Thanks for a Great Year!

As we close out 2010, I want to thank you for reading and sharing my blog.  This is a labor of love for me, and it has been fun to share my thoughts and engage with you.  I truly understand my position as an observer, commentator, and (sometimes) a critic.  I am not on the front lines in fraternity/sorority life anymore, and so I take my own thoughts with a grain of salt.  It's certainly much easier to try and be provocative from my position, whereas most of you live the realities of the fraternal experience daily.

In other words, I have tremendous respect for you.  I hope that the opinions expressed on this blog can be a contribution to the movement, but I know that the real difference-makers are the students, advisors, and professionals working hands-on every day.  I am thankful that you are there.

Have a wonderful holiday season.  Let's all make 2011 the best year yet for fraternities and sororities!

A Woman's Touch

One  morning about three weeks ago, my 4-year old, who would typically go to school with bedhead that would make Don King jealous, emerged from the bathroom with a very wet and surprisingly well-combed head of hair.  He did this on his own, and my wife and I had no clue what brought it on.  After all, this was the kid that would run screaming through the house like his rump was on fire if we had even tried to put a few drops of water on his melon.  As I drove my well-groomed little gentleman to school, I continued to wonder about what caused this change in behavior.

Once I got to school and dropped him off, the reason became very clear.  It’s name was Olivia.

This incident reminded me of the tremendous power women have to influence men’s behavior.  Whether it be our moms, sisters, girlfriends, or wives, we as men owe a lot to women for civilized behavior.  If not for my wife, I’d probably look like this guy ---->

As we try to advance the men's fraternity movement, we could use some help from our female friends.  Many fraternities and fraternity men behave badly – being insensitive at best and harmful at worst.   A lot of these men receive an assist from women who let them off the hook. They let them feel no consequences for their boorish behavior.

The amount of influence that women have on men is so consequential, that they may be the best answer to creating a more values-driven fraternity culture.

So – I implore the undergraduate women reading this to do a few simple things to help us right the fraternal ship.  These suggestions won't take a lot of time, but you may change the course of history.  Here is what I’m asking you to do:

  • If you hear some fraternity guys refer to a woman as a conquest or a piece of ass, walk away.  And don’t return.
  • If the guest bathroom in the fraternity house reminds you of a port-a-potty on the last day of the state fair, stop visiting.
  • Please stop dating, hanging out with, or even acknowledging any guy who wears a shirt like this.
  • The same goes for any guy who can’t drink an alcoholic beverage without calling everyone around him “dude”, shouting “YEAH!” to his buddies every three minutes, or making nonstop guttural noises like a Cro-Magnon in heat. 
  • If you host a social event with another fraternity, follow your risk management policy.  Demand that the men follow theirs.  Or shut it down.
  • Practice your icy stare for those "educational" moments, such as when a man makes a demeaning comment about a woman's weight, tells an insensitive joke, or reads a Playboy magazine in front of you.
  • A formal is a tradition in which men act like gentlemen and women act like ladies.  Expect the former and do the latter.
  • If your boyfriend is a hazer, ask him if that's how he'll raise his kids.  

  • If a fraternity drops by to invite you to a "Pimps and Ho's" party, don't cheer.  Or giggle.  Or even smile.  Wonder instead why you didn't tell them to get the hell out.  And then tell them to get the hell out.
  • Does your well-choreographed serenade feel and look like a lap dance?  Stop and think.

  • Brainstorm creative adjectives to call a man who brags to you about the award his chapter gave him for hooking up with the most women in the past week.
  • Drop hints.  Did your lawnmower break down?  I bet most fraternities are hosting a brunch for parent's weekend, don't you think?  Wow - that new yellow stain on your hat is the biggest one yet!
  • When a female friend of yours is absolutely wasted and being led away by a guy she just met, do what everyone else tells you to do: get her out of the situation.  Then find the guy, and in as public a way as possible, confront him in a voice that will haunt him forever.
  • Raise your expectations of how men should dress, how they should act, how they should talk, and how they should treat you.
  • Expect them to be fraternity men.  Tolerate nothing less.

Oh - and if appropriate, tell them their hair looks nice when combed.

Man of the Hour

My favorite musicians of all time - Pearl Jam - recently celebrated their 20th anniversary as a rock band.  Their music has meant a lot to me over the years, and I've been listening to them nonstop for the last week.  One song - a newer one - has been striking a louder chord with me lately.  It's a song Pearl Jam recorded for the soundtrack to the movie Big Fish, which was released a few years back.  The song is called "Man of the Hour" and it's sung from the perspective of a son recalling his father.  I feel it has some connections with leadership and fraternity, and hence, this reflection.

Below is a YouTube clip of a live performance of the song.

Listening to the song led me to wonder: why do we remember someone?  What do they do that etches them into our memory?  How did they earn our respect?  Is it about what they accomplished, or is it about how they lived?

To me, the song speaks of legacy.  It describes the attributes of a person who forever earns the moniker of "Man (or Woman) of the Hour."  The kind of person who others rise to greet when entering a room.  The kind of person whose actions and character distinguishes him/her.  The kind of person who is remembered as a powerful force, never hiding his/her convictions.

Tidal waves don’t beg forgiveness
'CRASHED' and on their way
Father he enjoyed collisions; others walked away

How does one come to be regarded in such a way?  Much of it is earned by accomplishments and in what manner those accomplishments were achieved.  We are drawn to stories of individuals overcoming hardships and strife to do something extraordinary.  I believe a Man of the Hour walks briskly past the shortcuts.  To be a Man of the Hour means choosing the more difficult path.  Legacies are reserved for those who step into the headwinds; who can look back and know that they were the principal author for their story.

Nature has its own religion; gospel from the land
Father ruled by long division, young men they pretend
Old men comprehend.

But it's also about helping others.  A cynical man stands idle and watches the young struggle with the same challenges he faced.  The sympathetic man works to remove those obstacles from another's path.  It's the compassionate man that finds a middle ground - that seeks to guide but not intrude.

And the road
The old man paved
The broken seams along the way
The rusted signs, left just for me
He was guiding me, love, his own way

To be concerned with legacy can be considered a selfish act.  But I've never seen it that way.  I see it as a motivator - a way to paint a future vision for how we want our story to unfold.  When I leave this place, I want to be regarded as the Man of the Hour.  I want my contributions to be felt.  I want to be remembered.

This desire actually pushes me away from selfishness and closer towards service.

The opposite is the man who is easily forgotten.  He is focused so inward that others barely notice him.  He may be funny, or charming, or self-assured.  But these attributes on their own do not mark those who are most highly regarded.

Consider your legacy.  What will it take for you to be a Man of the Hour?  How will you be regarded in that final fraternity meeting as an undergraduate?  Or when you return as an alumnus?  When others think about your accomplishments and your character, will they want to tell your story?

When you choose to take on a commitment - such as fraternity - do so with a desire to make your time there matter.  Do enough so that others will find it difficult to forget you.  When you leave the room - when you leave this life - make them want to stand up and applaud.

And the doors are open now as the bells are ringing out
Cause the man of the hour is taking his final bow
Goodbye for now.

Helicopter Advisors

Guest Post by Ellen Shertzer, Director of Leadership for Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity

During a focus group recently conducted with fraternity men I posed this question: “Describe an experience during college that you feel has helped you develop the most.” Right away one of the men said that it was an event he planned for the chapter that had failed miserably. He shared how he had no idea what he was supposed to do, but jumped in and tried to complete the task on his own. Through reflection after the event he realized many things he could have done differently. He even commented on how he was going to teach the student who would have the position next year what he learned to avoid those problems in the future.

I have to admit I was surprised, excited and a little befuddled by his answer.  I was expecting him to talk about a leadership retreat, or an experience like UIFI, or some other event planned by someone like me.  It challenged my thought process on how we build and deliver educational opportunities for our students. It also encouraged me to reflect on my own advising style as a fraternity staff member.

We have all heard of the Millennial generation and their overbearing helicopter parents. You may have even experienced this during sorority recruitment when, for example, a mother contacted you about her daughter not being invited back by every chapter.  Or perhaps when a fraternity president’s father called you in response to your request to meet with his child due to some hazing allegations. I immediately get frustrated in those situations and criticize the parents for not allowing their children to fully experience these teachable moments.

I am now rethinking this concept and would like to propose a new term: the helicopter advisor.  We often mock and criticize the helicopter parent – but perhaps they are not the only ones hovering above our students.

I admit I have fallen victim to this tendency in my professional career. The helicopter advisor may be a professional campus Greek advisor or chapter advisor. They are so involved with the chapter, council or community that they rob students of learning moments. For me, I know I fell victim to this during Greek Weeks, sorority recruitment, president retreat planning and many other highly visible events or programs. We often become more focused on planning a successful event versus allowing the students to experience the process.

For example, as an undergraduate member of my chapter I served as the recruitment director for Panhellenic. I had a Greek advisor who was new and gave me 100 percent of the responsibility for delivery of the program. She wasn’t around when compute-a-rush (for those of is old-schoolers) crashed and, God forbid, she didn’t spend the night in the student union with us. After the event, the Director of Student Activities took me out to lunch to discuss my experience. I remember complaining about the Greek advisor’s lack of involvement.

Now looking back, I wasn’t as insightful as that 20-year-old fraternity man to see the opportunity I was given to fail and succeed in my leadership position. I was more focused on the fact that this advisor didn’t swoop in and save the day as I had been groomed to expect. Thirteen years later I realize the impact that experience had on my life.

My challenge for Greek advisors and chapter advisors is to assess your style and determine if you are a helicopter advisor. Do you swoop in and save the day? Or do you allow and encourage failure to happen? Do you thrive on running a well-oiled operation that continues to produce successful products? Or do you bite your tongue even when you know the answer is to allow students the chance to solve the problem on their own?

Our society needs men and women with the autonomy and resiliency that comes from making and learning from mistakes.  It doesn’t need more people whom, when faced with challenges, look upward in the sky for their helicopter advisor to save the day.

Ellen Shertzer recently joined the staff of Delta Tau Delta after working for Fraternity and Sorority Life at Indiana University.  She has also advised Greeks at the University of Maryland and Northern Illinois University.  Ellen is a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma and has served as a national volunteer.

"We Will Never Be Typical"

Here is a campaign I can get behind - and I'm not even a Delta Sig!  A friend shared this video with me, and it is one of the most impressive fraternity videos I've ever seen.  It is not only inspirational, but another reminder that fraternities exist for some very profound reasons.  This world needs better men, and Delta Sigma Phi is offering a truly compelling vision for how to make that happen.

My hat is off to the men of Delta Sigma Phi.  Please take some time to watch.

Online Fraternities? WTF?

I hate to do it, but I’m going to be an old curmudgeon.  For the most part, I have embraced our brave new digital world.  I participate in social networking, tweet every once in a while, and blog (of course).  But, I’m growing cynical.  It seems we’re trying to do everything online now, and I’m ready to start fighting back.  We have online colleges, online high schools, online elementary schools, online classes, online book clubs, online game clubs, and so on.  Every new idea in our world seems to have a virtual connection.

It’s time to recall the old maxim – just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.

About 6 months ago, word spread throughout the internet that a new era had been born – the online fraternity.  A very entrepreneurial student at Florida Tech created Theta Omega Gamma, an online fraternity with a coed membership.  Here is an excerpt from an article on the Huffington Post:

Florida Institute of Technology student Darrek Battle has founded a fraternity whose house lives online.
Theta Omega Gamma currently has 24 co-ed members who use the hub to socialize and coordinate service projects. Battle told Inside Higher Ed that he created the frat simply because nothing else like it existed.
According to its faculty adviser, Theta Omega Gamma is an average fraternity in all respects minus the "going out together and drinking" aspect.
Battle says he hopes to to help other schools start chapters of TOG.

I returned to Theta Omega Gamma’s website recently and there is a homepage, but no links anywhere.  I’m guessing the idea didn’t last. 

[UPDATE: A new web link was found:  See the comments section]

Was it a good idea?  Nope.  I give the creators of this organization credit for trying to base it around values and service.  A great number of traditional fraternities stopped doing that a long time ago!  I also appreciate that they wanted to create the fraternity that they couldn't find.  The spirit of the idea was fine.  But, the human element was missing. 

In the end, you just can’t digitize fraternity.

The fraternity experience is so powerful because it places members squarely in the emotional cross-hairs of human relationships.  Social networking sites can help you know the basics about a person – their likes, dislikes, history, Farmville needs, etc.  But can they let you REALLY get to know someone?

We really get to know someone when we can be vulnerable with them, and they with us.  Give me one hour with a brother in need, and I will know more about him than any Facebook page, tweet, or chat room could tell me.  For as digital as we have become, there is still no substitute for reading another person’s eyes and seeing emotions show in their face.  No smiley face can ever take the place of a handshake or a hug. 

Brotherhood and sisterhood happens when we strive to live out the values of our organizations side by side.  And, there is a lot of living that takes place away from a keyboard and monitor.

The electricity of human interaction is what makes our experiences so special.  In her book, Turning to One Another, Margaret Wheatley states: "Truly connecting with another human being gives us joy.  The circumstances that create this connection don’t matter.  Even those who work side by side in the worst natural disaster or crisis recall that experience as memorable.  They are surprised to feel joy in the midst of tragedy, but they always do."

And what about the good times?  Being together in times of laughter and fun is the true definition of the human experience.  I can laugh or chuckle at a Facebook post, and forget it minutes later.  However, I still remember some of the nights with my brothers when we laughed so hard we couldn’t sleep.

Go read online forums for an hour.  Then, go spend the next hour in an airport terminal and see how people greet each other after time apart (or watch the opening scene of the movie Love Actually).  You will see the difference.

Technology can help us do fraternity better, mostly because of its potential for communication.  We can keep alumni members in the loop, raise money for our foundations, have discussions on leadership and Ritual, etc.  It can add to the fraternity experience.

But it can never replace it.

I support progress, and forward movement in our world.  But I just cannot buy into the online fraternity.  It is not a good thing for our movement because it cheapens the definition of fraternity.  Fraternity is that moment when you choose to sit with a brother or sister in silence, just because you know they need somebody there.  It’s the moment when you stand at the front of church with your brother or sister and witness the biggest moment of their life. 

We, as humans, are messy, squishy, confused, terrified, loving, and hopeful baskets of emotion.  The magic happens when we come together – face to face, eye to eye, and hand in hand.  The wonders of our new era of technology cannot change this.

I hope the students of Theta Omega Gamma can find a fraternity that gives them the connection they desire - or perhaps that can create one that isn't online.  

I’m sure there will be other attempts at online fraternities.  Good luck to whoever tries.  They will probably just create a smaller version of Facebook or MySpace, which is great.  

But it ain’t no fraternity.

The Inception Point

I recently saw the movie “Inception,” and I highly recommend it.  Inception is the story of Dom Cobb, who is a special kind of thief that can enter people's minds through their dreams and thereby learn their secrets or steal their ideas.  He sells his services to corporations wishing to engage in espionage.  One of Cobb’s clients proposes a different task: instead of stealing ideas from a competitor, could he plant one in the competitor’s mind instead?  The film calls this technique inception, and it is a very dangerous ordeal.  Cobb cautions the client that planting an idea into a person’s subconscious changes their life forever.  Once the idea is there, it is almost impossible to drive away.  He has personal and tragic experience with this.

The movie not only highlights the power of dreams and imagination, but also the power of ideas.  It illustrates how challenging it is to lose an idea once it has been planted in one's mind.

While much of the movie is fantasy, it really got me thinking about where our ideas come from.  Also, how does one idea come and go as a thought, whereas others stick with us as the truth?

Ideas truly are powerful things.  The paradigms through which we view our lives and work are built by ideas. Once we arrive at an idea, or when one is planted in our mind, it’s hard to shake.  It becomes almost impossible to shake when the idea is confirmed by experience. 

The inception point is when the idea is first formed.  We get our ideas about things from a variety of places, but generally they come from personal experience or from messages we hear from others.  I truly believe that ideas borne from experience are ones that tend to be more lasting and powerful.

For example, my son Jack’s ideas about dogs come from his experience with our family dog, Snickers – the dog he’s known since birth.  Based on his experience with Snickers, Jack believes dogs are friendly, like to get hugs, and can withstand rough and tumble play.  Ellen and I try hard to tell him that not all dogs are friendly, and that he needs to be careful.  So far, his experience has trumped our message because he tries to pet or hug every dog he sees!

The messages we hear and the pre-conceived ideas they create are powerful as well.  However, those can be more easily challenged.  For instance, our views of race or diversity come largely from the environment in which we were raised and what our loved ones told us growing up.  We may have very narrow views on these issues until the day we befriend someone of a different race or background.  Our experiences with our new friend will eventually outshine the messages we heard growing up.

Thus, an idea’s inception can come from messages or experience.  If the idea comes first from a message, it can be changed by experience.  If the idea comes first from experience, it’s not likely to change from a message.  It’s all about experiences.

If you want to change the ideas that potential members, the campus community, or the public have about your fraternity/sorority, focus on the experiences you are giving them. It is true that many people, if they had been watching movies or TV any time in the last century, were likely to see poor portrayals of Greek-letter organizations.  They may base their ideas of fraternity solely on this (including many potential members).  It’s the inception of their ideas.  The good news is that a positive experience can still trump that perspective.  You can either confirm or oppose their negative ideas of fraternity/sorority life by the way you interact with them.

Consider the mother of a teenage son who is about to enroll at a university.  She takes her son to visit the campus.  During their visit, they decide to drive by some of the fraternity houses.  There is trash everywhere – red solo cups, beer cans, clothes, broken chairs, glass, etc.  They then go to eat at a local restaurant and are seated next to a group of four fraternity guys.  During lunch, the guys swear, make inappropriate jokes, make inappropriate noises, and are dressed like they just peeled themselves up off a sticky beer-soaked floor.

The mother and her son go home that night, and while flipping the channels, come upon the movie Animal House.  After watching some of it, the mother’s response is “yep, that seems to be what fraternities are like.” 
The inception of her ideas about fraternities were the experiences she had.  The movie confirmed these experiences and made the ideas more powerful.

Consider someone else - the mother of a teenage daughter who is about to enroll at a different university.  She takes her daughter and her infant son to the campus for a visit.  Driving through the town, they notice a group of sorority women doing yardwork at an assisted living home.  After a while, they decide to go get something to eat at a fast food restaurant.  The line is really long and the infant son his wailing his head off.  The mother is getting tired and tense.  A group of three sorority women standing in front of her in line tell her to go ahead of them.  One of the sorority women plays peek-a-boo with the infant and gets him laughing.  Another tells the mother how cute her little boy is. 

The mother and her daughter go home that night, and while flipping channels, come upon the TV show Greek.  This episode portrays some sorority women as snobby and elitist.  The mother laughs a bit, changes the channel, and tells her daughter that she thinks she should look into joining a sorority.

After her experiences, no fictionalized portrayal of sororities was going to affect her ideas.  Her inception point was based on experiences, and thus too powerful to alter.  The sorority community had a new advocate – and all they did to earn it was live out their values.

So now, recruitment season is upon us.  Fraternity men and sorority women all over North America will be telling potential new members all the wonderful things about their organizations.  And none of it matters – unless, the experiences match the messaging.

If I am a potential new member, you can tell me that you are an organization of gentlemen who show the greatest respect to women.  So why do your T-shirt designs say otherwise?  Why did you invite me to a party with strippers?  Why were you proud to show me the award you give weekly to the brother who hooks up with the most women?

In my fraternity travels, I met many men and women who belonged to Greek-letter organizations that I had never heard of.  They became my standard for how I perceived that organization.  They became my idea of that organization.  It’s an awesome responsibility, one which you need to accept.

For the new recruits you are meeting, you may be the first Theta Phi Alpha they have ever met.  Or Kappa Kappa Gamma.  Or Delta Chi.  Or Phi Mu Delta.  You are planting the idea in their mind of what your organization is all about.  You are their first point of inception.

But, that’s not enough.  It’s your actions that make the idea take hold.  If we recognize that, then we also have to accept that the problem is not the media, film, or television.  It’s us.

We will never be able to get into people’s subconscious like Cobb does in Inception, and change their thinking from the inside.  What we can do is give them an inception point that proves to them who we are and what we stand for.  We give them an experience that forever alters their view for the better.  We show them the true idea of fraternity or sorority.

Keep the Change

In working with fraternity and sorority leaders, especially undergraduates, I’ve stopped calling upon them to create "change."  I spent many years promoting “change” and teaching concepts like change management.  I never felt satisfied that the students heard these messages.  After giving it some thought, I think it’s fairly evident as to why.

When students first join Greek-letter organizations, they are so excited about this new adventure in their lives.  Students establish almost immediate pride in the organization, learn to love it quickly, and buy up t-shirts, hats, and jewelry.  The cheers are done with enthusiasm, and the songs are sung loudly.  Their Facebook pages becomes filled with references to their new affiliation, and these new members just can’t stop talking about this new addition to their life.  They simply love their fraternity or sorority with all their heart. 

And then, almost immediately, we tell them they need to change it. 

We tell them to change their new member education program.  Change their risk management practices.  Change how they run meetings.  How they conduct Ritual.  Who they recruit.  When they recruit.  How they recruit. 

We tell them to change their thinking about why their organization exists, who it exists for, and how it will continue to exist.  We ask that they change their perspective on philanthropy vs. service.  Their beliefs on what brotherhood/sisterhood is and how it is built.  Their attitudes on image and public relations.  Their beliefs about leadership.

We tell them to change a lot.  To them, we probably sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, only the mumbling is replaced by “change, change, change, change, change, change, change.”

It’s not that change isn’t needed – obviously it is.  How we sell the idea needs to…well…change.

I’ve tried to stop using the term “change” when talking to undergraduates.  I’ve replaced it with the word “elevate.”  I incorporated this term into the UIFI curriculum a few years ago, and I think it works.  To elevate something means that you raise it up, you give it more prominence, and you leave it better than when you found it.  Like a balloon lifting higher and higher in the air, there is seemingly no end to elevation. 

For example, instead of changing a new member education program, what will it take to elevate it?  To raise it to a higher plane? 

How do we elevate our recruitment strategy and make it better?

How will you as a fraternity/sorority leader, elevate this organization?

Undergraduates hear this message better because it’s a variation of “good to great.”  It doesn’t start with the premise that the fraternity or sorority is broken.  Rather, it allows students to acknowledge the things they love about their organization while still pushing them to make it better. 

In a weird way, not talking about change may actually create more of it.  Elevation is about incremental steps that keep pushing an organization or cause higher.  When we push the concept of change, we may inadvertently be promoting 180-degree or 360-degree shifts, when that’s not really what’s needed. 

Undergraduates generally bring a level of enthusiasm and spirit that we cannot match.  To them, the world is a place of hope, optimism, and brightness.  Life is beautiful.  The world is their oyster.  Nothing is impossible.

So, let’s meet them where they are.  Let’s reach them at that spirited level, where everything doesn’t need to change, but everything can be better.  From my observations, using the word “change” can put the brakes on this spirit. 

I’ve heard from so many Greek Advisors that tell me their undergraduates need a “wake up call.”  They need to know how it really is, or should be.  They need to be motivated to change.  Do they?  Do they really need someone popping their balloon?  How has that served us so far?

Change may be the wrong message.  Let’s challenge them to elevate their organizations instead. 


"Shut Up and Carry the Pads"

(From 2010) Two of my greatest loves in life are fraternity and sports. Those two entities collided this past week with the story of Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Dez Bryant. Mr. Bryant refused to participate in a hazing ritual, specifically declining to carry the pads for a veteran teammate. At first, it seemed like an act of courage, but he has subsequently apologized for not taking part in the tradition after claiming it was a misunderstanding. The incident itself may not have much to offer.
The reaction to the incident is a different story. I've compiled several of the reactions in a video below.

I wasn't surprised, but still dismayed, at the chorus of sports pundits and radio hosts who criticized Mr. Bryant for the stand he took. Most felt that since he wasn't being asked to do anything too rigorous or demeaning, he should have just acquiesced.

I agree that it wasn't much. Carrying pads is the equivalent of asking fraternity pledges to run an errand for an older member. In most cases, there won't be any humiliation or danger involved in such a task. It's not like they tied him up to the goal posts overnight, right? Or beat him with paddles?

However, how much extreme hazing starts as something much more innocent? The worst hazing chapters among us probably started small, got a taste for it, and then kept adding more and more. Small-scale hazing should never be ignored or celebrated, because it can be the precursor to something worse.

Finally, did we miss a big teachable moment? How many middle and high school athletes watch or listen to ESPN? If they were paying attention this past week, what lessons or ideas did they come away with? I've compiled a sampling of many reactions and statements in the video below, and included my own statement at the end:

I Refuse to Go Alumni Status

A simple idea occurred to me while attending a fraternity’s international convention. Like most conventions, the attendees were largely undergraduate students, but there were a fair number of alumni as well. This fraternity referred to its undergraduates as their “members” and alumni as “alumni members.” I think this is fairly common in both fraternities and sororities.

Thus, having been out of college for about a dozen years, I was referred to as an “alumni member.”

As a national or international organization, what if you reversed that? What if you started calling your alumni your “members” and your undergraduates something like “collegiate members?” How might that simple word switch change the culture of your organization?

Why I don’t care that Slick McRick was a Gamma Duder Dambda

Guest essay by Spenser Tang-Smith, Chief Operations Officer, WebGreek, Inc.

Go to any fraternity or sorority website and poke around for a bit.  I promise that there will be an obvious link to “famous alumni” or something like that.  You’ll no doubt find a list of actors, athletes, business tycoons and politicians who were initiated so many years ago, listed as evidence of an organization’s awesomeness. 

I want to question the wisdom behind this tacit assertion.  Any group of people has winners and losers, gods and clods, or whatever you want to call the left and right ends of the bell curve.  Yes, presidents and senators and athletes belonged to some fraternity or another, but if a group is to be judged by its extremes, you’ll have to take the bad with the good.  I doubt an organization would trumpet its more nefarious graduates.

If the purpose behind this practice is to add a few cherries on the brother/sisterhood cake, then that’s pretty cool.  Besides the good times, the service, and the lifelong friendships, members can add “hey, So-and-so is also an brother/sister.”  But an organization cannot simply mention a few big names and say “’nuff said,” because those big names are the outliers.  What will the organization do for me?

I just don’t think that identifying exceptional people who were in your organization is sufficient to identify your organization as an exceptional one.

That is why I feel that the more relevant and powerful statistics revolve around the ways in which going Greek nurtures success.  The notion that Greeks account for so many wildly successful people while being such a small percentage of the population is interesting, but did the organization make the people successful, or were they destined for fame anyway?  I know that Omega Psi Phi didn’t give Shaq his 7’1” frame.

The ability to demonstrate that going Greek turns hard-working people into exceptional people would be very powerful.  I have found that testimonials from members who chalk up their confidence, leadership, and sense of responsibility to their Greek experience, with specific examples rather than platitudes, are much more powerful recruitment tools than any appeal to celebrity.  Case in point: the WebGreek team, which made me reconsider my decision not to rush.  If the goal is to get numbers up by attracting quality men and women, wouldn’t it be better to appeal to a broader demographic of driven individuals, and then cultivate and nurture them?

Joining a fraternity or sorority won’t get you to the NBA Finals or the White House; both feats require a whole lot of work.  I think that the marketing focus during recruitment, and also when making the case for the Greek movement, should be on demonstrating the ways in which your typical high achiever will be nurtured and supported by the organization so that they will be the best that they can be.  Don’t just rely on a few recognizable names of people who graduated long ago.  Make the connection between membership and enhanced success obvious, even to those who aren’t natural born leaders or freakish athletes.

Spenser Tang-Smith is the head writer for WebGreek's blog.  WebGreek is a complete online management solution for fraternities and sororities, and is giving away free trial networks for the summer.

Alcohol: More Questions Than Answers

There has been a great deal of negative publicity for the sorority community lately, specifically caused by media reports of four formals that seemed to get completely out of control. There were two incidents at Miami University, (incident 1, incident 2), an incident at the University of Dayton, and one at Ohio University. The reports of the happenings at these events are staggering.

When I was an undergraduate, I attended formals. I drank at those formals, and I witnessed some crazy behavior. But nothing like what these reports describe.

It serves as a reminder that our old arch-nemesis is still out there, trying to thwart our attempts at aligning Greek-letter organizations with the values they were founded upon. The nemesis is alcohol.

I’ve spent a couple of years with this blog trying to identify issues and offer solutions. Frequent readers may have noticed that I have left the issue of alcohol alone for the most part. There is a very good reason why:

I have no clue what to do about it.

In regards to alcohol and fraternity, I am dumbfounded. Perplexed. Confused. Dismayed. I just don’t know the answer.

I do have a lot more questions, now that I’m older and hopefully wiser. As I’ve thought more and more about this issue in recent days, here are some thoughts that keep coming back to my mind:

Should the drinking age be lowered?
My initial reaction is yes. I understand the philosophical reasons for lowering the drinking age, many of them promoted by The Amethyst Initiative. I do believe that 18 or 19-year old men and women should be able to claim the moniker of adulthood, which includes fighting for your country, voting for its leaders, and making big life decisions. Thus, why shouldn’t adults be able to choose to drink if they want to?

I have reasons for pause, however.  There is the drunk driving issue. Also, would making it legal to drink at 18 or 19 make it even more enticing for 16-17 year-olds? There are a lot of moving pieces in this issue.  It's worth noting that the drinking age was once 18.  We've been there before.

What messages are young people hearing from advisers and higher education professionals?
It’s a common refrain offered by advisers, facilitators and speakers when addressing fraternity and sorority members: “I won’t tell you not to drink, but rather, to do it responsibly.” Or, “I know you are going to drink, but I just want you to do it safely.” Or, “here’s a very funny drunken story from my college years and you shouldn’t do the same thing.”

I understand the realism behind these comments. After all, underage drinking may be the most violated state law ever, or it runs a close second to speeding. I also understand the motivations of the speakers. Why suffer through the eye-rolling, giggles, and ignoring that comes whenever young people are told not to do something?  Also, we're afraid of the "you drank in college, so why can't we?" card.

However, if you really think about it, when we say those things to young audiences, we are actually giving them permission to break the law. It’s still their choice, but we, as professionals they admire and look up to, just made that choice easier for them.  Are we mentors, guides, coaches or not?

And what about the recent sorority formals?  Sure, there was irresponsible and unsafe drinking at those events. But every irresponsible drinker started with one drink. And that irresponsible drinker might have attended an educational session at which the presenter essentially said that that one drink is okay – even if he or she is underage.

Is our reticence to take a strong stance on underage drinking actually helping it become a norm?

What’s worth more, our risk management and social policies or the paper that they are printed on?
I terms of changing behavior, the volumes of policies regarding alcohol that we (and billions of lawyers) have developed over the years have been worthless. The problem is as bad as ever – and potentially worse. These policies may serve as a protection against lawsuits, but that’s about it. There may be a few exceptions that we can count on one hand, but generally speaking, nobody uses guest lists and nobody uses BYOB. I admire the attempt, but we have to admit that it’s not working.

Perhaps it’s time for a new approach. Again – I’ll be honest – I don’t know what that new approach should be. I do know this: you could throw away almost every risk management policy we have right now, and nothing would be different. 

Other thoughts or questions I have include:
  • Are we increasingly inheriting this problem from secondary education?
  • Is there any effect when undergrads see their campus or headquarters staff boozing it up in Facebook pics?
  • Or, when they hear about them boozing it up at their professional conferences?
  • Will this issue ever be solved if it isn’t owned in equal measure by both men’s and women’s organizations?
  • What has happened to individual responsibility?
My thoughts will continue to evolve on this issue.  I’m more interested in yours.  What do you think is the solution for the alcohol issue in today’s fraternities and sororities?


Below is a new video essay I created, challenging us all to take a stand against the forces that jeopardize fraternal organizations today. This is not meant to highlight what's wrong with us, rather, to illustrate what's needed to realize our great potential. I also intend it to be a tribute to those brave enough to take a stand.

NOTE: You may need to let the video load for a minute before starting it (depending on your connection speed).

Poll of the Week

How important is a house for the fraternity/sorority experience?

Please feel free to add your comments below as well.

New Video

I'm putting the finishing touches on a new video, which should be posted next week. This will be part two of a 3-part video series. The first part, "Crazy," can be viewed below:

The Slow Death of Fellowship?

The day has started. I’m off 2 Panera 2 get sum hazelnut coffee. Wish they had a drive-thru.
9:31 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

luv Panera. I went in but didn’t have 2 wait in line. Just dropped a couple $$ in the slot & filled up the coffee. Car needs gas.
9:43 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Waiting 4 the car 2 fill up. They have little TVs in the pump stations now. Machine just asked if I wnt car wash. Sure.
9:58 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Rolling through the car wash. luv the efficiency. Just entered my code & the wash does the rest. Almost finished & then off 2 the bank.
10:10 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Drive-thru ATMs rock. Luv that I cn deposit checks thr now as well. In & out quickly.
10:31 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Stopping at the library 2 get a book on hold. Waiting 4 me on the shelf.
10:37 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Self check-out at the library now! Gr8! Outta hre.
11:01 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Heading home for a while.
11:10 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Wow - phn msg from my cousin! Haven't hrd from him in 4ever. I'll text him later.
11:43 AM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Doing sum shopping online. Clothes from #Kohls. vid games from #Amazon. gd clearance sales at #Target.
12:31 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Awesome! My Netflix movie arrived. Into The Wild.
1:20 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Will wait on Netflix movie. Castaway with Tom Hanks on TNT. Itz a fav. #sleepy
1:33 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Gd movie and nap. Need some snacks. Off to grocery store. #hungry
4:01 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Wish the lady in front of me wld quit chatting w/ the cashier. Let's MOVE!
4:44 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Just found the self check-out line. Thank God. #Efficient.
4:46 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

The item IS in the bag, you F$%#@$% machine!
4:48 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Finally out of thr & heading back home. Dinner, movie, & then bed.
5:15 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Great movie. A little online poker before bed. Did I register 4 that webinar 2morrow?
9:29 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Wht a productive day! Got a lot accomplished. luv how technology helps – progress is a beautiful thing.
11:19 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

Just realized that I didn’t speak to a single person today. Interesting. Gd nite.
11:58 PM Mar 1st via TweetDeck

The Myth of the All-Greek BBQ

You’ve probably been there. It’s the waning hours of a Greek retreat, at which representatives from all of the fraternity and sorority groups at a given campus have discussed the greatest challenges facing their system. There are flip chart pages full of issues and concerns on the wall, and props from a variety of teambuilding games on the floor. The facilitators are busy sniffing the scented color flip chart markers (orange is best), while small groups of tired students are now slogging through the final step of action-planning. The groups are taxing themselves to think of the next best idea to further their system – the idea that will be revolutionary, historic, and produce gulps of amazement when shared far and wide.

Discussion time is over, and the sharing now begins. At this point, the facilitators, Greek advisors, and senior leaders cannot stop what’s coming. The momentum is too strong. And besides, after several days of bonding and hard effort, who wants to be the Debbie Downer? There is an unspoken code in the room that every idea deserves a round of applause and a hearty “that’s great!” from the facilitator. 

It doesn’t take long. The first group has it on their list. Actually, every group has it on their list. It’s coming, whether we like it or not. The tension builds, as the loudest voice in the group proudly stands up and exclaims…

“Let’s have an all-Greek BBQ!”

The facilitators wince as the room erupts into a scene resembling Chariots of Fire. There are cheers. There are hugs. There are long passionate kisses from the retreat romances that have formed (hey – you can’t stop love). One of the chapters offers to host, and another has the grill. Thankfully, the IFC VP of Recruitment is in a reggae band, so entertainment is covered. This. is. Going. To. Be. Epic! All of tension, fighting, and distrust that engulfed the Greek system will be devoured as quickly as an overcooked hot dog. We did it! We will forever be changed by the all-Greek BBQ!

Of course, I exaggerate. But not by much. Of the countless fraternity and sorority system (I know I’m supposed to say “community,” but I prefer “system”) retreats I’ve facilitated, the all-Greek BBQ emerges as a profound idea almost two-thirds of the time. Why are we so quick to play the BBQ card? Easy. It’s sounds spectacular! It’s the stuff of Woodstock and Coca-Cola commercials. If we all rally together and have fun, our fraternity/sorority relations will be strengthened or healed. It’s a miracle cure. If all-Greek BBQ’s were sold on a 2:00am infomercial, every fraternity and sorority leader would own one. It’s as comforting as a Snuggie. The only problem is, it’s less useful.

There is a place for all-Greek BBQs – as a celebration, or as a minor piece of a comprehensive plan to build up interfraternal relations. Most of the time, they are just a waste of money. The BBQ emerges so often as the miracle cure because it’s easy to imagine. It’s also the easy way out. 

Large, sprawling events are inherently incapable of bringing disparate groups together, at least in a significant way. Those groups are at odds with each other because of deeper emotional issues, and large social events are not meant for brutal honesty and difficult conversations. It’s probably why an Israel/Iran BBQ has yet to be proposed. They’re just meant to be fun.

And really, let’s imagine an all-Greek BBQ at the typical campus. Do we really expect that hundreds of fraternity and sorority members would show up at an open field and just begin mingling across groups, searching for common ground and shared values? Would we even expect it to be that collegial? Hey Delt guy, would you like some mustard? Sure, Omega guy. You’re the best! 

Building interfraternal relations takes time, and many micro-level efforts. As politicians like to remind us, problems aren’t made in a day, and they won’t be solved in a day either. 

If you want to improve interfraternal relations on your campus, first consider your expectations. What does "good interfraternal relations" mean to you? You might want to lose the image of the latest fraternity/sorority store catalog, with 4 men or women all wearing their chapter's T-shirt proudly while engaged in a group embrace. That's not realistic or necessary. Strong interfraternal relations does not require friendship or love. It requires respect. I do not think it matters very much if you like the women in the house next door, as long as you respect their organization. By starting with respect, you might actually put yourself in situations where you'd get to know those women and start to build a friendship.

Without building respect among the groups first, an all-Greek BBQ will have no measurable effect, except to make the local Sam's Club a little richer.

So how do you build respect? Personally, I gain more respect for someone when I can engage with him or her in serious conversations about serious issues. This allows me to understand their worldview and opinions. This process may be tough at times. There may be moments in those conversations when I don't like the person across from me very much, but if I trust the process, the adversity will only make us stronger in the end.

Start with your governing council (IFC, Panhellenic, NPHC, MCGC, etc.). How much time is spent in those meetings on substantive discussions about issues that matter? Are these meetings a place where respect is forged through intense conversations, that are sometimes brutal, emotional, and honest?

Of course, if your meetings aren’t like that now, they’re not going to change tomorrow without significant leadership from the executive council. Here is a process to consider:
  • At the start of a new term, have a full-day retreat with officers and representatives included. The primary goals of the retreat should be to (a) allow participants a chance to introduce themselves, (b) ensure everyone knows roles, responsibilities, and expectations, and (c) set 4-5 strategic priorities for the system. Strategic priorities may include items like recruitment, new member education, university relations, risk management policies, etc.
  • Set up task forces, one for each strategic priority, made up of members of the council. These task forces will research their topic and be prepared to present findings and suggestions at a future meeting.
  • Schedule time at upcoming council meetings to have considerable discussion about each of the strategic priorities, led by the task forces. In those meetings, intentionally speed through reports and make sure nothing else is scheduled. You’ll need time and you don’t want to lengthen the meeting.
  • In the meetings, use facilitation techniques to get the group talking about these issues. Such techniques would include starting in small groups or pairs. Your Advisor can be a great resource for these techniques.
This is just a place to start. It will help you add seriousness and substance to your meetings (and thus, your council). The debate can also help build respect. At the very least, it will help the groups feel as though they contributed something meaningful. And, that next best revolutionary idea may come after all.

And then, if you want to celebrate a year’s worth of productive discussions with a little BBQ, go for it. I’ll bring the chips (and the scented color flip chart markers).

A hat tip to Phired Up Productions for their blog post on big events as they relate to recruitment activities. They reminded me of my disdain for the all-Greek BBQ and hence, this post.