Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Advisor: I Can Do This

Dear Advisor-

I can do this.  Really.  Please let me try.

I know you mean well, and I know the fraternity holds a special place in your heart.  But it’s no longer yours to lead.  

It’s true that at last night’s meeting, we spent too long discussing a pretty bad idea.  But you didn’t need to correct us.  Or scold.  Just before you stood up to tell us how terrible the idea was, I matched eyes with one of the senior members who was going to say the exact same thing.

And trust me, it would have been better coming from him.

I like that you attend our meetings, and generally are present for most of our activities.  But I invite you in those moments to be the Yoda to our Luke Skywalker.  The Merlin to our King Arthur.  Advise and mentor us.  Coach us.  But please don’t fight our battles for us.

When you met with the Greek Advisor to argue our GPA ranking, it wasn’t heroic.  It was kind of embarrassing.  I had a meeting scheduled with her the next day to explain how a couple of our members were left out of the calculation.  We would have been fine. 

Speaking of embarrassing, perhaps we could hold your Homecoming alumni gathering at a hotel instead of the chapter house?  We can discuss this more at the next officers’ meeting.

Also, I’d like to invite you again to our annual chapter goal-setting retreat in August.  However, please be willing to let us develop our own goals and plan.  Yes, we need your help to clarify, synthesize, and refine the ideas, but I would suggest not bringing a 10-page manifesto with you like last year.  

We can do this.

This past year was a struggle because nobody really believed in the goals you pushed us to adopt.  Frankly, they were your goals.  We had no ownership.  It was as though you handed us the keys to a rental car instead of our own car.  

We really don’t care that much about Greek Week anymore.  I know that’s hard for you.  Please come to the retreat to listen to our reasoning.  We think we can achieve so much more in terms of philanthropy and community service without distractions like that.  I know you will understand once we explain it to you.

And please be willing to let us make mistakes.  We know that you won’t allow us to make decisions that harm us or the chapter, but there are actually very few decisions that fall into those categories.  Most of our decisions won’t spell doom if they don’t work.  

Let us try.

Please consider if a large, successful, award-winning chapter is much more essential than a chapter that provides a tremendous learning experience for its members.  Because the latter sometimes looks like a chapter that’s struggling, has ups and downs, and not so polished.  It can sometimes look chaotic.  It can also look like a chapter that has advisors who see their role as educators and are allowing students to lead.  

I know this letter seems harsh.  But, I guarantee that if you give us more empowerment, if you trust us to set priorities and plans, we will listen to you.  We think your fraternity experience and your life experience are remarkable.  We know we can learn a lot from you. 
In one of my education classes, we learned about Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.  It says that learning essentially happens when an individual or team has a concrete experience, and then spends time reflecting on that experience, making meaning from that experience, and applying lessons from that experience to the next go round.  But it all starts with the experience.  Please let us have that.  Please let us lead.  Please let us screw up.  And then be there to help us reflect and make meaning.  

Thank you for reading this letter.  And please remember that while I want you there, I need your guidance, and I will be better because of your advising, I want you to believe strongly as I do in a very simple idea – one that exists in the mind of the student member - one that has been at the center of the self-governed fraternity experience since it began:

I can do this.   

Please let me.


  1. This is SO good! A great reminder for our advisors. Going to share with the chapters I work with. Thank you!

  2. John,
    Amazingly on point. Great reminder for us staff advisors as well as volunteers. I'll be sharing this with my advisors in their end-of-year recap and including it in my advisor manual.
    Thanks for all you do.