Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Not Working

I’m sick of it.

We’ve got fraternity men hazing each other. We’ve got fraternity men chanting racist things that would have made the KKK blush. We’ve got fraternity men taking photos of naked intoxicated women and posting them to Facebook. 

And we’ve got fraternity men dying. We’ve always got fraternity men dying.

What the hell is going on?

It’s times like these that make me want to quit. As I look at these instances, which follow the Atlantic article and other high-profile stories of disgusting behavior, I want to throw up my hands and give up. I enjoyed and benefited from my fraternity experience, but why the hell should I continue to spend my time trying to extol its virtues when it appears like my experience was an outlier.

Aargh!

Perhaps it’s time to let someone else take this on. Or not take it on at all. I don't care. I’m starting to question so much about this movement that I love, because I’ve arrived at two stark and damning realizations.

1. None of it is working. By “it” I mean the entire education industry created to support Greek life. Think about the size of the support industry we have built for fraternity. All of the conferences, associations, companies, and individuals whose livelihood is focused on helping make the fraternity experience better. Think about the hundreds of different leadership events, educational speakers, and books, articles, and yes – blogs that focus on fraternity and sorority life.

We seem to be in no different of a place than we were before this great educational infrastructure was built. There is an old joke that the very first topics on the very first NIC meeting agenda 100 years ago were alcohol and hazing. And what sits on the agenda today? The same crap. And in between the first meeting and the most recent, how many minutes, hours, and days have been spent talking about those issues? How many different speakers have discussed those topics at how many different educational meetings? How many well-dressed and attentive young leaders have sat in an audience to hear about how much that stuff is ruining this fraternity thing, only to turn around and keep doing it?

None of it seems to be working.

Sure, individual lives have been affected through this vast educational infrastructure. But does that really matter if the institution that is wrapped around these lives continues on a downward spiral?

All of us (me included) educators and advocates have to look into the mirror and question if we’re just making noise instead of impact. We have poured millions of dollars and hours into fraternity life, and what’s been the return on that vast investment? Which leads me to my second realization, which is more dark than the first:

2. Why do we need this educational infrastructure anyway? What’s inherently wrong with Greek life that it requires so much education and support for it to live? You could argue that there is no other type of organization that seemingly needs so much infrastructure just to make it functional. In my darkest doubts of fraternity and sorority life, I wonder why our organizations seem to need so much “extra” to just make the “basic” work. Shouldn’t we be able to hand the ritual books to a group of men, and just let it go? Instead, we need staff, consultants, live-in advisors, conferences, and more just to get our groups to a minimum standard.

Set the Ritual book next to the risk management policies, the bylaws and other rules, the minimum standards reports, and officer manuals, and you probably can’t see it anymore.

We have men (and women too) who, unless they receive some kind of educational intervention, will naturally use our organizations for selfish and damaging purposes. For some reason, we are a place for those individuals to thrive. Why is that? Especially after we’ve spent so much time and energy on recruitment education and have built such a structure for “new member education.”

We talk about the idiots among us as “cancers” in our chapters. Well, we seem to be a petri dish that lets cancer grow unabated.

I want to travel back in time and find the founders of my fraternity and ask them if this is what they intended? Sure, our founders would look at where we are and probably kick our asses, but why does our DNA – the one they forged - seem so corruptible?


All of his has got me so tired. I feel like I’m running a marathon and the finish line keeps getting moved farther and farther away. I just want to collapse on the side of the road, and let the vultures do what they may.

I know many of you are feeling like me right now. I’ve seen your exasperation. Why are we doing this my friends? Why do we purposely reside in a world that is constantly criticized and maligned, and constantly affected by clowns and fools ?

I hate it right now. There are a million words in this blog, and does a single one matter? Let’s just walk away!

Ugh!

Dammit!

Enough!






 


Okay, I feel better now. Back to work.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

Our (Self) Segregated Greek Community

The situation at the University of Oklahoma regarding SAE and the racist chant caught on video is horrendous.  It’s disgusting, skin-crawling stuff.  I’ve read many perspectives on the situation from friends, pundits, and columnists and I’m not sure there is much I can add to this one incident.  Overall, I think the conversation has been productive.

I guess one thing that I want to see from this is a chance for these young men and women to learn from this experience.  The student development professional in me cannot hate them.  I cannot cheer the fact that at least two of the young men have been booted from school and are going to wear a scarlet letter for a very long time.  I think the severe ramifications of their actions will teach them valuable lessons – I just simply hope it doesn’t ruin their lives.  Who I was at 19 is not who I am at 38.  We all deserve an opportunity to let life kick our ass now and then so that we get moved closer to the truth.  So, I hope these young men have people in their lives to help them avoid being hardened by this.

But there is one aspect of this situation, remotely related, that I think needs some further discussion.  It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, and I’m ready for some of your thoughts.  I’m nervous – as a white American – to make comments about race.  But I think this situation presents an opportunity for us as a greater Greek community to look at ourselves closely, because I can't help but wonder if we've fostered and celebrate an environment in which little progress can or will be made on race.

Here is why: The fraternity and sorority community is the most self-segregated place on today’s college campus.

We know that race relations, and human relationships in general, improve when we are exposed to people of different backgrounds than our own.

Before college, I didn't understand sexual orientation.  I was aware of it - but didn't understand it.  It all changed for me when I met gay and lesbian individuals in college.  The IFC office was right down the hall from the LGBT student organization, and it gave me a chance to get to know the leaders personally and to understand the greater cause.  I developed friendships which led to respect, understanding, and advocacy.  But none of it would have happened without those old-fashioned personal interactions I had.

In the Greek universe today, we seek to separate and not unify.  We have fraternities now for
almost every race and ethnic group: African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Persians, South Asians, Armenians, and Native Americans.  There are also fraternities and sororities for the LGBT community and for many different religions.

I understand why.  And I’m not saying these organizations shouldn’t exist.  Absolutely they should. 

These fraternities and sororities provide a welcoming and accepting environment for minority groups that they obviously haven’t found in the traditional Greek-letter groups.  College is a tough time for anyone, and so it’s natural to want to find a community of like-minded individuals who share similar backgrounds to link up with.  It could probably be said that had the traditionally white fraternities and sororities been wide open and accepting of minority groups from the outset, others wouldn’t have needed to form. 

By the way – I use the word “traditionally white” in absence of a better term.  I could say “white” Greeks, which is mostly true but maybe not sensitive.  Or “historically white”, which may be more sensitive but is not true unless historically means right now at this moment.  I hope you’ll give me some latitude here. 

So – these groups exist, are strong and growing stronger (and actually deserve a lot of credit for the overall growth of fraternity/sorority membership worldwide).  They aren’t going anywhere and shouldn’t. 

But what does this mean for our educational goals?

Our goals as Greek organizations are to make our members better individuals and our uniqueness lies in our efforts to impact members in almost every aspect of the human experience: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. 

And we attempt to do this in a fairly segregated environment.  If your Greek community were standing on a football field, and divided up by chapter, what kind of visual would that be?

The educational environment we’re working with has this truth: Our members, during their undergraduate chapter experience, will likely only call someone of their own race their brother.  Or their sister. 

This is the environment in which we hope our members achieve higher levels of acceptance and understanding of others. 

We're hoping for a lot aren't we?

Sure there are exceptions.  But enough of them to change the hearts of individuals like those on that bus in Oklahoma?

Most of us are chastising those men in Oklahoma, bemoaning the racial insensitivity that is more rampant than we wish it were, and standing on high pedestal to shout louder than the other guy about how racially sensitive we happen to be.  And yet, we walk within and past an environment every single day that is greatly segregated, and don’t seem to care.

And so, as I sometimes do (and hopefully only rarely on this blog), I’m raising this observation without any idea for what to do with it.  Please add to the conversation and make these thoughts fraternal.  What is the answer?  And by the way, making sure the traditionally white Greek chapters attend the NPHC step show is not enough.

How do we succeed in building accepting and open-minded Greek members in an environment that structurally is designed to make interpersonal race relations uncommon?

By the way, in researching for this post, I found that others are discussing this trend.  This column argues fraternities to be a form of “American apartheid.”