Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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?

Many sororities already refer to their undergraduate members as “collegiates,” but use “alumnae members” as a term also.

In my experience, when the designation of “alumni member” is conferred upon an individual, either informally or formally, it creates a change in mindset. It creates a sense that the primary work is over, and that one’s involvement in the fraternity is diminishing. That may not be the intent, but it seems to almost always be the result.

How many times have you heard an undergraduate say that they are going “alumni status?” This is code language for “I’m done.” While the experiences of a college student and a graduate are markedly different, somehow the illusion has been created that being an alumnus or alumna means that you are less of a member.

We are lifelong associations, right? Well, if a person lives to be 85 years old, they will have been known as “member” of their organization – in the standard sense – for only 6% of their adult life. Is it any wonder that we have problems with alumni engagement?

It should be noted that most NPHC organizations see tremendous involvement from alumni, especially those who join after the college years. They face less of a problem.

Changing language isn’t enough. It never is. However, for most groups, it can start us towards a new era of greater engagement by our members. It can also give greater meaning – not less – to that critical transition from graduating Senior to real-world adult.

Wouldn’t it be great if alumni stopped saying that they used to be members of their Greek-letter organization? Perhaps, if we give them the right to call themselves members, they will.

I am 34 years old, and have been out of college for 13 years. I don’t believe that I am less of a member of my fraternity now. In fact, in almost every way, I hope that I am a better one.

From now until my last breath, I will proudly be a member of my fraternity.

And the journey continues.


13 comments:

  1. The idea of continuing to earn our membership ("now the real work begins") is intriguing. What if "going alumni status" was seen as doing *more* work than the average undergrad? "Hey Susie, I heard you're going alumnae status even though you haven't graduated yet. Wow - thanks for your increased commitment to our organization!" Completely flips the idea on its head.

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  2. Awesome idea!! I definitely think it is the way to make the experience more valuable and encourages graduates to continue to work towards the values and goals of the organization!

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  3. Great post John!!

    As I read it I thought about my time in college as both a student and a Theta Chi. Now that I am in the real world, my alma mater has kept me involved, but my fraternity hasn't. I still consider myself a brother, and talk to active members of the chapter whenever I get back, but it would be great to have that same continued connection to the fraternity as I do to the university.

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  4. Bravo on a very thoughtful post! (Not that the rest of them haven't also been thoughtful, of course.) I've been reading for a while and just haven't commented yet but this post definitely hit a chord in me.

    I am about to be a senior at my university and yet am already an "alumnae member" of my sorority, and have been since midway through my sophomore year. Our chapter relinquished our charter after it was made clear to us by our national council that our membership was "too small" and our small size did not reflect well upon the national organization. Our local alumnae chapter took us in and did their best to offer us the events and opportunities that we would have had, but it rapidly became apparent that the alumnae chapter neither had the time nor the funding required to give us the "full" undergraduate experience. These women had families, jobs, lives of their own, and while it was clear that many of them were still fully invested in the Greek experience via the alumnae chapter, they simply didn't have as much time as we did.

    Despite the fact that we all lived on the same campus (and a small campus, at that), the "undergraduate alums", as we'd taken to calling ourselves, faced many issues from the administration, who didn't see us as a legitimate group, as well as the rest of the student body. We also received little to no support from our national headquarters despite their ardent claims that we are members of our sorority "for life", which has led to many of us losing faith in our national sorority and a small few even considering deactivating their membership entirely.

    Your post definitely raised some more pressing questions, at least for me, maybe the most pressing being: why should/do "alumnae members" matter less to the national organization? Although you raise a good point in that conferring the title "alumnae member" shifts the paradigm of how one should be involved in their Greek letter organization, I think it also shifts the national GLO's mindset into one where the sheer number of "alumnae members" is more important than what they are doing.

    I think this post could be the beginning to something truly great, and has really started me thinking about the possibilities. In the next few days I hope to write some letters, and was wondering if you would mind my perhaps quoting this post (with proper credit given, of course). Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and thought-provoking blog!

    Sophia Chen
    ΑΧΩ, ΗΛΗ Alumnae Chapter

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  5. And this is EXACTLY why when a student asks me: "What sorority were you in?" My first response is, "I'm still in it, actually."

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  6. That is a great idea - my son, a more recent Gamma Epsilon alum, feels the same way. There are pledge classes in our chapter who do a great job of staying in touch and in tune, but something like this might indeed change the mindset and expand that. Facebook has been a boon to communication - I have found a few of my pledge brothers from 1974, plus several in the classes two and three years before us. Having a central place to post photographs and record events (and memories) also helps.

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  7. Very interesting - I have sorority sisters who send me their resumes to look at and the dates listed for membership in our chapter end the year we graduated. My resume reads "2004 - Present." Thanks for posting, John!

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  8. Sophia, I too was in a chapter that in 1973 was decided to have been too small to keep in the larger organization. There was no "Hall of Maturity/Commitment" ceremony for us or any involvement with any local Baton Rouge alums. We were left out alone, and all of us were terribly sad at the situation we faced after living in our beautiful sorority house surrounded by dear sisters. The following year I graduated. I did find that as we moved around the country over the last 37 years~Chapel Hill, NC, Lawrence, Kansas, Houston, Texas, Tallahassee, Florida and Northern Virginia~ that there were always alum groups there to welcome me with open arms. To me, that is still the hallmark of TRUE sisterhood. At one point in my life I was treasurer of the House Corporation for two years~I wanted to give back for the countless hours than older Alpha Chis gave when I was an undergraduate sorority girl. Although I am classified as an alum, I will always refer to myself as an Alpha Chi.

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  9. John,
    a colleague of mine, Melissa Raveed, pointed me in the direction of your blog, and it's relevant to both my professional experiences and those as an Alumnae District Officer for KAΘ. As an attendee of the NPC Greek for Life Summit and through several strategic planning sessions over the past years, I can't say that I've heard this analogy, and it's fascinating! I might just share this at our Officers Conference this weekend in Indy as we work on new directions for the fraternity!


    http://fraternalthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/07/i-refuse-to-go-alumni-status.html

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  10. Great post but I feel like a lot of our national organizations are starting to focus too much on money. They're more focused on expanding undergraduate membership to increase the amount of dues paying members and they're losing sight of what it truly means to be in a Fraternity/Sorority. National organizations are starting to revoke charters over infractions that should only warrant suspension of privileges or suspension/expulsion of one or two members instead of helping these chapters that already have a strong brotherhood grow and become better. Instead I see them taking the money they save to hire full legal teams to ensure the new charters they're trying to start get on campus and have as many members as possible who often times don't even consider themselves brothers with all the initiates of their chapters. It's depressing to see people men who call themselves my brother turn their backs on our brothers nation wide so quickly while pushing pledge class and chapter size so much. I feel like this is going to have to be a bottom up effort until we can remind our respective Nationals what true Fraternity is all about.

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  11. Great post! Kappa Delta Sorority has started a campaign for its alumni members that promotes a lot of these idea, especially saying you ARE a member instead of you WERE a member. However, it's going to take a lot more than a campaign that is only reaching the members that are already involved as alumni to really make an impact.

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  12. This article was very insightful and relating to me because I am graduating this semester. I am also a member of NPHC and we have many problems with undergrad and alumni relations. the main problem is that many undergrads do not want to join alumnthey graduate because of the distance the have with the while they are undergrads. i hate the division because the big picture is that we aare all members of the sae organization. It would be amazing if justa simple change in vocabulary would help the relationship. I have been an undergrad for 3 years in my fraternity and seen many of my brothers graduate. 0% has joined the alumni chapter since i been in college. Im ready to see a change and learn ways to fix the problem.

    Ossie
    University of Louisiana at lafayette Greek Life

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  13. I believe that this is a very important situation that I have not seen addressed. I am apart of NPHC and there is not much talk about joining an Alumni chapter after graduation. Although, I have not been apart of my organization that long I have seen numerous graduates not join a chapter after undergraduate. I think that some of it is due to the distance there is between the undergraduate and graduate chapters in the same cities. Also, because some graduates may believe that their work is done once they are no longer apart of the undergraduate chapter. I think this is an issue that each organization has to address individually.

    D'Ina Brown
    University of Louisiana at Lafayette Greek Life.

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