Your Greek Advisor is a Democrat (but you probably knew that)

It must be tough to be a student affairs staff member, or anyone who works with young people, and have to keep your political opinions to yourself out of fear of alienating a segment of students you hope to reach  with your advising skills.

Oh must not be that tough at all. 

We are in the midst of a contentious presidential primary and I continue to be amazed at how many youth development professionals - including fraternity and sorority advisors - are wide open about their politics on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And it isn’t just “I think Trump is the right guy,” or “I'm pulling for Hillary.” It has been very intense at times.  

It was long ago, but when I learned student development theory I took that dualism vs. relativism thing to heart.  The college environment is one in which students are supported in their journey towards arriving at their own conclusions in life.  When it comes to politics, however, many students affairs administrators seem to want to bring back dualistic thinking.  

There shouldn’t be anything wrong being upfront about politics, right? The students who follow us on social media sites shouldn’t expect us to filter our beliefs and passions, right?  If I've got a "Feel the Bern" sign in my cubicle or a "Cruz Crew" t-shirt on, it shouldn't matter to my ability to do my job, right?

Free speech is still one of the bedrocks of our nation. So is our ability to make choices and live with the consequences.

I have a fundamental belief that if you sign up to work with young people, from Kindergartners to college students, you have the responsibility to be approachable. Otherwise, you can’t do your job. 

And so, we who work with youth should care most about the factors that either enhance our approachability or diminish it.  The former we should amplify and the latter we should avoid.  

Saw this posted many times. Usually followed by a political post.
Our choices influence our approachability. Politics is a hot-button issue that often causes sharp emotional responses. Should a student, who is still trying to figure out his beliefs, be able to see a tweet from their advisor that enthusiastically puts her political stripes on full display and be able to compartmentalize it? Sure. In this day and age, will they?  I’m not so sure.  It’s probably why I’m a chicken about sharing those kinds of beliefs in public. 

Some may wonder if my reticence to share politics out loud like that means I’m not as confident in my beliefs. My reticence is simply practical. I want the conservative evangelical pro-life Republican and the liberal environmentalist pro-choice Democrat to feel equally excited to walk through my office door and share their dreams with me. 

I knew the political leanings of most of my favorite advisors, but I never felt that having different opinions made a difference in our relationships.  However, we didn't have social media back then and my student affairs heroes weren't expressing their political opinions for all to see.  

The vitriol and self-righteousness we see today from many student affairs professionals when it comes to politics is quite off-putting.

I'm not trying to tell any advisor what to do. My choice to not broadcast most of my personal beliefs about politics, religion, etc. has worked for me - and it is my choice. There have been many times I’ve wanted to post something on my Facebook page about sensitive topics, but I’ve held back. I share those thoughts with my friends and family instead. 

To be fair, college students aren't sheep and they have minds of their own.  Advisors can also choose to not be friends with students on social media sites (but can they really).  And students aren't stupid.  They know that the college environment tends to lean heavily in one direction already. 

The point is, approachability matters. And it’s not something that emerges without intention and attention. Those of us in positions of leadership and influence should be driven by the answer to these fundamental questions: if I open the door, who is excited to come in and see me?  And who isn't? 

The Cautionary Tale of Johnny Manziel

I don’t like to admit it often, but I am a lifelong Browns fan.  My grandfather lived in Cleveland and we’d go to games as a family, back when they had Bernie Kosar and a fighting chance.  Since, we’ve dealt with the team moving to Baltimore, restarting as an expansion team, only one playoff appearance in 16 years, and about 2,000 different quarterbacks.  But, my love for the team is cemented and it’s not going anywhere.  At the very least, I am a role model to my sons on how to be resilient, loyal, and have a sense of humor.

My fandom was challenged a bit when the team selected Johnny Manziel in the draft 3 years ago.  I wasn’t sure what we were getting with the young Aggie, but I soon learned to like the guy.  He was brash and cocky, but the Browns had a shortage of that. Because everyone else hated him, it became a badge of honor to want to see the guy succeed.  And until a few months ago, that badge of honor remained on my chest.

And now, we’re days away from the Browns cutting Johnny Manziel and ending his tenure in Cleveland.  And maybe in the NFL entirely.  Johnny has had a plethora of issues off the field, including alleged domestic abuse, alcohol problems, and lying to his coaches about his hedonistic lifestyle.  The Browns are done with him, which is hard to take because there was a glimmer of hope with him early in the last season.
Some other team may take a chance and who knows, he might finally figure out how to succeed.  But for now, his existence is best used as a cautionary tale to all of us and especially you – college fraternity and sorority members.

You see, one of the reasons it became easy to root for Johnny was that he could actually play football, which makes him different from most other "busts."  He has talent and is fun to watch on the field.  That talent could have become enough to propel him to become the quarterback the Browns have been desperately seeking for two decades, which in turn, would have made him possibly the most legendary figure in Cleveland sports.  With apologies to Jim Brown and Lebron James, the QB that leads the Browns to their first Super Bowl win will become undisputedly the lifelong mayor of Cleveland.

But it won’t be Johnny after all.  And the reason why is his sad inability to embrace the opportunities in front of him.  Aided, of course, by his apparent addictions to alcohol and a lifestyle that the modern NFL player cannot lead.

Johnny’s time at Texas A&M, and his Heisman trophy-winning success there, is like your time in high school.  He dominated his environment with relative ease, and thus, didn’t need to put forth the effort to truly embrace what he was a part of.  Going to the NFL was like you arriving to your college campus:  a new environment filled with wondrous opportunities for personal growth and achievement, but only unlocked by effort and attitude.  The laissez-fare approach you might have been able to use in high school yields a very mediocre college experience.

There are Manziels in your chapter.  Maybe lots of them. Those are the men or women who signed on to the fraternity experience, but decided not to use it for all it can provide.  Perhaps they use it only for a social outlet or a chance for a party lifestyle, similar to how Johnny Manziel used the fame that comes with being in the NFL. 

Sites like Total Frat Move want your chapter to be full of Manziels.  For them, that’s the pinnacle of the fraternity experience. 

Choosing to be in a fraternity or sorority is akin to choosing be play in the NFL (an easier choice for sure since your 40-yard dash time doesn’t matter).  Those who succeed in the NFL then make the extra choice to fully embrace the opportunity they have.  They recognize that their time is limited. Better to spend their days in the full flow of the NFL experience knowing that it can’t last forever.

The same is true for fraternity and sorority.  As an undergraduate you probably have 3-4 years in the college fraternity experience.  That is the blink of any eye.  Will you arrive to this experience feeling entitled – like the experience ought to come to you?  Or, will you go and grab it.  Think forward to your graduation day.  How will you feel if you treated your undergraduate fraternity years as Johnny Manziel treated his NFL career?  Contrast that with how you’d feel if you were like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees instead?

Within almost every fraternity house are numerous composites of previous classes of members.  Within each composite are faces of members who did so much that their names are recognizable years later.  Like the names in the NFL hall of fame.  In that same frame are faces of members that would lead even their peers at the time to say “who’s that guy?”  And sure, there are a few that will be remembered for negative reasons, or easily mocked because of how poorly they treated their fraternity opportunity. That’s Ryan Leaf. And soon to be, Johnny Manziel. How will you be remembered?

There is no formula or easy how-to guide for how to embrace the fraternity experience.  I have lots of ideas (see the 150+ posts on this site).  But none of those ideas matter if it doesn’t start with your attitude – and the choice you make.  Seize it, or waste it.

Johnny’s story also provide caution for how alcohol and drugs can destroy any experience.  Johnny has been to rehab once already and I will always root for him to get better.  That is stuff never to take lightly, and too many of our brothers and sisters do.  We have a conventional attitude that college is a time to party and drink, and I certainly did those things as well.  But, just as teammates of Johnny’s saw the signs of excess, we need to be seeing them in our brothers and sisters as well. It’s a sacred responsibility to care for each other.

It’s a running theme of this blog that the biggest challenge the fraternity movement faces is how little our own members understand its power.  Imagine if 10% more of your chapter fully embraced the experience in front of them.  Now imagine 20%, 30%, and more.  What would your fraternity be like? If more of our members nationwide decided that these few years as an undergraduate are ones to be seized and taken full advantage of, I expect our movement will finally start to achieve its potential.

But for now, we’re still waiting. Waiting to finally get it right. Waiting like the Cleveland Browns.