Fighting Greek Stereotypes on Campus – Keep It Simple, Stupid

Recently, while browsing a Greek life related online forum, I came across a post from a user asking about how to change his or her Greek community’s reputation on campus. This is a familiar question in the world of fraternity and sorority life.

For as long as I’ve been a member of a Greek organization, I’ve heard the same concerns:

  • Non-Greeks hate us. Faculty/Staff have a negative view of Greek life on our campus
  • We have a bad reputation/stereotype
  • People make assumptions about us
  • The campus media is out to get us; they never publish the good things we do

I chose to respond to this users questions with the same advice that I give my students. My most simplistic, yet holistic response to these concerns are:

  1. Do more good things
  2. Do less stupid things
  3. Make it a point to be friends with, and work with non-Greek students, faculty, and staff

People will hold a stereotype until they’re proven wrong. If your Greek community is living up to that stereotype, and/or if you don’t get outside of your “Greek bubble”, things will never change.

 

Simple, right?

 

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Have a thought? Share it in the comments!

 

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Lessons From UIFI

Last week, I had the pleasure to facilitate a session of the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (UIFI), hosted  by the North-American Interfraternity Conference. This was my second year serving as a facilitator, which allowed me more opportunity to reflect on the experience, rather than being overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. Accordingly, I had several “ah ha” moments during the Institute which I’d like to share:

1. Doing Nothing is Always Easier
Change is hard. You are asked to try new things, think in a different way, and make yourself vulnerable to failure. Our chapters, councils, and communities resist change because the status quo is comfortable and easy.

2. You’re Not Special
Whatever problems you are having in your organization, someone has already dealt with it, and figured out a solution. Having the humility to seek these people out and ask for help is what will make a leader great. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just ask your neighbor in the cave over how he made that sweet ride.

3. It’s Getting Better
Thanks to the hard work of all those involved in the fraternity and sorority movement, things are getting better. Of course, we still have major problems to deal with, and as a whole, we’re far from excelling in the pursuit of living up to the ideals of our founders. Through educational opportunities provided by campuses, headquarters, the NIC, AFLV, and a bevy of other collaborators, we have started to have the right conversations, and encouraged thoughtful action on the parts of undergraduate students seeking to improve their organizations.

4. It’s Getting Better… Way too Slowly
The harsh reality is that we are still hurting people. Many of our chapters are still hazing, leading to physical pain, psychological trauma, injuries, and death. Many fraternity and sorority members still celebrate our stereotypes, and do their best to live a TFM and TSM lifestyle. Many fraternity houses are bastions for hyper-masculinity which leads to alcohol abuse, homophobic behavior, and the objectification, mistreatment, and abuse of women. When they place the highest regard on the physical appearance of prospective members, attend parties with themes that denigrate women, and tolerate the male chauvinistic behavior of our men’s groups, our women’s organizations fail to follow the path of their founders. Until we own these issues, and develop a healthy intolerance of this behavior, nothing will change.

5. Prove Us Right
Millions of dollars every year are spent on the improvement of our fraternities and sororities. Thousands of leadership conferences are held every year exclusively for fraternity and sorority members, and tens of thousands of students attend, many on scholarships provided by alumni, campuses, and headquarters. Over a thousand professionals from hundreds of campuses and headquarters have dedicated their careers to the advancement of the fraternal movement. We give up nights, weekends, time with family, our personal lives, and much of our sanity, all because we believe that fraternities and sororities have a unique ability to have a an overwhelmingly positive impact on our members and our communities. So all we ask of our students is to prove us right.

If you have yet to experience UIFI for yourself, I highly encourage you to do so. If you are a student, make plans to attend next year. If you are a fraternity/sorority professional, apply to facilitate. If you are a supporter of the fraternal movement, consider encouraging undergraduates to attend, and/or sponsor a scholarship to do so through your University or headquarters.

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My Favorite Recruiting Technique

Attention chapter members, and especially recruitment and scholarship chairpersons, I’m going to share my favorite recruiting technique of all time. This strategy works best during the first few weeks of classes, and if done correctly, will guarantee improvement in your chapter’s recruitment performance, and academic performance. Sound enticing?

Here’s the strategy.

1. Show up to class. During the first week or two of classes, make sure that you are showing up on time, paying attention, and looking presentable. Maybe even employ some of Phired Up’s 3-7 techniques.

2. Find the smartest students in your class. If you’ve done step 1 correctly, you have most likely already identified the smartest people in class. These are the ones that actively participate in discussion, always seem to have the right answers, and genuinely enjoys the course. Pick one smart person (of the same gender as you) in your class that you think could make a good brother/sister.

3. Start a study group. Walk up to that smart student and say, “Hi, I’m (insert your name). Some of this course material can be a bit tricky, and I’m thinking about starting a study group to review some of the key concepts, and prepare for our tests and quizzes. Want to help me start the group?”

4. Recruit more members. Identify a few other intelligent individuals in your class that could be a good fit in your chapter. Ask them to join your study group, or have your other group members do the work for you. Build your group up to a manageable size of four to six members.

5. Meet as a group. If you’ve done it right, you now have a small group of some of the best minds in your class to tutor you. Try to meet at least once a week, and actually function as a study group. There’s no need to talk about your fraternity or sorority; you’re there to improve your performance in class.

6. Make friends. If you’ve seen Community, then you know it’s fairly inevitable that your study group will become friends. After a few weeks of meeting as a study group, you’ll naturally transition your study group acquaintances to a casual friendships.

7. Recruit if necessary. Only recruit members of your study group if it’s appropriate. Ideally, you’ve gained a few new friends, and if you’re making decent connections your study group will know that you’re in a fraternity/sorority. Additionally, you already know that these people are committed to academic excellence, a core principle of your fraternity or sorority. If you feel that it’s appropriate to recruit anyone from the study group, then do it! If you don’t feel that the person is right for your organization, or vice-versa, then…

8. Improve your academic performance. The absolute worst thing that can happen with this technique is that you form a study group, improve your grades, and don’t recruit a single person into your chapter. If you were able to form a group of some of the smartest students in your class, and you benefit academically as a result, then you still win.

 

Imagine the possibilities of this recruitment and academic improvement strategy. What if you started a study group in each of your classes? What if all of your chapter members were required to start at least one study group outside of the chapter? How would your chapter’s recruitment strategy change if your members were meeting with some of the smartest students on campus on a regular basis? How would your chapter’s academic performance be affected by recruiting highly-achieving students? How would your chapter’s academic performance be affected if every chapter member surrounded themselves with intelligent peer tutors?

This strategy is no fail. If you start a group, and are able to recruit at least one person; win/win. If you start a group and don’t recruit anyone; win.

Think this strategy can work for your chapter? Have a recruitment strategy you want to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Greek Tech: Group Texting

One of the most interesting developments in communication over the past decade has been the emergence of the text message as the primary means of communication for teens and young adults.

The early days of text messaging taught us all the T9 entry method, and encouraged us to throw all rules of spelling and grammar out the window in order to cram our thoughts into 140 characters or less. In fact, it’s because of this early text messaging restriction that Twitter limits your posts to 140 characters.

Nowadays, text messaging has gotten much more advanced. Gone is the 140 character limit and text only messaging, and in it’s place are dynamic picture and video messaging. We can now send a text to donate money to charity, vote for our favorite performer on American Idol, enter a prize drawing, and numerous other applications. It is normal for college students to text each other in class, or even text their roommate on the other side of the dorm room. I’ve noticed that many of the students that I work with prefer to communicate via text, rather than a phone call or e-mail.

Texting has brought about new laws to prevent texting while driving, put words like “LOL” into our dictionaries, and made us all aware of the dangers of “sexting”. Regardless of what this says about the current state of our society, there is no doubt that text messaging is a powerful communication tool amongst college students. The opportunity exists for fraternities, sororities, councils, or any student organization, for that matter, to harness the power of text messaging by utilizing group text messaging to improve communications amongst members.

The two types of group texting:

One Way Messaging: One way messaging allows a single users to send a text message to a designated group of recipients. When any of the recipients replies to the original message, only the original user will see the reply.

Reply All Messaging: With reply all messaging, a text message can be sent to a large group, and any replies to the original message will be seen by all members of the group.

Applications for group texting in fraternities and sororities:

– Chapters can put every member in a one way messaging group. Then, you can send out meeting reminders, change of venue, news, and any other chapter information that needs to be delivered immediately. No longer will you hear the excuse of, “I didn’t check my e-mail today”.

– Chapter and Council executive boards and committees can create reply all groups that will allow for easier coordination of group activities. Coordinate an impromptu meeting, find out who can run to the store for supplies, or seek immediate feedback on a new idea you had.

– Panhellenic Councils can use group messaging during formal recruitment to coordinate the efforts of Recruitment Counselors, send updates and reminders to chapter Recruitment Chairs, and Potential New Members.

Free group texting services:

I have found two free group texting services that I can recommend; WeTxt, and BeGrouped. Very similar in features, these two services utilize a web-based user interface as the primary method for creating your groups, and configuring them to send either one way or reply all messaging through the website. Once your have set up your groups, you can send out your text messages via the website, or direct from your phone.

At the time of this post, neither service has a smart phone app, but my assumption would be that this will be their next step. Finally, both WeTxt and BeGrouped are still in beta testing, meaning they are not 100% reliable. They are, however, the best free group texting apps that I could find, and I have seen success with both.

Do you use group texting? What successes have you seen with it? Leave a comment here.

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Your Summer Final Exam

Depending on your college or university, you’re most likely somewhere between three to six weeks away from returning to campus. With summer coming to a close, it’s time to review your progress so far. Please take a moment to answer the following questions in essay format.

1. What have you done this summer to make your chapter better?

2. Please provide your strategic plans for the work that needs to be accomplished within your chapter during the first two weeks and the first two months of the fall semester.

3. Describe an event or activity that you participated in this summer that perpetuated the founding values of your organization.

If you can’t readily answer these questions, now is the perfect time to reevaluate your summer plans. Three months off from school, does not mean months off from your fraternity or sorority. Far too often, the summer months are lost to work, travel, and relaxation. This free time is the perfect opportunity for you to make plans to better your chapter, and show everyone back at home exactly what your fraternity and sorority is all about.

Plan a new event. Improve an existing initiative. Start recruiting. Plan a reunion. Do service in your community. Read a book on organization leadership. Whatever you decide to do, don’t let your summer go to waste.

Have a comment? Leave it here.

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Stopping Bad Behavior; a Lesson from Cigarettes

Unfortunately, many fraternity and sorority chapters are plagued with destructive behavior that threatens not only their existence, but the survival of their (inter)national organization, their campus fraternity and sorority community, and the entire fraternal movement. This behavior often violates the risk management policies that are in place to keep the chapter and it’s members safe. Yet, certain customs, traditions, and ritual are so ingrained within the culture of the chapter that it seems impossible to eradicate such behavior.

Luckily, there are many examples of massive shifts in societal norms that we can learn from. I happen to think that our fraternities and sororities have a lot to learn from the longstanding relationship our country has had with cigarettes.  Feel free to substitute and destructive behavior as binge drinking, hazing, homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual abuse, drugs, etc. as you read this post.

Acceptance

– During the period during and after World War 2, roughly 44-47% of all Americans smoked cigarettes. It was an accepted behavior, and was even glorified and directly marketed by our doctors. Our favorite television and radio shows were sponsored by the likes of Laramie and Lucky Strike. After all, tobacco has been America’s number one cash crop for hundreds of years. Cigarette use was celebrated as a part of our society. (source)

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." -Dean Wormer

– Likewise, within our fraternities and sororities, many of our negative behaviors have been glorified in our popular culture, and celebrated by our members who were more than willing to live up to these stereotypes. Unfortunately, these behaviors are sometimes labeled as “boys being boys” and “girls being girls”, swept under the rug, and/or completely ignored, hoping they would go away on their own. These negative behaviors defined the fraternity and sorority experience in years past, and to a lesser extent, define our organizations today.

 

Addiction

– Cigarettes hurt and kill people. If you choose to regularly smoke cigarettes, there’s a pretty good chance they will kill you. Cigarettes are an addiction that is very difficult to quit. In fact, smoking cessation has become a billion dollar industry (source). The million dollar question then becomes, “Why do people choose to start in the first place?”.

– Our negative behaviors hurt and kill people. If you do not follow your fraternity or sorority’s risk management policy, there’s a pretty good chance somebody is going to get hurt, or even worse. In fact, many companies make a healthy profit off of teaching our members about making better decisions, and our headquarters and host institutions spend a lot of money on these efforts. The million dollar question then becomes, “Why do these behaviors still exist?”.

 

Education

– In 1950, the first major research studies were brought forth linking smoking to lung cancer (source). For the first time, the American public was being educated on the dangers of smoking, and the negative repercussions thereof. Over the years, more and more research was done to highlight negative effects such as second hand smoke, nicotine addiction, and chemicals within the cigarettes themselves. People began to realized that this behavior can harm or even kill themselves and the ones that they love.

– There are an immeasurable amount of individuals, and organizations dedicated to educating our fraternity and sorority communities on the dangers of our negative behaviors. The research has been, and continues to be done, the message is being delivered, and the support mechanisms are in place. So why do we still have so many problems related to bad behavior amongst fraternity and sorority members?

 

The Silent Majority with a Healthy Intolerance

– Even before the public was educated on the dangers of smoking, the majority of Americans chose not to smoke. However, it wasn’t until they had the facts on their side, that these individuals chose to stand up to the cigarette industry. Over the past sixty years or so, Americans have developed a healthy intolerance for cigarettes. The number of Americans who smoke dropped from 47% to  21% (source). It is because this once silent majority decided to stand up and be heard that we now enjoy such pleasures as smoke free restaurants, bars, offices, parks, and airplanes.

– The majority of our fraternity and sorority members know that hazing, alcohol abuse, drugs and the like are a danger to our organizations. Yet, very few individuals possess the will to speak up against such behaviors. Knowing the facts, should these individuals choose to ban together an develop a healthy intolerance for idiotic behavior within our chapters, there is no doubt that great change would follow.

 

No Mercy

The cigarette companies are on the ropes. Their once strong and faithful consumer base has turned against them. Backroom lobbying and sweetheart deals are being exposed, citizens are taking to the streets against these corporate giants, victims are winning battles in court, and even our government is taking measures to prevent tobacco use (sometimes in dramatic fashion). An all out battle is being waged against the cigarette companies from all directions. In sixty years, these companies have gone from providers of a healthy, hip product, to merchants of death. With the education being provided, and the support systems in place to stop this negative behavior, all excuses have been removed. If you choose to smoke, you are doing so knowing full well that it will hurt or kill you.

– We should carry this same no mercy attitude within our fraternities and sororities. Our chapter members, headquarters, host institutions, advisors, alumni, parents, and all of our other constituents must remain focus on eleminating these behaviors through education, a healthy intolerance, and by providing a support system that encourages alternative behavior. With the education being provided, and the support systems in place to stop this negative behavior, all excuses have been removed. If you choose to engage in destructive behavior, you are doing so knowing full well that it will hurt or kill you or your members.

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