Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Western Michigan Gets Balanced Man Coverage

Fraternity searches for image of 'balanced man'
Nichole Allen

Hollywood once encompassed the crazed, out-of-control parties and embodied the frat-boy, with films such as "Animal House" and "Revenge of the Nerds." The Greek community, however, has forged a new path and now searches for "Balanced Men."

Thanks in part to the Hollywood hype machine turning out recent movies like "National Lampoons' Van Wilder" and "The Rise of Taj," fraternities are portrayed as a bunch of keg-chugging, skirt-chasing, frat-boy, party-mongers with no consideration of academics or community enhancement, fraternity officials said.

"In many peoples' eyes, all fraternities are the same, and they are all about socialization and partying," said Adam Schiff, Sigma Phi Epsilon vice president for recruitment. "People think fraternities don't offer anything beyond an opportunity to party with a lot of people."

The sales and business marketing major and former president of the WMU chapter is hoping to completely shed the party-boy image and be known as an organization made up of outstanding young men who aspire to be leaders and contributors to the community and eventually to the world.

Replacing the all-night parties is the Balanced Man Program, adopted by Sigma Phi Epsilon in 1992, and the first of its kind, Schiff said. The BMP is a four-year, continuous development program for members of the fraternity. It eliminates pledging, meaning when a member joins the fraternity, he is a brother from day one. There is no hazing, no humiliation, nothing of the sort.

"Rather than recruiting every guy we can find, breaking them down and rebuilding them in our image, we recruit from among the top 10 percent of men on campus, finding men who already embody the things we stand for - academics, athletics, leadership, et cetera - and we let the fraternity work for them," Schiff said.

The BMP takes members through four stages of development: In the first stage, members area taught time management, team building and goal setting. In the second stage, members learn etiquette and speaking skills, and become involved in other organizations on campus. In the third stage, members hone their social skills through seminars and speakers, learn professional skills, such as resume building, and learn to step outside their comfort zone through arts appreciation seminars or trips to the theatre.

In the fourth and final stage, members are prepared for life after college. They recruit a mentor from the local community to learn about financial management, how to select a wine with a meal, or how to pick out the right diamond for an engagement ring.

"The program takes you from the point of typical college freshman to top-notch professional, ready to take on the world after graduation," Schiff said. "It's a phenomenal program, and other fraternities have tried to copy it, but SigEp remains on top in terms of member development," Schiff said.

For many new recruits, the BMP was the key to their joining.

"I wanted the balanced man ideal," said River Karaba, a freshman double majoring in promotion and advertising and film video and media studies. "That puts grades very high and no hazing with sound mind, sound body and being physically fit - health as a whole."

He added that joining the chapter has been the single best decision he has made since coming to WMU.

Schiff echoed Karaba as the BMP was what clinched his deal.

"I had no idea a fraternity offered anything like that before college, and when I learned what the BMP was about I was sold," he said. "Lifelong friendship and personal growth were my biggest motivation."

With 55 members currently, the WMU chapter is rebuilding after a 2005 cleanout. Schiff and his brothers are hoping to recruit 15 to 20 members in the spring and 35 in the fall, but find it difficult to spread the word about their cause.

"I think the biggest problem for us is really getting the word out about our purpose," Schiff said.

"It's difficult to recruit when people think we're just another frat and we don't get as much support from the university as we would like, but we're working on that."

Schiff feels that Sigma Phi Epsilon has a fair public image due to their members' involvement in many campus activities and organizations.

"The more we interact with others at WMU, the more are able to show them we're about so much more than partying," he said. "All the fraternities here have good things to offer. The problem is that people don't know about those things."

The WMU chapter has a goal of 10 hours of community service per brother per semester. The Sigma Epsilon brothers completed around 900 hours during the fall 2007 semester, Schiff said.

"Not because we want to look good," Schiff said. "But because we want to give back to the community. We know we can't just say we're different and it becomes the gospel - we have to prove it to the world on a daily basis, and that's what we're trying to do by conducting ourselves as gentlemen and becoming involved in the community."

Karaba, who was also voted in as chaplain this fall, added that he has become an ally for OUTspoken, a registered student organization representing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight ally students at WMU. He has also accompanied his brothers to the Friendship Village retirement community to distribute Halloween candy and visited the children's ward at Bronson Hospital with Christmas gifts.

Recruitment is continuous for the chapter. With no pledging, members are welcome to join at any time. Members are fully privileged brothers from day one.

"We offer the best leadership development opportunities at Western, combined with the opportunity to make friends for life," Schiff said. "It's really an unbeatable experience."

The WMU chapter's Web site is currently being revamped. For more information about Sigma Phi Epsilon visit www.sigep.org or e-mail Adam Schiff at a5schiff@wmich.edu, contact him through Facebook or call (248) 755-2730.