Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Can't SAY That Here!

Has this ever happened at your chapter? Or do you just not mention any possibly suspect activities to those who might take exception?

Last Wednesday I went to our local chapter's monthly AVC meeting, where I sit as VP. During the Chapter President's report he mentioned a social activity with a sorority scheduled for later in the semester. When he told us what type of event they were planning there was a collective gasp, followed by a chorus of "You can't say that!", "Call it something else!", and "Don't even breath that word in the direction of HQ!" from the alums, all of whom are familiar with the way-things-work-in-Richmond. Take note - no one suggested that the event itself was in any way out of line. We know these men and we know what they are planning is going to be fun and harmless. But the name itself has a toxic reputation. The chapter president agreed and immediately came up with another title (as opposed to another event).

We then moved on to the next items: Plans for the upcoming CLA officer training conference and reminders that applications for the RUCK Leadership Institute are due soon. Irony much?

There are two things wrong with this picture, in my view. 1) We (alumni volunteers; HQ staff) seem to have become so politically sensitive to some activities because they have been misused in the past that we cannot even entertain the idea (publicly) of doing them correctly now. 2) We are counseling our undergraduate members, who are looking to us to be mentors and to build them into leaders, that it is OK to lie about our actions. Maybe you could call it a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, but it is disingenuous prevarication nonetheless.

The more I thought about the message we sent to the undergrads the more uncomfortable I got. So here I am, talking about it. If the event concept is so bad it cannot be mentioned shouldn't we have counseled the undergrads to do something else? If the event is harmless shouldn't we have warned them that the event could be misunderstood so they need to be ready to defend their actions?

One should propose solutions, not just whine about problems. Here is what I propose - Alumni volunteers and staff: Make judgements on actions, not the words surrounding them. Be prepared to give the guidance that is needed (if possibly unwelcome) and to explain why you feel so strongly.  Undergraduates: Speak honestly about plans and intentions and be prepared to explain your actions in detail if questioned. Ask for better reasons than "HQ says no." Am I idealistic? Probably. But better that than a liar.

Oh, the activity? A Scavenger Hunt. For the entire chapter. With a sorority. Nothing of an illegal, coercive, or underhanded nature intended. No stop signs, dead animals, or compromised pledges on the list.

Now, I expect to get a call from the Chapter Pres., AVC Pres., RD, or maybe even HQ about how I should not have said anything. There may be references to "dirty laundry". Be that as it may, I want the conversation to continue here as well.
Thanks to XKCD.com for the pic