Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Do Greeks Promote Social Excellence?

"Social Excellence: The Key to Greek Relevance"
from our Friends at Phired Up Productions
* Blog post 2 in a series of 6 on Social Excellence *
by Josh Orendi
“Social organizations have a golden opportunity to redefine fraternal relevance within the modern collegiate environment. As important as risk management became in the 1980’s, leadership development became in the 1990’s, and values education became in the new century … social excellence is the issue of this next decade!”

We proudly call ourselves “social” fraternities and sororities….

Social Experiment #1: Ask your average undergraduate member if he/she is proud to be a member of a “social” organization. You’ll likely hear a Hell Yeah! (at least that’s what the guys say) Then, ask them what the word “social” means. With a confused look, you’ll likely hear him/her say something along the lines of “party, girls/boys, beer, fun.” Interesting.

Social Experiment #2: Walk into a fraternity/sorority house unannounced on any random day. Begin counting the number of people that walk past you without making eye contact, let alone approaching you with a smile, shaking your hand, and welcoming you to their home (especially if you are a stranger/alumnus). After the fifth person ignores you, walk over and steal their composite and/or television — chances are they still won’t stop to ask your name (we’re kind of kidding about that whole theft part).

Social Experiment #3: Gather the senior members together for dinner off campus. Invite some alumni, parents, and/or faculty as guests of the chapter. Watch and enjoy the awkward behaviors, conversations, and body language. At the end of the meal, separate your guests from the members and ask them to evaluate the men/women from the chapter in terms of their social skills/etiquette. Ask: “Would you hire them? Would you trust them with your daughter/son? Were you impressed?”

Here’s the hard truth that nobody is talking about: If a member is slurring his/her speech after the 5th beer we are taught and expected to cut that person off and get them home safely. They have become a social liability … a social embarrassment. HOWEVER, the pendulum swings both ways! We have members that creep out potential new members during recruitment, brothers/sisters that refuse to come out of their rooms for several days because they’re upgrading their avatar on World of Warcraft, and men/women that haven’t figured out that hygiene and appearance really do matter. Somehow these choices of social isolation have become acceptable!?! In a SOCIAL organization?!?

Social Experiment #4: Go to http://www.dictionary.com/ or pick up a copy of Webster’s dictionary and look up the word “social.” Read all the definitions and get a historic, complete picture of the word. Then, look at the list of synonyms. “friendly companionship, community, a gregarious person that avoids solitude….”

We’ve been “social” fraternities/sororities for a LONG time. Speaking of my own organization’s history (Alpha Sigma Phi), I’m guessing that Horace, Steven, and Louis (our founders) weren’t plotting at the first Yale College meeting in 1845 of getting the pledges together and throwing a raging kegger with strippers at the annual beach party in the basement of the Tomb. Furthermore, I’m guessing that Musgrave and the boys (some more of our founders) wouldn’t have tolerated a brother that came to class in sweat pants smelling like a moldy loaf of bread.

I’m not anti-party (far from it). And, I’m not anti-video games (far from that, too). Though I am deeply curious how we came to redefine our “social” history to meet our selfish desires and all the while mask the fact that more than 1/2 of our membership is socially inept. Seriously!?! How is it we have members that graduate from SOCIAL fraternities/sororities who can’t hold a 30 second conversation with a stranger? How is it that we’ve allowed our “values-based” organizations to redefine our ritual/purpose to become the center of the campus party scene?

I’d like to cut off my already-too-long rant and offer a plea that address this “social emergency” with an optimistic solution.

Social organizations have a golden opportunity to redefine fraternal relevance within the modern collegiate environment. As important as risk management became in the 1980’s, leadership development became in the 1990’s, and values education became in the new century … social excellence is the issue of this next decade! We are uniquely positioned to address a major need and do what cannot be taught in the classroom. Universities actually NEED US again. If we accept the challenge, we can become the model for developing a generation of socially aware, socially responsible, socially excellent men and women with the interpersonal social skills to succeed and enjoy a fulfilling life.

Fraternities and sororities are designed to empower peer education and common experiences in a low-risk, high-reward laboratory of life with a support network of mentors (alumni, HQ, greek life office, etc). If we we will embrace our traditional definition of “social” excellence, we can become THE case study for training a socially awkward, facebook generation.

Social Experiment #5: Write down the names of every undergraduate non-Greek student of the same sex that you know from your campus. After 3-5 minutes stop. Look at the paper and ask yourself what that list reveals about your “social network.” Is knowing less than 15 non-greek men/women how you define social excellence? Do those names on your list represent the best of your campus community? How would your brothers/sisters score doing this same experiment? Are you part of a socially excellent organization or is it time to get to work making some changes?

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