Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Problem with Fraternity "Colonization"

Guest essay by Brent Turner 

Remember when you joined that house chapter and met some of your fellow pledges new members? Rush Recruitment was an exciting time filled with anxiety and anticipation, as you and other rushees potential new members hoped to join a new community of lifelong friends. The frat guy fraternity man culture on campus needed a transformation through positive change, with a focus on risk management education and harm reduction.

We've come a long way, yet we have a long way to go.

This week we saw multiple postings on social media related to Columbus Day and the 'true' story of history often untold. I want to expand on the notion that history tells this story of exploration and discovery, often omitting death and demise of the indigenous people of the native land. Let's bring that to the fraternity/sorority world.

Our organizations have evolved over time to be inclusive of the current context, particularly with our language. In fact, we as a community have changed several of our terms over time. But there is one word/concept that I feel needs a revolution: COLONIZATION.

Colonize (verb)

1. to establish a colony in; settle.

2. to form a colony of

Colony (noun)

1. any group of individuals having similar interests, occupations, etc. usually living in a particular locality; community

The definitions above seem suitable in building community, but when placed in a historical context we uncover the problem.  When we 'colonize', the actions assumed are to have a western civilization interrupt a native culture, promote power and privilege, and become the dominant leader of the land. But often that's not our goal. Rather, we intend to be recognized in the campus community and by governing councils, succeed with high expectations, recruit diverse and inclusive members, and sustain on campus with a focus on values-based recruitment and programming. The goal, however, is to promote positive change and growth within the entire community on that campus. 

Growth and expansion are crucial efforts for sustainability and success, as each of our organizations have intentional plans for the future of our membership across multiple institutions. I was honored to be a founding father founding member (this is another issue as we continue to welcome trans* and gender inclusion) of my fraternity the spring of my sophomore year, so I have been a product of a ‘colony’. 

So what if? What if ‘colonization' become the next phrase we transform to meet modern context? What if we stick to extension and expansion? What if ‘colonies’ were renamed associate chapters, pre-chartered organizations, societies, interest groups, establishments, etc? I commend those organizations that have courageously and progressively changed their culture and language and I urge others to challenge these terms. For some it’s just semantics, but for others it may reflect a lifetime of oppression and pain.

I challenge us all to continue to transform our values into action, through positive social change, cultural competency, and inclusion. We have an obligation to cultivate a place for all students, promote community, and challenge words that often have a negative connotation, history of oppression, or meanings that do not reflect today's context.  Let’s shift from micro aggressions to micro (if not macro) affirmations. It’s my hope that inter/national headquarters colonizing seeking charters on campuses consider this idea when recruiting new colonies associate chapters. 

Brent Turner serves as the Executive Director of Student Involvement at Northwestern University. He has been actively involved with the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, American College Personnel Association, The LeaderShape Institute, UIFI, and his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. He can be reached at

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

It's Time for the Choir to Stand Up

Guest Essay By Dave Westol, Limberlost Consulting 

National Hazing Prevention Week (NHPW) 2014 has come and gone although a number of campuses designate a week at other times during the academic year for that important purpose.  Seminars and workshops are held, discussions occur, and people from many different departments and areas of a campus spend time talking about a practice that has become a malignancy in clubs, organizations, teams and indeed men’s and women’s fraternities and sororities.

A BFNM (Best Friend Never Met) of mine is Dr. Fran Becque.  Fran, a proud alumna of Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, authors “Focus on Fraternity History”.  Her blog is an oasis for me and many others in our movement—in the midst of so much negative news, I know I can turn to her work and find historical perspective and a refreshing break from the day-to-day, not to mention interesting information about all of our organizations.

Fran recently noted that we are “Preaching to the choir” in terms of hazing.  And I agree, with one additional point.

The term “Preaching to the choir” means what?

That we are encouraging those who are already at the place of worship, not to mention volunteering their time to enhance the service, to be faithful.  They don’t need to be encouraged.  They get it.  They are there.  The people who need to be reminded to be faithful aren’t there.

True.  But what do choir members do before they sing?

Let’s see.  They practice?

Yes.  Hours and hours, sometimes, for one or two songs.  Not that I would know with my voice.

They wear robes?

Yes.  They uni up.  They also may walk in together, sometimes in formation or particular order.  What else?

Hmm.  They sit together, sometimes in an area reserved for them.

You are getting to the point.  Now, the choir director, who is usually in front of them, may tap a small wand or other device…and then she or he raises her hands…and what happens?

The choir stands up.

Yes.  The choir members stand and often rise together…something like the offense on a football team coming out of a huddle by clapping their hands together.  It is a gesture of organization but also of unity.  For the choir, it says, “We’re ready.  We’ve practiced.  We’re unified.  We’re ready”

And that simple act of standing up is what is missing from our chapters.

That applies to hazing…and also to all of the other issues that arise in fraternity and sorority life.

Our members—most of them, anyway--understand right from wrong.  And we have, as Fran notes, many “choir” members who get it—who know that the values and ideals of their organizations are timeless and that those must be perpetuated.  We are sitting right where we should be.  We are robed up.  We are ready.  We don’t need to be preached to about hazing or sexual assault or dumb party themes or risk management.

But we aren’t standing up.  We’re still sitting.

We sit and listen.

We sit and watch.

We let the worst of our members in our chapters speak and act in ways that embarrass us at events and on social media.  And then, those same members rush back to our sisterhood or brotherhood and insist that we defend them because...”I’m a sister/brother and you owe it to me!”

We allow the loud jerks, the has-been young alumnae/alumni and outspoken boors to make decisions for us.

We allow those afflicted with ego, self-aggrandizement and TSM/TFM disease to dominate our meetings.

We bystand when the facts, circumstances and situations call loudly for upstander behavior—to act.  Or at least to speak.  On our feet.  Emphatically.  With purpose.  With meaning.  With sincerity.

September, 2014, will be recorded as a bad time for fraternities and sororities. Numerous high-profile incidents have occurred that quickly undo all of the good things that we do and have done. 

Yet, if just one person—just one—in each situation would have stood up in a chapter house or a meeting or at a gathering and said, “This isn’t a good idea.  This isn’t right.  This is not us” the outcome could well have been different in each of those situations last month.

Are you in the choir in your chapter?  Showing up for meetings? Reciting our creed or credo with meaning and in a thoughtful way?  Being a good member?  Proud of being in your organization?

Then get on your feet.  Get your voice back.  And say something.

One adage used in the 1800s when officers rode horses in battle was, “One man on a horse is worth six on the ground”—that the size of the horse plus the elevation of the rider was superior to any other way of leading troops.  Soldiers were more apt to follow a leader on horseback.

Today, one woman or one man on her or his feet…will make a difference.  And more than six times a difference.  You can change the course of a 250-member chapter.  If you stand up.

We need you on your feet.  Today. 

Dave Westol served as CEO of his national fraternity for eighteen years and now has his own consulting company, Limberlost Consulting, Inc., in Carmel, Indiana. He has served on the board of directors for FIPG, Inc. for sixteen years and has been honored with the Gold Medal from the North American Interfraternity Conference for service to the interfraternal community. He can be reached at

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hazing and Miss America

I’m breaking my own rule of commenting on something before all the facts are out.  Because it’s National Hazing Prevention Week, and this story is very timely.

Miss America is in some hot water.

I’m not a big fan or supporter of the Miss America pageant, and think it’s kinda silly.  But, it’s an institution in our culture and has a strong following.

It was revealed earlier in the week that the recent winner of Miss America - Kira Kazantsev 
 – was removed from her sorority (Alpha Phi at Hofstra) because of some behavior related to hazing.  She claims she was removed for an inappropriate joke about hazing that was always intended to be only a joke.

She admits she hazed pledges in her sorority, but to a “lesser” extent than some media reports.  She was also hazed, and admits that it was a part of the culture of the organization (and the entire Greek community at Hofstra). 

It does appear to me that she still has some learning to do when it comes to the impact of hazing and why it should never be tolerated, no matter how severe.

Now, what I’ve seen in social media (and from many professionals in fraternity and sorority life) is a take-down of this young woman for these actions.  The internet outrage machine is calling for her crown.

Let’s remember some key things.

There are people who work in the fraternity and sorority industry who were hazed, and hazed pledges themselves.  There are speakers and writers who oppose hazing now because of their own stories of falling victim to a culture of hazing.  You’re reading one right now.

The line that connects all of these stories is regret.  And realization.  Realization that hazing is not harmless fun, but can be damaging instead.  Realization that hazing eats away at a fraternity culture and creates the very apathy it supposedly solves.  This realization may come through quiet reflection, or a loud embarrassing spectacle.  This realization may come at age 18, or at age 23, or much later.

There is an educational journey in regards to hazing and that is why events like National Hazing Prevention Week exist.  We accept that convincing undergrads who are currently living in a hazing culture to change is hard and time-consuming work. 

And now we have a very public situation in which a young woman is going through that same education (and yes, sometimes it has to put right in front of one’s face in order for it to click), and the public reaction doesn't seem very patient.  True – she was a hazer.  True – she made big mistakes.  Perhaps true – her integrity isn’t as strong as advertised.

Let’s remember that hazing – namely in high school and college – is largely an act committed by young people who are ignorant of the impact (less so than a decade ago, but still ignorant).  Obviously the goal is for hazing never to occur.  But where it does, most involved are not depraved or willfully malevolent.  Most just don’t get it, but can get it, and that’s where we do our work.  We are an industry of educators, are we not?

Maybe that calls on us to rise above the indignation Olympics that always accompany stories like these.

Perhaps more information will come that will change my mind, but until then, I’m going to accept Ms. Kazantsev’s comments about now including hazing prevention in her platform as truth.  From her blog:
Now that I’m 2 years removed from that experience at the sorority, I’ve learned what healthy relationships are, and can better speak to what young girls entering college should avoid and it has further developed my platform, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence.”
I’m also proud to say that Alpha Phi Theta Mu of Hofstra University is an upstanding organization that has completely abandoned these practices and I’m incredibly proud of the work they do as an organization.

She can do a whole lot of good on this issue, and I’m interested to see her try.  Maybe she can start with the Miss America Organization itself, who issued a very disappointing statement that didn’t seem to acknowledge the gravity of the hazing issue. 

I’m not sure how I wanted the Miss America Organization to respond, but what they’ve done so far is pretty empty.  Should they fire her?  Let’s imagine they did.  It would send a message, but probably not a lasting one.  The issue may be better served by pressing her throughout this year to carry the anti-hazing message wherever she goes. 

Perhaps, we anti-hazing advocates found a new ally in the strangest of places, and she wears a crown.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Invitation

One of the things I enjoyed most about my fraternity was how we delivered bids. A large group of us would arrive to the recruit's residence hall, and call for him to come outside.  Once he did, we would gather around him, and someone would give a short speech and then extend the bid.  If he said he needed to wait, or even if it was no, we would applaud with respect.  If he said yes, then we would erupt in a cheer louder than a South American soccer stadium.  For a couple of years, as president, I used to give the speech.  I would try to to say different things to add to the gravity and inspiration of the moment.  And I would always end with "what do you say?"  I think I did a decent job.  But as recruits are being given bids across the country in the next few weeks, I took a moment to think about what I would say now - 20 years wiser.  And I think it would sound something like this:

I'd like to give you an invitation.

This isn't an invitation to member of this fraternity.  Instead, this is an invitation to be a better person.

That's not to say you are a bad person now.  Far from it.  But you can be a better person.

Those of us standing here, participating in this moment, accepted that invitation and are living testaments to its power.  For each person here is a better person now than they were before they said yes.

This invitation includes us.  So take a hard look.  Look into our eyes.  These are the people who will help make you better.  We are in turn looking at someone who will do the same for each of us.

This is an invitation to find yourself.  To accept that there is so much more of you to find.  To understand that it's because of challenging situations partnered with supportive friends that any of us truly find ourselves. 

This is an invitation to love each day for what it is: a chance to influence the world around you.

This is an invitation to get up from the couch, to step forward while others stand still, to emerge instead of withdraw.  To take the hits, the blows, and the constant pressure of a visible existence and never stop smiling.

This is an invitation for sacrifice.  By saying yes, we will accept a piece of your time, your talents, your resources, and your intellect.  You can't hide those things.  This is an invitation to be generous with who you are - both your strong aspects and your weak ones.  The strong aspects we'll accept as your contributions to our mission.  The weak aspects we'll accept as your willingness to be vulnerable.

This is an invitation to embrace the hardest lessons life can throw your way.  How to keep integrity when the other choice is easier.  How to choose between justice and mercy.  How to care for someone by letting them go.  How to balance personal ambitions with the collective needs of others.  And then there will be even more lessons the next day.

This is an invitation to laugh.  This is an invitation to make memories early in the morning, late at night, and every hour in between.  This is an invitation to press the gas pedal a little harder.

This is an invitation to care more about the conversations around the dinner table than the trophies in the cabinet.  It's an invitation to be human, so that you can find your humanity.  It's an invitation to matter as much to these individuals as almost anyone else in their lives right now.

This is an invitation to a life informed by values that span the test of time and generations.  You will be asked to speak words that have undeniable power.  Words that will echo through decades hence and decades yet to come.  Words that we have spoken and will bond us with you forever.  Words that amplify your soul.

This is an invitation to live deeply.

And the fraternity membership is included.

What do you say?


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fraternity Lessons from the Ice Bucket Challenge

I love the Ice Bucket Challenge, the phenomenon benefiting the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral  Sclerosis (ALS).  I have also enjoyed watching people pull brain muscles trying to find reasons not to like it.  

The ice bucket challenge is addressing two goals for the cause of curing ALS: more awareness and more funds.  On both accounts, it has been wildly successful.  

Perhaps other organizations, like fraternities and sororities, who also have needs and goals (albeit not as noble as curing ALS) can learn something from this social media sensation.  

Let’s take one goal we all seem to struggle with: engagement.  You want your members to be more engaged in your fraternity than they are today.  Those fighting ALS, such as the ALS Association (ALSA), also wanted individuals to be more engaged with their cause than they were before.  What can we learn from the ice bucket challenge to make that happen?

First, it’s built on personal invitations.
The best way to involve someone is by personal invitation.  This is true for recruitment, but consider how it’s true for almost anything else in organizational life.  Do you want someone to join a committee?  Invite him.  You need another volunteer for the service project?  Invite her.  You want him to step up his commitment?  Knock on his door and invite him to give more.  You want her to contribute more in meetings?  Invite her to share more. 

No organization can afford to sit and hope that its members or stakeholders will just wake up one morning and want to do more.  The cause of curing ALS wasn’t reaching its potential by relying on traditional marketing efforts or simply thinking that a good cause pushes people to act on their own.  The ice bucket challenge, by its design, calls on individuals to invite others to join them.  You may never have heard of ALS before, but because your third cousin twice removed tagged you in a Facebook post and invited you to the effort, you are now engaged.

Presidents, celebrities, sports stars, and rock stars have poured icy water over their head in the last two weeks because someone invited them to do it.

If we are truly a fraternity movement, then we should do more to personally invite people to our cause.   

Second lesson: it appeals to our desire to have more social currency.
In the great book “Contagious” by Jonah Berger, he reminds us that while we all have the potential to be completely selfless and benevolent bastions of altruistic giving, most of us (like all) also choose to do things because of the social currency it gives us.  We give to causes because of our passion, but also because it makes us feel good.  We share things on social media that make us look smarter, cooler, and more in-the-know.  It may seem cynical, but likely your friend shared that article on Twitter not only because he wants you to read it, but also because he wants you to gain an impression of him as a better person because he reads articles like that.

It’s true – there are some people who did the ice bucket challenge only because they wanted you to think they were compassionate even though they may not have given a dime or still don’t know what ALS is.  That’s our society.  But even for those people, the challenge likely at least got them off the couch and moved them down the continuum a bit.  Isn’t that still a win?

For most, the ice bucket challenge met that need of wanting to improve social currency, but it also inspired new awareness of ALS, it motivated greater giving (social currency and peer pressure are cousins), and it made people feel part of something greater.  Many of my friends got their kids involved, which is wonderful.

What does this mean for the fraternity movement?  Think about how excited your new recruits are to share that they joined – on social media and with their friends and family.  But, think about if that continues through a member’s experience.  Does your chapter – your Greek community – continue to enhance a person’s life to the point that they want to keep sharing it with others?
When members choose not to engage in something, it's because they've determined that it doesn't add value to their lives.  One way a cause or organization adds value is by increasing social currency. 

Critics of the ice bucket challenge want to avoid this concept of social currency because it feels self-oriented; that people choose only to engage in something that includes a personal benefit.  The success of the ice bucket challenge shows that perhaps its time to accept and employ that reality.

Last, it’s a little daring, and a lotta fun.
The ice bucket challenge takes people who may know well, but many you simply work with or know casually, causes them to dress in shorts and t-shirt, get drenched, and gasp.  And laugh.  And we laugh too.  We see many of these individuals in a different way, which makes it fun for us.  And many of these individuals wouldn’t do something like this normally, which makes it fun for them.

CAUTION – this isn’t to say that we should forcibly embarrass someone (i.e., hazing) for our own amusement.

The point is that things that are considered fun are more life-giving.  Organizations that feel like work, or whose meetings feel like another meeting at the office, do not grow.  Organizations that feel like something different – a bit daring – a whole lot of fun – are the ones that succeed.

If you struggle with member engagement, think about the feel your members currently get when they are participating versus the feel you want them to get.  Is there a gap?  For many people, participating in the ice bucket challenge was a break from the norm, and something they will remember.  Is that what your service projects are like?  Or your meetings?  Or your entire fraternity experience?  Don’t be described as business as usual.  Don't strive for mediocrity.

 In summary, is your organization fueled by personal invitations, dynamic enough to increase a person's social currency, and unafraid of being fun and different?  If so, it's a something that people will want to be a part of.  (It's also something people will want to criticize.) 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Four Quotes That Every Student Leader Should Memorize

Most leadership enthusiasts, like myself, love quotes.  We pull them into presentations, articles, and day-to-day conversations.  Quotes are satisfyingly small nuggets of timeless wisdom.  They can speak volumes in their brevity.  I’ve been reviewing some of my favorite quotes recently, and rediscovered four that I think could be considered essential for any organizational leader to understand.

Jeff Cufaude introduced me to this quote over a decade ago.  It’s fairly conventional wisdom now that the best leaders are not the ones who rely on the “do it or else” technique.  We just don’t have the tolerance for strict authority in our leaders anymore.  Instead, we want to be driven towards achievement by the understanding that our work matters, and that we are not the only ones who want the group to succeed.  When a group of individuals unite around shared purpose and objectives, it is a group that will find a way to win.  When that doesn’t exist – when we don’t share a common purpose with our teammates – then what devices are left to the leader?  As Dee Hock states, “command and control.”  A leader who tries to command their group to perform, or control their activities, is one that has lost them.  So, when you return to campus this fall, ask yourself: how can I ensure that our members understand and believe in the mission we’re trying to achieve?  By reaching that point, your team will almost drive itself.

One idea is to take the first meeting of the year, or even better, find a time for a retreat, and do nothing more than review the mission and purpose of your organization.  Ask members to reflect on how they can personally support that purpose, and what needs to happen collectively in order for the purpose to be realized more fully this year.  Every group needs to get re-centered now and then, and the start of a new year feels like the right time to do it.

Organizational culture is a powerful thing.  Peter Drucker found a way to personify it as perhaps the strongest thing living within an organization.  You can spend months or years creating visions and plans, but your success will be dependent on the capability of the culture to accept and implement those ideas.  You may wish for your organization to become the strongest and best on campus.  Yet, your culture may be one that rewards and encourages mediocrity.  You may wish for your members to have the highest GPA on campus.  Yet, your culture may downplay academics in favor of parties and alcohol.

So how do you change or affect culture?  It’s the tallest task leaders can face.  The most effective way is to remove the cancerous cells.  To cut out those who most negatively influence the culture you are trying to build.  At the very least, stop providing those individuals with forums and outlets by which to be so influential.  For example, don’t take a slacker and make him new member educator. 

If you are writing goals and plans for your organization (good) then add a column entitled “culture.”  Reflect on what kind of culture you have right now – is it one that takes a person and lifts them up, or tears them down?  Does it seek opportunities for the organization to be its best, or to be its worst?  Expect that what you write in that column will need to be addressed first.

This quote is probably the most succinct explanation of contemporary leadership that I could find.  Keep in mind, as you take this journey of leadership, that you will be remembered more for who you were than what you did.  That’s not to minimize the expectation that all leaders and organizations are forward-moving and achievement-oriented.  However, the best leaders understand that without attention and care for others, lasting achievement isn’t truly possible.  You can be the kind of leader that very few people experience in their lives – the one that makes them want to be better and want to do more. 

So, take the extra time to provide feedback to someone that deserves to hear how great they’re doing.  Take the even more time to provide feedback to someone who’s getting off course.  And take the most time to simply sit and listen to someone else, for that simple act can be the most significant of all.

The essential question is, when you engage with those you lead, how do you make them feel?

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are notorious for getting caught up in things that just don’t really matter.  Whether it’s personal drama, minutia, or small ideas, we are all susceptible to be being distracted away from the big stuff.  What is the big stuff?  Mission.  Vision.  Values.  As a leader, you will be challenged to keep this front and center, and not get too caught up in T-shirt colors, gossip, and colossal wastes of time.  

You may want to start this year with an audit of how your organization spends its time and energy.  Are you focused on the right things?  As I’ve written about before, if historians were to judge this period in your organization’s history, would they give you high marks for focusing on significant issues?  Imagine you were putting items on a scale.  Which item would weigh more (meaning it’s a greater focus)?  And, is that the way it should be?  For example, what would the balancing scale read for:
New Member Education vs. Greek Week
Initiation vs. Annual theme party
Service Projects vs. Formals
Recruitment vs. Intramurals
It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t have small things (e.g., intramurals) as part of your fraternity experience.  That’s the fun stuff that can fill in the gaps.  But the big ticket items should never suffer because of those, or ever take a back seat.  

So, to summarize the lessons that these famous quotes provide, focus on things that matter such as the people you lead and the shared purpose that unites the entire organization.  Doing so will create a culture that embraces excellence.  That sounds like a great start to the year. 

Please feel free to share your favorite quotes below.  What words of wisdom drive you and your leadership experience?


Monday, June 30, 2014

Fraternity is a Lightning Strike

Thunderstorms are powerfully beautiful, especially when the lightning is so fierce it lights up the sky.  Lightning is a force to be reckoned with – mostly for the negative destruction and mayhem it can produce when it strikes the ground.  But there is also a poetic quality to lightning, as a provider of energy and life-altering clarity.  When harnessed, it provides power unlike any other natural force.  Ask Benjamin Franklin, or Marty McFly.

My favorite rock band is Pearl Jam, and one of their latest songs, Lightning Bolt, has a great lyric:

Always something and never nothing,
Isn't that the way we're taught to be?
Flipping through the worn out pages
And stages when you knew not who to be,
Until the lightning strike sets you free.

“Until the lightning strike…sets you free.”  A lightning strike can personify a moment of extreme significance  - one that hits you so hard, you are forever changed.  As the lyrics state above, our lives can take on a very routine, comfortable quality.  But then, as the old adage says, life happens.  In fact, life can probably be described more in terms on the number of lightning bolts that strike, not the rarity of them.  Lightning strikes all around us all the time.  What’s rare is that we are directly hit by one of these strikes – these life-altering bolts of energy – and answer their call; or allow them to set us free.

A fraternity or sorority can be a lightning strike, in two senses:

In the positive sense, imagine a young undergraduate whose life map is seemingly carved in stone already at the age of 18.  Each step along her educational path has led her to this college, to a certain major, and a certain career destiny.  And then, she meets a sorority woman.  She attends a function and begins to understand what sorority is and can be.  And then the bid card is delivered and ZAP.  Lightning strike.  Her fraternity experience introduces her to different perspectives, different people, different career paths, and the power of service.  She discovers new things about herself that she never realized before, and a sense of calm clarity falls over her as she charts a different course (now with sisters standing by her side).  “Until the lightning strike…sets you free.”

Perhaps the longevity of the fraternity/sorority movement can be explained by the fact we continue to be one of the few entities that can offer lightning strike moments.  So much of our involvement and activities in our young lives are too narrow these days.  We tend to now pick one sport to focus on.  Or one after school activity.  For better or worse, a lot of childhood years are spent building deep capacity in one endeavor instead of light capacity in many.  

Fraternities and sororities are enterprises that provide many diverse opportunities and ways to engage.  In that way, they can be life-changing.  

Our organizations can be the things that inspire someone towards greater self-discovery, and open doors never before considered.  We can enable individuals to find their ability to work collectively towards something that matters and understand the influence of relationships.

Or, in the other sense, we can be the lightning strike that brings harm.  The lightning strike that takes an individual and shocks away his dignity and self-worth by hazing him.  The lightning strike that forever disrupts a person’s potential by surrounding him with apathy and debilitating choices.  The lightning strike that kills or maims through a culture of drugs or alcohol.  A lightning strike that burns and scars forever.

Which lightning strike – today – is your fraternity likely to be for the new members you invite in this Fall?

While there is no way to completely control a member’s experience, or how the fraternity impacts his/her life, there are conditions more favorable for a lightning strike that’s charging and life-giving instead of one that’s destructive:
  • Does the fraternity accept diversity and independence of thinking (instead of strict conformity)?
  • Does the fraternity allow members to engage with their strengths and at their desired level of involvement?
  • Does the fraternity offer rich opportunities for learning and education?
  • Is the fraternity as comfortable (or moreso) with interactions that are alcohol-free as it is when alcohol is involved?
  • Do older members offer their experiential wisdom with younger members?
There are other conditions as well, but exploring these questions might be a good start for you and the leaders of your organization.
Any organization that provides lightning strike moments is one that is eminently relevant.  People, whether consciously or subconsciously, seek these out.  Deep within us is a desire for our lives to be disrupted – to let go of routine.  If your organization is just another sunny day in an already sunny existence, then what value are you adding?  

Lightning strikes in nature are serious business, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  In the figurative sense, do not be afraid of lightning strikes in your life.  Your fraternity experience may be that for you, or you might be surprised as to when they come.  Look up and embrace their arrival, for this next lightning strike may be the one that sets you free.

(and by the way kids, THIS is rock and roll)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Could This Be the Most Important Study on Greek Life Ever Done?

Gallup just released a study on Greek life in partnership with the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference.   You can read a summary of the study here, and the results tell an impressive story of the impact of fraternity and sorority membership:
"...fraternity and sorority members are more likely than all other college graduates to be thriving in each of the five elements of well-being (purpose, physical, social, financial, and community). Thus, fraternity and sorority members are more likely than their non-Greek counterparts to find fulfillment in daily work and interactions, to have strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, to feel financially secure, to be physically healthy, and to take part in a true community."

This could be the most significant study on fraternity and sorority life ever conducted.  I say could be because I don't know all of the studies that have ever been done, but of the ones in most recent memory, this study stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Here's why: this is a study that aligns most closely with the broader societal purpose of Greek life.  Do we really matter to our members and the communities they live and work in AFTER they leave our halls?  We need to keep checking on that, because if we fall short on that measures, we might as well pack it up.

Sure, it's fine to know that Greeks give more financially back to their institution.  And yes, of course it's important to know that retention of Greek-affiliated students outpaces other students by an impressive margin.  But studies like that are directed towards institutions of higher education to prove that Greek organizations offer value to the college/university experience.  That we deserve to be there.  Studies like these are meant to justify our relevance to the contemporary college campus.

Frankly, I'm tired of begging higher education to believe in our relevance.  Especially when it's so blatantly obvious.

This Gallup study looks beyond the college campus and justifies our relevance to the greater society, which hasn't been so obvious because we don't talk about it enough.   

It's also important to note that this is Gallup, which is much more accessible and well-known to the general public.  No offense to the doctoral dissertations or journal articles out there that provide great wisdom, but those studies don't typically find their way to places like the Wall Street Journal.

It's time we take our case directly to society at large, and show them that a fraternity/sorority experience can improve lives.  Here is some research that backs us up.

If the mission of the Greek experience is the prepare individuals for society (matching our designation as "social" organizations), then this study shows we're on the right track.  This study shows that fraternities and sororities make individuals, homes, workplaces, and communities better.  Incoming first-year students should take notice.  Parents should take notice.   This study should make every mayor hope that its citizens are fraternity members.  It should make every employer strive to attract them to their business.  

The results can be interpreted as a challenge as well.  In the five elements of well-being that were measured, it's true that Greek reported higher than other students.  But each still only reached about 50%.  

All studies are imperfect, and this one does leave room to wonder if Greek organizations simply attract people already destined to be better off.  I tend to think the results are significant enough to say that the influence of Greek life on the outcomes cannot be dismissed.  

Bravo to the NIC and NPC for seeking to undertake this study, not knowing what the result might be.  Let's do more studies that examine the broader life experiences and contributions of those who took our oaths. Studies that tell us if we're achieving our greater societal mission.  Studies like this.