It Takes Responsible Men and Women

Guest essay by Jimmy Cox
(NOTE: This post serves as a continuation of last week's essay "Fraternity and Freedom."  As a new professional in higher education, Jimmy gives his thoughts on how our organizations can be forces for building responsible men and women, especially through event planning -- John) 

Student organizations come with a lot of responsibility. I believe fraternities and sororities have some of the most responsibility out of all of them. Every member of a fraternity and sorority understands that stereotypes are one of our biggest hindrances. There are many positive things done by the fraternity and sorority community nationwide. However, our negative actions whether it is hazing, alcohol and drug abuse, racism, property damage or something else will always garner more attention. Yet, since I have started working in higher education and student affairs, I have noticed that besides the community service, philanthropy and other positive activities chapters conduct, their responsibility in event management and planning is phenomenal.

In my current job, student activities and orientation, part of my work includes advising student organizations. One of our policies at Marian University is that if student organizations take a trip, they need at least one or two advisors accompanying them. On the trips that I have been a part of, I did not really do much of anything. I had the utmost confidence that if I had not gone on the trip, the student organizations could have handled any problem. This got me thinking about how fraternities and sororities are treated when it comes to advising. The events that are attended most by advisors are probably chapter meetings and recruitment events. Whether it is a social event, community service project, retreat, formals or a philanthropy project, chapters plan and coordinate the events without the help of an advisor. Even in the event of an emergency the chapter may give us a call, but they have to take care of the problem at that moment.  

Formals and retreats are an excellent example. In most of these instances, the chapter must organize transportation, reserve a location, put together a guest list and have policies in place in case of an emergency. These are not easy tasks and they require a lot of work. There are certainly cases in which things have gone wrong. We have all heard horror stories of hotel rooms being destroyed, drunk driving, underage drinking and chapters being barred from returning to a venue, but you never hear the successful stories. My chapter recently hosted their winter formal back in December. They rented a bus, reserved a ballroom and a block of rooms at a hotel to stay the night. The event had a cash bar and the men hired a police officer to act as security. The only minor issue they had was being told to keep the noise level down at the hotel. The next week they even wrote cards expressing thanks to the formal site and the hotel for letting them use their property. As a member of our advisory board, I could not have been happier. They worked hard to plan and manage an event that could have very well had a number of things go wrong. However, they put responsible members in charge who were able to plan the event well, manage it effectively and ensure that afterwards, the proper people were thanked. They represented themselves, their fraternity and their school to the best of their ability. 

The funny thing out of all of this: they did not even recognize what happened. To them it was just another formal that they had hosted. Members got together, had fun, and then went home the next day. What really happened? Officers planned well in advance an event in another city that required responsible budgeting and risk management.  They reserved a location and transportation, acquired security, and saw to the details of food and entertainment. All of this was done without the help of an advisor. Our men and women are very capable of accomplishing these tasks all on their own. It comes down to recruiting the right people and giving them the resources to be successful. The worst thing we can do as advisors is micromanage them by holding their hands throughout the process. There were not advisors to our men and women when they started our organizations. Look at what we have become now. 

I am not in any way advocating that advisors are of no use.  They most certainly are. If my chapter had asked for my help, I would have offered my advice and suggestions. If an emergency occurs, our advisors are made aware almost immediately.  Probably the most important use of our time is to be someone the students can vent to and someone who will extend support in difficult times. However, the moment when we begin to micromanage the organizations and take away the students’ autonomy, is the moment when they begin to rely on us rather than trust their instincts.  It prevents them from learning from their mistakes and fully developing as men and women. 

My challenge to our undergraduate men and women across the country is to realize the responsibility you have. Understand that when it is used correctly, it can outweigh many of the negative stories out there about our community. It may not get publicized on the evening news, but there are those of us out there watching and it makes us very proud. By succeeding at your events and programs, you are ensuring that the ones who came before you are able to return to relish in and congratulate you on your successes. The next time you are successful at recruitment, plan and manage a responsible social event, organize a community service project or just put together a nice dinner for the chapter next door, remember that it takes responsible men and women to do these things.  

Jimmy Cox is a 2009 graduate of Purdue University and a member of Theta Chi Fraternity. After graduation, he worked for two years as a Leadership and Education Consultant for Theta Chi. Currently, he is working on his master's in higher education and student affairs from Indiana University. He is employed at Marian University-Indianapolis working in student activities and orientation. Jimmy's thoughts are his own, and not necessarily a reflection of the institutions for which he works or volunteers.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Jimmy. As a sorority advisor, I wish we were at the point that I felt like advisors do not need to be as involved, but that is not the experience I've had. I hope to one day feel the same way you do. :)

    (P.S. - I recognize some of the women I advise in the GFGC photo! )