What if Seniors Stuck Around?

Last night, T.J. Sullivan, a friend, fellow fraternity and sorority life blogger, and founder of CAMPUSPEAK, sent out the following tweet:

In his tweet, T.J. was talking about his experience working with fellow fraternity and sorority professionals and volunteers; having the same conversations without seeing any major changes.

T.J.’s question led me to thinking about why it is that we are also having similarly cyclical conversations with undergraduate fraternity and sorority members, and why it is that truly measurable, positive change is so hard to create.

My reaction? I feel that what we are unfortunately seeing is a lack of continuity over time within our undergraduate chapters. In my experience, students assume their first leadership role during their sophomore year (think committee chairperson), then progress to a more heavily involved leadership position during their junior year (think e-board in the chapter or governing council), then by the time senior year comes around, the undergraduate wants nothing more than to wipe their hands of any form of leadership commitment.

What this means is that the leaders within our fraternity and sorority communities typically only have two years to implement change; not only within their chapter, but amongst the entire community. It seems as if students are hearing the message, getting pumped up to create change, then simply getting burned-out before any true change takes place. Hence, senior year comes around and it’s all too easy to pass the ball to the next guy or girl, and forget about their dreams of a better chapter and/or fraternity and sorority community.

The motivation gets sucked out of our members, and the message goes with it. This may be one of the reasons that fraternity and sorority professionals are constantly repeating the same messages, and seeing unsatisfactory results.

So what if seniors stuck around?
That extra year of involvement could go an incredibly long way in the continuance of the message you’ve been preaching for the past year or two. Your chapter may be in desperate need of a steady, consistent voice advocating for the kind of changes and ideas you picked up at AFLV, UIFI, summer convention, or another leadership conference. Staying involved means the you are fulfilling your commitment to be an active member of your chapter for the entirety of your time as an undergraduate.

What if your chapter was able to utilize the knowledge, vision, and experience of your senior class to shape the direction of your organization? What if some of your seniors stayed in the house instead of moving off campus so they didn’t have to be bothered with day to day operations? What if they all showed up to meetings, didn’t request to be granted early alumni status, and actually worked to develop and transition the younger leaders in your chapter?

So how can this actually happen?
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for this problem. Naturally, our older members will get burned-out, need to focus on graduation and job hunting, or may even be interning or studying abroad. Despite these issues, the paradigm can be shifted through small, yet consistent nudging. It is my hope that a determined group of seniors within your chapter may still have some gas left in their tank; these are the brothers and sisters who can start the process.

The more that these senior members can help out the younger leaders within the chapter, provide advice, and alleviate stress, the better the experience will be for the younger leaders. Accordingly, reaping the benefits of committed seniors remaining active within the chapter, those younger members will be more apt to sticking around themselves when senioritis comes calling.

As an underclassmen, you can help too. Recognize that holding a leadership position within your organization is a grind, and often times of little reward to the individual. Your job as a member is simple; don’t make life suck for the leaders within the chapter.

As simple as it is to say, this task seems to be difficult for a lot of members. Do your due diligence to hold true to the values of your organization that you agreed to when you took an oath to be a lifelong member. Be a willing and active participant in chapter activities by serving on committees and running for leadership positions yourself. Lastly, by all means recognize the experience that these older members are bringing to the table, and seek to utilize this resource.

If you find that this article is a fairly accurate depiction of the seniors in your chapters, why not make a commitment to bringing these members back into the fold? It’s as simple as asking for their help. “Hey Casey, I’m trying to plan this event next semester, and am having a hard time getting it off the ground. I know you have a ton of experience doing stuff like this, and I really value your opinion, do you think you can help me?”

You may be surprised at the simultaneous look of shock and gratitude that will wash across the seniors face with a comment like this.

So what’s your opinion on seniors exiting early? Do you have some solutions yourself? Make sure to share your ideas in the comments section.

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