Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Toward a Definition of Brotherhood

What is brotherhood?  I’ve often found that it’s a difficult concept to put into words.  The dictionary just can’t seem to do it justice.  The same with sisterhood. 

A common answer I heard during rush was:  “it’s just something you have to experience to understand.”  I probably said that to recruits as well.

As I’ve moved along in my fraternity journey, I think it’s becoming easier for me to define. Brotherhood is not as vague and intangible as it once was for me. 

At this point, if someone were to ask me to define brotherhood in the fraternity sense, this would be my reply:
 

Brotherhood is the bonding of men of various backgrounds, beliefs, places, and eras around a singular set of life-directing commitments.

This is what allows me to share brotherhood with the men I graduated with, and with the men who graduated a century ago.  It allows me to be a brother with someone I disagree with politically, religiously, or in any other way.  Because instead of being based on personalities and friendship, brotherhood is based on shared commitments.


A brotherhood is weak or strong based on the degree to which the commitments are made and maintained.

A brother is a good brother if he follows the commitments and helps others follow them as well.


How do I know if the recruitment chair’s claim of the “strongest brotherhood on campus” is true?  Or even partially true?  By how much the men know, stay true and hold each other true to those commitments.

Brotherhood has to be maintained. Constantly. For the rest of your life.  If you choose to stop adhering to the commitments you made, then you fall out of the brotherhood.  You stop being a brother, even if you're wearing the letters or your name still appears in the directory.

If a fraternity values togetherness and hanging out, then it is really valuing friendship. This is completely fine. Friendship is an attractive asset for a fraternity. It's also an attractive asset for a residence hall floor.  Lot's of places can claim friendship.

Brotherhood is not friendship, although it can create friendship. 


Brotherhood is a sacred privilege.  It's not easy to maintain.  I have a lot of friends in my life, but very few true fraternity brothers.

Brotherhood is unique enough that it is found sparingly.  Of course, you find it in families. You also hear it in places where men fight wars together, or enter burning buildings together. 

Brotherhood is a term you sometimes hear in religion.  Brotherhood in fraternity is like religion, but the stakes are not quite so high.  There are oaths, obligations, and peer accountability.  It’s just missing the whole afterlife thing.  [although God might ask you how good of a brother you were]

Why is brotherhood difficult to define?  Because done right, it is extraordinary.  There is a reason so many brothers stand up at each others' weddings.  And eventually eulogize each other. Those moments are reserved for family, or those who might as well be.  For those with whom we’ve forged a connection that’s deeper than just beers on Saturday nights, or Spring Break trips together.  A connection born on the day we spoke the oaths that made us fraternity men together. 


Those oaths made us brothers.  And for as long as we pledge to stay true to those oaths, and help each other stay true as well, brothers is what we’ll remain.

I think at this point, that’s how I view brotherhood.







Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fraternity Board Member Application

Please answer the questions honestly with either "YES" or "NO."

Name: ________________________________

1. Was the name you wrote above your fraternity nickname?    YES /NO

2.  Is your working theory of dealing with college students centered on command and control?     YES / NO

3. Are you in this for the free dinners and travel to convention?     YES / NO   

4. Do you think you can do the Executive Director's job?    YES / NO
 

5. Do you want to do the Executive Director's job?    YES / NO

6. Do you have a pet project that will become your singular answer to every challenge the fraternity faces?    YES / NO
 

7. Do you have Roberts Rules of Order memorized and/or an autographed copy?    YES / NO

8. Are you excited to answer every big-picture strategic question with the words, "Well, in my chapter..."    YES / NO


9. Do you think every undergraduate should have the same exact fraternity experience you had?    YES / NO
 

10. Strategic plans are stupid, right?     YES / NO

11. Do you approach boardroom debates like King Leonidas fighting the Persians at Thermopylae?    YES / NO

 12. Do you feel it's best if the staff's reaction to you is based on fear?    YES / NO


13. Does your fraternity resume include “Hell Week Chair?”    YES / NO

14. Do you believe you are the only one who can save the fraternity and all of fraternity-kind?    YES / NO
 

15. Do you love to "play politics?"     YES / NO

16. Do you like to share your opinions via 3-page email rants, to which you have copied every person in the fraternity directory?    YES / NO

17. DO YOU WRITE YOUR EMAILS IN ALL CAPS?    YES / NO

18. Are you still thinking about your pet project?    YES / NO
 

19. Does the word "micromanage" make you smile and/or giggle?     YES / NO
 

20. Do you plan to buy undergraduates drinks in order to get their votes?    YES / NO

21. Is your home chapter untouchable?     YES / NO

 
22. Is any chapter untouchable?     YES / NO

23. Do you consider any of the following to be the devil incarnate: email, Facebook, Twitter, or text messages?    YES / NO

24. Do you plan to ignore the financial reports because numbers make you tired?    YES / NO

25. Do you believe that the hallway or the parking lot after the meeting is where the real business gets done?    YES / NO


26. Will nothing stand in your way of having Oprah Winfrey or Bono be the keynote speaker at convention?     YES / NO


27. Would a colleague describe you as someone who likes to raise his/her voice in order to make a point?    YES / NO

28. Do you think it’s a fun challenge to walk into the board meeting completely unprepared and see how long you can fly by the seat of your pants?    YES / NO

29.  Can your motivations for completing this application best be summed up by the words "ego trip?"     YES / NO


Thank you.  Please be aware that if you answered YES to any of the questions above, we will promptly dispose of your application.  We have plenty of those board members already.  Have a great day.




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Approachability Matters

For many years, I’ve been confident in what I feel is the single greatest leadership skill. Without it, I tell students and adults alike, no leader can succeed. That skill is listening. 

Now, after much thought, I think I’ve decided upon an equivalent, if not greater, leadership skill: approachability.   

If someone isn’t approachable, the skill of listening can’t be used and thus doesn’t really matter. Those you lead, or want to serve, need to recognize you as someone they trust enough to visit and talk with. To them, you must be seen as a room that is inviting to walk into. 

Have you ever had a boss or a leader who made you more nervous than comfortable? I’m sure the old-school types will say that intimidation isn’t a bad thing, and maybe that works for some. But I don’t think it works for most. It never worked for me. If the essence of leadership is relationships, then approachability has to matter. Without it, leaders become isolated. Their influence withers. 

If you want to improve your approachability, start with your communication skills (back to listening) and your emotional intelligence. For example, take this next week and practice hard at being completely devoted to every conversation in which you find yourself. Keep the cell phone put away, and pay attention like you never have before. You may find something unusual happens - people can't wait to talk with you!

Approachability is clearly an essential quality for organizational advisors who work with young people. An advisor cannot do their job if the students he advises chooses not to interact with him. And the best advisors try to be approachable to every student, no matter their background or beliefs. 

For students, you have a Greek advisor on campus, and they are there to support you and help you grow. In order to do that, they need to be in a position to coach you, mentor you, and simply talk with you. So, how approachable is your Greek advisor? Do you walk towards him or her eagerly, or gingerly?  We could ask this about your chapter/alumni advisor as well.

For advisors, we should routinely take some time to investigate our approachability. It starts with observing what is happening around us. Approachable leaders will have a lot of drop-in traffic. They will also find themselves in many conversations that they do not initiate. Students will be genuinely excited to spend time with an approachable advisor. Also, if we are approachable, we may find that people want to discuss big things with us. We will often hear “hey, can I run an idea past you?” That’s the fun stuff. 

When I worked as a campus professional/advisor, there was no quality I held more sacred than approachability. I worried about it almost every day, and did anything I could to avoid losing even an ounce of it. This probably made me an overly careful person who worried too much about how others regarded me. But, given that I chose a profession that was all about relationships, I can still justify that degree of cautiousness. 

It all boils down to this for me - 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. 

Politics and Approachability
I’ve had something weighing on my mind. We just went through a contentious election and over a year’s worth of political battles. And, I’m sure you would agree, civility was in short supply. I was quite amazed at how many youth development professionals - including fraternity and sorority advisors - were wide open about their politics on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And it wasn’t just “I think Romney is the right guy,” or “I’m glad Obama won.” It was quite intense at times. 

Saw this posted many times. Usually followed by a political post.
There shouldn’t be anything wrong with this, right? The students who follow us on these sites shouldn’t expect us to filter our beliefs and passions, right? Free speech is still one of the bedrocks of our nation. So is our ability to make choices and live with the consequences. 

Our choices influence our approachability. Politics is a hot-button issue that often causes emotions to triumph over rationality. Should a student, who is still trying to figure out their 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 Christian 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'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. 

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


Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Things I Learned From Joining a Sorority

By Jen Glantz
 

Most of the decisions we make when we are 18, fall apart. When I was 18, the Registrars office at my University knew me by first name since I filed a “change of major” form once a week. And the day I decided to go get an ink stain on my wrist and piercing through my lip, I walked out of the tattoo parlor with nothing more than a temporary tattoo on my elbow.

6 years later, the only decision I made back then that has not fallen apart was when I decided to join a sorority.


Just the other day, I was in the middle of a conversation with a man who was not from this country when he shot me a look into my tea cup eyes and asked me sternly, “What is a sorority?”


Where, oh where in this world, was I supposed to start?


I told him it started in the most simplistic chaotic way. Six years ago, I went to college and a girl named Heather who I knew from my hometown, told me about a thing called sororities and this crazy little thing called “RUSH”, which at first sounded like a heard of freshman trying to navigate their way around campus continuously crashing into each other, but turned out to be a term for speed dating sorority women. This girl, looked my bun-head, punk rock style, freshie self and said, “Jen, you really should come see what it’s all about.”


And my skeptical, “this is SO not for me” rebellious mindset started kicking through my bones but I went through sorority recruitment anyway and I found these girls who learned all about who I was and instead of laughing at my weirdo ways, took me by the hand and ran with me, making me feel like it was okay to be a little different, and 6 years after joining, they never made me change who I was. 


They only made me grow up, just enough.
 

Living in this 9-(whenever I get out of work) real world, I only ever hear about sororities, unfortunately, when they are in the news for bad, unthinkable, things. And whenever I introduce the fun-fact that underneath these black slacks and 9pm bed time ways, I am a “sorority girl”, people always ask me about the hypothetical terrible things they assume I endured. But they, and you, will learn that like anything else in this world (boyfriends, jobs, hobbies), you get whatever it is you put into it and you must only stand beside people and things you believe in, or else you will fail miserably.

There are many different sororities, with many different women who join them and dance with them for different reasons. I can only fairly speak on behalf of my experience, so I won’t generalize or stereotype the whole sorority experience as being “rainbows and butterflies”, but I'll tell you this.


When you ask me about the crazy parties or rumors of nasty, degrading hazing, I’ll tell you that at the age of 18, I was the newsletter chair of my sorority because I loved to write. At 20, I was the Vice President of Philanthropy, raising tens of thousands of dollars for two causes that were founded or influenced by sisters. At 21, I was the President, but more importantly the role model of 150 impressionable and resilient women.


It does not just matter why you joined things or why you started something; we start new things every day. Job positions, inseparable relationships, lines outside of Jamba Juice, goals to finally hit up the gym.  It’s about what keeps us, if we stay.  And you will learn, that if you stay for the long-haul, the marathon sprint, you’ll stay for the right reasons.  Because the wrong reasons exhaust us, make our faces wrinkle and our hair gray. Leave us with upset stomachs and indigestion.


You’ll see.
 

Some things in life stay together, but most things will fall apart. Hold on real tightly and celebrate the nouns that keep you from falling apart.
 


 Jen Glantz is a 20-something crawling the streets of NYC. You can find her in a tutu and converses, surrounded by overdue library books, pizza crust and the spontaneous combustion of laughter that often shoots the chocolate milk right out of her nostrils. Jen is a proud graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she received her B.A. in both journalism and English. Read Jen’s latest work on her blog “The Things I Learned From,” (www.thethingsilearnedfrom.com) or shoot her an email: jenglantz@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Future Without Fraternity Houses

What if we, as fraternities and sororities, decided to no longer be in the housing business?


Before you fight back, I’m only wondering at this point.  Although, the more I wonder, the more I think the next era of fraternity may feature fewer and fewer houses.  Or none at all.

I am a product of a fraternity house.  I lived in one all of my college years except for my freshman year.  Beyond some great memories, the experience of living in a house taught me a lot about relationships, leadership, and life.  The house taught us all responsibility, including the importance of keeping it clean.   


We didn’t do a very good job at that.  My mom cried every August when her and dad would leave me behind at the house.  It was a shipwreck.  A shipwreck that I loved.  It’s hard for me at times to separate my fraternity experience from my fraternity house experience.

But despite my love for my house experience, I’m fairly certain that if given a chance to establish a brand new fraternity system on a given campus, I would opt away from houses.  Why?  Risk and liability mostly.  No stairs, balconies, flammable couches, or overloaded electrical outlets that I would be responsible for.

Financial reasons also play a role.  If you build a house, you have to fill it.  Students these days are not as likely as I was to put up with bare-bones amenities and communal living.  For instance, a growing number of residence hall rooms are singles or suites that have private bathrooms.

There was NOTHING private about the bathroom in my fraternity house.


This trend shows itself on so many campuses.  How many fraternities on your campus, for example, can only get their freshmen/sophomores to live in the house?  How many have had to institute mandatory live-in policies or a penalty fee if members choose to live “out-of-house?”

Speaking of on-campus residence halls, how can we continue to compete with those?  Colleges and universities are pouring big dollars into their lodging options in order to stay competitive.  Most campuses have new shiny buildings that make parents temporarily crazy enough to pay exorbitant fees for their sons or daughters to live there.  Keeping up with the Jones’s may bankrupt us.  

Many of our houses nationwide were built during our boom years of the 70's and 80's.  That's a lot of wear and tear, and a major period of repairs, upgrades, and rebuilding is upon us.  Are the tens of millions of dollars worth it?

The work of a fraternity house corporation is getting harder and harder.  I have to think many of them would find private relief in boarding up the house and having members make other arrangements versus trying to keep the place running.

I have to think fraternity headquarters and boards would also find some relief, especially on the insurance side. 

Some campuses have handed over the fraternity dwellings to the university entirely.  They are now owned and operated by the host institutions, which means they set the rules and could change their mind any given year.  I don’t see this as an ideal solution either.  We might as well just move on.

Before you argue against the idea of no more houses, you have to answer the question: is a fraternity house essential for a fraternity experience.  I conducted an unscientific poll on this question a couple of years ago on this blog, and the highest percentage by far said a house wasn’t critical. 

If a house is essential, why are so many brand-new fraternities and sororities (including colonies) some of our highest-performing?  They are likely to meet in a classroom on campus and then live scattered in many halls, apartments, and houses.

Houses weren’t written into our Rituals, or into our constitutions from the beginning.  Every fraternity in America has chapters that do not have houses, yet consider them equal brothers or sisters in every way.

 
So why would there even be a debate?  It hardly seems worth it to have a house these days.  Well, there is a very believable theory that members who have the house experience have a deeper fraternity connection and thus are more engaged with the fraternity as alumni.  The invention  of the fraternity house may have been a big reason for our sustained success over time.  Maybe the solution is MORE houses, not fewer.


Fraternities still need a place for fellowship and to conduct their business.  But does that require a house?  Meeting lodges - which some campuses already have - could be a good option.  If we put our money and attention towards fraternity spaces, and not fraternity dwellings, then maybe we would have a lot fewer headaches and a strategy to meet the future.
 
Can you imagine a future without houses for fraternities and sororities?  Despite the fact that woke up and went to bed in one for three great years, I can.




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

100 Posts

I realized earlier this week that I recently posted my 100th essay to this blog.  Most of them are authored by me, but several others were contributed by people I respect and admire.  Time has moved so quickly, that I couldn't believe it at first.

This blog has been a labor of love for the last four years.  When I started it, there weren't that many blogs devoted to fraternity/sorority life.  I had just finished my brief tenure at the North American Interfraternity Conference and was trying out a new career path.  I wanted to stay connected to Greek life, and I had some opinions and thoughts to share.  Thus, I decided to give this blog a shot.  My very first post, Justifying Fraternity, is still one of my favorites.  

From that point forward, I decided that I would try to not only write column-style posts that gave my opinion, but also more creative expressions of my belief in fraternity.  I even tried a video essay called Crazy, that may have been my first widely-shared post.

I don't pretend to think I'm writing the Huffington Post here or anything.  But it has been encouraging to see how many people have reacted to the writings here.  I was especially surprised by a post that began as scribbles on an airplane flight and became the most popular one - A Woman's Touch. Thank you to anyone who liked, shared, commented on, or simply read something on this blog.  You've made this a whole lot of fun.

I hope to keep doing this for a long time, although I expect more guest writers will be needed in the future.  Of course, that was the original intent as well (hence the word "Fraternal" in the title).  So, please consider contributing.

I thought it would be fun to celebrate this milestone by sharing my own personal top five favorite posts.  

5. Greetings From the Back Row - I had a day to kill in San Francisco, and was too lazy to walk far from my hotel.  I settled into a local coffee shop and the idea and the words just began to flow.  I couldn't wait to publish this one.

4. It's Time to End Pledging - I don't believe in being provocative just for the sake of it.  I truly believe what this essay says and it has probably been my most controversial post.  I love how it created a spirited debate. 

3. Seeking the Truth from Fraternity - This post reflects a shift in my own thinking about the power of fraternity and that fraternity is a movement intent on creating a better world.

2. Thank You and Your Welcome - I always wanted to put this concept in writing, and it just hit me one night that I should do it in the first person.  I chose a sorority perspective because so many posts here are heavy on fraternity.

1.  ENOUGH - Maybe I chose this as #1 because it was the most time-consuming to create (by a mile).  I spent months on this.  The message still speaks to me, especially because I wasn't a very courageous leader in my undergraduate years.

Thank you again for choosing to read this blog.  I'm honored that you do.  I believe in fraternity and as long as I can add to the conversation about its future, I'll keep writing.  And I hope you will too.


Monday, October 8, 2012

A Fraternity is Like Facebook

Or more specifically, a video about Facebook.

Many organizations struggle to explain who they are and what they do.  Greek-letter organizations are no different.  Sometimes the best way to describe the mission of any organization is to compare it to something very familiar.

Facebook recently released a promotional video which, in my opinion, is one of the most effective expressions of mission and purpose I've ever seen.  Those who are critics of Facebook often say that it causes true relationships and human connections to suffer.  The Facebook video offers a compelling response, which in short, is that Facebook is instead all about relationships and human connections.

What was most interesting to me about this video is that the principles it expresses are quite familiar to those of us in the fraternity movement.  Facebook may not be able to fully deliver on all of them, but I'm pretty sure we do.

Here is an exercise for you:  watch the video and wherever Facebook is written or spoken, substitute the word "fraternity" or "sorority."



It works, doesn't it?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Smoking Out Hazing

Note: This post was first written for Phi Delta Theta and published in September 2010 at their blog: phideltblog.com (without question one of the best blogs in the fraternity world).  I wanted to give new life to this essay in honor of National Hazing Prevention Week 2012.  Some passages have been updated and revised.

The other day I was flying back home and while sitting on the plane, I noticed the “no smoking” signs all over the cabin.  This wasn’t a new observation, but I stopped to think about what it must have been like when smoking was allowed on airplanes.  Imagine the guy next to you, sharing your armrest, smoking a half a pack between takeoff and landing.  And you couldn’t escape.  You just had to deal with it.  That’s the way smoking was all over our country not that long ago.  Restaurants, grocery stores, taxi cabs, and hotels were filled with smoke.

And now?  Light up within 100 yards of a nonsmoker and you’re treated like you have the plague.  The only safe place for smokers to go is out behind a building right next to the dumpster.  It is safe to say that most places in our society have grown intolerant of smoking, and those who choose to do it are often isolated.  Smoking still takes place, and consumption levels are still high.  There is just a different attitude toward the practice, especially among young people.

I believe this change over the last decade or so was accelerated by an extraordinary anti-smoking campaign, called “The Truth”.  You have probably seen their commercials, one of which shows a group of activists carrying megaphones lining hundreds of body bags on the street below the offices of tobacco executives.  This campaign has been effective in reducing smoking – especially in young people – because instead of focusing only on the health reasons, it turns nonsmokers into rebellious youth sticking it to the “man” (tobacco companies).  Rebellion has always been a well-received message amongst teens!


The campaign is also effective because it involves young people talking to other young people.  Peer to peer education works.

So what does this have to do with hazing?  From my observation, the vast majority of anti-hazing messages that are delivered to college students come from much older adults.  It feels like a parent telling their child to “stop doing that” because “I know better than you.”  While we’ve made strides against hazing, there certainly hasn’t been the same momentum like we’ve seen against smoking.  We need acceleration.


Let me offer a vision.  What if fraternity and sorority undergraduate members became the chief activists against hazing in our society and brought that message to their brothers and sisters, as well as their peers in sports, the marching band, or other clubs on campus? 

Let’s take it one step further.  Where I live in Indiana, there have been some high-profile hazing incidents in the high schools.  What if fraternity and sorority members were invited into high schools to educate students about the dangers of hazing?

We understand hazing because it has been a vicious scar on our legacy.  So, let's make amends by being the world leaders against it. 

The messaging could be similar to that of “The Truth” campaign – hazing offers power-hungry meatheads the chance to bully others, and we’re not going to take it anymore!

Perhaps this vision is not yet within reach.  What is within reach is your personal influence within your own chapter.  It’s not enough to be quietly against hazing and just hope that it will go away.  I tried that approach, and it didn’t work.  If you want to see hazing eliminated, you need to pound the pavement and work against it.  Find like-minded members and start a rally within your own organization.  Put the “no hazing” signs right next to the “no smoking” ones.

Hazers are like tobacco executives – getting compensated for promoting an unsafe practice.  Treat them as such.  Turn the chapter against them.  The ones who matter will allow themselves to change.

Imagine if the one place on a college campus where a person could know for sure that they would be safe from hazing was your fraternity.  Or any fraternity.

It’s great to be against hazing.  It’s better to make sure it has no place in your fraternity.  Working to eradicate it from our society is even better than that.  Let’s stop reacting to this issue and start leading.   

Grab your megaphones.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fraternity Expansion: Take a Number

Submitted by a staff member at a men's fraternity.  Edited slightly with permission.


A young man enters his freshman year of college ready and excited for the adventure ahead of him.  He has anxiously waited for this day, hearing fond memories from his father about his days as a fraternity man; days that forever changed his life.  The young man’s father has introduced him to his brothers, taken him to chapter alumni events and even bought him a t-shirt with his organizational letters.  He is a legacy.

The young man is accepted to a different state institution than his father, and his father’s organization is not represented on campus.  He signs up for fall recruitment with an open-mind and visits all of the chapters on campus.  Frustrated with the chapter members’ interest in alcohol and the lack of brotherhood, he drops out.  The semester continues and the young man makes several good friends through his residence hall, getting involved with student government and participating in intramurals.  

During winter break, a friend attending a different university shares he is pledging a fraternity and will be a founding father.  Curious about his experience, the young man e-mails his friend and learns more about the process.  He is first intrigued, and then enthusiastic.  Could he start his own fraternity?  What a great opportunity and a great tribute to his father.

As soon as he returns for the spring semester he quickly recruits 15 men from his residence hall, student government and his intramural team.  His friend told him that he would need at least 20 guys to be taken seriously by the IFC.

By February, he has set up a meeting with the campus fraternity and sorority advisor.  He has downloaded the IFC constitution, as well as information from his father’s fraternity website about expansion.  He and the two other “soon-to-be-founding-fathers “ walk into the advisor’s office organized and prepared.

Through their conversation they learn that another fraternity just colonized on campus.  The advisor informs the men that there is an order of when fraternities are able to colonize on campus.  If they want to join a fraternity, they can join the new colony or one of the existing chapters.  The students leave the office deflated, discouraged and frustrated. 

The young man calls his father and lets him know that he isn’t allowed to start the new fraternity, despite their best efforts.  Even worse, he won’t be able to carry on the fraternal legacy.

Flash back more than a hundred years.  A young man decides to go to college in a rural farm community.  He is the first in his family to attend college and very intimidated by the size of the buildings, the demanding professors and the academic expectations.  However, he finds solace in the conversations and debate that occurs between him and his friends each evening.

This man, like so many men and women, were told by their higher education institution that literary societies were not permitted.  The institutions had regulations and policies they must abide by.  Sound familiar?  However, they persevered and established a tradition of fraternal excellence that has spanned more than 150 years.

So why is it today we are still battling limitations on our freedom to associate with host institutions?

Policies and regulations are much tighter than they were 15 years ago when it comes to expansion, and include: 
  • Scheduling fraternity expansion 5 to 10 years out.
  • Requiring scholarships and financial contributions to local governing councils.
  • Imposing regulations on colonies that aren’t required of other fraternities and sororities.
  • Headquarters courting campus professionals to ensure their selection during expansion.

All under the auspices of fairness, balance, and control.

And because of that, have we let the needs and desires of existing groups (including their fear of competition) trump the needs and desires of unaffiliated students?

Have we accepted that notion that all fraternities are the same?  That it doesn’t matter which ones exist on a given campus – only how many?  That one fraternity can’t offer anything different than another? 

Is it acceptable that fraternal organizations are expected to invest $3000 - $6000 per campus to “present” to a group of undergraduate leaders and campus professionals on why they should be “allowed” a place on that campus? You better send the executive director as well!

If the intention in doing all of this is to “change the culture or our communities”, is it working?

Why do we have Interfraternity Councils that have become the roadblocks to fraternity expansion, taking over for the authoritarian administrators of yesterday?   What might our founder’s say? 

Times have changed, but the limits on our ability to associate haven’t.  The troubling thing is that the regulators have become IFCs and professionals who believe in the fraternity movement.  Just at their own pace it seems.

In the past, staring in the face of opposition meant looking in the eyes of headmasters and professors who resisted anything they couldn’t control.  Now, in many ways, the face of opposition we are staring at is our own.


[This staff member wished to remain anonymous, ironically enough, so that the fraternity's expansion efforts wouldn't be harmed]


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Road Warriors for Fraternity

I'm called many things.  Field staff.  Field rep.  Traveling consultant.

No matter what you call me, I know what I am in my heart.


Road. Warrior.


And this is my creed.


I will build a brighter future for fraternity, one chapter at a time.


I will learn to live out of a car.  And how to get through airport security with Olympic sprinter speed.  Just give me a month or so.


I will be terribly nervous.  I will probably care too much about what others think of me.  I will try too hard to make friends.  Give me a month for this one as well.


On paper, I am a cost-effective way to bring the office closer to the members. I make the finance staff smile. I was promised a terrible salary and that's what I got. I was also promised adventures and that's what I'll get.


I understand that on the org chart, I'm near the bottom.  Probably below the guy who comes in to fix the copier.  But on the influence chart, I'm near the top. I am the front line.


There are staff back at the office complaining about a certain "dysfunctional" chapter. They’ve
 seen their balance sheet, their web page, and their reports. I'll be standing in their living room on Tuesday. I will see them.

My fraternity needs me.  And needs me to be strong.


I will discover soon enough that truck stops have the best food, and that the world's biggest ball of twine is worth the 30 minute diversion.


I will speak and present dozens of workshops.  But, I know that the difference I will make will be through individual conversations.


Listening is my greatest tool.

I understand that a few encouraging words from me can be the difference between a weary president who quits and one who perseveres; between the member who becomes lost and the one who moves one row closer to the front; between the advisor who drifts away and the one who re-engages.

I will prepare for each visit like Peyton Manning.

I will allow myself several fist pumps after a successful visit.  And a big helping of ice cream after a bad one.  Actually, ice cream either way.


I will proudly represent my fraternity or sorority through my actions.  I am Ritual in motion.


People in the airport will be impressed by my kindness to the overstressed gate agent.  I will let people merge in front of me on the highway.  I will wave at construction crews and say thank you to every military person I see.


I will be a happy road warrior.


If I get pushed to the brink, I will call a timeout.
  They need me to be wise – not an exhausted jerk.

As Hunter Thompson put it, everyone needs psychic anchors in their life, and I will find mine.  Be it church, or Mad Men on Sunday nights, or the cheesy hashbrown casserole at Cracker Barrel.

I will learn to push and challenge.  I will develop the rare skill of being the “lovable tough guy.”  That may take more than a month.

I will work my tail off to move the needle.  Some days it will move a mile, and most days it will move an inch.  But it's moving.  My fraternity cannot afford a day in which it doesn't.  

And some days will be chaos.  No matter how stressed, emotionally spent, tired, or road-weary I am when I get the fraternity's front door, it's game-on when I walk inside.

I will be discounted for my age by university administrators, chapter advisors, and almost everyone else.  I will have to prove myself.  I’ll wear a suit to big meetings.

And I’ll remember that my age is an asset.  I’m not ready to be old and cynical yet.

I will forgo the chain restaurants in favor of the famous campus pizza parlor.  And places with names like "The Flying Gila Monster" in towns with names like “Bug Swallow.”

Even if I don't like a member I meet, I will believe in him or her.

 I will give each chapter a chance.  And they will get my best.

I will spend more time alone with my own mind than ever before, and will be better off because of it.


I will have lots of stories to share.  Like Buffett sang: "some of it's magic...some of it's tragic..."

My belief in the fraternity movement will be shaken, broken, rebuilt.  Daily.

I will say to the members: you can confide in me, but remember something important.  If you reveal something that puts you or others in danger, I will intervene.  Not because I am from the national office.  But because I am your brother.  Your sister.

I will not ignore my gut.  Or the butterflies.  Or the loneliness.  Or the spectacular feeling of winning. Or the handshakes, hugs, and “thank-yous” I didn’t expect.

I will trust my instincts, lean on my training, and make huge mistakes anyway.

I will say “I can do this.”  Again.  Again.  And again.

And on those days that go terribly bad, when every conversation seems pointless, all my efforts seem worthless, and the future seems hopeless,  I will return to my car and take a few minutes to be upset.  Sit in silence.  Or blast the radio.  Or call a friend.  But I can't take long.

Because there is another small town to drive through.
  Another chapter up the road.  I need to get there by tomorrow, climb the stairs, ring the doorbell, and try again.   

Because my fraternity still needs me.   

The road is long, but warriors don’t give up.

Especially road warriors.
  Like me.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Which Hall of Fame are You?

This past weekend, the National Football League inducted six players into its Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  Major League Baseball did the same a few weeks ago in Cooperstown, New York - although they only inducted two. 

[2013 update - no one was voted into the baseball hall of fame]

In sports, reaching the Hall of Fame is a crowning achievement.  It means that in your chosen profession, you were the best of the best.  Halls of Fame are a way to separate the highest performers from the rest of the pack. 

However, they wouldn’t be as significant if they weren’t so restrictive.  If just above-average statistics and achievements were all it took to get there, then the Halls would lose their prominence.

Some Halls of Fame are criticized for being too difficult to get in - such as baseball’s.  On the opposite end, the NBA Hall of Fame is criticized for selecting too many and for criteria that seems to reward popularity over achievement. 

The criticism on either side results in this: the MLB and NFL Halls of Fame have stayed cherished, significant, and profound, whereas the NBA Hall of Fame is viewed with much less reverence. 

The MLB and NFL Halls of Fame seem to take pride in how difficult they are to enter.  Over the last three years, the NBA Hall inducted 29 individuals and 3 full teams.  The NFL Hall inducted 20 individuals.  MLB inducted 8. 

In fairness to the NBA, they induct more than just NBA players.  They have inducted collegians, international players, high school coaches, etc.  However, this also means they are criticized for not being focused enough.

It seems - from this outsider’s point of view - that the MLB and NFL halls put more time and rigor into their selection process than the NBA.  They seem to have unwavering standards that are almost never compromised.  Inductees are debated endlessly, and it may take years for someone the public deems worthy to be chosen for their Halls. 

Again, the result of this high attention to standards is that the public perception of these Halls is stellar.  Sure, every year the sports talk shows and fans yell and scream about the omission of their favorite players, but they never lose reverence for the honor.  Because that’s what it is seen as - a high honor. 

On the flipside, does anyone really pay attention to the NBA Hall of Fame in the same way?   

If you had to choose a model, I would suggest somewhere between the NFL and MLB.   The various sports halls of fame seem to teach us that being perceived as too lax in selection criteria has greater negative consequences than being perceived as too strict.  This means that you don’t just give a bid to anybody.  You select those who fit your high standards of character and achievement. You analyze and debate potential members based on their merit.  There will be some good men or women you turn away.  Because, they aren’t as good as the ones you want. 

By the way, there is a wide chasm of difference between having very high standards for recruitment (good) and making pledging so grueling that it weeds people out (stupid).  No Hall of Fame hazes its inductees.  They reward achievement and success that occurred before the person was nominated for the Hall.  You should study, analyze, and debate potential members as much or more than the selection committees debate potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Pledging - if you must use it - should NOT be used to help you discover if someone is worthy of your fraternity/sorority, but should be used to provide baseline education to those who are already worthy. 

You probably know the fraternities on your campus that are a little looser in their standards.  It’s clear to see.  You also know those that have high standards.  Those are the groups that you watch when issues arise, to see how they react.  Just like a good Hall of Fame, they can set the tone for success.  Which one are you?  If I spent a week on your campus, who would I say is setting the tone for excellence? 

A word of caution: with this analogy I am not trying to argue for highly-elite, super-selective fraternities and sororities.  Don’t become the Omegas from Animal House.  You need to define the standards for your group, and then live with the outcome.  My larger point is that when you demand and expect excellence, you earn respect from your peers and the public.  You become the Hall that people pay attention to, and that potential members want to join.