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Creating in-group experiences for non-fraternity/sorority members: Perspectives from a former outsider

How can campus-based professionals increase the number of on-campus allies and Greek community supporters?  Develop strategies for an in-group experience for non-affiliated staff and faculty and encourage chapters to develop an in-group role for these campus community members.

Creating in-group experiences for non-fraternity/sorority members: Perspectives from a former outsider

My experiences in the Fraternity and Sorority community, as a Student Affairs professional, have been a bit non-traditional.  While I aspired to being in a fraternity while I was an undergraduate student, I wasn’t invited to join a fraternity until I was well into my professional career. Membership in my fraternity quickly led to volunteer leadership positions within the national board of directors. Eventually I led the organization as the Executive Director, and my perspective of Greek Life would forever be altered.

I have worked in student activities, orientation, community service, leadership and diversity programming, and residence life. But I have never worked as a Greek advisor.  I realized quickly in my first position that if I wanted to impact the student leadership community, I would need to work closely with fraternities and sororities.  Because I was not an initiated member at the time, I felt as if I was treated an outsider and kept at an arm’s length.  It did make my job a bit more challenging when trying to involve Greeks in the campus community programming and working as a programming advisor.   

I knew I had to develop strategies for working more closely with Greeks. This would include being part of new member development activities, volunteering for their national or local philanthropies, accepting invitations for any and all involvement, and purposefully choosing Greek leaders when possible.The strategies worked well for me until Spring 2009, when I was inducted as a member of Tau Delta Phi Fraternity. 

Life After Initiation

After I was initiated I felt as if the invisible wall was taken down and I was given complete access to the inner workings of the undergraduate Greek community. Then I was actively sought after to help with chapter issues, even though I was not the Greek advisor at the university.

This is how it felt when I was initiated into my fraternity as an honorary member, and I was invited to see the inner workings of Greek life.

Since I have seen and experienced professional life as an insider and outsider to the Greek community, I can give some tips for working with and involving both affiliated and non-affiliated professionals on your campus. I believe that these strategies I have outlined will help any professional in student affairs become more active within their institution’s Greek community, or any current professional looking for additional support among peers and colleagues. I believe the strategies would be helpful for any professional looking for support in their own part of student affair.


Leader-Member Exchange Theory

Leadership researchers would describe this experience of the invisible wall falling as indicating the Leader-Membership Exchange theory (Northouse, 2010).  Given my outsider or out-group experiences and the lack of privilege generally reserved with being an initiated member of any organization, I was not seen as a leader within the Greek community regardless of my professional experiences.  This lack of influence from the out-group can hurt our organizations, since they may not trust outsiders to give accurate appraisals of their organizations and rely solely on overworked and stretched-thin Greek advisors.  But once my status changed to in-group, I was given full access to fully influence the community.

Create an Insider Experience

Before joining my fraternity as an honorary member in 2009, I would participate in fraternity and sorority programming efforts on the invitation of the Greek advisor.  Because I had positive experiences with fraternities and sororities as an undergraduate (even though I wasn’t in one at the time), I was anxious to be part of their growth and learning as an invited insider to their community.  Member-Leader Exchange theory describes how people change their membership from out-group to in-group by negotiating their participation with the perceived leader (Northouse, 2010). 

One of the ways I was able to feel like an insider was being invited to be a staff facilitator for the annual 3-day UNLV Inter-Greek Leadership Retreat.  One of the goals for the retreat was for new Greek leaders from all the councils to meet and work with campus professionals who would support their leadership and development.  Since I was working in our multicultural affairs office at the time, I was interested in helping our Greek organizations learn how to use our social justice programming model to advance their values-based programming. 

However I had traditionally relied on the Greeks to approach me as a resource first, so I knew they would buy into the departmental programming efforts.  Being invited as a non-Greek facilitator was an important step in being seen as an ‘in-group’ resource for fraternities and sororities.

I have always relied on people asking me to join them, when working with Greeks, rather than assuming I was invited to participate.

Identify the Allies

Student affairs professionals often hear chapter leaders bemoan the paucity of positive public relations on their college campuses as they express desire to change the perception of Greeks on their campuses.  One of the hallmarks of the Member-Leader Exchange theory is the ability to create reciprocity when creating goals – that our shared goals help one another. One of the easiest ways to ensure reciprocity is to make sure that chapter leaders are connecting with campus department staff members to discuss shared values and outcomes from organizational involvement.  Fraternity and sorority leaders may think that all student affairs professionals have positive expectations and experiences working with chapters, but given the out-group and in-group dynamics of fraternity and sorority life it is possible that non-affiliated staff may not know what positive outcomes are part of Greek life.

Once I established myself as a person who cared about student development and had positive experiences about Greeks, I quickly became an ally for chapter leaders who were hoping to create change in their organizations.  This quickly developed into being invited to be a chapter faculty advisor and eventually honorary membership in my fraternity.  Greek advisors should work to identify allies within the student (and academic) affairs departments, as these unaffiliated voices can help advance shared values and outcomes – and hopefully change perceptions based on positive publicity with their peers and other students.


Continuing the Work

There is no one way to change working relationships with student affairs peers, and not all of them will develop the close relationship that I did working with the Tau Epsilon chapter of Tau Delta Phi.  For instance, I still have work to do to change my in-group identity with multicultural and ethnic-identified Greek organizations and know this is a work in process even now. 

But even if my out-group status does change to become an insider, I will still work toward becoming an influence in this student community and I encourage all Greek life professionals to reach out to their campus peers to identify those who can influence their student groups from the inside.


References

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. (5th ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

 (A previous version originally published in AFA Essentials, March 2012)

One thought on “Creating in-group experiences for non-fraternity/sorority members: Perspectives from a former outsider

  1. Pingback: Three Ways to Use Leader-Member Exchange Theory to Improve Student/Staff Relationships | Leadership and Values in Action, LLC

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