5 Things That Won't Fix Your Greek Community

Don't expect these to be the silver bullet solutions to your problems.

In Greek life, we have no shortage of problems.  Pervasive and longstanding ones too.  What these problems lead to are Greek communities that sit on the brink, with pressure mounting to make changes or else.  Student leaders and staff are often left with trying to figure out what to do.  I have seen time after time, these concerned leaders come together to solve these problems and emerge with big, lofty, silver-bullet solutions that don’t have much of an impact at all. If you are in the midst of visioning or problem-solving for your Greek community right now, let me try to help save you time, energy, and resources.  Here are five go-to answers for fixing our Greek communities that most likely won't:

One of our first inclinations is to bring people together and develop a sweeping plan.  When I was an undergraduate at Miami, a committee of staff, students, and alumni created the Miami Plan for Greek Excellence.  I know many institutions have such a plan.  These plans can be beneficial in identifying the problems, and the discussions that create the plans can be enlightening and productive.  However, the plans themselves almost never create a lasting positive impact.  Why?  First, the plans are rooted in logic and intellect and most of the problems they address are not.  Second, staff and student turnover on most campuses make sweeping multi-year plans tough to stay committed to.  And third, no matter how much student “voice” is brought into the plan’s development, it cannot avoid being seen as an authoritarian top-down approach. 

I love professional speakers as thought-provokers and educational entertainers.  But too many believe that putting one in front of their whole Greek community will bring about big change.  To have that expectation is to unfairly burden the speaker, and to unwittingly subscribe to the discredited notion that speeches create action.  A speaker is a great compliment to a larger educational strategy.  But, a speaker is typically not the sage savior that will “light a fire” that produces change.   If you have ever attended a regional leadership conference, such as NGLA or AFLV and the only real idea you came away with was a speaker that you just HAD to bring to your campus, then you fell victim to this silver bullet.   Instead of internalizing the speaker’s message, the dialogue in your head (and this is common) probably sounded something like “if only my whole Greek community could hear this!”  Great speakers can set a table, but you need to own the meal.

Repeat after me: Our Greek community does not have a PR problem.  And keep repeating it until you believe it, because it’s true.  Bad PR is the most frequent misdiagnosis for the problems we face in Greek life.  And thus, we put way too much emphasis on good PR as a solution.  If you have the time, write a press release.  It probably won’t get printed.  If it’s cathartic for you to fire off a letter to the campus newspaper, go for it.  But, if you want to use your time more wisely, ignore the campus newspaper and pledge to do things that are worthy of notice.  Even if you don’t get the media attention you desire, you’ll move further away from getting the unwanted kind.  Nonetheless, the battle for our future as Greek organizations will not be waged in the op-ed sections or on the magazine racks.  Don’t get sucked in.  

This one is for the IFC’s and the senior campus administrators.  When faced with problems, the knee-jerk response is to exert more and more control over recruitment.  The old adage of “if all you have is a hammer, then everything is a nail” applies here.  Recruitment is the hammer.  Campus administrators wield it as a carrot, and stick, and everything in between.  The fact is – pervasive issues in Greek life are pervasive on campuses where recruitment happens year-round, recruitment is deferred a semester, deferred a year, deferred two years, loose, controlled, etc.  Why do we go – even as student leaders – to the recruitment card so often?  Again, it’s about control.  Open recruitment feels like the giant bin of mismatched legos, and we can struggle with that much chaos.  So, we instead seek to create instructions for what to build with the legos and Krazy Glue to hold it together once it’s built (referencing the Lego Movie here, which you may not have seen but you NEED to).  It certainly appears more orderly, and we appear more in control, but what we’ve lost is the creative energy that fuels grassroots inertia for change. 

When a Greek community is facing challenges, it’s natural for those involved to want to huddle up, hunker down, and stop business until the problems are solved.  As mentioned, recruitment is often a way this manifests itself.  Yet another is fraternity expansion.  We tend to think that a system in turmoil cannot withstand any disruptions, and so we stand still.  However, a disruption may be exactly what’s needed.  A new player, a new model for others to observe, and new energy infused into the system.  If you are looking at a Greek community that needs to be fixed, don’t put up a fence.  Don’t shut out the rest of the world and believe that you can go into a cave, make repairs, and emerge brand new.  You may get some temporary relief from that, but more often than not, the system will revert back to its previous state.  The best thing for you to say, at a moment of consequence for your Greek community, could be “let’s bring on some new groups.”  Keep moving.  Don’t stand still.

What did I miss?  Where am I wrong?

And in a couple of weeks, look for the 5 things that CAN fix your Greek community.

Fraternity and the Insanity of Fandom

I love sports.  So do you.  Well, most of you.

And most of us just don’t love sports, we allow sports to make us temporarily insane.  I don’t mean in jubilation for winning or sorrow for losses.  I mean sports make us insane because they alter our integrity.

Let’s admit one thing – we can all be steadfastly opposed to athletes who cheat, steal, do drugs, assault their spouses, make racist or homophobic comments, or generally act like arrogant SOBs…as long as they play for the OTHER team.  If they play for our team…well…?

There are athletes who deserve our scorn, and if they play for the other team, they are a properly labeled as jerks.  If they play for our team, we may actually root harder for them, because they are OUR jerks.

You could carry disdain for someone on the other team for years, but then they are signed by your team as a free agent.  Instantly, he’s matured as a player, learned from his mistakes, fallible like any human being, and someone who should be judged for his play, not his character.  

See – sports make us insane (ethically).

There are some exceptions.  I don’t know that any fan would have truly embraced Barry Bonds.  Or Mark McGuire.  Or Michael Vick (well, actually that one did shift).  

So, what does this have to do with fraternity – the subject of this blog? 

A fraternity or sorority – like many sports teams – can be prone to differential ethics when it comes to their own “players.”  In other words, when it’s our guy, a behavior or action can easily be dismissed.  When it’s the other team’s guy, we very easily pass out judgment as easily as candy on Halloween.

Consider a scenario.  Imagine you are at a party hosted by some other organization.  At that party you see a guy making moves on a clearly intoxicated woman.  In that situation, we may intervene, or at the minimum, be upset or disgusted by that behavior.  Now imagine if that same thing is happening in your chapter house, and the guy is your brother.  Might the feeling be different? 

The challenge is that we become emotionally invested in those on our team – those we are expected to root for.  It makes us treat them with situational ethics.  But, in reality, that emotional investment is selfish.

If we were truly invested in our players – then we wouldn’t have different accountability standards for them.  Because the best thing for those players is to be held accountable, so that they grow as individuals.  Our members are not served by our protection, or willful ignorance of their screw-ups and misdeeds.  

There is danger in team mentality.  It can cause us to apply our ethics in a schizophrenic fashion.  We should also remember that no single player is greater than the team. Dismissing behavior that should be confronted is gambling with our organization’s future – just like the sports franchise that drafts someone with a history of problems.

We should definitely be fans of our own fraternities and the members who belong to them.  Let’s choose to practice the best aspects of fandom:
  • Fans are patient and loyal, and can survive losing seasons because of hope of what’s to come.
  • Fans are forgiving, and generally will accept mistakes if there is demonstrated intent to make corrections.
  • Fans can bring life to a team when it needs it most, and the best fans do not give up until the bitter end.
At the same time, let’s remember some very important points that may not be reflected in professional sports, but should be true for our organizations:
  • Winning with players you admire and respect is exponentially better than winning with players whose behavior you have to tolerate.  Choose to populate your team with the former, even if it delays winning.
  • No player is entitled to be on a team, nor is any team forced to accept a player below their standards.
  • Any hate or disdain for players on other teams should be redirected towards rigorous accountability for players on our own teams.  
A quick point in closing: it’s not always the miscreants in sports that can make us temporarily insane.  It’s also the exceptional individuals.  Think about the hatred cast upon Tim Tebow.  Or Lebron James for a time.  In sports, we have a tendency to hate people because of how good they are.  Crazy, but true.  Steer clear of that in fraternity as well.  If the other guy in the other organization is doing really good stuff, seek to learn from it, not hate it.  

We can choose who we root for, who we root against, and the reasons why.  I challenge you to stop and consider that for yourself.  Let’s be fans who are loyal, patient, and enthusiastic.  

But not insane.