Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thoughts on USC's Suspension of Fraternity Recruitment

Here are some thoughts on the current situation at the University of South Carolina regarding fraternity recruitment. If you are unaware of the situation, you can read about it here. The University of South Carolina has suspended fraternity recruitment because of a series of alcohol-related incidents already this semester. I want to preface these thoughts by saying that I’m fully aware I am an outsider to this. I only know and can react to what I’ve read. I’m sure all sides are trying their best.  

Yet, there are three truths in life: death, taxes, and that 18-22 year-olds don’t like being told what to do. I understand why the University felt they needed to act, and why they felt they needed to act swiftly. I really don’t mind the decision, since it seems as though that community needs to step back and re-assess itself.

There is also something to be said about the courage of this decision.  Backlash was certain.  I always admire people and organizations strong enough to put their hand up and say “enough.” I have nothing against the administrators because I’m sure they believe they are doing the right thing.  

I only wish the decision had been made differently. I only wish it was the students who were the ones saying “enough.” And I think it could have been.

The students need to change their behavior. There needs to be no alcohol in the recruitment process, and the emphasis on alcohol in fraternity life needs to be diminished. Those goals are noble and need to be pursued. However, I’ve seen too many situations where the process to try and achieve goals such as these is a heavy-handed, top-down, parent-child approach. And it never seems to work.

Why are we surprised about the student reaction? Sure - some of their responses have been immature, but when people feel cornered or dismissed, they fight back. And often without logic.  

According to reports, university administrators had told student leaders in the Spring that things needed to change.  Fair enough. What if they had instead worked with the Fraternity Council to form a group of staff/students to develop a strategic plan for alcohol-free recruitment? In my few years working with fraternities and sororities, I haven’t really seen the Dean Wormer approach of “shape up or else” work very well. Although it is used extensively.

Again, this doesn’t mean the university shouldn’t have acted, or set high expectations for the fraternities. But if they wanted results - if they wanted a change in behavior - those expectations could have been matched with more guidance and support.  

Also, according to reports, fraternities were informed of this decision by email. Do any of us like being given hard news by impersonal means?  Hosting a meeting with leaders to tell them in person would have been better.  They could have given the leaders the tools to communicate the decision back to their members (even though some still wouldn’t have used them).

The students need to grow up and take ownership for this problem. They know it was there, and they’ve been asleep at the wheel.  Because of that, they have deferred much of their power over to the university administrators. The Fraternity Council should be ashamed of itself for how invisible it appears to be. However, if progress in this situation is for the students to take ownership again, I’m cynical the current course of events will get us there.

I can still remember my perspective as a fraternity undergraduate. I wanted us to captain our own ship, not just ride on one that was built for us.  

It seems that as Greek professionals and university administrators get further away from the undergraduate years, they become more and more amazed that the students just don’t get it. It’s like we’ve all pulled up rocking chairs on the front porch and are taking turns saying, “these kids today!”  These kids today aren’t very different from kids their age across time. They will do the right thing, once they believe it’s the right thing to do. They will also respond better to their peers rather than the town elders from Footloose.

There is defiance in the DNA of fraternities that goes all the way back to our founding. This has caused the relationship between us and our host institutions to be perpetually strained. That will probably never change. However, our approach as alumni and administrators can.

It will be interesting to watch this as it goes forward. I hope to see the Fraternity Council respond as partners in this problem and take a very active role in its solution. I also hope to see them regarded as such by the university administrators.  

Am I seeing this incorrectly?  Feel free to comment below.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Me vs. The Couch


I could just sit right here,
On this very comfortable couch,
All day.
And not feel any regret.
Because I’ve done enough for now.
I deserve a break.
No one will miss me if I hole up here for a while.
I can let the couch win.
There’s nothing wrong with a lazy day.

I could just sit right here,
And let myself be distracted,
By the vast wasteland of 600 channels.
Catch up on reality TV,
Check out movies I haven’t seen since…
Last week.
Poker on ESPN, Jersey Shore on MTV.
It’s nice to just do something
Mindless.

I could just sit right here,
Take this controller that is
Connected to that box,
And enter an alternative video game world.
I can blow things up.
I can win the World Series.
I can pretend that I’m a rock legend.
It’s fun,
There’s a sense of achievement,
And of course, I’m improving my
Hand-eye coordination.

I could just sit right here
And stare out of this window.
Sit in a quiet and reflective state.
Contemplate life, develop theories,
Think about what I should do.
Then analyze that thought,
Change my mind,
Start over again,
Be lost in my thoughts.
Just think,
And reflect,
And stare.

I could just sit here
Read about others;
Be a critic.
“Well that was stupid.”
“What on earth was he thinking?”
“I would have done it differently.”
“That will never work.”
And then,
Turn back to reality TV.

I could just sit here
And sleep.
But I can’t,
For no idea, action, or passion
Has exhausted me.
Yet, lethargy is so draining.
So if I can’t sleep,
I’ll just relax instead.


Wait,


I can’t do that.
I can’t just sit here, I can’t just relax.
I made a decision to do more.
To be a part of a movement.
To strive to be my best self.
To do more with my life.
There are plenty of people
Sitting on couches,
Watching TV, thinking, criticizing,
Playing video games.
But there are not enough of me.

I can’t just sit here because there is a force,
Greater than the gravity
That keeps me grounded.
It’s the force of oaths and commitments
That like a great magnet
Lifts me up,
And pulls me out,
Of hiding.

I can’t just sit here
And stare at a screen,
Or out the window.
I need instead to look directly
Into the weary face of a world that needs me.

The couch beckons me and
I could just sit here.
But I can’t.
And I won’t.
It’s time to get up off this couch,
And get to work.