Monday, May 12, 2008

Last Chapter Standing, Part Three

A guest post by Bob Kerr, Coordinator of Greek Life at Oregon State and OGH recipient.
Last Chapter Standing, Part Three (If you missed them, here is a link to part one, and a link to part two.)

Last chapter standing is but one scenario facing the North American Fraternal Movement. As we look to the tercentennial of the fraternal movement, December 15th 2076, we have some pretty significant questions to ask and answer. Among them are:

  • As a movement – what is our purpose?
  • Whom do we serve?
  • How is it hazing still exists?
  • Why is it so difficult to get alumni engaged with undergraduate chapters?
  • How do you define success?

From my desk as a University officer working with the Greek community, I see some indicators of what might be the challenges these questions address.

  • Purpose can be defined by values and outcomes. In my office, I have framed copies of the mission statements, public value statement or creeds of the organization on our campus. When I meet with a chapter President, following some misstep, we measure what the chapter is doing when compared to the key document. Most are surprised I have such access and are usually humbled. In many cases it is the first time they have been held accountable to those documents.
  • As I analyze these public documents, the theme I get is one of service to the general good. Not the general good of those like us, but all those we share life with on this planet. Given our collective history in the first half of the 20th century, we have some work to do.
  • As long as pre-initiation weeks are closed and not supervised by alumni, hazing will surface. It is the nature of highly competitive environments for one class to try and out do the other classes. It takes maturity and experience to guide young men away from hazing and towards a more productive and reflective experience. The kind of experience alumni can offer.
  • There is a great fraternity movie called “Fraternity Row” which talks about how fractured a chapter gets because of hazing. Those scars tend to stay with a man long after he graduates and they become barriers to the individual re-engaging. The ideals of the organization get lost in the “traditions” we inflict upon each other. Perhaps now we can comprehend the long term effects of hazing.
  • Defining success is a variable that causes much disruption. If we focus on individual chapters we have a two dimensional definition. A definition where it is possible for a few chapters to be successful while the majority of the Greek system is mediocre at best. Where, if we examine the whole Greek community, we get a much better perspective. It is why a doctor takes the whole bodies health into consideration instead of just one or two aspects.

If we use the work of Ernest Boyer as a grounding theory, we quickly see six elements of building community that are worth examining.

  1. Purposeful
  2. Open
  3. Just
  4. Disciplined
  5. Caring
  6. Celebrative

If we apply these elements we see a shift from some of the current patterns of behavior. For example:

  1. A Greek community that is united in its common purpose to help build a better world. Not chapter specific engagement but community engagement.
  2. In all my years, it has been a rare occasion when a chapter President has opened up to the troubles of their chapter. As such, they never utilize the campus resources designed to help them and thus started a spiral downward.
  3. Justice rarely feels like the intent of what happens in the Greek world. Harsh penalties seem to be the norm with few educational outcomes required or experienced. The main lesson seems to be, don’t get caught.
  4. Disciplined Greek communities are responsible for upholding chapter, community and campus standards. Choosing not to play pranks, steal composites, steal charters and otherwise behave contrary to our purpose is a hope for every campus.
  5. Caring for each other is a natural reality of a Greek community. When tragedy strikes one chapter they all offer support and assistance. Even something has remember the founding dates of our brother and sister chapters acknowledges the strength each chapter brings to the community.
  6. Celebrating achievement is a natural and healthy thing. Having a party because it’s been around for 60 years and people end up in the front lawn puking their guts out doesn’t sound like everyone’s having a celebration.

I have been fortunate to be involved in the fraternal movement for 38 years. Whether as a volunteer or a campus Greek Life professional, I have seen one thing become really clear, we are fighting each other for the same dwindling pie. What is confusing is we can chose to work together and expand the market and build a sustainable future. It all starts on each individual campus and usually launches by asking for help from the university. It is a different world out there and there is a need for the values we promote. The more in alignment to our values and our membership Oaths we are, the better off we will be. The other option is well, less promising to say the least.

Bob Kerr
Coordinator of Greek Life
Oregon State
OGH