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:
Do more good things
Do less stupid things
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.
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.
If you are reading this post, don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy and converted my blog into a a resource for enthusiasts of brined vegetables. I recently revisited one of my favorite TED Talks in which Malcolm Gladwell recounts the various accomplishments of Howard Moskowitz. If you have 17 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this talk.
If you don’t have the time, let me give you a very brief synopsis. Howard Moskowitz is an experimental psychologist credited with introducing the world to variety in food products including spaghetti sauce, soft drinks, coffee, and pickles. Moskowitz’s true breakthrough was realizing that there is often no perfect product to suit every individual consumer’s taste. Before his work, companies would conduct endless focus group experiments in an effort to perfect their recipe. What they did not realize is that “perfect” is in the tongue of the consumer, and everyone has a different ideal of palatable perfection.
Take pickles for example. Pickles come in a variety of styles (kosher, zesty, sweet, sour, garlic, bread & butter) and shapes (whole, half, spears, baby, sandwich slices, and chips). There are dozens of possible combination to fit the individual consumer’s taste. For me, kosher dill spears are the only way to go, but you may hate kosher spears, and that’s just fine.
Moskowitz argues that there is no perfect pickle, only perfect pickles. It is by offering a diverse selection of pickles that nearly all consumers find an ideal product.
The point is this, one single fraternity or sorority chapter can’t be everything to everyone; it takes an entire fraternity or sorority community to suit the needs of a complex student body. There is no perfect chapter, only perfect chapters.
Often times as a fraternity and sorority community, our chapters strive to become the “perfect” chapter. These chapters tend to be in constant competition with one another to become the “best” chapter on campus. However, the reality is that they are entirely reliant on these other chapters for their own success. These competing chapters offer variety and diverse experiences to prospective members. Because of this variety, our community becomes a place where nearly everyone can feel welcome, and find a chapter to call their own.
Sure, there are some chapters that are seemingly identical (like kosher spears and kosher halves), but there is still enough of a difference for the consumer (potential member) to choose their preference. By recognizing the value of this diversity within our fraternity or sorority community, we can truly appreciate the positive influence our individual chapters have on the fraternal movement at our respective campuses.
Remember, regardless of the shape, size, texture or taste, some people just don’t like pickles. No matter how many different chapters are in your community and how diverse they may be, fraternity and sorority life might just not be right for them. But if all your campus has to offer is zesty sliced pickles, can you really expect to grow as a fraternity or sorority community?
So dare to be different, find your niche, appeal to the overlooked men and women on your campus. As Malcolm Gladwell closed his presentation, so too shall I end this post, “In embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a sure way to true happiness.”