Brother Blago

It's been almost a decade, but perhaps you remember the story of former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, aka Blago. He was a promising politician until he was impeached, removed from office, and thrown in prison for bribery. And that's where he still remains today.

The first thought that occurred to me when I learned of this scandal right after it happened was “uh oh – he’s a Theta Chi!” I might not have known that except for his picture being included in a slideshow of famous Theta Chi’s, shown at our convention the prior summer. I hope and expect that the slideshow is Blago-free these days.

The Blagojevich episode and others like it calls into question a standard practice of marketing fraternity: using the famous and powerful to showcase our significance. We’ve all seen or heard the statistics (which vary wildly depending on who is sharing them) and they’ve continued to be a staple of our proof that we are effective. We claim a high percentage of Presidents, Senators, Governors, and others as an indication of our strength in developing leaders. Nobody has ever proven that this is even an effective practice. Did you join because Calvin Coolidge was Greek?

Maybe it used to work – but I doubt it would anymore. Especially since the approval ratings of politicians tend to be in the gutter (congressional disapproval currently stands at 75%). Are people able to turn off their filter of distrust and distaste for politicians when we use them as a marketing tool? Probably not. If we proudly told someone yesterday that a person like Blagojevich rose to his position because of the teachings of fraternity, what do we tell that person today?

Because humans are fallible, we can’t completely escape incidents like this. In most cases, we should be proud of famous folks that wear our letters. And some are going to screw up. However, the propensity of this happening with politicians (and possibly Hollywood celebrities) seems to be greater. So why are they the ones we tend to showcase most often?  

I’m reminded of hearing Wolf Blitzer, the CNN Host and a fraternity man, speak at an NIC event. We were all excited to have someone of that stature speak to the fraternity movement. That excitement wore off a bit when Wolf began sharing stories of hazing and how that helped him later in his work as a journalist. Thanks Wolf!

I would be excited to see a national Fraternity or Sorority take the lead and begin promoting the influence of Greek membership on other segments of society – the ones (in my opinion) that really
matter and really prove that we make a difference. What percentage of social service providers are affiliated? What about leaders of nonprofit organizations? How many doctors, nurses, and teachers belong to a fraternity or sorority? How about military leaders? Community organizers? Rescue workers? Entrepreneurs? These percentages would send a powerful message about the things we value and the contribution of fraternity. We can then include politicians and celebrities, and know that we are sharing the whole picture.

By the way, I’m assuming with some confidence that the percentages in those other fields would be high. Maybe not. That could lead to a whole new set of conversations.

Even greater questions remain for us. How do we explain the fraternity/sorority experience of those politicians who end up being corrupt? Did their fraternity/sorority make matters worse? We all know plenty of chapters where this would be possible. If we want to claim leaders in society as our own, we better keep doing the values-based work on the ground that ensures we can be proud of those we claim.  

Perhaps it also requires that we publicly denounce those that embarrass our organizations.  

For every Rod Blagojevich, there is a fraternity man who lives the principles of his organization each day and makes all of us proud. In fact, there are thousands of them. Despite my misgivings about Brother Blago, I trust that they will win the day.


Justifying Fraternity

I have chosen fraternity.

Part of living in a free society is the opportunity to make choices. Many other nations in our world take choices away from their citizens. In America, we add new choices every day. New things to do, new things to see, new things to read, new things to eat, new ways to live. I made a choice 10 years ago, which I have never regretted – the choice to be a fraternity man.