Fraternity and sorority leaders can be at the forefront of creating change on their campuses. Imagine if they put their energy into developing a community that welcomed students of color and the working poor? Particularly on predominantly white campuses? How can the Greek community be part of creating change that will be ready for the students enrolled in the future?
Over the past year I have written about how Greek leaders can better align chapter leadership with their espoused values. I have explored how the Social Change Model can be used to center our work in our values. Each of our chapters can do better to educate our members on values-based leadership. We can do better educating our campus partners on what we need from them and how we benefit the community.
I believe there are larger issues we need to look at to ensure our future. We can all do better advocating for changes that impact our community and those we share it with. In particular, those who have been traditionally excluded from our organizations, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Lessons for the Next Hundred Years
I have written about how men’s fraternal groups can develop common purpose. Imagine if these groups looked at misogyny and their role in creating fighting its impact. I have also written about the positive expectation building through congruence that women’s groups can build in their membership development. All of these lessons have been centered on how to improve Greek chapters. But I believe these lessons alone won’t save our organizations for the next 100 years.
Many of our organizations have specific policies around inclusion. But the work of inclusion is often harder to do. How will our organizations be prepared for the very different college student body in the next 50 years?
What we need is focus on the changing face of higher education even in the near future. We should understand what role we could have in creating a more inclusive world for these future students. Imagine having our organizations as the leader in the movement to create cultural and social capital with these future students.
Some fraternal organizations are well-equipped to handle the changing face of higher ed. Groups affiliated with the National Multicultural Greek Council (NMGC), the National Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO), National APIDA Panhellenic Association (NAPA), and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), among those that are local organizations, have been doing the work to make sure that students of color and students from poor and working class backgrounds are included in the Greek fraternal movement. What can other NIC and NPC organizations do to ensure that they have created welcoming environments where all students can thrive?
We Can All Thrive
During my Fraternity Foodie podcast with Michael Ayalon from Greek University, I spoke about this issue. I pointed out how NIC organizations need to look at the environment that students of color encounter when attending predominately white institutions. When these students are first enrolled at a PWI, they may not have the cultural capital to handle being part of a majority white organization.
Speaking from experience when I attended a PWI, particularly from a working poor background, I know the feelings. It can feel very overwhelming to ask questions about joining a fraternity. I had no way to ask questions of the men who were actively recruiting people during the first two weeks of school. Certainly I didn’t have the language. I knew these groups cost money but how much? When did I have to pay? Would I be able to live there? What about my scholarships?
Yeah, I had a lot of questions about joining a fraternity as a poor student. Took years to get them answered, too!
I tell you, these questions to a first-generation student are what separate you. Not everyone attending college already has the social capital to navigate the recruitment process. But research tells us that this group is only going to increase each year. How will our organizations manage to recruit students who don’t know how to join?
Let’s Learn From Each Other
I am going to recommend something that I know goes against the grain. I know this for a fact. I’ve been in those meetings saying so. But hear me out on this one!
Groups affiliated with the NMGC, NALFO, NAPA, and NPHC have a recruitment process that allows for at least a semester of community building and acclimation to the institution before offering membership. It allows students to make friends, ask critical questions, figure out the money required – all important issues to navigate when trying to make a life-long decision. Plus they have a network to help them deal with being a student at PWI or understand how to persist through graduation with whatever community that has been built.
I believe that in order for NIC and NPC organizations to thrive and grow in the changing face of higher education, they will need to look at how they recruit, educate and include people of color and those from the working poor backgrounds. In particular, they need to take into account that students of color and people from poor backgrounds need time and community to earn trust and build social capital. If our faculty can do this, so can our chapters.
This is big change that I am recommending. But our organizations have had to deal with the changing face of higher education. During war-time, integration of higher education, college closures – all have impacted our ability to recruit students. I believe it’s time to look at how we create an inclusive environment that actively supports students from different cultural and economic backgrounds next.
How Do We Start the Change We Want to See?
Values-based leadership is challenging. It requires us to look at what we know and believe and create the environment where these values thrive. I think we can set-up our organizations to anticipate this change in higher education. Like all good change, I believe it change starts with asking good questions.
From the chapter level, what are the changes to the make-up of the student body anticipated in the next 10 years?
For headquarters level, who can you add to your board that represents the diversity you want to include?
At the national level, what are fraternity and sorority executives doing to educate their staff to recruit and retain students from these backgrounds?
I don’t believe that only one way is going to work to recruit and retain students from these backgrounds. But working together, in true community partnerships, we can support these students in ways that would make our founders proud.
The future of our organizations is unwritten. If we are prepared, we also have the capacity for big things for the future!
It is my hope and challenge that we look critically at these changes to how our organizations meet this future. It will happen even if we are not prepared. But we can prepare and be ready for these students. And hopefully continue to fulfill our promise to lead with our values.