Making Small Changes In A Big World

Laura Anderton, Director of Sorority/Fraternity Life & Leadership, University of South Dakota

April 29, 2018

In my role as the Director of Sorority/Fraternity Life & Leadership at the University of South Dakota, I am a seemingly non-traditional participant of the NASPA LEAD Initiative; being that Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement are only about 5% of my job-on a good day.  That, however, has not stopped me from gaining valuable knowledge from those in my cohort about how to further CLDE within my little corner of my university.  This semester I have challenged my staff to encourage a Civic Ethos (as defined by the emerging theory of change) within our Sorority and Fraternity office and community, in three ways:

  1. Professional staff development
  2. Community conversations
  3. Student programming

Let’s unpack these…

To encourage a civic ethos with our professional staff, we openly encourage and expect that our employees practice inclusive excellence – a defined value of our university – through service in their work, and discuss frequently what that means.  We define inclusive excellence as the responsibility of everyone on campus to practice open-mindedness, authentic inquiry and recognition of the worth of every member of our community.  Here in South Dakota, that community encompasses many voices and the Lakota Proverb, "Mitakuye Oyasin", translated “We are all related”, is a great reminder of the “why and purpose” behind our work and diversity practices.  Pushing ourselves past practicing inclusive excellence within just our small circle, we reach across the USD and Vermillion community to instill a civic mined approach.  This work is seen in action through our staff as they collaborate across departments on campus to collectively address the issues of our student body.  Most recently this can be seen in our staff’s contribution to a campus committee researching food insecurity on our campus.  While many in our Greek community are not struggling with this (food is provided in chapter), it is a problem that impacts our greater campus and Vermillion community; and thus is a concern for everyone to consider.  Our staff also practices this model through pushing our students towards the infusion of inclusive excellence into their work through community conversations.

Philanthropy and community service are core components of the fraternity and sorority experience across the nation; and naturally lend themselves to some level of a civic ethos.  However, that pillar is not always lived out in an open-minded, inclusive and culturally sensitive way.  Understanding and recognizing that national perception, our staff creates space for the practice of cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness and works to create open dialogue with our students on how their events are in line with the inclusive excellence ideal of our university community.  We also push our community to encompass a civic ethos through supporting programming that meets the needs of the community where we are placed.

Most recently, our Interfraternity Council (IFC) took an interest in addressing and aiding in the complex issue of women’s health; and in particular women’s health as it relates to those seeking help from our communities Domestic Violence Safe Options Services.  Understanding that our Interfraternity Council is made up of 18-22 year old males, it was safe to assume that their partnership with this community entity would be a bit complicated.  However, through open-mindedness, authentic inquiry and recognition of their privilege in the situation, as encouraged and coached by our professional staff, our men of IFC where able to create student programming initiatives to help the shelter in our community.  Demonstrating an understanding for working with the actual needs of those they are helping.

Although, in our participation in the NASPA LEAD Initiative, we are not one of the offices or initiations that can demonstrate wide sweeping implementation of emerging theory of change and keynote CLDE; our community is demonstrating that we can impact change in our small area of the world.

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