Laura Anderton, NASPA IV-W Fraternity & Sorority KC Representative
January 30, 2018
As I reflect on the conversations and focus points of the last few months in my role as a campus based Fraternity/Sorority Life Advisor, the opening lines of the iconic Beastie Boys song “Fight For Your Right” rings all too familiar…. “YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PAAARRRTTTTY!” matched with the media clips declaring “All Greek activities at XYZ Institution are suspended indefinitely.” These opposing views on the future of our fraternal community have us shook as a profession, and even on campuses where “we are not the stereotypical Greek community”, the impact can be felt.
At the University of South Dakota, we too have felt the pressure for change mounting. As a result, our first three weeks of this semester have focused heavily on the way our students socialize and discovering how to implement healthy and sustainable change to that culture. In short, we have been challenging our staff, community leadership and students to address three things: a discovered gap between policy and practice, underage drinking in fraternity facilities and the over consumption of hard liquor within fraternity facilities. Not lofty agenda items at all… enter side eyes.
Much to our excitement, however, our Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Chapter Presidents have taken these challenges head on! Now I won’t say we have fixed EVERYTHING, but I can say I sleep a touch better at night knowing that my students are making forward progress. Being such, I want to share with you 5 things I learned in the last 3 weeks (and really throughout my tenure – but have been exemplified in the last 3 weeks):
Let’s unpack these.
Policy does not matter if it is not practiced. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have realized that we have some really great policies at our University and through our Board of Regents; but I also realized that our newest leaders had no clue many of them existed. When I asked, have you seen this happen in your chapter or are you familiar with this policy, they all looked at me like I was crazy…leading me to believe that policy was scarcely being followed. Sometimes as administrators we get so wrapped up in the documents on our computers that we forget to make them living, breathing documents. In my humble perspective, the first key to the impending change we need to see in SFL is to ensure our policy and procedures documents are well known and accessible to all. Once we have set the stage for our shared expectations, then we can move on to step 2.
Identifying the leaders (with or without title) who hold social clout. Individual leadership definitions and theories vary as much as the personalities of the students we work with; but for me one key component to leadership, regardless of the setting, is the leader/follower relationship. When I think of this relationship, I constantly envision Derek Sivers’ Ted Talk, How To Start A Movement. In this 3 minute talk, Sivers introduces the idea of a “lone nut”. Every day, when I walk into my office I am a “lone nut” spewing a vision for SFL at USD; but I know that as that “lone nut” I cannot create a movement myself. I need what Sivers explains as my “first followers”. My “first followers” are just as important if not more important than me in my lone state. I define these people as my leaders with social clout. They are the ones that endorse the work I do and make my crazy dance “lit”. Common misconceptions tell me that these “first followers” must be my IFC officers, Panhellenic Officers and Chapter Presidents, however, anyone who has ever been in a group dynamic knows that there is always someone who doesn’t hold a leadership role, but definitely has the ability to inspire movement. These are the people you need! Once we have our followers/student leaders on board, then we can move toward number 3.
Students who hold student’s accountable are more impactful than administrators. Now, don’t get me wrong, administrators should still hold students accountable- this is not a call for the abolishment of University conduct processes - but rather a call to action to our students to check their friends/peers before they get to a point that they have to go through University conduct. Those “first followers” with social clout described in number 2, are the key to peer to peer accountability because of their reputation and respect within the community. Let’s be honest, I am not cool. I am not Beyonce or Kim K. and very few general members in our community could care less if I say “let’s follow policy”. But when the senior leader who they dream about being one day says it, it means something! So we have to rely on our students to carry the movement, which leads us to the personal challenge of number 4.
Trusting the students can be hard. As a super strong type A personality, I struggle to even let my husband fold the towels; let alone trust 18-22 years olds decide how to stop deadly underage binge drinking on a college campus. But if the last few weeks have taught me anything, it is the level of trust I have to be ready to give. Trust is the foundation to the leader/follower relationship with those influential students, and if I don’t show them trust and confidence they have no reason to follow through on the movement. Generally you don’t follow people you don’t trust, and likewise that don’t trust you. This sounds easy in theory but can be really hard in practice. So, how then do we give that trust? By building it, little by little through open, honest conversations with the students. Tell them you’re scared for the future of the community. Let them know why you believe what you believe and do what you do. And simply be real with them. They will appreciate it; which brings me to my last inspired insight.
The challenge is worth it. The change that needs to be made in our Fraternity/Sorority Communities across the nation is not an easy one to make; nor a quick one to implement. But if we can move the metric, it will be worth it. As an alumni member of fraternity and sorority life, it breaks my heart every time I see a campus turn away from its SFL community or a chapter close its doors. However, I am of the mind that if our organizations and members cannot be values congruent that might just have to be more common; but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s challenge ourselves and our students to be better and do better, and give them the trust, tools and levity to do it!
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