Wednesday, December 3, 2014

5 Things That Will Fix Your Greek Community

The previous post challenged 5 oft-considered “silver bullet” solutions to problems facing our Greek communities.  Believing that any of the 5 ideas would be stand-alone answers to what we face is to believe in fool’s gold.   

So, what can fix our Greek communities?  You could say this whole blog and the almost 150 posts have focused on that question.  But, in order to stay with the theme I established in the prior post, let’s try to delineate the 5 things that WILL fix your Greek community.  Note that each of these is not as specific, because again, we can’t believe in shortcut solutions and make any headway.  And off we go…

As mentioned in the previous post, we tend to want to solve issues by exerting more control.  When faced with the feeling of chaos, we tend to overreact and go to the polar opposite: severe rigidity.  We start putting more rules on recruitment and expansion, establish plans that dictate how organizations should operate, and turn our Greek staff and councils into overseers.  We try to choreograph too much.  And I believe it doesn’t work because fraternities and sororities are not organizations designed for control.  We are designed for self-initiative and independence.  In my experience, more control equates to more status quo.  It's hard to compel change by force.  Rather, change needs to be inspired and then encouraged with plenty of room for innovation.  Let’s make it easier for chapters to innovate by taking our thumbs off of them.  With Ritual as the basis, we should allow for many different positive expressions of the fraternity experience.

It’s an old adage: what gets recognized gets done.  If you want to inspire better behavior, seek ways to recognize it.  Here’s a fun exercise: throw out your current Greek awards process and start from scratch.  First, identify the desired Greek community you want.  What does it feel like? Look like? Act like?  What are the chapters doing?  What are the members and leaders doing?  Now, build your awards and recognition around those behaviors.   For example, let’s say you develop a list of the five things you want your chapters to be doing more of, which could look something like: (1) help members achieve better academically, (2) perform more meaningful community service projects, (3) host responsible social events that encourage personal development, (4) demonstrate innovation in recruitment and retention, and (5) build a strong working relationship with the campus community.   So now recognize those who are demonstrably achieving those things and you have your five feature awards for your end-of-the-year Greek Awards banquet.  

Much has been made of the University of Virginia’s decision to suspend all fraternities because of a Rolling Stone magazine article alleging a brutal rape in one of those fraternities.  Suspending all Greek activities for the actions of a few seems to be the standard protocol now.  To fix a Greek community, you need a scalpel and not a hatchet.  On your campus right now are organizations that are trying hard to live by their Ritual.  There are also organizations trying their level best to  live opposed to their Ritual.  Why punish the former because of the latter?  Here’s a novel idea – go to where the problem is and remove it.  Mike McRee wrote one of the seminal pieces on accountability when he argued that more chapters need to be closed.  We know what chapters these are.   And we know what chapters these aren’t.  To fix your Greek community requires a surgical approach to target the source of the problems and remove them.  It can be a scary proposition, but let me assure you that no matter how big, historic, or influential that fraternity may be, you can live without them.  

In the previous post, I argued against the motivational speaker as the answer to your prayers.  A speaker can work if it is part of a larger education plan.  But, there is an issue: speakers can eat up a big chunk of your programming budget.  So – you have to decide – what is the best return on your investment?  I’m a fan of speakers for celebratory events like Greek Week, convocations, Greek awards ceremonies, etc.  I also love speakers that build in smaller workshops or consulting to accompany their 60 minutes of stage time.  What I like most are retreat-style events in which more interaction and in-depth discussion can occur.  I also like small targeted gatherings like officer roundtables and Greek leadership classes.  Overall, start with your objectives, build the plan, and see how a speaker fits instead of the other way around.

If you believe, as I do, that grassroots change is much more effective, then stop waiting for your college/university to solve these issues for you.  Your Greek advisor shouldn’t be the one pointing out to you that your all-Greek GPA is tanking, or that sexual assaults are becoming an issue on campus.  You have eyes and ears.  You can see these things also.  One of the biggest problems we face in Greek life is that we’re losing our self-governance.  In some instances, it’s being taken away forcibly, but more often, we’re giving it away by abdication.  Think about your last IFC meeting.  What did you talk about?  Of those things, what really matters to the future of your Greek community?  Self-governing Greek communities will not shy away from difficult matters.  Self-governing Greek communities will set strict standards for being a “citizen” in that community and will police their own community.  Self-governing Greek communities are in charge because they want to be, and are willing to accept the work that’s involved.  Those who ignore big issues, squelch controversial discussions, and refuse to take a stand are relinquishing control of their future to others, and they deserve what they get.  

Students – these are your chapters and your Greek communities.  You can decide the strategies to fix the problems that are keeping you from greatness.  First, own the problems.  Then, own the solutions.  And, avoid the shortcuts.  This can be long, hard, grueling work with extraordinarily bountiful rewards.

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