Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Brees Standard

In 1884, a man named Isaac Jordan addressed a convention of the fraternity he founded - Sigma Chi - and laid out his beliefs for what constitutes an acceptable member of the fraternity. The principles he shared became "the Jordan Standard" and it is still used by Sigma Chi as the measuring stick by which potential members are judged. In other words, only men who meet the standard as recruits, should be invited to join.

Drew Brees is the starting quarterback for the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints, and joined Sigma Chi 114 years later. He will lead the Saints in their first-ever Super Bowl appearance this Sunday. Many say that he saved the franchise.

NFL players, without even trying, are role models to young people. But, not every player is deserving of this. How do we know who to emulate, and who to ignore? Where do I as a father gain enough confidence in someone to share their story with my son?

What about the Jordan Standard? Brees was able to meet this standard many years ago when asked to be a member of Sigma Chi. Could we still use this standard as a way to judge him as a man today? Let's look at each of the 7 principles:

A Man of Good Character......
A man of good character can best be defined as someone that others want to emulate. Teammate Pierre Thomas talks about Brees in this way: "If Drew tells you to stay after practice, you're going to have to do it. He's our leader, but he's one of our coaches also. You strive to be just like him. Each and every day you wake up saying, 'What is Drew doing? How can I prepare myself today?' . . . He wants you to learn. He wants you to understand, to get to where the team needs you to be. We're all trying to get on his level."

A Student of Fair Ability......
Brees was one of the best college players of his era, setting Big Ten records and taking Purdue University to the Rose Bowl for the first time in over two decades. Meanwhile, he earned a degree in Industrial Management, and was honored as the 2000 Academic All-American Player of the Year. He also found time to join a fraternity. Not bad.

With Ambitious Purposes......
Brees joined the Saints in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina and a 3-13 season. There was some talk in New Orleans about the team permanently moving to another city – possibly San Antonio or Los Angeles. Brees signed up anyway. "An opportunity to come here and not only being a part of the rebuilding of the organization and getting the team back to its winning ways, but to be part of the rebuilding of the city and the region. How many people get that opportunity in their life to be a part of something like that?" he said. Wanting to carry a broken city on your back is the definition of an ambitious purpose.

A Congenial Disposition......
Brees is considered one of the nicest, most sincere, and most humble all-stars in the NFL. Consider this simple passage from a Sports Illustrated article:

The man has something important to say to Drew Brees. It is a warm afternoon early in the new year and Brees, the 28-year-old quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, is walking through Audubon Park, a 400-acre preserve not far from the century-old home that he and his wife, Brittany, bought last spring in New Orleans's Uptown. The man is walking with his wife and pushing an infant in a stroller. He extends his right hand to Brees as they pass on a walking path. "Thank you for what you've done for this city," he says. "I want you to know that we appreciate it." 

Brees squeezes the man's hand and nods. "You're welcome," he says. "And thank you." 



Now a red SUV passing on St. Charles Avenue honks its horn twice and the driver leans out the window in slow-moving traffic. "Thanks, Drew!" she shouts, waving. Brees smiles and waves back. "That happens 10 times a day, at least," he says. "And it's never 'Good game,' or 'Can I have your autograph?' It's always somebody saying thank you." He looks at the ground and shakes his head, as if again humbled by the remarkable place where he has landed.


Possessed of Good Morals......
Where a man devotes his time and his resources is generally a good indicator of who he is and what he believes. His Brees Dream Foundation has given millions to New Orleans’ causes. Brees has helped build ballfields at schools that lost them in the hurricane. He’s funded playgrounds, participated in Habitat for Humanity builds, and has spent time with kids struggling with cancer. Brees was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2006.

Having a High Sense of Honor......
Many NFL players don’t live in the cities they play for. If Brees had just kept his house in San Diego and spent his offseasons there, not many would have noticed or cared. But, if you are trying to help lead a damaged city back to greatness, what’s the honorable thing to do? He and his wife bought and renovated a 100-year-old house in the city limits because, as he told writer Peter King, he’ll be able to do more good if he’s in the city year-round. He's now raising his first child there as well.

and A Deep Sense of Personal Responsibility
When Brees left San Diego as a free agent, he was considering several different NFL teams. He visited the Saints, and they pressed hard to get him to sign. The Saints’ executives could have tried to hide the devastation and despair that gripped the city at the time. After all, shouldn’t you always put your best foot forward when you recruit? Instead, they drove Brees and his wife through the city, which included tours of the areas most devastated by Katrina. This strategy worked because Brees has always carried a deep sense of responsibility. He said, "At some point in the process I started to believe that maybe God put me in this position for a reason. Maybe we were supposed to come to New Orleans and do more than just play football."

He has certainly done more than just play football (although obviously he has excelled at that as well). Brees has lifted a city and has served as a shining example of fraternal values in action. If the Jordan Standard is the minimum, Brees passes with flying colors. He goes beyond the standard to actually reflect words described in the Sigma Chi creed: fairness...decency...good manners...the spirit of youth. The creed asks members to pledge: "I will endeavor to so build myself and so conduct myself that I will ever be a credit to our fraternity." Well done, Drew.

No matter who you root for on Sunday, be proud of Drew Brees - a fraternity man of impeccable character, wearing the fleur-de-lis on his helmet, and carrying the Jordan Standard in his heart.


Sources:

Drew Brees has embraced New Orleans, after being tempted by Miami three years ago by Mike Triplett
Marching In by Tim Layden
My Sportsman: Drew Brees by Peter King
Drew Brees: The New Orleans Saints' Miracle Man by Rolanda Cruz