Thursday, November 20, 2014

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.

1 comment:

  1. Nelson Ambeau. University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Being apart of greek life has taught me many things throughout my college career. One of the main things that I have learned is that greek life on many college campuses has a mind of their own. Usually what one group decides the other groups will also follow. I do agree with these concepts listed above. They will most likely not work, but they just might put a thought in an individuals head. The question is, will that one individual have the power to step up and make a difference in his or her organization?