Monday, May 05, 2008

Last Chapter Standing (part 2 of 3)

A guest post by Bob Kerr, Coordinator of Greek Life at Oregon State and OGH recipient.
Last Chapter Standing, part two (If you missed part one, Here is the link)

So, how do you know you are playing the game of “Last Chapter Standing”? Well, there are a couple of real good indicators. First, when you are more concerned about the number of men joining your chapter rather than the size and quality of the interest pool for the entire fraternity community. Secondly, when the undergraduate community ignores the stereotypical behavior that is common to most Greek communities. When there is a response, it tends to be punitive rather than educational. Punitive responses tend to breed contempt and disconnect from the overall community. Thirdly, when the undergraduate community is making decisions based on data coming from “back in the day” or the current “template” from a few headquarters, rather than the comprehensive data generated by the university to enhance recruitment and retention of all students, we miss the boat. Finally, if we experience community building as a cosmetic layer, put on the face of a Greek system, rather than the intentional work designed to build genuine community from an organic perspective, we buy into a smoke and mirrors approach that has been an element in most campus Greek communities for a very long time.

So, if we can accept the premise that “Community building” will strengthen the quality and quantity of the interest pool, enhance retention, deepen the positive connection to the campus community and community at large as well create better alignment with Greek mission and values, then we need to examine what are some simple steps to make "community" come alive.

-“He who forgives ends the quarrel”, African proverb.

One of the confusing components of “Last Chapter Standing” gamesmanship is the way it accelerates pranks and makes them more destructive. Never mind that the lesson being taught is to disrespect the members of the community, and at times to hold hostage valuable possessions. The extent to which this “mischief” extends can be evidenced by the vulnerability of chapter charters. Once view as sacred and off-limits, they are now on the “prank list” and totally disrupts the harmony of a chapter. If a Greek community has developed a process that responds to this thievery, and engages an educational protocol for the culprits, then a standard for the community has been established. It will take great courage for the Presidents of the community to take a stand against this behavior.

Transparency is also a very real asset in today’s modern world. Campus communities are focused on building transparency and the Greek community can benefit from this practice. All it takes is a series of “Open Houses” when the Greek community opens their doors and lets the campus community, administrators, faculty and students in to their homes to see for themselves what they look like. Also, those residents in the nearby neighborhoods can come by and see how their neighbors live. It is amazing how quickly the stereotypes dissolve when the community sees what it really looks like and gets to experience the rich heritage that lives within the chapters.

As difficult as it is, the challenge in many Greek communities is the leadership of the chapter, Panhellenic, IFC and MGC don’t really know each other. The trust factor is diminished by the ingrained process of teaching new members that “Our house over everyone else”. This breeds a disconnect and encourages distrust. This internalized process can distance even students who went to the same high school for three to four years. Creating opportunities, both formal and informal, affords these leaders to build relations which can build collaborative efforts on behalf of the Greek community It starts with just having coffee together, or perhaps being the guest at each others chapter house and can evolve into dinner activities for the leadership cohort. As the leaders build trust, they can then be a respected and trusted person in their chapter that confronts those chapter members who would breed unhealthy competition with other.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Community building is one answer to that question. It is critical to remember that community building and community service are two different things. It is possible to have a Greek system engage in community service just enough to placate headquarters. But, if we build Greek communities, then the undergraduates have the leverage to change their campus community as well as the residential community. Gone would be the unhealthy competition, the distrust, the hatred and the stereotypes that plague the 800 plus Greek campuses. Stereotypes exist because the behavior exists. No amount of university attempts to control, no efforts by headquarters to foster stronger chapters and no educational suggestions from alumni can diminish the stereotypical behavior. Only a community building process, which includes all the stakeholders, will build the foundation and the bridge from
where we are to where we could be as a Greek community

“Don’t prepare the path for the child. Prepare the child for the path”, anonymous.

So, what world are we preparing our students for after graduation? A world focused on artificial competition, win/lose dynamics and disregard for the impact on others our decisions represent? Or, are we looking for collaborative skills, win/win dynamics and global integration for solutions to global challenges. I leave the debate of that question to you. I will present my final installment next week on “Last Chapter Standing” next week.

Bob Kerr
Greek Life Coordinator
Oregon State University
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