There are no finite answers as it relates to the future of recruitment. I don’t have any answers, and I do this for a living. However if there’s anything we’ve realized over the last couple of months it is the resiliency of the human spirit and need for human connections.
Enter fraternities and sororities. The fraternity and sorority experience is one of the few that provides a sense of security and a home away from home. We know that potential new members come to our organizations because they want to fulfill a sense of belonging. But there are some things we do know: that once this is all over things will look and feel a little different. So let’s look at this as an opportunity for a starting point.
I’m breaking this up into three sections: The COVID Conundrum, The Target Market, and QTNA (Questions That Need Answers). As always, if you’d like to touch base to talk through ideas, concepts, or just figure out what in the world you should do next, feel free to reach out and we’ll find a time to chat.
The COVID Conundrum
Unprecedented ≠ Unknown. Our organizations have survived world wars, famines, depressions, recessions and everything in between. Believe it or not, this entire pandemic could be one of the best things to happen with our organizations (I’m trying to look on the bright side here, so just go with me for a minute). Someone recently said that this could be the virus that killed frats. And if you think about it – it’s true. Groups that used to rely only on their social capital can’t focus on that anymore. This also could be an interesting time for our chapters to do a mini-membership review. If we have members that really only show up for the social and are late on dues, maybe this is the opportunity to give them an out. It’s time to channel our inner Elsa’s and just let them go (gimmie a break, I’m a dad).
I was recently listening a podcast about the effects of COVID-19 on Gen Z (it had some really good interviews with students both currently in college and those about to enter college). So let’s take a quick snapshot of where our potential new members will be coming from this fall:
From a few conversations with on-campus fraternity/sorority advisors, we’re seeing potential new members sign up for the formal recruitment process before even telling the admissions office they’re coming to campus. And in higher numbers too. PNMs are looking for the experiences we can offer them to fill in what they’ve missed. The connections and sense of belonging that our organizations can provide. The pomp and circumstance of our events to make up for missing prom and graduation, which can be replaced by our own initiations and socials engagements. This is our time to truly shine and show our relevance.
I think the overall message of social distance was incorrect. We need to be physically distant in order to be safe, for others and ourselves. But we need to be socially connected, more engaged with each other than ever before. At the moment of writing this I have been in some form of lock down or stay at home orders for almost seven weeks. Yet I’ve had more phone and Zoom calls with friends, family and colleagues than I have in a year. The power of our sister/brotherhood should be seen and felt during this time. If you find your chapter always saying “our sister/brotherhood is so great, we’re all really good friends” – then now is the time to show it for others to see. Now is the time to be more socially connected on a deeper level – As brothers and sisters.
For those that know me, know that I like to push buttons. One of my most requested keynotes for fraternity/sorority communities, When Is Enough, Enough? discusses the ways in which we, as members of fraternal organizations perceive ourselves versus how the general public perceive us. I joke that looking in the mirror is the hardest thing to do, but often the most revealing. Having worked with Greek communities for over a decade, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the Seven Deadly Sins, and hold up the mirror to see how they relate to our communities.
Pride (or Vanity) is an excessive belief in one's own abilities, which can interfere with the recognition of other's accomplishments or sense of community. For me, this is the organization that always wins awards; they look amazing on paper but harbor some 'ish that everyone knows about but no one does anything about. When I first pledged a fraternity (that I later depledged) at one of the first new member meetings the chapter pulled out all of its awards and intramural trophies and said "this is who we are - we are excellence embodied." Wow, how very humble of you guys... The Chapter had high social capital, was well liked by the administration, but also hazed and sent people to the hospital for alcohol poisoning nearly every weekend. For the chapters and members that complain that no one cares about all the good you do and money you raise and service hours you do (mandate), all of that means nothing if you're hazing your members and sending people to the hospital. Do better, act better, be better.
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than which one requires. Think about our social events or date functions. When I was a campus-based advisor I remember chapters going on weekend-long formal trips to Vegas or Cabo or lawd knows where else, and who knew what was happening at the events themselves, much less in the down time! It's excessive. Not to mention the sheer amount of alcohol consumed at these events. Or that some chapters would specifically budget for the damages they would cause the venue. When your social budget as a chapter is more than every other committee budget, it's easy to know where your priorities are.
Lust is a craving for the pleasures of the body. Now more than ever it's important for us to know about consent. Now I won't bore y'all with a textbook definition of consent, I think you're all smart people and know the gist of what consent actually is. However it's hard when there's a social event and there's alcohol and it seems as though the lines get fuzzy, or at least our memories sometimes do. I think it's important for us to also create safer environments for our guests. Or maybe (and just go with me here) we could host social events that aren't only at night on the weekends in a dimly lit, stick floored basement that smells worse than the clogged up toilet on the second floor of the house that no one goes into, with music so loud you can't hear a conversation with lyrics that do nothing but degrade the opposite gender. Perhaps we could lust for an experience outside of just social...
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, sometimes at the expense of others' well-being. In our fraternal communities we need to acknowledge the "haves" and "have nots." There's a greed that exists during formal IFC/Panhellenic recruitment: who can get the "most" members, or who can convince more PNMs to rank them higher (usually through nuanced and leading language that sets PNMs up for disappointment). We're so concerned with getting more numbers that we've forgotten about recruiting a higher caliber person to begin with. After all, people join people. And hopefully we want great people joining our organizations. There's an inconvenient truth when it comes to which councils get the most attention (spoiler alert, it tends to be the IFC and Panhellenic chapters that get more attention than our NPHC, MGC or culturally-based chapters/councils). We need to fix that disparity.
Anger (or Wrath) is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. However I've seen this play out through chapters or communities when certain rules or policies are being discussed. Anger that "it's not fair" or is impossible to actually implement. Here's the thing, most risk management rules that are being "rolled out" were actually created before most (all) college students were even born. FIPG policies were created in the mid-1980's and became the blueprint for many of our inter/national and regional organizations. I joke during some keynotes that Greeks spend more time trying to get around the rules than actually understanding why the rules exist in the first place and just working within the parameters of being safe organizations. I've had chapters I've worked with get completely pissed at me because of rules that I had no part in writing, but I was expected to implement and enforce. Remember, your fraternity/sorority advisor is there as your advocate. They're not there to get you in trouble. In fact, they don't get you in trouble at all; you get you in trouble, they just get to have the accountability conversation with you. Remember, you are responsible for your own actions, which includes their consequences.
Sloth (or Apathy) is the avoidance of physical work. I have no clue how many times over the years I've heard chapter leaders complain about member apathy. But here's the thing - apathy is just a byproduct of poor leadership and member engagement. Why do we waste time every week with a meeting that is basically just announcements that could have been an email? What if we respected our member's time and personal life and didn't expect them to live and breathe all Greek all the time? If we could have more productive meetings and events that weren't mandatory, member apathy would be nothing more than a myth. I've also seen brand new chapters get installed and closed within ten years (my own chapter included). Why does this happen? Because we've got all these checklists for members and events, with the light at the end of the tunnel being chartering (or initiation). However once that deadline passes we become complacent, unsure of how to move forward. Or our chapters become just like every other chapter that we swore we wanted to be different than. We become okay with just being okay.
Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities or situation. Theodore Roosevelt once said "comparison is the thief of joy." How often do we compare ourselves and our chapter events or accomplishments to others? It's exhausting. And I see this all the time during recruitment season. What centerpiece do the other groups have? What songs are they using? What outfits are they wearing and asking (requiring) their members to buy? If you're comparing yourself to others, how will you ever know who you are? Think of it another way: if I asked you to list all of the things in your life that you love, how long would it take until you list yourself? We get too caught up in everyone else's highlight reels of life and social media that we're neglecting the part that connects us to each other - the relationship we have with each other and ourselves.
As chapters and communities, we need to be willing to fail more. We need to get out of our own way when it comes to things that we've always done. Just because it was always done that way doesn't mean it's the right way. What if Greek Week didn't just put chapters against each other, but everyone worked together for a common cause that benefited the local community through service? What if there were no Greek awards for a campus, but in order to "prove" yourself as an organization you had to apply for the all-campus student organization awards? What if recruitment was about creating healthy relationships with people and there was no more formalized recruitment to spend countless hours and money? Or maybe, if we're going to do an event that's "open to all of campus" we could actually invite all of campus, and not just the other Greeks (or moreover, just the IFC/Panhellenic groups). Or heaven forbid we do an event that's not based around sports that requires teams of 10 or more (when some chapters don't even have 10 members - refer to Greed above).
There are so many things we could change or shift in order to be better chapters and communities. There are so many things we could try. After all, I would rather fail with integrity than succeed with mediocrity. We need to stop being okay with the status quo and be the chapters and members we say we are. I'd love to help us make the changes to be brave enough to have the conversations that matter. Let's connect and talk about ways we can make badass things happen in your communities.
If you told me in college I’d be a professional college speaker, I might have believed you. If you had told me one of my topics would be the intersection of alcohol, blackouts, consent and sexual assault, I definitely would not have believed you. But here I am, speaking to countless students across the country about the environments that are created when alcohol and people come together, and the possible outcomes that might happen. Why? Because they happened to me.
I consider myself a storyteller. So naturally I share my own stories in keynotes. I feel like it’s the best way to connect with audiences that are usually attending a mandatory alcohol or sexual assault prevention speaker. For about four years I’ve been sharing my keynote A Night to Forget: The Intersection of Blackouts and Consent. After the keynote I usually have students coming up to me and sharing their experiences, telling me their own stories. Over this time I’ve really been struck by the following:
It is my hope that we can continue to make our environments a safe place for all who step foot on campus, because that’s what they should be. It is my hope we continue to engage with each other in meaningful ways, because that’s where we create bonds and memories for the rest of our lives. It is my hope that we believe those who share their stories, because that’s bravery in action.
I look forward to a day when I don’t have to share my story anymore, but until then I’ll continue to be brave enough to have a conversation that matters.
I remember the feeling when I waved goodbye to my parents as they left me at college. The opportunities. The possibilities. The freedom. And then came the mistakes.
Sleeping in and missing a class (or two). Having too much to drink at a party and totally throwing up on a cop’s shoes. Getting a D on a test. Pledging a fraternity and within three weeks dropping out. Running for a position on student government and losing, by a lot. There were times where I felt overwhelmed. Times when stress took over and I just wanted to sleep. Times when I felt like I just couldn’t do “college” right.
Then I realized there’s no right or wrong way to “college” – you just have to experience it.
Looking back there are a ton of things I would tell myself to do differently. But then I wouldn’t have learned as much. Learned about myself and my worth, about my abilities and my potential, about life and relationships. We’ve all failed. Being in college is about failing (hopefully not in classes though – you need to get that degree).
As a total comic nerd there’s an amazing line in Avengers: Endgame when Thor is talking with his mom and she tells him:
“Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. A measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they
succeed at being who they are.”
You see that’s the thing – too many of us try to be something we aren’t. We are not perfect, and that’s amazing. We all have failures – and it’s time to own them and learn from them.
All of this being said, with the start of the academic year right around the corner, I thought I provide some anecdotal pieces of advice. Take it or leave it, but you’re the one still reading so you must be relating to something I am saying:
What’s something that scares you the most? For some it’s public speaking, for others, it’s being alone, and for some, it’s the fear of failure. It seems like we’re too afraid to fail and too scared to show our flaws or imperfections. But that’s not life, that’s not real. What if, and just go with me on this, what if when we fail, we succeed?
You’ve heard it before: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Ugh, I despise that question. And even though it makes perfect sense on a motivational poster, what if it actually demotivates us? Of course, you’d try anything and everything if you knew you could not fail! And while the whole concept is ideal, I postulate that the reason we don’t try is that we are worried we will fail. I know some people who are afraid of a project failing, so they never start. I call it the “analysis paralysis.” We feel so burdened by all of the possibilities that we opt never to try one and move on to the next. We’ve become so paralyzed, so fearful of failure, that we don’t see it as what it is meant to be – a possibility. What’s that saying? “The possibilities are endless.” It’s true, and so are failures.
I remember the first day of English my sophomore year in high school. My teacher greeted everyone with “Good morning, and welcome to English – at some point in this class; I hope you all fail.” As a fairly decent student, I remember thinking to myself that this woman had lost all her marbles! Here we have a teacher, whose purpose is to educate the next generation of great thinkers, hoping we fail?! Not until later did I understand what she meant. She wanted everyone to fail because at that point something magical happens – you learn.
Believe it or not, what if I told you that you have failed thousands upon thousands of times in your life already? I guarantee there’s an embarrassing home video of you learning to walk because there is nothing funnier than watching a wobbly toddler bobbing around milk drunk, and then falling down. But then what happens? They get back up. And they try again. And they get better. Whether it’s crawling, walking, riding a bike, reading, or writing, no one is perfect when they start.
Taking the notion that no one is perfect, what if we could own our imperfections? And in our imperfections, what if we tried new things? And by trying new things, what if we fail? Wait, what if we fail? So, what?!?! The best part about trying new things is figuring out what you like, what you don’t like; what you’re meant to do, what you’re not meant to do; what potential you have in something you had no idea existed. There’s freedom in failure. There’s self-discovery.
Next time you fail, don’t think of it as a setback. Think of it as a fail forward. You’ll be happy you tried and failed.