Be Careful What You Wish For

Guest Essay by Dan Wrona, CEO of RISE Partnerships

Following the parade of disturbing high-profile incidents involving fraternities and sororities in recent months, many fraternity/sorority leaders responded with outrage, surprise, exasperation, indignation, determination, and exhaustion.

I agree. It’s frustrating to see so many public embarrassments to the fraternity/sorority name.

But keep it in perspective: this is what we wanted.

The goal was for fraternity/sorority to rebuild its identity. To embrace a higher purpose. To confront those who act to disgrace it and purge those who do not share it. To discard outdated traditions and eliminate influences that distract us from that mission. To build something relevant to today’s student.

Did you think that was going to be easy? Did you think old ways would ebb quietly away?

Changes like these cannot take place without significant internal turmoil, often in full view of the public.

This pattern is not a sign that fraternities and sororities are getting worse. No, something else is happening. Throughout society, disturbing situations that typically happen in side conversations, at private events, and behind closed doors are now, thankfully, being exposed to public view. Fraternity/Sorority leaders and their communities are paying more attention to these problems. And the threshold of what people are willing to tolerate is changing for the better. Issues that were previously ignored are being named. Problems once overlooked are being confronted.

Shouldn’t we call this progress? SOMETHING must be working.

And yes, many things still need to change. The education industry created to support fraternity/sorority life, as John put it, excels at convincing people of the need for change, but falls well short of delivering it. We need to do better work, and that requires some difficult choices. It means ignoring this week’s management/training fad and choosing programs based on measured impact regardless of their emotional appeal. It includes rethinking the role of fraternity/sorority professional as a community builder rather than a program planner.  It calls for shifting our attention away from trying to change individuals and chapters one-at-a-time and instead targeting the environment that constantly influences their choices. It would mean trusting what we know: that you can’t educate-away most problems. And it includes resisting the temptation to create a program when the real solution lies in critical analysis, organizational restructuring, or culture change.

Sure, it’s embarrassing to have these issues exposed for the world to see, but it is equally embarrassing to pretend they don’t exist. What we see is not a sign of downfall, but the necessary and important indicators of a community resetting its standards and dealing with its demons. If we truly want fraternity/sorority life to evolve, we should be prepared to embrace the uncomfortable and celebrate situations where these problems are addressed.

Dan Wrona is the CEO and Project Leader of RISE Partnerships, an organization that provides training, consulting, and curriculum to help fraternity/sorority leaders do their work better. For the past 16 years, he has served the fraternity/sorority community as a campus professional, volunteer advisor, headquarters staff, umbrella association staff, and volunteer leader for various organizations. He can be reached at @DanWrona or