A very interesting juxtaposition occurred this past week related to our image as a fraternity movement.
In one high-profile case, fraternity leaders gathered at the Association of Fraternity Advisors meeting and charted a new way forward for the North American Interfraternity Conference, which is the longstanding trade association for fraternities. Part of this innovative and widely-praised plan includes an increase in proactive public relations and a sophisticated approach to dealing with the media. The ultimate goal is to “advance the fraternity brand.”
In another high-profile case, one chapter of one fraternity at one campus decided to do something so heartwarming, that it was picked up by many media outlets and went instantly viral. The brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at UCLA have taken to supporting a young cancer patient whose hospital room looks out upon their house. They surprised her by spelling her name in their Christmas lights as well. Read more of the story and try not to be in a good mood the rest of the day.
Both of these situations can live and operate in the same space, and actually, they complement each other quite well.
However, as the NIC story emerged, I appreciate that the SAE story also came about and re-centered us on what will be truly effective in our efforts to enhance the image of fraternity and sorority life: our actions.
Negative press has always been a problem in Greek life, and it unfortunately tends to always be a scapegoat. If only the media didn’t portray all of those negative stereotypes! It’s increased tenfold in recent years because of how one negative story can now spread like wildfire throughout social media.
One of the earliest lessons of fraternity life I learned and still carry with me is that when you focus too much blame on media representations of fraternity, you are giving the media the power to define you. I was told as a young fraternity member to take the power back and focus on changing behaviors and living the values of my fraternity. And I’ve been trying to do that ever since. And so, here are some young men at UCLA who had no reason to befriend this cancer-stricken girl other than (1) their values told them to, and (2) they have compassion in their hearts.
The girl’s parents, nurses, doctors, and everyone who was touched by this story now have a viewpoint on fraternity that they likely never had before. And it’s a viewpoint that could not have been reached through some sophisticated PR campaign. For these individuals, the next negative press account of a fraternity behaving badly will be seen as an outlier, and not the norm. It’s the opposite for the general public. Why the difference? Because these individuals engaged with fraternity men living their values.
We don’t live out our values for the sake of good public relations. However, it’s a fact that fraternity men living their values is still the best public relations strategy we can ever employ.
I don’t think we will ever convince the public at-large of the value of fraternity and sorority life. The odds have become stacked too highly against us, and any proactive communications strategy we do (no matter how sophisticated or how well-funded) will always be undone by one story of one idiot fraternity member doing something that matches the stereotype of frat.
Our movement, however, will not be undone by that one idiot. It won’t be undone by the public at-large’s perception of us.
If our movement is to be undone, it’s because we lost the grassroots support of influencers touched by our members doing acts – large and small – that reflect their personal and organizational values.
In other words, if I had a choice of swaying 1,000 members of the general public to appreciate fraternity life, or one parent of a high school student instead, I’d take the parent. We can’t get everyone on our side, but we can get the right people to be there.
We know we are noble organizations that get hijacked by fools who want to use us as vehicles for personal gain and self-indulgence. We know the power of the values we instill in our members. We know the difference we want to make in our members’ lives and the communities around us. So how do we convey that? One person at a time. One interaction at a time. One values-based act at a time. While this is simpler than some broad PR campaign, it’s not easier. But it will be way more effective. A broad PR campaign can be there to lightly assist this personal outreach. Most of the time, these types of campaigns only serve to build greater pride in membership of those already affiliated – which isn’t a bad outcome. Do you want to make a difference for the future success of fraternity and sorority life? Stop worrying about getting good press or building your brand. Do this:
In honor of the efforts of these young men at UCLA and the young lady they support, let’s start something called Project Lexi. Every fraternity that reads this blog should find a child battling an illness and adopt him/her and their family. Simply make their lives better and easier, perhaps right now during the holidays. Show them what it means to be a member of your fraternity or sorority. Wear your values loudly and proudly.
Do this because your fraternity calls upon you to live this way; to step forward instead of standing still. Don’t worry about the P.R. If we act in accordance with our values, that will take care of itself.
And along the way, we will do what we were always born to do: make the world a better place.
“Guys SHUT UP!” offered the much more forceful Vice President, who was blessed with a thunderous voice. The room finally settled down.
“Thanks Seth. Welcome guys to our annual Thanksgiving dinner. Rhonda did an absolutely wonderful job – let’s thank her.”
Rhonda answered the cheers and applause by standing up to take a showy bow. She knew how to handle these guys after several years in service to them.
The President continued: “Don’t start eating just yet. Before we do, let’s go around the room this year and each person can say something they’re thankful for.”
Moans and groans were accompanied by someone shouting “let’s impeach the president!”
The room cheered and a dinner roll found itself narrowly missing the President’s head. He laughed. “Hey – this is what my family does, and I claim each you as family. Even Landry.”
“F*#@ you” said Landry.
“Let’s start to my left.”
“I’m thankful for food. Can we please eat now?” the first brother quipped.
“Keep going,” said the President.
“I’m thankful for all you guys,” said the next brother. He was met with a chorus of sarcastic awws.
The next brother said “I’m thankful for Delta Zeta!” “Damn right!” shouted another.
And around the room they went, one after another, some comments serious but most were half-hearted and meant to show one’s wit in favor of one’s vulnerability.
And then it was the Senior’s turn. He was the only Senior to arrive tonight, and some of the youngest guys had only met him a few times.
“I guess I’m thankful for a lot,” he started. “But I’ll be clear tonight in saying that I’m thankful for this fraternity.”
“Okay let’s eat now!” interrupted the first brother.
“Hold on,” the Senior said. “I’m not finished.”
“I’m thankful for every moment – good, bad, or otherwise – spent in this fraternity so far. I’m thankful for every man seated around these tables tonight. I am thankful for the fun times, the laughter, the hijinks, the pranks, and more.”
He continued: “I am thankful in equal measure for the times that were uncomfortable, challenging, and miserably difficult. Maybe even moreso. I tend to think most of who I am was forged by the fire of hard times.”
The room had become very quiet.
“I am thankful for all of you that came to my grandpa’s funeral. You made that sad day exceptionally special.”
“I am thankful for Doug. I bet you a million dollars I would have never met a guy like Doug if not for this fraternity. And I’m thankful for Jeff. Those who know me know that Jeff and I have never gotten along. In fact, there are times we downright hated each other. We may never see eye-to-eye, but Jeff, I respect you and I am absolutely thankful for you.”
“I am thankful for all those who surround us and try to make us better. Our alumni board, our chapter advisor, Rhonda. They have made a choice to give a part of their lives away, so that our lives can be stronger. That’s selfless stuff guys. We owe them our best – and consider that every time you’re about to do something stupid.”
“Speaking of that, I’m thankful for surviving all of my stupid moments. I’m going to make sure the lessons I’ve learned are passed on to you.”
“I am thankful for Delta Zeta too. And every other sorority on this campus, for making us work at being gentlemen. Our future wives will appreciate it.”
“I am thankful for the courage I’ve seen in this fraternity over the years. The courage for Paul to take that step to leave the fraternity so that he could get his act together. The courage for Bryce to help Paul realize that. I’m thankful for Gavin’s courage in coming out. And I’m thankful for the courage all of you had in learning to first accept it, and now appreciate it.”
“I’m thankful that we’re all there for each other. I wonder if we’ll truly ever appreciate how special it was to have these connections during this time in our lives.”
“I’m thankful for that guy from the national office who was here last week. Yeah, okay, boo if you want, but think about his vocation right now. It’s to visit dopes like us, help us better understand the power of this thing we belong to, and ultimately help us live closer to the ideal. I’m thankful he came into our lives and I know you are too.”
“I’m thankful for our potential. I’ve decided that potential is like a wild bird that is hard to grab, and harder to hold. But I’ve seen us hold it. We’ve held it in those moments in which we stepped outside of ourselves to help a brother in need. We’ve held it when we’ve stared down the popular choice and went for the right one instead. We’ve held it when the moment stood larger than us, but we found a way to rise to it anyhow. But we’ve also let the wild bird go. Too often. But, in a way, I’m thankful for those moments too. Why make this whole thing easy?”
“I’ll say it again - I am thankful for this fraternity. I am thankful for each and every word of each and every oath I’ve ever said in its name.”
“I am thankful for the badge you allow me to wear, which is a privilege earned by faithfulness to our Ritual and creed.”
“I am thankful for the chance to sit here with my brothers a different man, a better man, than I was three years ago. And I promise to all of you, and to this fraternity, I will do all in my power in the life ahead of me…to make you thankful for me.”
The room was made silent by his words.
What couldn’t be heard, but could be seen if you were there, were small acts of men telling other men how much they were loved. One brother gripped the shoulder of another. A brother gave a sharp punch into the shoulder of the brother next to him. Another brother wiped away a tear before it could be seen.
The almost spiritual quiet was finally broken by that first brother, speaking a little more gently this time.
There is a great analogy used to describe the differences between the logical/rational part of our brain and the emotional part. The emotional side is like a large elephant and the rational side is a man riding that elephant. On occasion, the man can steer the elephant where he wants it to go. But, should that elephant get riled up and start charging, there is nothing the man can do to stop it.
And that is the primary reason why the fraternity groups pushing to pass the Safe Campus Act should withdraw, lick their wounds, and find a new initiative. The elephant is running wild.
There are some logical reasons why the Safe Campus Act makes sense (or at least portions of it). Rape is second only to murder in terms of egregious crimes (think of how often you hear “murderers and rapists” used as a blanket term for the worst of our society). And so, to think that such a crime committed on a college campus might not have to involve the police or legal representation is strange at a minimum.
Now – if reading that paragraph made your blood boil, then notice the elephant running wild in your mind. You probably thought to yourself, “why would he give a flip about the accused, what about the victims?! Why protect the rapists?!”
Being concerned for those falsely accused of a crime that egregious, having empathy for victims of rape, and having hatred for those who actually commit the heinous act are ideas that can all live in the same space.
There are great arguments on the other side of this issue as well (found amidst the moral self-righteousness that has become a bit suffocating). It’s a contentious issue with strong points on either side and we should be careful to not assign evil motives to those holding a position different than ours.
Oh wait, it’s 2015. We do that all the time now.
The fact of the matter is, the emotion in this debate has won and supporters of the Safe Campus Act have lost the ground to make their case. It’s time to make it go away.
Let’s think about our whole presence in Washington.
We don’t need to be in Washington DC to influence or advocate for an issue. It’s not the only place where change happens (in fact, it may be the place change goes to die). I believe that the allure of the congressional offices, the swanky receptions and dinners, and the ability to feel like the levers of government were moving by our gentle hands seduced us into a bad and dysfunctional relationship.
We’ve spent over a decade lobbying with no significant legislation enacted to improve the state of the fraternity/sorority industry. Millions have been raised for the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (unfortunately dubbed the Frat Pac). Millions that could have been raised instead for efforts to grow the fraternity industry or provide education to our members.
This controversy over the Safe Campus Act is a gift. It’s a way for the industry to say that it’s time to regroup on these legislative initiatives.
In fact, it’s time to go on hiatus and leave Washington DC altogether.
There is an argument that a presence in Washington is always needed because our single-gender status and right to freely associate is always in jeopardy. It’s hard to believe that if those core issues were ever truly in serious danger we couldn’t ramp up an effort to advocate and fight for our rights quickly.
Just ask yourself how many attorneys are on your national board right now. Multiply that by a factor of one-thousand. We’ll be okay.
Leaders in the NIC and NPC: you shouldn’t be blamed or called nefarious for trying to be a champion of Greek life and our members in the halls of government. Don’t be too proud, however, to close this current saga for now. Whether these newest efforts are just or not, the emotional charge is too great to overcome. Soon the damage to our reputation might be as well.
If this is an issue we really have passion for, let’s take it back to the grassroots and have them help us figure out a way forward.
Let’s start doing again what we do best, which is not shaking hands with and embracing congressional staffers, but rather, shaking hands with and embracing our own members.
Thanks World Health Organization for taking the fun out of bacon. Now, every time I bite into my BLT, I’m going to hear the sounds of tumors forming instantly inside my body.
Bacon can cause cancer, according to the WHO. And they’ve added it to their long list of carcinogens – a list meant to make us paranoid about doing anything other than sitting in a padded bunker eating pieces of lettuce.
But hey – good news! Fraternity is not on the list! Yet.
While this is a no-fun list by the WHO, it is actually quite helpful. The list isn’t saying that these things will always cause cancer, but could. Pickled vegetables, leather dust, and coffee are also on the list. So, if you’re trying to preserve your body for a long life, the list is a helpful guide of things to avoid or take in moderation.
Although when it comes to leather dust, go big or go home I say.
Greek life needs a list like this. Maybe this could be the next project of AFA or AFLV or NIC 2.0: create an annual listing of things that cause cancer in the fraternity movement. It could be a list that is added to or subtracted from based on new data that’s acquired.
This list would be a guide for fraternities and sororities that want a sustainable future, as well as a guide for professionals who work with Greek life to detect warning signs of impending doom
Now – you and I could probably create this list based on conventional wisdom about what ails the fraternity/sorority movement. Such a list might look like this:
Fraternity/Sorority Carcinogens 1. Hazing 2. Passive recruitment 3. Parties with alcohol 4. Theme parties that degrade women or minorities 5. Chapter houses
But instead of guessing or relying on conventional wisdom, it’s time for some individual or organization to lead a meaningful research effort into what inspires fraternity excellence or diminishes it.
Something only ends up on the WHO list if science has proven it deserves to be there. It’s time we got scientific about the fundamental causes of poor health in Greek life.
PhD and Masters students – here is a chance for you to do essential research that can make a real difference . Here are three research questions, that together or separate, could help make a data-driven list of behaviors that jeopardize fraternity/sorority sustainability and that could inform our future practices:
What are the most common detectable predictors (warning signs) for a fraternity/sorority that will have its charter revoked within the next 12-24 months? (study chapters that had their charter revoked and look for themes that were present 1-2 years earlier)
What are the common denominators for all fraternity/sorority chapters that have been suspended or closed due to a tragic event in the past ten years? (perhaps compare those with the habits in common of chapters that have won their national fraternity’s top award in the last ten years)
What are the common themes in the experience of fraternity/sorority chapters that are closed or reorganized within five years of being chartered?
The research from these three studies could provide the data needed to finally understand what causes a Greek organizations to fade, decline, or disintegrate altogether. Armed with this knowledge, we can see warning signs before they become horrid front-page stories. And, we can make smarter choices within the fraternity experience. Maybe we'll still eat bacon every once in a while - but we'll understand it can't be the biggest part of our diet.
With over 200 years of history, the fraternal movement ought to know what it's greatest carcinogens are. We ought to have definitive answers on the things that give our organizations "cancer." It doesn't mean we'll always listen - but not knowing can no longer be an excuse.
The response to Pope Francis’s recent visit to the U.S. was heartwarming for many reasons. He’s a true servant leader who has inspired so many and his gentle leadership makes him a person easy to admire. It was especially nice to see the reaction of Catholics, who are presently living through a very positive moment in the life of their institution.
It hasn’t always been positive. In fact, the Catholic Church has been in a pretty steady swirl of controversy for a long time. I am not Catholic, although I attend mass with my very-Catholic wife and our kids, so it’s the closest thing to a religious affiliation I have. Certainly, I’ve watched the child abuse scandals in the church with concern and compassion for the victims. Many Catholics have left the church because of it, and yet many others remain loyal. I’m convinced that most who left didn’t leave because of the child abuse incidents themselves (as sickening as those were), but rather because of the church’s perceived weak response to the incidents, or total lack thereof.
How we engage with the institutions in our lives is an interesting study in human nature. There are moments in which we are proud of our institutions, and moments in which we are embarrassed by them.
is impossible for an institution to be perfect. Discomforting
headlines about the Catholic Church, your Alma mater, your favorite sports team or league - and yes, fraternity and sorority life, will always be there. In any institution, there will be bad actors. In any institution, there will be dramatic and traumatic incidents that move the ground beneath our feet. All institutions are flawed. No one should hastily jump on a bandwagon of disdain towards other institutions lest the ones they believe in become immersed in hot water as well. And they will. Where we can be judgmental, and where we can show disdain, is in how an institution reacts and responds in those critical moments when their flaws emerge.
Embarrassing moments within our institutions can shake our pride. If an institution doesn’t respond to those moments responsibly…that can shake our faith.
Here’s an example from politics: Republicans have long been branded as the party of family values – marital fidelity, child welfare, pro-life positions, etc. And so, when a Republican is found to have cheated on his/her spouse, or engaged in criminal behavior, or caught doing something “sinful,” it’s a common hue and cry to say Republicans are hypocrites for preaching family values.
Not necessarily. The individual engaged in the behavior is most certainly a hypocrite. However, the institution can still carry its values and beliefs and promote them through their response. If a Republican is found to have run afoul of the institution's values, and yet he/she holds on to their position or basically feels no serious ramifications, then the institution indeed deserves a label of “hypocrite.”
But, if the institution forcefully responds and serious ramifications are felt by the individual, then isn’t that actually a powerful statement of credibility and alignment with values and purpose? Shouldn’t that actually strengthen the institution’s position? Shouldn’t that be cause to celebrate the institution?
In our world, that would mean we would collectively cheer every time a member or chapter is held accountable. But, that doesn't happen very often because we're still smarting from whatever incident led to that action. Instead of focusing on "did you see how Alpha responded to that situation," we say "did you see what happened to Alpha?"
In today's fraternity and sorority industry, we are being held hostage by the next headline-grabbing incident. Because, what comes next is a media barrage of outrage to dismantle the whole movement. A group of immature imbeciles chant racist statements on a bus, and there is a call to take down the entire institution. Some fools hang sexist banners from their fraternity house balcony and the institution is judged to be dangerous place for all women. Some sorority girls make a bikini-laden recruitment video that goes viral and the response is that the institution is homogeneous and regressive.
It seems like the world judges us for the behavior of a few. (Just as we do for other institutions so we shouldn’t be surprised).
in your network of chapters is at least one chapter that hazes its new
members. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored. Having some chapters
that haze does not make your national fraternity a hazing organization.
Just as having some child predators in their midst does not make the
Boy Scouts an organization of pedophiles. It’s how we respond that
We can battle back against this by not falling for it ourselves. We have become hyper-sensitive to every negative story about Greek life and are constantly running scared. Bad stuff is going to happen folks – it always has. Yes – let’s try to reduce the number of incidents, but living and dying on each one is no way to thrive. It only feeds the beast.
What matters most is not the first story. It’s the second one. It’s the one that describes how a national organization, or chapter leaders, or campus officials plan to respond.
Is your national fraternity cracking down on hazing like it should? Or any other plague on the fraternity/sorority system? Or, does it feel more wishy-washy and heavy on “super secret double probations” that don’t mean anything?
Are we really serious about values-alignment, or not?
Is your IFC or Panhellenic imposing consequences on chapters that do not observe community standards? Or, do we wink and turn the other cheek. If it’s the latter, then our institutions deserve every criticism we’re receiving.
Of course, it’s not that simple. The church believes in redemption. We believe in learning moments. How do we square that with a desire to be tough on those who violate our values? One way is to ensure that there is no question about what is considered right and wrong. Hazing is wrong – always. Sexual assault is wrong – always. Our members start their journey at the age of 18 or 19 and that means they are adults who should understand these issues. They just need to be told once and then they should be expected to understand the consequences of their actions.
If you want to be proud of this greater fraternity/sorority institution again, it starts with being proud of what happens when our own members step outside of the values we hold dear. Are you proud of how your national organization reacts? Or your campus?
Or do they too often shake your faith?
This is a call for us all to start judging our fellow organizations and campuses by what matters - not the fact that incidents occur - but rather how they respond.
The recent rash of incidents that have put fraternities (and sororities, but fraternities mostly) in a very negative light have spurred commissions, committees, and conversations to formulate solutions. There are also ideas coming from other corners such as professional associations, blogs like this one, and white papers from…well…whoever writes white papers.
Most of the problems we face are not new and most of the solutions we’ll likely hear from blue-ribbon panels won’t be either. The “9 Basic Expectations of Fraternity Membership” offered by the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) in the 90’s and the Standards the NIC championed in the last decade have been attempted solutions. The lineup of speakers and sessions at every Association of Fraternity Advisors meeting in the last 30 years has offered various ideas towards solving pervasive issues such as hazing, alcohol, and sexual assault.
In short, there is no shortage of ideas. Perhaps there is a shortage of will to implement the ideas…but I digress.
In all of the recommendations that emerge, we’ll probably hear versions of what we’ve heard before: shorter pledge periods, more hands-on advising, increased alumni involvement, and a menu of things that should be alcohol-free forever more. Including housing.
Alcohol-free housing is one of the boldest change initiatives in recent memory. Phi Delta Theta has been the biggest champion of alcohol-free housing, and I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Phi Delt has probably had pressure and many reasons to pull back and change their mind – but they have been absolutely steadfast in their belief that alcohol-free housing can change their culture. It’s not perfect, but it’s been a “wow” move in a sea of “blah.”
But it’s not enough.
There is one idea that I guarantee won’t come out of any commission or committee, in particular from the NIC side of things. This is an idea that I believe could present the biggest sea change for the fraternity movement and move the needle like never before. While you might hear about alcohol-free housing, what about a bolder move that could forever change our fortunes as fraternities?
What if the NIC or FEA or any other acronym associated with Greek life declared that it wanted to begin a transition out of the housing business? At least the privately owned or independently-operated houses. Now we’re talking! In a sea of “blah” that one would be an “OMG!”
And a reminder – when I first broached this topic, I shared that my undergraduate fraternity experience included 3 years of living in a house. It was a blast. But, for a sustainable future, houses seem unnecessary to me. I’m convinced I would be as committed to fraternity as I am today without the house experience.
Imagine if fraternity houses no longer existed on campuses across the land…
The amount of money, time, and energy spent into keeping a structure standing and full could be spent on education, scholarships, funding for national conferences, and more.
No more tragic house fires.
No more falls from fraternity house balconies.
No more part-time underpaid and under-prepared graduate assistant live-in advisors trying to be professional hall directors.
Chapter officers could focus on improving the member experience and forget about occupancy rates, cleaning, furniture, and keeping a kitchen staff happy.
We can finally end our draining 10-year dance in Washington DC trying to get Senators excited about sprinkler systems.
Of course, there would be some trade-offs. Fraternity houses are great for recruitment because they are visible and (usually) impressive displays that potential members can see. It’s naturally convenient to have events and meetings in a house – although that can be overcome and has been by groups that use a lodge concept or just get meeting space on campus. Friendship is more easily built when living under the same roof, but can also happen otherwise. Ask those fraternities who have no housing right now and they’d put their “brotherhood building” up against yours any day.
Would this make us just like any other campus club? Only if you believe housing matters more than the Ritual.
So why would this be a game changer? I don’t have the research (great idea for a thesis or dissertation), but conventional wisdom leads me to believe that the vast majority of negative incidents that result in tragedy, big headlines, and calls to vanquish Greek life altogether involve a housed group. Think about recent transgressions at Old Dominion, the University of South Carolina, and West Virginia. Sexual assaults, hazing, deaths or harmful incidents with alcohol appear to be more prevalent in Greek housing.
Reality check for me – those things can still happen and do still happen in non-housed groups and on campuses without Greek housing. NPHC groups typically do not have houses and hazing is a big issue they are confronting. The recent news from Baruch College didn’t involve housing.
But if we solve the issues on the campuses with housed organizations – which tend to be larger or historically more influential in the Greek world – could a ripple effect be realized?
We can launch campaigns to change the hearts and minds of members so that they embrace the best of what we can be instead of the worst. We’ve actually been doing that over and over again for decades. But if fraternity houses and the issues they carry inside their walls continue, is that a playing field on which we can’t expect our players to do their best?
Imagine the previous 20 years without houses. Or the next 20 years. Is that a landscape on which a brighter future for Greek life can be built?
Campus professionals – imagine that !poof! the chapters on your campus no longer have private houses. Could that make room for you to do more of the inspiring work you want to do?
Headquarters staff – image that !poof! your chapters now have no residential facilities. How does that impact your insurance fees? What would you love to do with the time and money you get back from not dealing with those issues?
Despite what could be some exciting possibilities, chances are we won’t be discussing that kind of change anytime soon. Houses are sacred cows for too many. This is unfortunate, because it’s hard to imagine any meaningful change if that topic stays off the table.
But hey – maybe shorter pledge periods will do the trick.
I wonder which of the following feels more like progress to
you:the day in which the fraternity
movement relies on a strong centralized power structure to keep it accountable
to what it promotes and stands for,or
the day in which all fraternity organizations are committed and responsible
enough to manage their own affairs and hold their own chapters accountable to
their own values and ideals?Which of
those scenarios lie closer to your ideal?
And, based upon your ideal, how would you assess this moment
in our history?
For me, I come from the Ayn Rand school that teaches that if
every individual lived to their highest potential, everything else takes care
of itself.It’s a lofty ideal, but I
choose to support initiatives that bring us closer to that, not push us further
If every national fraternity lived to its own highest ideal,
then our movement is healthy and progressive.We’re not there yet, but let’s take actions with the assumption that we
want to get there.
What are some signs that we’re moving away from this
ideal?The creation of bigger
structures, for one.It’s a natural
inclination in times of crisis to want some big overarching structure to take
the wheel.For example, during the Great
Depression, government grew substantially because we trusted it would make
things better.When we are fearful, we
put too much trust in heroes.Our belief
that a crisis is too big to handle causes us to place irrational faith in
Fraternity and sorority life could be in a crisis
moment.It’s hard to tell.Membership doesn’t seem to be affected yet,
but public perception continues to sink faster than my beloved Browns playoff
hopes (yes I do realize it’s only the preseason).At the minimum, many fraternity and sorority
national leaders believe this to be a crisis moment.This has led to increased involvement in
Washington DC, leadership changes in umbrella organizations like the North
American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), and talk of a new organization to
supplant the NIC.
It’s a great tradition in fraternity and sorority life that
when all else fails, let’s just make another organization.
“Big government” in fraternity life is not a new
phenomenon.Iheard a speech from Jeff Cufaude many years
ago in which he quipped that most fraternity board members are probably small-government
conservatives in their political ideology but more than willing to let their
national organizations become centralized and controlling institutions.Chapter shenanigans over the years have led
to the policy manuals getting thicker, not slimmer.The NIC unified around standards that member
organizations were tasked to enforce.For better or worse, these standards imposed a way of being on these
If we were choosing three words to describe the last 3
decades of fraternity life, I nominate “Thou Shalt Not.”
Fraternity leaders are exploring a new initiative – possibly
a new trade association – called the Interfraternal Collaboration Effort, or
ICE.There are many new strategies being
discussed in this effort and many smart people involved.I’m far enough
removed to pass proper
judgment on if ICE has the right approach.As an observation, ICE is different from the NIC is a very apparent
It wants to do more, staff more, involve itself on campuses
more, spend more, and cost more.
Thus, here we are in a moment of crisis and one answer seems
to be to consolidate at the top.To put
more into the tip of the pyramid.To put
money behind probably the biggest centralized effort in the history of our
Hey – this could
work.But do you know what else could?
How about national fraternities having the guts to hold
their own chapters accountable to their own standards.To have the courage to pull more charters,
even from those elite institutions with the influential alumni.To take a stand about what it means to be a
member of the organization and stick with it even when it hurts the bottom line
to do so.
Before the leaders of our national organizations put even
greater resources into a unified structure, they ought to ensure that their own
house is in order as much as possible.After all, a unifying structure shouldn’t exist to clean up your
Outsourcing the individual responsibility each fraternity
has to manage the behavior and experience of its own members is about as far
away from progress as I can imagine.I
suppose you could say we’ve already been moving down that road by expecting
campus personnel to enforce our own standards.
I’m not naïve.I
understand that there is frustration in the Greek world and it’s searching for
a solution.And there are some central
efforts needed to protect fraternities and sororities from dangers like campus’s
enacting all-Greek suspensions.
I would favor a solution in which the vast majority of
responsibility falls to individual national groups to address their own issues,
complimented by a small and lean association that does a few things very well. In any discussion about new or renewed
umbrella organizations going forward, I hope someone is advocating for that
Fraternity and sorority chapters should understand a very
important thing: your Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council are not
there to solve your problems.That’s why
you are there.Handing the keys over to
an umbrella entity to make your experience safe, healthy, and significant is
like expecting your church to make you holy.The church can provide a forum for education and reflection, but it’s
ultimately your decision to behave in the appropriate way.
Your personal experience, your chapter’s success, and your organization’s
destiny still lie in your hands.Seize
it.And don’t give it away.
(Matt and his team at Innova are starting a new campaign called ReThink Greek. It’s a free marketing initiative focused towards the characteristics of Generation Z. Out of respect for the thought-leading work Matt has done with Phired Up Productions and Innova, I’m excited to share his perspective below. I’m posting this not as a commercial for the campaign, but rather for his cogent thoughts on our need as Greeks to adapt to changing demographics.)
Greek Life has been dramatically impacted each time new generations have emerged as college students. Especially recent generations.
Gen X brought uncertainty, instability, and a decline in membership. Turns out slackers and grunge rock didn't jive too well with fraternities and sororities.
Gen Y, the Millenials, brought a massive influx of students on college campuses, a new level of inclusivity, and a bunch of technology that has changed the way the world sees Greek Life. We're bigger and easier to notice now. For better or worse.
Generation Z is trickling into our student bodies right now, and they'll undoubtedly bring their fair share of change to fraternity/sorority life. Here's a great resource to understand more about this new wave of students if you're interested.
We better get ready. It’s likely we’ll need to reimagine the way we communicate with this new generation. I know we think we know what we're doing because some of our groups have been around for over 150 years, but this new group of students is smarter than us. The research tells us that they can sniff out a "sales pitch" like no other group before. Their IQs are through the roof. They expect more diversity than most of our organizations can currently represent. They don't want "connections" to help get them a job -- they're going to start their own companies. Their definitions of race and gender are far more blended than most of our organizations are ready for. They see the world differently than many of us. If they're going to be into Greek Life, it's going to be on their own terms.
We need to be the choice of a new generation. We can be, but we must begin today to rethink how we share our story as Greeks.
It's time for our industry to start playing offense, not just mediocre defense. When it comes to telling the story of Greek Life, currently there is no single narrative about the fraternity/sorority experience. There is no proactive story-telling mechanism. The only "P.R." we do as an industry is a defensive "we're sorry" stance when something terrible happens and hits the news. We're better than that.
Think, for a moment, of Greek Life as a single entity. We're huge, powerful, and influential. We should act like it in the way we communicate with the outside world. We have 1 million undergraduates and 9 million total members. We have well over 120 major inter/national organizations. We have hundreds of millions of dollars flowing through our fraternal economy annually. We own massive amounts of prime real estate in nearly every state in the union. The list goes on. We're Fortune 500 level, and if we want to capture the attention of the best students from Generation Z, it's time we start marketing like the big guys too.
Here's the thing. Nobody differentiates between your organization and mine. Whether you're IFC, NPC, professional, honorary, NPHC, NALFO, NAPA, NMGC, or anything else... our stories are connected.
This new generation will make up our entire market over the next several years. Let's seek out the best of them to reshape our fraternities and sororities. Let's be brave enough to put the power in their hands to "ReThink Greek." They're coming whether we're ready for them or not. We can sit back and let them happen to the industry (as we've arguably done with past generational shifts), or we can actively seek the highest quality (and lowest risk) individuals from the pool to shape the future of fraternity/sorority life. Greek Life can be the choice of a new generation.