. 

Melva would invite me to her house, and sometimes I would watch it while she and her husband Jim traveled.  And Jim – Jim was tremendous too.  A prince of a guy and so easy to get to know.  I would even dress as Santa for Melva’s family Christmas gathering – which was a sacred honor because Melva was Santa’s biggest fan.  Christmas was her thing.  She and Jim even placed a Santa mailbox in their front lawn each December, and kids would drop their wishes inside (and even receive a reply).

Melva was as important to me as anyone during those four years, and then even in the years that followed.   

And she passed away suddenly a few days ago.

As I reflected on my time with her, I realized that her decision to hire me on that day in 1994 could have been the single biggest moment in my career path, because it started my career path.  I went to Miami to be a TV broadcaster, but emerged wanting to be a higher education professional.  Working in that Student Activities Office introduced me to professional heroes like Steve Ransom, Gary Manka, and Bobbe Burke.  The office was also shared with the Greek Life staff and there I met Brian Breittholz, Amy Vojta, Tim Maugherman, and eventually others like Sue Kraft-Fussell, Lupita Temiquel, and Heather Hammer-Shuchter.  Can you imagine what a fun and dynamic office this was?  And it was anchored by Melva and her counterpart on the Greek side, Carolyn.  I wanted to be like all those people, and I don’t know if I would have ever been moved to chart a new career path if not for the opportunity to sit at that front desk in the office.

Melva was my rock.  College is a wild and crazy time, and all of us need adults to bring us back to what matters.  Melva was that for me.

On any given college or university, you have a wide range of employees.  You have the “academics,” the professors, provosts, and deans.  And then you have the student affairs staff, whose ranks are populated by those with advanced degrees and those striving for them.  But all throughout the institution, there are support staff:  secretaries, administrative assistants, groundskeepers, food service workers, bookstore employees, and more. 

It’s common to think that you will go to college and forge your mentoring relationships with those who stand at the front of the classroom, or who have the corner office, or who have a Dr. at the start of their name.  I wager to guess that we all can think of someone who didn’t fit these particular characteristics, but who meant as much or more to us.  And that’s because they had an even more important quality than any other: they cared.  This was Melva.

Do you have a Melva from your college days?  Someone who reminded you in the midst of your 20-page reports and 5000-page textbooks that it’s still the simple things that count?  Someone who would take you when you were at your best or at your worst and love you either way?  Someone who was always there, no matter the turbulence you were experiencing?  Someone who connected you to the community?  Someone who was such a real person in an environment that can often seem so unreal?

My parents don’t know many of the professors or student affairs administrators who helped to mold me, but they knew Melva.  And since my graduation, they exchanged Christmas cards with her and Jim.   They became friends, and I know were relieved to know someone was watching over me during that time.

If you have a Melva from your college days, call that person right now.  Tell them how much they mean to you.  I wish I could have done that one more time.

My condolences to Jim and to the entire Brown family.  And my condolences to Miami and Oxford, for they each lost one of their best.  Melva, you will be missed, but your spirit lives on in so many – including this clean-cut guy you took a chance on long ago. 

Farewell to my Miami mom.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It’s Time to Suspend All-Greek Suspensions. Permanently.

On January 9, the system-wide fraternity and sorority suspension at the University of Virginia will be lifted.  Let’s wait and hope that the university administrators who took this step (and refused to retract it even after the Rolling Stone article was debunked) will have a press conference to share with the public how the Greek community there is forever changed now that the suspension worked its magic.  How is the system different?  What new behaviors will we see?  When the curtain is lifted, what will be revealed? 

Well, nothing of course.  Because the all-Greek suspension was done for P.R. purposes only.  It provided the illusion that the university wields tight-fisted control over the Greek community.  It had no productive outcome – and really couldn’t.  

All-Greek suspensions, and especially in the UVA case, take a problem that can be isolated to certain groups or members and make it appear to be everyone’s problem.  And so every member – even those living true to their values - are caught in the net and may never escape the negative impression that comes along. 

There is no courage in such an act, either.

I am reminded of the time I was on a plane, and we had just taken off.  I needed to use the bathroom, but the seat-belt sign was illuminated, which means you need to stay put.  After a few minutes, I thought I heard a ding and that we had reached an elevation where I could get up and go.  So, I unbuckled the seat belt, walked to the back of the plane and right past the rear jump seat where the one flight attendant was seated (still buckled in).  While in the bathroom, I heard over the loudspeakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, the fasten seat-belt sign is still illuminated and you need to remain in your seats.”  Now, half the plane had seen me walk down the aisle.  So, it was obvious who she was talking about.  And, since I walked right past her, she could have stopped me and calmly told me to return to my seat, which I would have done without hesitation.  That would have been a more effective act than using the loudspeaker to admonish everyone for my error.

And so we have Greek communities where some chapters are making loud and boisterous errors, and when a dramatic incident is the result, the university administrators grab the loudspeaker and shut down everyone.  Is that courage?  If there is a continuum, I think it’s closer to cowardice.  It’s the easy way out.

Whereas a patient and targeted approach is better, it’s easier for a university president to look tough and in control by being heavy-handed and using words like “suspended” and “banned” at their pressers.  I also helps with P.R. because our society is increasingly letting our emotions control logic in demanding swift and immediate action.  Fire him!  Shut them down!  Boycott that place!  OUTRAGE!

But all-Greek suspensions are wrong on many levels.

There is certainly a fairness issue here.  When there is an alleged sexual assault by a member of the football team, for example, the entire sports program is not suspended.  In fact, rarely is the football program.  Residence hall activities are not halted when a handful of residents make poor choices.  But with fraternities, it’s becoming a common tool.

Actually, is there any other system that is treated this way?  We don't close all community restaurants when one fails to meet code.  We don't close all schools in the district when one or more fail to meet state standards.  Somehow in every other place in society we are able to conduct investigations and make improvements and yet keep business moving.  Except in Greek life it appears.

There is also a constitutional argument regarding freedom of association.  While it doesn’t keep me up at night, I understand some peoples’ passion around that argument.  And I agree with the spirit of the statement released by the NIC and NPC recently.

On a side note – in regards to that statement – can we have the political action committee release a separate statement next time?  Lumping the associations in with the political lobby feels a little overly...well...political.

To me, the biggest reason to suspend all-Greek suspensions is effectiveness.  Or lack thereof.
Can anyone point to an instance when an all-Greek suspension made a meaningful culture change for a Greek community?  I can’t find one.

The joint statement by several higher ed groups – including the Association of Fraternity Advisors - made the following assertion about suspensions.  Since it was in reaction to the UVA case, I assume they are defending the right of the university to suspend all groups at once, although it's not clear.  The emphasis is mine:
Finally, we support both students’ rights to freely associate and in rare cases, temporary, well-defined and purposeful suspensions of fraternity/sorority activities in response to widespread allegations of misbehavior, especially misbehavior that harms other students. Temporary suspension of the activities of student groups does not violate student association rights however, pausing the activities of student groups for a reasonable, defined period of time can be a useful mechanism in helping a reeling group evaluate and assess in a time of crisis, especially when that crisis may be related to the group’s activities, as may be the case with sexual violence, hazing, and binge drinking.
This statement deserves more explanation.  Specifically:
  • What is temporary?  What amount of time is too light or too severe?  What amount of time creates a more effective result?  If I believe temporary is 4 weeks and the guy down the street believes it’s 4 years, is that okay?
  • Can AFA or NASPA provide some examples of a well-defined suspension?  It’s not clear what that even means (in other words, it’s not well-defined).
  • Finally, what is considered a purposeful reason for a suspension?  And what isn’t?  If these higher ed groups believe there is a purpose for suspensions, can some examples be provided?  Using UVA as an example, I can’t find any real purpose stated for the suspension (there are some goals described but it isn’t clear how a suspension is necessary to achieve them).
This Rolling Stone article, what it created, and its aftermath may have opened a wider rift between campuses and fraternal organizations.  There is a higher ed/AFA camp and a NIC/NPC camp, as evidenced by their conflicting statements.  I believe that both sides understand the painful issues – such as sexual assault – that need to be addressed. Believing that all-Greek suspensions are ridiculous does not mean a lack of appreciation for the severity of these  issues.  And both sides love the fraternity experience, although one favors the ability for that experience to be altered or taken away from an upstanding member in an instant because of association.

IFCs and Panhellenics - you don't need to accept this as a solution.  All-Greek suspensions are simply unfair and ineffective.  I agree with the following quote: “in any crisis it can be far too easy to paint with a broad brush, and to blindly attack entire groups of individuals. This is not a responsible reaction.”  

Who said that?  UVA President Teresa Sullivan.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Scariest Part of Being in a Sorority Is…

Guest Essay by Jen Glantz
Do you want to know what the scariest part of being in a sorority is?
It’s not suddenly becoming friends with more girls than you’ve ever known in your life, or dealing with fraternity guys who smell, permanently like tequila and stale Doritos, or having to wear matching outfits to things (though have you seen 150 girls all wearing the same t-shirt and white shorts and brown sandals? It’s a little scary).

It’s doing something called recruitment. And no matter if you’re in the most popular sorority on campus or the least, you have to do it.
What is it?
Well it’s 4 to 5 days of timed conversations with absolute and complete strangers.
It’s terrifying.
All of a sudden, the doors of the sorority house swing open and there they are. A group of 100 girls you’ve never met before in your life. Who are forced to go from sorority to sorority and decide which they’d like to be part of.

I wasn’t in the most popular sorority when I was in college. No. I was in the “new” one. The one with more “down to earth and unique” kind of girls. The one where if we wanted to recruit a new group of women, we had to work to prove ourselves. We were the only ones without a house on campus – so, for the week, we’d rent out a falling apart fraternity house and decorate it with balloons and spray gallons of Febreze all over the place.

Day one: You vs. a group of 3 girls. You have to speak with them for 35 minutes straight. No cell phones, no distractions, nothing to do but talk. You talk until the music starts to play and then you say goodbye and walk them out of your house.
And then what do you do?
You do that 10 more times that day. And then the next, and the next, and the next.
So what do you say?
Well, somewhere in whatever you say, you need to also toss in some props for your sorority and tell them why they should join.
But seriously, what do you say?
It’s frightening and awkward and every single girl in the sorority has to do it. And not just once, every single year you’re in it, this is what you have to do the first week of August or January. And after a couple of days, when the selection process continues, some of the girls who come to your house are forced to be there. They don’t even want to be there – but the recruitment gods make them go and give you another chance.
Want to know what they do to show us how mad they are about that?
They refuse to talk. They play mute. You’ll ask them how their day is so far and they’ll look at you like you just wiggled around and did a dance. Or maybe they’ll speak. In one word answers. And so either you can do a 35-minute staring contest with them or you can talk. 

Talk like no one is listening (because let’s face it, they aren’t).
I bet you don’t hear about this often?
Which is a shame because sororities are most-well known for liquor gorging themed parties and hazing incidents. But they are not known for this. The one thing that actually builds extinct social skills in our 20-something, technology obsessed selves. One day, I know, this recruitment process will be out of date and sororities will recruit people like we do dates on something like tinder. Swipe right if this girl looks like a good fit for your chapter.

Until then, this process takes everyone – from the shyest girl in the room to the one who could talk to a wall – and makes them do this.
I once had to talk one of my sorority sisters off the ledge. Literally. She was hiding in a bathroom stall, standing on the toilet. Refusing to come out because she was so scared to do this.
Talking to strangers is absolutely terrifying.
Here’s some of the techniques we’re taught in order get through this – which truly apply to real life conversations as well.
  1. Open ended questions - ask these kinds of questions so the conversation doesn’t die. Questions like: where are you from? Why did you move here? Tell me more about your job?
  2. People love to talk about themselves: so indulge them. Find out the keywords and phrases that they say that make them light up and ask them to tell you more, to elaborate. It’ll get them talking and talking and talking.
  3. Level set. “You don’t want to be here, do you? Me either.” Drop the act and be real with the person you’re trying to talk to.
  4. Water cooler topics. Oh my god, did you see the latest episode of Scandal? What do you think about Kim Kardashian posing naked on that magazine? Can we talk about that legendary Photoshop job for a second?
I’ve done recruitment 3 times in college, and then I worked for my sorority afterward, running recruitment workshops for chapters around the country.
You’d think I’d be a pro at this by now.
You want to know the truth?
I’m not. I still get terrified. Sometimes I go to events alone and want to approach a group of girls but I freeze and I get so nervous that my heart races and I just end up standing 3 feet away from them lurking over their shoulders, wondering if they see me. They do. I know they always do.
Last weekend, I was invited to a conference put on by Cosmo. There were 2,000 women there – all in my demographic. I had to go and speak to as many people as I could about my blog and my book and my business. I packed a gigantic professional looking briefcase with as many business cards as I could stuff in there. I put on a blazer. I brushed my hair. I checked my teeth before I got there for lipstick. I wore a new fur coat – which I realized 4 hours in, I forgot to take the tag off of.
But when I got there, I froze. I couldn’t speak. If I did speak, it was only to say, “Hi, I’m, Jen,” and then the conversation would die. One time I tried this on a girl who was about to sit down next to me and I put out my hand to say hello. But the girl was carrying too many things at once and when I stuck out my hand, I accidentally knocked over her half eaten yogurt on the floor. And the whole thing was so jumbled and awkward that she ended up moving three rows behind me because she probably thought I was some kind of clumsy breakfast stealer.
So what did I do?
I took my 4 years of recruitment experience, my briefcase of beautifully printed business cards, and I left.
Yep. I left.
I walked 5 blocks east to Argo Tea. Ordered a large muffin and an extra-large tea.
I was finally safe.
But then I told myself, no. No. It can’t be like this. You have more conversational training and skills than anyone in that entire Lincoln Center ballroom. You’re going to go back there. You’re going to tell them who Jen Glantz is. You’re going to talk to strangers and shake their hands and not spill their food. You’re going to do this.
And of course, I’m saying all of this out loud to myself in Argo Tea and a group of tourists are staring at me. One of them pulls out his iPhone to video my powerful monologue and another one whispers something loud enough that I hear him say, “New Yorkers are absolutely bonkers.”
So I went back. Yep, I did.
Okay, I thought to myself. How can I do this?
And then I remembered this, the best way to enter conversation with someone is to do it naturally. People will get weird if you walk up to them and say, “HI, I’m Jen Glantz. I just talked out loud to myself in Argo Tea about how I was going to come back here and make friends."
Natural conversation forces people to let you in. It’s conversation they are used to, trained for, neurologically wired to respond to. Because if it’s not natural, we’re trained to ignore it, just like we ignore the guy on the street shouting at us that the world is going to end! Or the guy who approaches us as we’re waiting for the subway and says, “Damn, girl, let me show you a good time.”
Ask a question that makes someone do something to help you. It’s the key to getting any stranger's attention, to letting them let you in, to starting that stranger trust.
“Do you girls know when the next session starts?”
That’s how I did it. I walked up to two women and I asked that. We then spoke for 45 minutes, exchanged info, and took a selfie together.
It’s that easy.
Okay, maybe it’s not.
Maybe it’s getting somewhere new, eyeing a bunch of intimidating strangers and having to throw yourself in front of the bathroom mirror to pep talk the heck out of yourself before going back out there and speaking to someone, something, other than yourself. Maybe it’s making someone spill their yogurt or having a group of girls wonder why the heck you’re standing so close to them and not saying anything. Maybe it’s spending your first few days of recruitment, at the age of 19, making every single conversational error in the book. Saying lots of “ummms” and sweating through your yellow cotton shirt so badly, that you start all conversations with, “It’s getting hot in here, isn’t it?”
Maybe it’s a bunch of that before you finally see that the less you plan it out, the less you let yourself get all suffocated with nerves, the more you'll just go for it.
Toss yourself into the conversation like you’re the keynote speaker.
Believe deep down that you are.

Jen Glantz is the author of the novel, All My Friends are Engaged. She’s exposed the intimate details of her dating, career, and personal life on her website The Things I Learned From for the past three years. Most recently, her “professional bridesmaid” ad from Craigslist went viral within 48 hours – and became an overnight business called "Bridesmaid for Hire"


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

5 Things That Will Fix Your Greek Community

The previous post challenged 5 oft-considered “silver bullet” solutions to problems facing our Greek communities.  Believing that any of the 5 ideas would be stand-alone answers to what we face is to believe in fool’s gold.   

So, what can fix our Greek communities?  You could say this whole blog and the almost 150 posts have focused on that question.  But, in order to stay with the theme I established in the prior post, let’s try to delineate the 5 things that WILL fix your Greek community.  Note that each of these is not as specific, because again, we can’t believe in shortcut solutions and make any headway.  And off we go…

As mentioned in the previous post, we tend to want to solve issues by exerting more control.  When faced with the feeling of chaos, we tend to overreact and go to the polar opposite: severe rigidity.  We start putting more rules on recruitment and expansion, establish plans that dictate how organizations should operate, and turn our Greek staff and councils into overseers.  We try to choreograph too much.  And I believe it doesn’t work because fraternities and sororities are not organizations designed for control.  We are designed for self-initiative and independence.  In my experience, more control equates to more status quo.  It's hard to compel change by force.  Rather, change needs to be inspired and then encouraged with plenty of room for innovation.  Let’s make it easier for chapters to innovate by taking our thumbs off of them.  With Ritual as the basis, we should allow for many different positive expressions of the fraternity experience.

It’s an old adage: what gets recognized gets done.  If you want to inspire better behavior, seek ways to recognize it.  Here’s a fun exercise: throw out your current Greek awards process and start from scratch.  First, identify the desired Greek community you want.  What does it feel like? Look like? Act like?  What are the chapters doing?  What are the members and leaders doing?  Now, build your awards and recognition around those behaviors.   For example, let’s say you develop a list of the five things you want your chapters to be doing more of, which could look something like: (1) help members achieve better academically, (2) perform more meaningful community service projects, (3) host responsible social events that encourage personal development, (4) demonstrate innovation in recruitment and retention, and (5) build a strong working relationship with the campus community.   So now recognize those who are demonstrably achieving those things and you have your five feature awards for your end-of-the-year Greek Awards banquet.  

Much has been made of the University of Virginia’s decision to suspend all fraternities because of a Rolling Stone magazine article alleging a brutal rape in one of those fraternities.  Suspending all Greek activities for the actions of a few seems to be the standard protocol now.  To fix a Greek community, you need a scalpel and not a hatchet.  On your campus right now are organizations that are trying hard to live by their Ritual.  There are also organizations trying their level best to  live opposed to their Ritual.  Why punish the former because of the latter?  Here’s a novel idea – go to where the problem is and remove it.  Mike McRee wrote one of the seminal pieces on accountability when he argued that more chapters need to be closed.  We know what chapters these are.   And we know what chapters these aren’t.  To fix your Greek community requires a surgical approach to target the source of the problems and remove them.  It can be a scary proposition, but let me assure you that no matter how big, historic, or influential that fraternity may be, you can live without them.  

In the previous post, I argued against the motivational speaker as the answer to your prayers.  A speaker can work if it is part of a larger education plan.  But, there is an issue: speakers can eat up a big chunk of your programming budget.  So – you have to decide – what is the best return on your investment?  I’m a fan of speakers for celebratory events like Greek Week, convocations, Greek awards ceremonies, etc.  I also love speakers that build in smaller workshops or consulting to accompany their 60 minutes of stage time.  What I like most are retreat-style events in which more interaction and in-depth discussion can occur.  I also like small targeted gatherings like officer roundtables and Greek leadership classes.  Overall, start with your objectives, build the plan, and see how a speaker fits instead of the other way around.

If you believe, as I do, that grassroots change is much more effective, then stop waiting for your college/university to solve these issues for you.  Your Greek advisor shouldn’t be the one pointing out to you that your all-Greek GPA is tanking, or that sexual assaults are becoming an issue on campus.  You have eyes and ears.  You can see these things also.  One of the biggest problems we face in Greek life is that we’re losing our self-governance.  In some instances, it’s being taken away forcibly, but more often, we’re giving it away by abdication.  Think about your last IFC meeting.  What did you talk about?  Of those things, what really matters to the future of your Greek community?  Self-governing Greek communities will not shy away from difficult matters.  Self-governing Greek communities will set strict standards for being a “citizen” in that community and will police their own community.  Self-governing Greek communities are in charge because they want to be, and are willing to accept the work that’s involved.  Those who ignore big issues, squelch controversial discussions, and refuse to take a stand are relinquishing control of their future to others, and they deserve what they get.  

Students – these are your chapters and your Greek communities.  You can decide the strategies to fix the problems that are keeping you from greatness.  First, own the problems.  Then, own the solutions.  And, avoid the shortcuts.  This can be long, hard, grueling work with extraordinarily bountiful rewards.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

5 Things That Won't Fix Your Greek Community

Don't expect these to be the silver bullet solutions to your problems.

In Greek life, we have no shortage of problems.  Pervasive and longstanding ones too.  What these problems lead to are Greek communities that sit on the brink, with pressure mounting to make changes or else.  Student leaders and staff are often left with trying to figure out what to do.  I have seen time after time, these concerned leaders come together to solve these problems and emerge with big, lofty, silver-bullet solutions that don’t have much of an impact at all. If you are in the midst of visioning or problem-solving for your Greek community right now, let me try to help save you time, energy, and resources.  Here are five go-to answers for fixing our Greek communities that most likely won't:

One of our first inclinations is to bring people together and develop a sweeping plan.  When I was an undergraduate at Miami, a committee of staff, students, and alumni created the Miami Plan for Greek Excellence.  I know many institutions have such a plan.  These plans can be beneficial in identifying the problems, and the discussions that create the plans can be enlightening and productive.  However, the plans themselves almost never create a lasting positive impact.  Why?  First, the plans are rooted in logic and intellect and most of the problems they address are not.  Second, staff and student turnover on most campuses make sweeping multi-year plans tough to stay committed to.  And third, no matter how much student “voice” is brought into the plan’s development, it cannot avoid being seen as an authoritarian top-down approach. 

I love professional speakers as thought-provokers and educational entertainers.  But too many believe that putting one in front of their whole Greek community will bring about big change.  To have that expectation is to unfairly burden the speaker, and to unwittingly subscribe to the discredited notion that speeches create action.  A speaker is a great compliment to a larger educational strategy.  But, a speaker is typically not the sage savior that will “light a fire” that produces change.   If you have ever attended a regional leadership conference, such as NGLA or AFLV and the only real idea you came away with was a speaker that you just HAD to bring to your campus, then you fell victim to this silver bullet.   Instead of internalizing the speaker’s message, the dialogue in your head (and this is common) probably sounded something like “if only my whole Greek community could hear this!”  Great speakers can set a table, but you need to own the meal.

Repeat after me: Our Greek community does not have a PR problem.  And keep repeating it until you believe it, because it’s true.  Bad PR is the most frequent misdiagnosis for the problems we face in Greek life.  And thus, we put way too much emphasis on good PR as a solution.  If you have the time, write a press release.  It probably won’t get printed.  If it’s cathartic for you to fire off a letter to the campus newspaper, go for it.  But, if you want to use your time more wisely, ignore the campus newspaper and pledge to do things that are worthy of notice.  Even if you don’t get the media attention you desire, you’ll move further away from getting the unwanted kind.  Nonetheless, the battle for our future as Greek organizations will not be waged in the op-ed sections or on the magazine racks.  Don’t get sucked in.  

This one is for the IFC’s and the senior campus administrators.  When faced with problems, the knee-jerk response is to exert more and more control over recruitment.  The old adage of “if all you have is a hammer, then everything is a nail” applies here.  Recruitment is the hammer.  Campus administrators wield it as a carrot, and stick, and everything in between.  The fact is – pervasive issues in Greek life are pervasive on campuses where recruitment happens year-round, recruitment is deferred a semester, deferred a year, deferred two years, loose, controlled, etc.  Why do we go – even as student leaders – to the recruitment card so often?  Again, it’s about control.  Open recruitment feels like the giant bin of mismatched legos, and we can struggle with that much chaos.  So, we instead seek to create instructions for what to build with the legos and Krazy Glue to hold it together once it’s built (referencing the Lego Movie here, which you may not have seen but you NEED to).  It certainly appears more orderly, and we appear more in control, but what we’ve lost is the creative energy that fuels grassroots inertia for change. 

When a Greek community is facing challenges, it’s natural for those involved to want to huddle up, hunker down, and stop business until the problems are solved.  As mentioned, recruitment is often a way this manifests itself.  Yet another is fraternity expansion.  We tend to think that a system in turmoil cannot withstand any disruptions, and so we stand still.  However, a disruption may be exactly what’s needed.  A new player, a new model for others to observe, and new energy infused into the system.  If you are looking at a Greek community that needs to be fixed, don’t put up a fence.  Don’t shut out the rest of the world and believe that you can go into a cave, make repairs, and emerge brand new.  You may get some temporary relief from that, but more often than not, the system will revert back to its previous state.  The best thing for you to say, at a moment of consequence for your Greek community, could be “let’s bring on some new groups.”  Keep moving.  Don’t stand still.

What did I miss?  Where am I wrong?

And in a couple of weeks, look for the 5 things that CAN fix your Greek community.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fraternity and the Insanity of Fandom

I love sports.  So do you.  Well, most of you.

And most of us just don’t love sports, we allow sports to make us temporarily insane.  I don’t mean in jubilation for winning or sorrow for losses.  I mean sports make us insane because they alter our integrity.

Let’s admit one thing – we can all be steadfastly opposed to athletes who cheat, steal, do drugs, assault their spouses, make racist or homophobic comments, or generally act like arrogant SOBs…as long as they play for the OTHER team.  If they play for our team…well…?

There are athletes who deserve our scorn, and if they play for the other team, they are a properly labeled as jerks.  If they play for our team, we may actually root harder for them, because they are OUR jerks.

You could carry disdain for someone on the other team for years, but then they are signed by your team as a free agent.  Instantly, he’s matured as a player, learned from his mistakes, fallible like any human being, and someone who should be judged for his play, not his character.  

See – sports make us insane (ethically).

There are some exceptions.  I don’t know that any fan would have truly embraced Barry Bonds.  Or Mark McGuire.  Or Michael Vick (well, actually that one did shift).  And if Ray Rice ends up on another team, what will those fans do?

So, what does this have to do with fraternity – the subject of this blog? 

A fraternity or sorority – like many sports teams – can be prone to differential ethics when it comes to their own “players.”  In other words, when it’s our guy, a behavior or action can easily be dismissed.  When it’s the other team’s guy, we very easily pass out judgment as easily as candy on Halloween.

Consider a scenario.  Imagine you are at a party hosted by some other organization.  At that party you see a guy making moves on a clearly intoxicated woman.  In that situation, we may intervene, or at the minimum, be upset or disgusted by that behavior.  Now imagine if that same thing is happening in your chapter house, and the guy is your brother.  Might the feeling be different? 

The challenge is that we become emotionally invested in those on our team – those we are expected to root for.  It makes us treat them with situational ethics.  But, in reality, that emotional investment is selfish.

If we were truly invested in our players – then we wouldn’t have different accountability standards for them.  Because the best thing for those players is to be held accountable, so that they grow as individuals.  Our members are not served by our protection, or willful ignorance of their screw-ups and misdeeds.  

There is danger in team mentality.  It can cause us to apply our ethics in a schizophrenic fashion.  We should also remember that no single player is greater than the team. Dismissing behavior that should be confronted is gambling with our organization’s future – just like the sports franchise that drafts someone with a history of problems.

We should definitely be fans of our own fraternities and the members who belong to them.  Let’s choose to practice the best aspects of fandom:
  • Fans are patient and loyal, and can survive losing seasons because of hope of what’s to come.
  • Fans are forgiving, and generally will accept mistakes if there is demonstrated intent to make corrections.
  • Fans can bring life to a team when it needs it most, and the best fans do not give up until the bitter end.
At the same time, let’s remember some very important points that may not be reflected in professional sports, but should be true for our organizations:
  • Winning with players you admire and respect is exponentially better than winning with players whose behavior you have to tolerate.  Choose to populate your team with the former, even if it delays winning.
  • No player is entitled to be on a team, nor is any team forced to accept a player below their standards.
  • Any hate or disdain for players on other teams should be redirected towards rigorous accountability for players on our own teams.  
A quick point in closing: it’s not always the miscreants in sports that can make us temporarily insane.  It’s also the exceptional individuals.  Think about the hatred cast upon Tim Tebow.  Or Lebron James for a time.  In sports, we have a tendency to hate people because of how good they are.  Crazy, but true.  Steer clear of that in fraternity as well.  If the other guy in the other organization is doing really good stuff, seek to learn from it, not hate it.  

We can choose who we root for, who we root against, and the reasons why.  I challenge you to stop and consider that for yourself.  Let’s be fans who are loyal, patient, and enthusiastic.  

But not insane.