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Practicing Citizenship and Its Benefits

How do Greek members develop a sense of citizenship and show their benefit to the community? Learn more about how to practice citizenship that matters!

digital image of human shapes connected with lines to create intersecting lines.
We are all connected. We become better citizens when we understand this connection with others. What are you doing to access this connection?

Over the last year I have written about the ways fraternity and sorority members and leaders can practice the values of their organizations through the concepts of the Social Change Model. The focus has been on the individual and the group, and how leaders can learn skills to get their members to learn how to live a life guided by values. In theory, this is an easy task right? We all signed up for a life guided by these values, right?

Experience has told me that this isn’t always the case. At least not for everyone. I can give example after example of fraternity and sorority members, not former members, who live their values on a daily basis. I have been inspired by their actions and have tried to mimic them in ways that matter the most to me.

And I have seen others who very easily describe themselves as ‘former members’ of their undergraduate chapters. Those who want to continue the social aspect of the experience long after graduation day. The ones who show up at alumni events but don’t sign up to mentor new members or donate time or money to the service philanthropies.

How do we create the expectation for life-long membership, one that creates the world as described in our rituals? In what ways can you help members practice effective citizenship that can truly change the community? Or at the very least, what is ONE THING you an do to connect your members to their own college community?


The Social Change Model

The Social Change Model defines Citizenship as “the process whereby the individual and the collaborative group become responsibly connected to the community and the society through the leadership development activity. To be a good citizen is to work for positive change on behalf of others and the community.

“Citizenship thus acknowledges the interdependence of all who are involved in or affected by these efforts. It recognizes that the common purpose of the group must incorporate a sense of concern for the rights and welfare of all those who might be affected by the group’s efforts. Good citizenship thus recognizes that effective democracy involves individual responsibility as well as individual rights.”

There is a lot to unpack in this definition and how it relates to membership development. So let’s start unpacking

How Connected Are You?

I have some questions to start.

In your chapter, what does responsibly connected to the community mean to you? What about the community outside of the Greek community? Or the college community?

Even David knows how important it is to make connections. In a bold statement sweater, too.

Our fraternal values should extend past our alma mater – in what ways are you helping your members understand their responsibility to the great community?

What efforts to you want to see happen on behalf of others. This could be the voiceless, the powerless, the people who need access to our privilege? And what efforts do you want to do alongside these people?

Recognizing our Citizenship, Power and Privilege

Regardless of the history of your chapter and its place in the college community, all of these organizations have access to power and privilege. You have college-educated alumni. College leaders seek you out to help support programming. Your members typically give back at higher rates that non-affiliated students.

So what do you do with this power? What could you do to change your community by tapping into this privilege?

A great exercise with members is to ask them to list what ‘hacks’ they have learned through their membership. Like, courses to take or avoid. Times to register for campus events. Alumni that need to be consulted for jobs. These are all the privilege of membership.

Now ask your members to do the same with jobs and internships they have held in college. Like, have they practiced interviews with alumni prior to the actual interview? What privileges have they gathered that can be shared with non-members?


Benefiting the Community

An Internet search on the relevancy of Greek life shows dozens of articles and thought pieces written in the last 5 years. Like this one. Many bemoan the behaviors that bring us all down, and speak to the one important question: do we need fraternities and sororities now?

In my experience, fraternity and sorority student leaders hear this question and go on the defensive. However, instead of speaking about what they have personally gained or give back on behalf of others, I believe they should be talking about their benefit to the community.

And this benefit needs to address their power and privilege and how they plan to share this as a benefit to the community.

Citizenship in the community can feel personal but still benefit others. Again, ask the membership what they feel they do personally and as a chapter to benefit the community. Philanthropy dollars are important but how many non-members attended the event? Or felt invited to something that has become exclusive?

Saving Our Selves and Others for Our Benefit

I believe that in order to save our communities, we need to do some tough question asking. Start with identifying behaviors that put the entire community at risk. This includes drinking, sexual assault, hazing, drug abuse and ask a few questions. How is this behavior a benefit? Are we building a better community through these actions? What would happen if we asked these chapters to leave?

Follow up by asking more questions. What does the community need that we have the power and privilege to address? How do we work alongside our community to create change? Who can we invite to be part of the community without being a member?

Citizenship asks us to be concerned with others. I believe we will save ourselves if we begin to ask questions that involve others. Let me know how you are doing this on your own campus!

Want to learn more about the Social Change Model?  Invite me to your campus for a presentation on this topic and other related leadership topics!  Email me at joseph@josephnrios.com.

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