Thursday, November 20, 2014

Five Tips for Better Hazing Investigations

As the semester winds into gear, so do the fraternity and sorority new member processes on many campuses. We often find ourselves in full-blown investigation mode this time of year, trying to work through information gleaned from anonymous tips and parent phone calls to determine what is really going on in our chapters.

Hazing investigations are difficult. They are often filled with lies, half-truths, and misinformation. Cutting through the veil of silence and secrecy can often be difficult, but it is not impossible. It requires knowledgeable, skilled investigators who understand the unique nuances of hazing and the variety of ways that student groups will collude and obfuscate in order to hide the truth.

In a previous post, I have argued that campuses should use their trained Title IX investigators to also investigate hazing cases. This would allow campuses to respond quickly to hazing allegations and build up a team of knowledgeable, trained investigators.  If you haven’t read it, be sure to check it out.

Beyond the advice contained in that article, here are five other tips for conducting better hazing investigations.

1. Move quickly – In a hazing investigation, time is of the essence. Once a chapter is put on notice that an allegation has been received and an investigation is forthcoming, it does not take long for them to “get their story straight.” Once a report is received, an investigation should begin in less than 24 hours. Ideally, this includes giving the chapter as little lead time as possible before arranging to conduct interviews with the new members. The less time they have to work on the story, the easier it will be for you to get to the bottom of the allegation.

2. Guarantee anonymity, and find “The One” – In every hazing investigation I have ever conducted, I have always found one person who wants to talk to me. Find this person. The best way to get that student to open up is to guarantee their anonymity. Investigators should compile and present investigation notes in a way that does not disclose the identity of the individuals who provide them with information. The best model for this is to have an adjudication process by which a hazing investigation report can be presented in a student conduct hearing without disclosing the identities of the individuals involved. If you are able to guarantee anonymity in your investigation, then “the one” is much more likely to tell you his or her story.

3. Keep your cards close to your chest – When you are doing a hazing investigation, you need to be prepared to be lied to. Don’t get mad or upset about this – the new members you are investigating stand to lose a great deal by helping you, and are likely under tremendous pressure. You should expect to be lied to in an investigation. But here’s the best little secret I can share with you – most of the time, the new members you are talking to do not know what they should be lying about and what they can share with you openly. For this reason, I always like to play it close to the chest with the first 6-8 new members that I interview.

So, in my interviews, I always start with very broad questions that do not disclose the specific nature of what I am looking for. This means, instead of jumping straight into questions about the allegations you have received, ask general questions about their experience as a new member (i.e. tell me about the new member process; tell me what your schedule of activities as a new member looks like; etc.). When you do this, a magical thing happens – you find crazy inconsistencies in even the most basic details about their experience. I was recently doing an investigation for a school in Oklahoma. I began by asking them very basic questions about their new member process. Of the first six new members that I interviewed, half indicated that they were required to learn and memorize certain material from their new member book, while the other half denied that they were required to learn anything. Once you are able to develop a pattern of inconsistencies, you can focus your investigation on those consistencies simply by pointing them out and asking “why would anyone feel the need to lie about this?”

4. Expose the breach – In an investigation that I recently conducted for another campus, there were allegations of lineups and being blindfolded in a local river. As the call came from a parent and included detailed, specific information, we were fairly certain the allegations were true.  My strategy in the investigation involved starting with broad general questions, as described above, before finally asking each participant “so, tell me what happens at the river.” The first six guys I talked to, not surprisingly, had no idea what I was talking about. One even went so far as to ask “what river?”  But then good ol’ lucky number seven, who must have missed the memo about not talking about the river, informed me of some bonfires that had taken place out at the river. He was quick to tell me that nothing bad happened there (LIES!!!), but that they had just hung out and done “brotherhood stuff” (I LOVE brotherhood stuff!!!).  I asked him if all of the new members were at these bonfires, and he stated that they were (Finally!!! A Breach!!! Now, let’s pack it with dynamite and blow it to pieces!!!). So, investigators, when you find yourself in this situation, here is the perfect next question for you:

So, the last six guys I have talked to have denied ever having been to the river. Now you have told me that there have been bonfires at the river and your entire pledge class was in attendance. Why do you think the other six guys I have talked to have felt the need to lie about what happened at the river?”

Swing away. Hammer this point home. Once you expose the major breach in the investigation, get laser focused on it. Eventually, you’ll find “the one” (see Step 2) who will open up and tell you everything you need to know.

5. Let chapter officers know what they stand to lose – I always like meeting with chapter officers at the very end of my investigation. At this point, I usually have enough information from the investigation to put them in the hot seat. 

I begin these meetings by giving them a full run-down of everything that my investigation has uncovered. I go into full detail, giving as many specifics as possible (except for the names of the new members who provided the information, of course). By doing this, I am able to let them know that I know exactly what is going on, and to help them understand that lying to me at this point would be useless.

After I review my report with them, I give them my “power move.” It goes a little something like this:

“Here is the one thing my report does not yet say – whether or not you were cooperative in this investigation. Did you assist in helping me corroborate this information, or did you lie and attempt to cover up what happened? Because at the end of our conversation, it will say one of those two things.  Here’s the deal – you are probably done as a chapter officer. My guess is that you will be removed from office once your headquarters receives my report. You may even be placed on alumni status. But, if I am able to note in my report that you were cooperative and assisted in my investigation, then there is a good chance that you will still be a (insert fraternity/sorority/organization name here) when this process is complete.”

After hearing that spiel, nine times out of ten, they sing like a canary. Now, you should not promise that you know what will happen to them – guaranteeing anything about their membership in the organization would be misleading and inappropriate. But by painting a clear picture of what they stand to gain by helping you, and what they stand to lose by lying to you, they are very likely to give you the information you need. Some of the most helpful information I have received in investigations has come from chapter officers in this manner.

Hazing investigations are difficult. They require trained, knowledgeable and experienced people who know what they are doing. Some of the most rewarding work I am able to do in my consulting work is to conduct external investigations for campuses, and to provide training for campuses on how to conduct thorough and effective hazing investigations. Certainly, there is a lot more to a good investigation than what I have listed out here, but by following these five steps, you will be moving your investigative prowess in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Empowering Women to Lead Change (Or, When I was at My Best as a Greek Advisor)

A few weeks ago, while traveling for National Hazing Prevention Week, I had the opportunity to have a sit-down meeting with a group of Panhellenic leaders to talk about the hazing culture on campus.  These meetings are always incredibly fun for me, and often very productive. Depending on how much time I have, I usually start them as if I am running a focus group, asking them about the hazing culture on campus. In a safe space, I am always amazed with how much they are willing to share with me.

On this particular day, with this particular group, we started talking about hazing in sororities. They were quick to tell me that the sororities on that campus do not haze. And I suppose I believed them – sorority hazing in this particular part of the country really isn’t a big thing.

So then I started asking them about fraternity hazing on campus. They were VERY eager to tell me about some of the stories they had heard and things they had seen. Really, it was pretty typical stuff – the kind of stuff we hear about all the time. I then began asking them about some of the ways their members are often involved in low-level fraternity hazing – fraternities having their pledges come over to their houses and serenade them or take out their trash, or allowing fraternity pledges to give them rides home from bars at night. The conversation ended with them understanding that they had some level of culpability for the hazing culture on that campus, and them resolving to stop allowing the fraternities to haze their pledges in front of them, and to disallow their members from taking advantage of fraternity pledges.  In a single 60 minute meeting, this group of women recognized their role in perpetuating the problem, had an in-depth discussion about the critical issues involved, and made a resolution for very specific steps they wanted to take in order to address the hazing culture on their campus. Yay me!!!  Yay them!!!

The conversation that we had that day took me back to my days as a Greek advisor. It reminded me of the two times that I was at my absolute best as a Greek advisor. Both of these cases involved me playing the same role – empowering female leaders to stand up and move their community forward. And thinking of these two cases reminds me of an edict that I have long adhered to – there is no force on a college campus more powerful than a unified group of sorority women.

So, two stories:

One day, a sorority president came by my office to talk about a problem she was dealing with. Without getting into specifics, one of her members had gotten into a bit of trouble after a recent fraternity swap. Our conversation started about how she needed to handle the aftermath of the incident, but our conversation quickly turned to her frustrations about the culture of sorority/fraternity swaps that had allowed the incident to happen in the first place. At one point, she was nearly in tears about how much she detested the sick culture that had grown up around these events. I’ll never forget this part of our conversation – I looked at her and asked “Do you think you are the only sorority president who feels this way?”

She was not sure – she had not talked to any sorority presidents about her feelings.

I gave her the names of two other sorority presidents who I suspected would share her feelings, and encouraged her to invite them over for lunch to discuss the swap culture. As it turns out, they all agreed that swaps had gotten out of control.

Over the next few weeks, this “group of three” met to lay out their strategy. Eventually, they called together the rest of the sorority presidents, where all agreed that changes needed to be made. They enlisted the college Panhellenic council leadership, drafted an agreement which was signed by every single chapter president and then called a special meeting to discuss the issue with fraternity presidents. 

Want to guess how many of those meetings I went to?


And what was the result?

A significant step forward for our entire community.

The second story involves me being invited to the dinner of an honor society on campus, which featured a “Toastmasters” style dinner conversation. I recall the topic of conversation that night revolving around the legalization of marijuana.  This particular honor society was known as a more progressive group, and while several of the members were fraternity/sorority members, they were not all students that I knew well.

After dinner I struck up a conversation with two of the sorority women present at the meeting. I had never met either of them, and knew them through reputation only – they held only minor leadership positions on campus, and were much more focused on academics than campus leadership (one is now a doctor, the other a Teach for America alumnus currently studying abroad on her Fulbright Scholarship).  They wanted to talk about some of the issues with sorority recruitment, and inevitably the conversation turned to the racial barriers present during sorority recruitment. As the conversation closed, I asked them how many women they knew within the Panhellenic community who shared their feelings. They were able to come up with about a dozen names. I suggested that they call those women together for a deeper discussion on the issue.

A week later, the meeting took place. From the dozen or so women present, they were able to generate an additional 30 names of progressive women who were passionate about ending the racial divide in the Panhellenic community. They continued meeting, discussing, planning and strategizing. And growing.

Three years later, members of that group were responsible for breaking down the color barrier that had existed in the Panhellenic community at the University of Alabama for over 150 years.

I only attended their first meeting. I continued to meet privately with the leaders of the group, helping with strategy and planning, but I was not the face of the group, and very few people knew of my involvement. All I had to do was get them started – they took care of the rest.

There is no force on a college campus more powerful than a unified group of sorority women…

These two experiences taught me a few important lessons that I think younger fraternity/sorority advisors would benefit from learning.

1. It’s not about you. Get out of the way. You don’t have to be in charge of every important initiative within your community. Find the women (or men) in your community who care about the issues that you care about, empower them to take ownership of the issue, and then let them do their thing. You can be there to coach and encourage them along the way, but they need to be the ones in the spotlight, not you. Contrary to what you might think, the average member is much more likely to listen to one of their peers than they are to listen to you.

2. Women “get” values more than men. The research I am doing with Josh Schutts and Sarah Cohen has illuminated a fascinating finding. While values are not overtly involved in the construction of brotherhood within fraternities, the most altruistic form of sisterhood appears to be that sisterhood in which members understand their shared purpose as articulated in the organization’s values. So what does that mean for you? Your sorority members are much more likely to “get” values than your fraternity members. They may be a bit more interested in aligning their community with its shared values than your fraternity members are. So, if you can get sorority women to take the lead on an issue of importance, they can exert the appropriate influence on the men in your community – not by talking about values congruence, but by simply talking about changes they want to see. Which leads to my next point…

3. The women in your community hold a great deal of influence over the men, if and when they choose to use it. I think this can be attributed to biology….

4. Helping sorority women connect with one another is important. One member of one sorority may have difficulty finding her voice on a controversial topic, for the simple fact that she does not want her opinions to adversely affect her organization. The pressure to conform, whether overt or subtle, is very real, and the power of groupthink makes it unlikely for any single sorority member to stand up and attempt to tackle tough issues on her own. The most valuable role the f/s advisor can play is to create safe places for these difficult conversations to take place and to connect like-minded students with one another. When sorority women become empowered by the notion that they are not alone in how they feel, particularly when they find allies in other organizations, they are much more likely to speak out on difficult topics and lead real, meaningful change. After all, it is much more difficult for the powers of the status quo to intimidate or punish when women from every single organization on your campus are involved in the change initiative.

5. Don’t spend all of your time with your Panhellenic executive board. On many campuses, the Panhellenic council is seen as the mouthpiece of the administration. This is not to say that your Panhellenic leadership may not be useful or even instrumental in leading change, but to be seen as a truly grassroots effort, it should probably come from chapter leaders or, better yet, just rank and file members who care passionately about the topic. So what does this mean? Spend less time chained to your desk having one-on-one meetings with your Panhellenic exec and get out and spend more time with your chapters.

Empower sorority women on your campus to lead, and then get out of the way. The results may surprise you.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where Should Fraternity/Sorority Life Offices Be Housed on Campus? (Or: The Island of Misfit SA Professionals)

Last week, I (Gentry) posted a blog exploring why more professionals did not pursue fraternity/sorority advising as a career, laying out why I thought we should place more emphasis on fraternity/sorority advising as a profession and suggesting a model by which that could occur.

Our basic premise is this: if more high-quality, experienced professionals stayed involved in F/S advising later into their careers, the entire fraternity/sorority experience would be elevated and improved. In the current model, however, f/s advisors are underpaid, overworked and work in largely under-resourced and understaffed offices.  It will take both salary raises and proper staffing and support in order for more f/s advising professionals to see a director position as a career destination and not just a stopping point. Why would someone choose to work the grueling schedule of an f/s advisor, dealing with all of the drama, politics, late nights and weekends when they could go work as a director of student leadership programs or a director of service learning programs or a director of student conduct and have a normal schedule without all of the BS?  Even if we boost the pay of our directors, the jobs will still be difficult to fill with seasoned professionals because most people actually enjoy having a life outside of work. After a few years of “student affairs martyrdom,” most people set their sights on family or personal interests.  Our current model does not allow for that.

This week’s post explores one of the other challenges facing f/s advising as a profession – specifically, where within a division of student affairs f/s life is placed.

We like to think of f/s advising offices as the student affairs equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys. We don’t really fit in anywhere, and we wind up being stuck in the oddest of places.

Why does this matter?

It matters because the philosophy, work, expectations and opportunities for advancement will differ depending on where the f/s life office is housed on campus. And most of the current models do not sufficiently and adequately support the unique needs of f/s advisors, and do not provide adequate opportunities for professional development.

So, we are going to dissect the four existing models, discuss the pros and cons of each, and then present an alternative model that we think would best suit our institutions, our professional growth and, perhaps most importantly, the experiences of our students.

The Four Existing Models

The Student Activities Model
On many campuses, f/s life is a component of a larger student activities/student programming office. We really see this as the least desirous of the three models – in such a format, f/s life is just one of many “student activities” at which to be programmed. In our experience, supervisors in this area are often hesitant to recognize the unique role of the f/s advisor or the unique needs of an f/s community. The f/s advisor in this model is a “program advisor” much like the advisor to a campus activities board, and their roles are generally watered down to the point of council advising and planning leadership programs.  These models often inhibit innovation, as f/s advisors must scrap for scarce resources among other campus programs and other organizations. Often, this model results in f/s life receiving the short end of the stick when it comes to dollars for campus programs, because f/s programs rarely apply to the entire campus, and are thus less likely to be funded.

The Housing/Residence Life Model
On a growing number of campuses, f/s advising has found itself nested within University housing. As more and more campuses have moved towards university-owned, on-campus f/s housing models, this structure has become more prevalent. Of the four existing models, we think this one is probably the best. The model often involves live-in facility directors/managers, acting as additional “boots on the ground” with the ability to directly impact the residential culture of a f/s community. This model provides some benefit - as auxiliaries, housing departments are often well-funded and allow for appropriate levels of staffing and funding for programs. On the downside, this model nests f/s advising within a larger unit not especially aware of the unique needs of the f/s community or its advisor. Under this model, f/s housing is generally viewed no differently than other campus housing options – beds to be filled, residents to be managed. By spending so much time and energy on the residential components of membership, the f/s advisor is often drawn away from important work related to real culture change. In addition, this model provides the f/s advisor with little opportunity for upward mobility. Let’s face it – most f/s advisors are just not “housing people,” and have little desire or opportunity to move up within the housing model. Advisors in these systems are often required to move laterally in order to have any real opportunity for advancement. While this model has its perks, it is far from ideal.

The Dean of Students Model
The most common model we see, and the one to which we both trace our roots, is the model in which f/s advising is nested within a dean of students office.  In this model, the director of f/s life often reports to the dean or an associate dean, and is often lumped together with student conduct and campus BIT/Care teams.  To repeat – f/s life is lumped in with student conduct. Are we the only ones who have a problem with that? No? OK, good.  This model often places the f/s advisor as the chief Greek student conduct officer, leading the charge on hazing investigations and adjudicating organizational misconduct. As a result, this model makes it difficult for the f/s advisor to develop trust and rapport with student leaders. In the DOS model, the f/s advisor is often seen as “the heavy” and not as an advocate for the community. They often spend more time investigating hazing or Title IX cases than they spend working with students on culture change, developing and assessing programs, or cultivating relationships with key stakeholders. On the plus side, this model probably offers the best opportunities for professional development and advancement. Many f/s advisors go on to assume those associate dean roles and eventually work their way up the student affairs ladder. But, again, the model is far from ideal.

The Stand-Alone Model
In some cases, f/s advising is not nested within a larger structure. In this model, the director of f/s life often reports to the AVP or VP of student affairs. This is likely the least common of the four models, and may exist for several reasons:  1) The high-risk environment fosters a need for a direct line to the VP, 2) the institution is small enough where a more decentralized approach is appropriate, or 3) The AVP/VP has a special or vested interest in the f/s community. This model may be limited because it could propagate a silo approach to administering the office, where the director becomes insularly, fights to retain control of their resources, and is seen as less collaborative in the eyes of their peers. On the plus side, this model has the direct attention of senior administration, and probability greater access to funding because requests are made directly to the highest level administrators.

So what kind of model is best? Here is our best guess.

The Experiential Learning Model
To the best of our knowledge, the Experiential Learning Model does not explicitly exist within a student affairs divisional organization. It is possible that at some campuses, clusters of units reporting to an executive director or AVP are arranged with some of the proposed units—but not all. We see this model as being proactive, and organizing the f/s advising role and its community around other offices that facilitate the key components of our experience.  After all, aren’t f/s communities supposed to be learning laboratories?  Aren’t fraternities and sororities really a model for experiential learning?  We think they are, and it makes sense to organize them in a manner that best deploys strategic collaboration. Let’s face it – it is easier to collaborate with the offices that are around the meeting table each week when those office share core things in common.

We propose the following units comprise the experiential learning cluster in a division of student affairs.  Next to each identified unit, a brief rationale for their inclusion is presented. The cluster probably makes the most sense to be overseen by an executive director, or an AVP, of student affairs.

* Leadership programs – at the crux of what we teach members of our community is leadership. On many campuses, there is an office that coordinates general student body leadership. Imagine the opportunities related to synergizing the tremendous amount of time, energy and resources that go into the arena of leadership development with the office that delivers co-curricular opportunities for the general student body.

* Community or civic engagement/Volunteer programs – On many campuses, fraternities and sororities took pride in the community service and philanthropic giving that members participate in. Imagine the opportunities to reinforce this message when members have greater collaboration with the office that may coordinate service learning courses, the AMERICORPS program, and alternative break/service immersion experiences, to name a few.

* Student government association – As the voice of the student body, this group often disburses student funds, develops and implements policy to improve the student experience. That same ‘governing’ nature is found within f/s programs (if one thinks of the umbrella campus councils as mini-SGAs).   Imagine the opportunities to advocate for the f/s community experience to the student leadership that controls the purse strings, and develops policies that affect the entire student body.

* Career services –We like to think of the “alumni networking” aspect of the f/s experience as one of our biggest unfulfilled promises. We tout the success of our alumni, and some members generally believe that Greek alumni, or alumni from their organization, will help get them a job. But how often do we really reach out to these businesspeople, and how do we really cultivate those relationships? Imagine the opportunities to deliver on the promises associated with career and professional readiness when we are at the table with the entity that cultivates employer relationships and offers career and professional readiness preparation.

* F/s advising – Now imagine how the role of the f/s advisor, and the experience of the community, are holistically changed when different people are around the leadership table, and a greater access and collaboration is made in the foci of career/graduate school readiness, leadership development, service and community engagement, and access to student overall governance. What does that say about our community?  What does it leave one to conclude about our values, or the expected outcomes of the experience?   Such a model would provide a framework to improve the professional development of fraternity and sorority advisors, providing natural collaboration with key units with similar missions, and would allow f/s advisors to focus more on learning outcomes and less on facilities, conduct, and/or programming.

But is this model possible?  Why not?  The reorganization of a university hierarchies and structures happens all of the time.  How do we normally manage reorganization?  Why do we normally reorganize?  We contend sometimes units fall in certain models because senior administrators once oversaw that role, and perhaps got promoted and wanted to take it with them.  Is that the most effective model?  Probably not. When those people are gone, then what?  How often is the effectiveness of a division’s organizational structure actually evaluated?  Sometimes units get moved around because of people, either in conflict with one another, or a manager trying to obtain valuable career experience by overseeing certain programs, or a manager looking to avoid headaches by dodging certain programs.

This model is different because it does not advocate for the gerrymandering of division units based on people, but rather on expected outcomes.  If we want Greek Life to deliver on its promises to develop leaders, promote charity and service to mankind, develop a sense of accountability, create social change, and prepare our young men and women to be productive scholars or employees upon graduation, then we need to be strategic about who is at the table and the structures in place to make that happen.

One could easily refute these assertion by suggesting that a reorganization of these units is not needed; what, alternatively, is needed is just more collaboration with those offices. While collaboration is at the heart of our argument, lets face it:  It’s just easier to work with people whom you see more regularly.  When you’re attending the weekly or biweekly director’s meeting that is called by the AVP, that is the opportunity to inform those colleagues of the successes, challenges, and upcoming events of the f/s community.  Likewise, you also have the knowledge of what’s going on in your colleagues’ shops.  By putting these units under the same area, with a constant focus on experiential learning, we can provide intentionality to our efforts in promoting collaboration among these units and focusing our energy and efforts around transforming the fraternity/sorority experience into the premier experiential learning opportunity available for students on a college campus.

Written with special guest co-blogger, Joshua Schutts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Building a Case for Careers in Fraternity/Sorority Advising

Among the variety of roles I play at UWF, I serve as the faculty advisor for our Student Affairs Graduate Association (SAGA). I was meeting a few weeks back with the executive board, and they brought it to my attention that October is Careers in Student Affairs Month. Who knew?!?!

A few days later, Josh Schutts and I were having lunch with one of our UWF graduate students (none other than NASPA-FL graduate student of the year and 2014 AFA Grad-staffer Sarah Cohen), and she was picking our brains about conducting her fraternity/sorority advising job search. What kinds of jobs should she be looking for? What kinds of institutions should she look at? What are the ideal office structures to look for? She had lots of good questions, and I hope we provided her with some helpful answers.

Our conversation at lunch that day sparked an interesting side dialogue related to Careers in Student Affairs Month. Why is it, we wondered, that so few professionals actually plan a career in fraternity/sorority advising?  Why do so many talented f/s professionals jump ship after a few years in the director’s chair and move on to more lucrative or less stressful roles?

I can count on my two hands the number of professionals that I know who have made the conscientious choice to have a career in fraternity sorority advising – those for whom the highest job aspiration they have has been to serve as a director of fraternity/sorority life on campus, and who are actually good at it.

This phenomenon is the exception, and not the rule, in student affairs. Many talented professionals who work in the areas of campus recreation, housing and residence life, student transition programs, student conduct and university unions/campus activities (to name a few) aspire to nothing more or nothing less than the director of their respective units. Many a career has been made serving as a long-time director in one of those areas. But such is rarely the case in fraternity/sorority life.

I had the pleasure as serving as a director of fraternity/sorority life at two different institutions prior to my current appointment. At both places, I was the youngest and lowest paid director in the entire division of student affairs.  At both places, I worked in an office that was tremendously understaffed and under-resourced. At both places, I was expected to work ridiculous hours with no formal “flex schedule.”  And I know from conversations with colleagues that I am not alone in having those experiences. My experience was the norm, and not the exception, in fraternity/sorority advising.

It should not be this way.

It does not have to be this way.

I want to make a case for why directors of fraternity/sorority life should be more valued within their institutions, and I want to lay out a model for how that can happen.

Here are five reasons that directors of fraternity/sorority life should be more valued within student affairs:

1. The Politics – Without question, a director of f/s life deals with more politics than any other director within a student affairs division. When I worked at Alabama, I was on the phone with the president twice a month, and in meetings with him monthly. I had to balance policy matters with political matters, often walking a very fine line. Powerful alumni donors with strong ties to the university were very interested in the day-to-day workings of my office, and they were also in contact with my superiors. I know that Alabama may be a bit more political than the average institution, but I suspect that every f/s director deals with these issues from time to time. How many wealthy alumni are attempting to exert influence with a director of housing or campus recreation? My guess is not that many. A f/s director must be able to navigate these waters with skill and great care - a tall order for a young professional with less than five years of professional experience.

2. The Constituents – A f/s director balances more relationships with more constituents than any other person in student affairs. Students. Parents. Chapter advisors.  Alumni. Headquarters staff. Faculty. Law enforcement. Housing and facilities staff. Alumni relations and development staff. Student conduct staff. I could go on. No other director-level position within a division of student affairs must juggle relationships between so many different entities, all of whom the f/s advisor is partially dependent on for his/her success, and many of whom have competing interests.  The relationship management required to be an effective f/s director exceeds that of any other student affairs director and, again, may be difficult for a new professional to handle effectively.

3. The Impact on the Institution – A well-run and properly advised fraternity/sorority community can be a tremendous asset to an institution. A poorly run and improperly advised community can be a tremendous liability. Fraternity and sorority membership significantly impacts student retention, alumni satisfaction and giving, student health and wellness, academic performance, and overall student satisfaction, just to name a few. Depending on the quality of the experience, these impacts can be positive or negative. No other singular experience on the college campus has such powerful impacts on such a wide variety of student outcomes. Why would any VPSA want a new, inexperienced professional leading a program with the potential to have such a positive (or negative) influence on so many student outcomes? It makes absolutely no sense.

4. The Required Expertise – Running a f/s community, or at least running it well, requires a certain level of expertise that very few people have. Having someone who can simultaneously navigate the labyrinth or arcane Panhellenic recruitment rules, understand the intricacies of the NPHC intake process, develop curriculum for an officer training retreat, manage budgets, conduct a risk management program, and advise multiple organizations and governing councils is no easy task. Not just anyone has the skills, knowledge and abilities to do what a f/s director does. It is a highly specialized skill set, but for whatever reason, that highly specialized set of skills does not always translate to competitive salaries relative to other unit directors.

5. The Risk – At the end of the day, I think every VPSA in the country should ask him/herself a simple question – can I afford NOT to hire a talented, seasoned professional to run the f/s community here and pay them what they are worth? I would argue that one of the reasons we continue to see the same problems – hazing, alcohol abuse, sexual assault, etc. – year after year is because we do not have highly skilled, experienced and talented professionals in these important positions. We have new professionals with five years of experience or less managing incredibly complex, political, high-impact systems without the proper skills, experience or training to do so. No unit on a college campus can give a VPSA more heartburn tham a fraternity/sorority community, yet rarely do you find unit directors with less experience and lower salaries. It just does not make sense.

So, what kind of model can be implemented to allow for the changes we need?

As much as I hate their football team, I think LSU has instituted a model f/s program that other institutions would be wise to duplicate. Every fraternity and sorority member at LSU pays a “Greek Activity Fee” of $44 each semester. This fee generates nearly $400,000 of revenue each year. And given the services and privileges that f/s members on most campuses enjoy, I think a small service fee is easily justifiable. The revenue generated goes to fund the salaries of a well-staffed office, supports educational and risk management programming, and is re-invested in the community in a variety of ways. The institution has made the very intentional choice to hire the best staff, pay them what they are worth, and invest in quality programming designed to move the community forward.

Ironically, the director at LSU, Angela Guillory, is one of those people I can count on my two hands as having made a career in f/s life. I have no idea if Angela aspires to anything higher, but here is what I do know – she has been a director for a long time, she is darn good at it, and she is well-paid for the work she does. LSU has invested in their professional f/s staff, and that decision is evident in the progress seen in that community over the last 10 years.

I think one of the most important things we can do as a profession is to become better advocates for ourselves and our work. As a board member of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA), I will say that one of my top priorities as a board member is to ensure that AFA helps in this advocacy work. We need staffing and organizational models in which talented professionals can make a career in fraternity/sorority advising instead of models in which a vast majority of talented professionals eventually jump ship and move up or out of the field. We must educate senior student affairs officers on the importance of our work and we must lobby and advocate for more resources, better pay, and increased priority. 

The future of the fraternity/sorority experience demands it.

*Next week, I, along with my pal Josh Schutts, will deliver part two in this series dedicated to Careers in Student Affairs Month. Part two will investigate the various models dictating where F/S life offices are housed within divisions of student affairs, discuss the limitations of these models, and propose a new model designed to maximize the potential of what a f/s life office can and should be. Tune in next week!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Changing the Shape of Hazing – Five Things We Need to Be Doing

I write this blog at 30,000 feet, somewhere between Pensacola, FL and Fort Worth, TX, where I will be spending the next few days working with the students and staff at Texas Christian University.  Our flight path is following a winding river flowing its way through Mississippi or Louisiana or some other such place. A few miles back, there was an oxbow lake – for whatever reason, I have always remembered oxbow lakes from my fifth grade science class. An oxbow lake is created when a bend in a river is cut off by erosion and the river forges a new, more direct path.  That old bend in the river, now separated from the flow, gave me the inspiration for this blog – specifically, the need for us to forge new, more direct ways to confront, address and prevent hazing on college campuses. We need to leave some oxbow lakes in our wake – vestiges of days gone by – as we step up our efforts in the prevention of hazing on campus.

Here are five things we need to be doing to change the flow of this river:

1.     Address What We CAN See –This time last year, I was having lunch in the UWF cafeteria, minding my own business and enjoying whatever delicious fare Chartwell’s had offered up that day. As I was finishing my meal, I heard a commotion behind me. I turned to see a group of what were obviously fraternity pledges standing at their table and reciting a creed of some sort.  I knew they were fraternity pledges by their telltale khaki pants and navy blazers, and based on the color of their matching ties, I had a pretty good idea what chapter they were in.

As I watched and listened, I noticed that there were several other guys at the table, dressed in street clothes, not standing or reciting anything. Now, in the grand scheme of things, this was not a big deal. Hazing? Technically. Going to keep me up at night? Nope.  But as I pondered the situation, I decided to walk over and confront the situation.

None of the guys in this chapter knew me at the time, so I was able to play dumb. I walked over and said “hey…that was pretty cool. What was that you were just reciting?” A pledge was pleased to tell me that they had just recited the fraternity’s creed before their meal. I turned to one of the active members and asked “are you in the same fraternity? I didn’t see you guys standing and saying the creed.” He informed me that he was, in fact, a member of the same fraternity. So I asked him why only the guys wearing blazers stood to say the creed. His response was perfect – “Well….because they’re pledges.”

“Hi, I’m Dr. McCreary, the Associate Dean of Students….”

My research into hazing rationale has illuminated for me that the most dangerous, and the most common, form of hazing is what has been termed “social dominance” hazing – that hazing that serves no purpose other than to reinforce a social hierarchy in the chapter – we make the new members do things because we have the power to make them do anything we want. This type of hazing is strongly correlated with increased severity of hazing, alcohol use, conformity, and unethical behavior. Here’s the problem with social dominance hazing – it does not always take the form of “Big H” hazing. It is often done publicly, out in the open, and can be easily dismissed as no big deal. But once a chapter culture of social dominance sets in, it is not a long stretch from having pledges recite the creed in the cafeteria to having them recite the creed in a bucket of ice water or forcing them to chug a fifth of bourbon if they mess up their recitation of the creed. Once a chapter convinces itself that it is OK to do things to pledges just because you can, then a sick culture of social dominance sits in which involves hazing much more dangerous and deadly than the situation depicted above.

So – don’t accept any hazing. Don’t let anything slide. Address everything you see. This does not mean you have to be draconian in your approach – zero tolerance where reciting the creed in the cafeteria leads to automatic suspension. But it does mean that there should be a swift and appropriate response. Allowing a culture of social dominance to go unchecked and unaddressed can have deadly consequences.

2.     Conduct thorough investigations – My dissertation research confirmed for me the importance of campus culture – the campus environment has a unique and distinct interaction with the moral disengagement that allows hazing to take place.  Students need to know – to see – that an institution takes hazing seriously. One of the best ways to do this is to conduct thorough, reliable investigations for any allegations.  It is hard to do that if the person investigating alleged hazing is the Greek advisor. The Greek advisor has multiple responsibilities, and in a previous blog post, I have argued that they are often ill-prepared to take the lead on hazing investigations.  Instead, campuses should adopt and independent investigator model, similar to what many campuses are adopting for Title IX cases. By having a team of independent trained investigators, campuses can quickly and more thoroughly investigate cases of hazing, sending a strong and clear message to the campus community.

3.     Talk about it – When I worked at Alabama, I had a philosophy when it came to our education, prevention and risk management initiatives – if you haven’t said it in the last three months, you have never said it.  Memories are short, but traditions are long. We must be constant, persistent and pervasive in our hazing prevention programming. If you are only talking about hazing during National Hazing Prevention Week, then your students are not getting the message.  The speaker you bring in will have an impact for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but their message eventually wears off as old habits creep back in. We must expose students to a constant barrage of prevention-minded education at every level, from new members to chapter officers to alumni, and we need to be doing it nearly constantly. Only then can our prevention efforts begin to have a lasting impact.

4.     Help fraternity chapters redefine brotherhood – My research into fraternal brotherhood with Josh Schutts has revealed four schema of brotherhood – four unique and distinct ways that fraternity men define and conceptualize brotherhood. Many men think about brotherhood as merely being about solidarity (i.e. I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine) or about shared social experiences (all the fun we have together is what bonds us as brothers). Chapters who think about brotherhood in these ways are more likely to have severe hazing. The hazing is designed to produce faux solidarity through a difficult new member process, or prevent new members from immediately exploiting the benefits of membership (i.e. earning your letters). But chapters who balance out the solidarity and social elements of brotherhood with equal parts of belonging (i.e. my fraternity is my home away from home and a place where I feel accepted and appreciated) and accountability (i.e. my brothers make me a better person by holding me to high standards) are less likely to haze and are more likely to have healthy, productive chapter experiences. We know from our research and work on campuses that fraternity men enjoy and are willing to engage in conversations about brotherhood, and that programming aimed at realigning their conceptualization of brotherhood is effective. In other words, if we can get men to change the way they think about brotherhood, we can get them to think differently about the need for hazing to be part of that brotherhood. Conversations about brotherhood offer us an alternative point of entry into conversations about a variety of difficult topics – hazing, sexual assault, values congruence, alcohol, etc. – and show incredible promise in the worlds of education and prevention.

5.     Find the right alumni and get them engaged – If there are Greek advisors who feel that recruiting alumni advisors is not part of their job description, then I would encourage them to seriously reexamine their priorities. Plugging the right alumni into the chapter experience is among the most important work we can do. As I have suggested in a previous post, we need to be moving away from the failed “self-governance” experiment and begin instituting models of shared alumni governance. The number one risk factor leading to severe hazing in fraternities is the lack of responsible adults involved in the new member process. Greek advisors are well-advised to spend time networking and building relationships with alumni and other responsible adults who may be able to get plugged into chapter governance models. The introduction of responsible adults may be one of the most important things we can do to change chapter cultures as it relates to hazing.

I am incredibly humbled to be able to do the work that I do. This week, I will visit five campuses spread across the United States and have a chance to talk to students and university administrators about this important issue. It is my hope that this work, and the work of others, will change the conversation on campuses about hazing prevention in a way that will change the trajectory – the direction – of hazing on college campuses. I think these five things represent our best hope of making oxbow lakes out of hazing – changing hazing from an expected cultural norm to a vestige of the way things used to be. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Overcoming Racism

What’s happening at the University of Alabama has the potential to change the world.

Before I tell you why, let me tell you a story.

When I came to the University of Tennessee as a freshman in the Fall of 1997, I really had no idea what I was in for. That may sound cliché, but if you know anything at all about LaFollette, TN, then you know that pretty much anywhere else you go from there is going to be a culture shock, and at that time I had not been to many other places save a few 4-H meat judging trips to such exotic destinations as Manhattan, KS.

I was just savvy enough to get myself selected onto the SGA freshman council (I suppose I met their hillbilly diversity goal). At our first meeting, as we were playing the name game, people snickered a little when I introduced myself. At first, I had no idea what they were laughing at, but later figured out it was because of the way I talked (I had a strong rural Appalachian accent). They were all from places I had never even heard of (Brentwood? Germantown? Were those places in TN? Why had I never heard of them?).  Suffice it to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Word quickly spread among my 40 colleagues on the council that I was the resident expert on parliamentary procedure, and a few weeks later, when we elected our officers, I was elected to the executive board as the parliamentarian. I was one of four executive officers – a president, vice president, secretary/treasurer and me.  Part of me was elated – barely on campus for more than a few weeks and already assuming important, prestigious leadership positions. I was on my way!

But another part of me was horrified. You see, the president of our freshman council, Sharrie Williams, was black.

Why was I horrified? Bluntly, I had never been around a black person before. I had only observed them from safe distances. I had wonderful stories of being in Atlanta during Freak-nic and that time my pals and I stopped in Macon, GA on our way to Orlando and decided to watch “Waiting to Exhale” in a local movie theater. But I had never had any significant interactions with any person of color. And I was horrified that I would say something offensive or stupid or wrong without even knowing it or meaning to. I was a product of my environment, and LaFollette, TN was not exactly a bastion of diversity or tolerance.

Sharrie intimidated me. She was outspoken. She was smart. She was confident. She shattered any and all stereotypes I may have had in my 18 year-old mind. And for whatever reason, she decided that we were going to be friends. To this day, I have no idea why. But over the course of our first semester at UT, Sharrie and I became buddies. We had lunch together at least once a week. We would meet up in the University Center to chat about school and freshman council business. She even came to a few parties down at the AGR house.  We were quite the pair.

Now, fast forward five years. I was in the first year of my Higher Education/Student Affairs graduate program at South Carolina, in Dr.John Lowery’s student development theory class. At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Lowery asked us to write about how we were different at graduation compared to when we started college, and to what experiences we attributed those changes.  And guess who I spent a good portion of that paper writing about? If you guessed Sharrie Williams, you would be correct.

Later in that class, I learned about racial identity development theory, and my experiences with Sharrie began to make more sense to me. Growth and development come from being exposed to individuals and experiences that challenge stereotypes and expose differences and privilege.  I think I was able to quickly move through the “abandoning racism” steps of Helm’s White Identity Model because my first significant interactions with someone of a different race were so positive and impactful, allowing me to cast aside previous racist ideas and focus on my role in both perpetuating racism and abandoning white entitlement. My experiences with Sharrie had completely altered my world view, making me simultaneously more aware of myself and the issues of race surrounding me.

Thus Gentry’s First Law of Student Development: Any program or activity on a college campus is only as good as its ability to get students from different backgrounds interacting with one another in meaningful and significant ways.  My graduate students here in the UWF College Student Affairs Administration program know and can tell you all about Gentry’s Laws if you're interested...

Now, look at where we are today.  For 150 years, the Greek system at the University of Alabama has been a bastion of exclusion and intolerance. Last year, because of the courageous work of a handful of sorority members, those walls finally came crashing down.  And last week, 21 African American women, and dozens of other women of color, joined historically white Panhellenic sororities during formal recruitment.  I am willing to bet that the number 21 will represent the largest number of African American women pledging historically white sororities on any college campus in the Unites States this year. If any campus pledges more, I hope they will let us all know. To contrast, in my five years as Director of Greek Life at Alabama, I think the most we ever had was four African American women going through recruitment in any given year.  Think about that – from four (none of whom joined a sorority) to 21 (all of whom joined a sorority) in only a few years.

So, in one year, the Alabama Panhellenic community has gone from a bastion of racial exclusion and white privilege to a model for diversity within fraternity/sorority life (note, this movement has actually been building for at least a few years now, as noted here).  Alabama (yes, that Alabama) may actually become a destination school for women of color looking to join Panhellenic sororities. Imagine that! Roll Tide!

How did they do it? I’m not entirely sure. I suspect there is more to the story than we have been told. I hope someone, at some point, will tell us the full story, because it is a story that needs telling.

But here is why this is so important. For 150 years, students at Alabama have been able to come from their all white neighborhoods and their all-white private schools and immediately join their all-white sororities and live in all-white sorority houses and never have any interactions with anyone who was different from them.  No growth. No challenge. No significant interactions with those who are different - just stagnation and solidification of their world views. After a few years, they graduated and moved back to Mountain Brook or Fairhope or Greenville or Highland Park to the same gated communities and small towns from whence they came and they were no different, at least in terms of multiculturalism, than they were before. The University failed fraternity and sorority members by allowing them to limit their interactions only to those who looked, dressed, talked and acted like themselves.

Today, finally, that separation will not – cannot – happen anymore. Thousands of students – future leaders in our society – are going to come to college and have significant and meaningful experiences with people who are different. Stereotypes will be shattered. Myths will be busted. Racism will be turned on its ugly head. And those experiences will last with them long after their college experiences. After college, how will these experiences impact their civic engagement? Their philanthropic giving? Their political ideology?  Where they choose to send their children to school? Their world view?

Don’t get me wrong – Alabama, just like everyone else, has a long way to go. I’m not sure what is happening in Tuscaloosa today, but I am certain it is not a post-racial utopia. But the progress that has been made there is very real, and it has the potential to change thousands of lives. And if the Alabama Greek system can do it, anyone can.

How many young women at Alabama today will have a Sharrie Williams in their life? How many will grow and change in positive and meaningful ways because of those experiences? And how might those experiences transform their lives and, eventually, our society? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I look forward to finding out.


Sharrie and I stayed in touch after freshman year, but gradually drifted apart as she became more involved in the world of sports/news broadcasting and I became more involved in the world of fraternity life and meat judging. She is now an anchor on the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia. We haven’t spoken in years, but I hope she reads this and knows how much our friendship impacted the person I am today.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Problem with the Values Movement

Values development has been an intended outcome of membership in fraternity/sorority since the inception of these groups. In modern day practice, organizations espouse these values front and center through a review of websites and materials. Advocates of the collegiate fraternity/sorority experience believe that when members demonstrate their values, they can be seen as relevant and contributing organizations on a college campus.

Here’s the problem - values congruence is very difficult to actualize with traditional-aged college students.

While it’s easy to say that the values movement has “always” been a part of these organizations , the last 30 years have made the topic of values and fraternities and sororities as values-based organizations more salient and more of a focus point because (1) legal challenges have positioned us as defensive, (2) fraternities need a distinctive niche in a flooded market of involvement opportunities, (3) college and university presidents told us we had to focus on this (see Franklin Square Group, 2003) and (4) new member and intake programs have become more focused on concepts of student development, which coincidentally has components of aligning actions with values (think Kohlberg, Baxter-Magolda, etc.).  A more extensive examination of the recent history of the “values movement” can be found in Veldkamp and Bureau (2012).

Imploring students to align their actions and values has been a strategy for advising fraternities and sororities for some time now.  Numerous articles have been written that examine strategies for using values as an approach to advising (for example, Bureau, 2007; 2009). It has been an approach that has been promoted in numerous workshops and trainings for fraternity/sorority professionals. AFA has a core competency focused on values alignment (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, 2014). However, I believe that while well-intended, the "live your values" approach is flawed: The problem with the values movement is not in the nobility of the goal, but in how we are trying to get there.  Here are four reasons I believe the approach needs rethinking, and some thoughts on what we should be doing differently.

1. The term “Values” is nebulous – Imagine the average fraternity chapter on your campus. Imagine walking into a chapter meeting at that chapter house and asking them “What are your standards?”  You might expect to hear about minimum GPA requirements or minimum standards for recruitment.  Now, imagine walking into a chapter meeting and asking them “What are your expectations for members?”  Again, you might get answers related to paying dues, attending events, and certain behavioral expectations.  Finally, imagine asking them “What does your chapter value?”  What answers do you expect that you might get?  The values written in their ritual book or the values espoused through their daily activities? 

As Schutts (2013) has suggested, the things on which we spend our time are the things we value. So, what does that chapter value?  Drinking beer? Chasing girls?  Hazing pledges?  Are those not values? If a student values those things, and does those things, are they not “living their values?” Merely using the term “values” is problematic. It is nebulous. It could mean anything. Different people respond to the word in very different ways.  Which leads to the next problem…

2. Values are not an explicitly overt part of brotherhood – Brotherhood can be thought of as the foundation of the fraternal experience.  It is the currency of fraternity – it is exchanged by members and sold to potential new members.  In our research on brotherhood (article in press with Oracle), Josh Schutts and I identified four distinct ways that fraternity men think about brotherhood –based on solidarity, based on shared social experiences, based on belonging, and, the highest form of brotherhood, that based on accountability. When building the Fraternal Brotherhood Questionnaire (FBQ), an instrument designed to measure the four schema of brotherhood, we used the terms “values”, “expectations”, and “standards” interchangeably in building items to measure the accountability factor (i.e. brotherhood is best demonstrated when members are held to the chapter’s standards/expectations/values).  When we completed the exploratory factor analysis (EFA) on the proposed factors, an interesting thing happened – many of the items that used the words “standards” and “expectations” loaded onto the accountability factor as expected.  Not a single item that used the word “values” loaded to the accountability factor.

Suspecting that perhaps values are separate from standards and expectations, we attempted to force a fifth factor using the “values” items. In the resulting EFA, the values items did not even load with one another, indicating absolutely no consistency in how the participants responded to the term “values.” In other words, when it comes to holding chapter members accountable, the “values” of any given chapter are completely different depending on whom you ask, and members do not think about values when they think about accountability. Rather, they think about standards and expectations.

Conceptually, this makes sense: Moses did not come down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Values. Two major world religions are not built from a list of vague values – they are built from a set of very specific standards and expectations.  After all, “thou shalt not kill” is a little more straightforward than “thou shalt value human life.”  If we are looking to alter behavior through accountability to values, then we may be spinning our wheels.

3. New members aren’t joining values (or are they)?

We have all seen our fair share of distasteful “rush” t-shirts.  Have you ever stopped to wonder why we continue to see them, year after year? Could it be that they are effective at recruiting new members?

Many who work day to day with fraternity/sorority leaders interact with those who “get it” and want their chapters to be more congruent with espoused values. The reach of our work is often with a very small fraction of the fraternity/sorority members on a campus. Potentially, we are out of touch with the “average” member.

Some of us may have even deluded ourselves into thinking that WE joined OUR organizations because of the values of the group.  I would call this selective memory at best.  When I came to the University of Tennessee in the Fall of 1997, I had no idea what a fraternity was. I could not have been less interested. But my friend Lake Elliot convinced me to go with him to the Alpha Gamma Rho house our first weekend on campus, and the rest is history. It was a place where I felt comfortable, with a group of guys I really connected with.  I joined because I felt like I belonged there.  In hindsight, it is easy for me to make the connection between my sense of belonging and the values I shared with both the organization and those in the chapter, but I would be lying to myself and to you if I said that I joined the values. I joined a group of people with whom I felt I had a great deal in common. I valued those people, but I didn’t join for values. Also, there may have been some beer involved.

The fact is, students join chapters for a variety of reasons. Many join to take advantage of the social benefits and have a good time, because that is what they value. In those cases, would the rush shirt depicted above not qualify as “values-based recruitment?”  Students are not joining values, but their values play a significant role in where and why they join. The term “values-based recruitment” is one we need to remove from our lexicon.  Expecting people go live out the values of an organization, when those values had little to no influence in their decision to join that organization, is an adventure in futility.

4. Trying to force students to live the values of their organizations may actually be counter-productive – As a field, we love to talk about students “getting it.” I have had a number of conversations with colleagues either bragging about their UIFI group “totally getting it” or lamenting the students on their campuses “not getting it.” In the spirit of conformity, I may have even uttered those words a few times myself.  But what is this mythical “it” that students are supposed to be “getting.” What is it, exactly, that we want from our students? We assume that we want our students to “live their values.”

As it turns out, most of us studied a theory in graduate school that directly speaks to this idea. If you have read Baxter Magolda’s (2008) theory of self-authorship, then the graphic above should look familiar. As adolescents, external formulas guide our path, as we largely pursue our lives as others (parents, teachers) have told us.  At some point, we hit a crossroads where those external formulas no longer work for us, and we begin to develop self-authorship (the ability to determine our own life course). Finally, we develop internal foundations, which is essentially values congruence. As a part of solidifying our internal foundations, we develop a set of personal values, and live our lives in accordance to those values.  According to Baxter-Magolda, most adults don’t reach Internal Foundations until their mid-thirties, well above the age of the vast majority of our undergraduates and even older than most fraternity/sorority professionals.

So what does this all have to do with the values movement? We like to tell students that they should live their organization’s values as explained in the ritual or espoused on websites, instead of their individual values. When we do this, what we are actually doing is imposing a different external formula on them.  In effect, we are saying “I don’t like your values, so here – take these values and live them.” If we were truly concerned about student development, we would be creating cognitive dissonance in a way that would lead to a series of crossroads and, eventually, self-authorship.  Conversations about how actions reflect values can and should be part of creating that dissonance, but when we impose new external formulas on our students, we are limiting their growth and development.

So, What Should We Be Doing?

I am ready to declare the end of the “values movement” and the birth of the “brotherhood/sisterhood movement.”  We have been talking about values congruence for the last 20 years, and where has it gotten us? We need a new paradigm – a new entry point into the conversation with students.  My research and work with students has led me to believe, very strongly, that conversations about values need to be replaced with conversations about brotherhood and sisterhood. Through these conversations, we can allow students to see for themselves that brotherhood/sisterhood without accountability is not really brotherhood or sisterhood at all.  Once they embrace accountability, they will have no choice but to move their chapters to a place of values congruence.

I also think we need to focus more of our time, energy and effort on the moral development of our students.  As I asked in Perspectives (2012), what if we spent as many resources on the moral development of our students as we did on the leadership development of our students. Leadership is sexy, but the empirical evidence linking increases in moral development with declines in anti-social behavior (hazing, sexual assault, cheating, to name a few) is overwhelming.  If we do more to boost the moral judgment of our students, then values congruence should come about as a result.

*This blog post is adapted from an article originally published in AFA Essentials and is posted here with permission from the publisher.


Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (2014). Core competencies for excellence in the profession. Retrieved January 8, 2014 from

Bureau, D. (2009, Winter). Using values to rationalize risk management. Association of Fraternity Advisors Perspectives. Indianapolis, IN.

Bureau, D. (2007, Summer). Beyond the Rhetoric and Into the Action of the Values Movement. Association of Fraternity Advisors Perspectives. Indianapolis, IN.

Franklin Square Group (2003). A call for values Congruence. Washington, DC. Author.

Schutts, J. (2013, Fall). Perhaps its time we stopped talking about values. Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Perspectives. Ft. Collins, CO.

Veldkamp, S. & Bureau, D. (2012, Summer). Call for values reflection: Together forward. Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Perspectives, 12-15. Indianapolis, IN.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sheep Amidst the Wolves: Making Our Own Leadership Commitments

It’s summer leadership conference season!!!  For the last few weeks, and for the foreseeable future, my newsfeed has been blown up by posts from friends and colleagues headed off to Bloomington or some other far-flung place in order to facilitate a UIFI or a Leadershape or any number of hodgepodge fraternal leadership programs.
I have facilitated a number of these programs myself. I see great value in their ability to inspire students to become greater versions of themselves, to live with integrity and purpose, and to build skills that will help them lead their peers and their organizations.  Unfortunately, when it comes to real culture change, most of these programs continue to fall short.

One of my favorite movies is “The Devil’s Advocate” starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves. There is a scene, early in the movie, when Reeve’s character, Kevin Lomax, is recruited away from Podunk, FL to New York City. His mother pleads with him not to go, afraid of what might befall him, but Kevin is determined to make it in the big city. As he leaves his crying mother behind in a proverbial cloud of dust, she admonishes him with scripture; “Behold, I send you out as sheep amidst the wolves!”  I have always assumed that she meant she was sending him out into the world, completely unprepared to handle the pitfalls and perils certain to come his way.

For a while now, I have thought that we should end our fraternity/sorority leadership programs with the same warning to students.  We bring them together for a week, surround them with mostly like-minded people, make them cry, implore them to live their values, make them feel guilty for all of the bad things going on in their chapters, get them all fired up to go home and change the world, and then send them out as sheep amidst the wolves. We send them right back to the sick cultures from whence they came, ill-prepared and naïve in their expectations, expecting them to enlist others in their cause, hoping and praying that they will be able to get their chapters and communities on the right track.

Here’s the problem with that model – the students we are asking to fix these broken cultures had no role in making those cultures what they are.  The problems facing the fraternity/sorority community are systemic. They are the natural and inevitable by-product of the systems we have in place. We have recruitment policies designed around conformity and social status, yet act surprised when alcohol becomes part of the recruitment process or when new members aren’t recruited “based on their values.” We have antiquated new member models in which 19 year-old boys are given absolute power to teach 18 year-old boys what it means to be a man, yet act surprised when hazing becomes ingrained in a chapter’s culture.  We build palatial mansions with little-to-no adult oversight, then scratch our heads and wander why our members feel entitled and isolate themselves from the rest of campus, especially people whom they perceive as “different.”  While we are pounding our chests, imploring students to live their values, we are complicit in supporting the organizational and institutional fixtures that promote the very behaviors we are trying to change. Yet we pat ourselves on the back every year when students in our small group “get it” and high-five one another if we can make them cry at our closing session.

One of the more popular fixtures of these leadership programs has been the “commitment ceremonies” that are often carried out right at the end.  We have participants circle up, and everyone goes around completing the “I commit to _______” sentence.   We sit and smile as we hear students make commitments that we know, in the back of our minds, they will never be able to achieve.

I think it is time we made some commitments to our students. Instead of expecting them to fix all of these problems on their own, we should commit to SUBSTANTIAL and MEANINGFUL action that will help address the problems that plague us.  Here are some recommendations of places we can start:

The North American Interfraternity Conference:  Commit to putting your money where your mouth is. Develop meaningful standards for your member organizations. Develop standards that would, if implemented, fundamentally change the nature of fraternities. Enforce those standards as passionately as you enforce open expansion policies on college campuses.  Stop wasting money on meaningless “research” that confirms what we already know and is designed to make us look good, and devote time, energy and resources into evidence-based research that will help us figure out how to best address some of the issues that are plaguing our organizations, regardless of how it might make us look. Use the resources and clout that you have to actually LEAD the fraternal movement to a new and better place.

National Panhellenic Conference: Commit to getting your heads out of the sand. Members of your organizations are the most likely candidates on college campuses to be victims of sexual assault, yet nowhere is victim-blaming more prevalent than around the NPC table. No organizations want to stand up and address this issue, because to address it would be to recognize that we have a serious problem.  To my knowledge, the only action the NPC has taken with regards to Title IX and the issues surrounding it has been to lobby the Office of Civil Rights AGAINST the recent mandates, particularly the articulated “preponderance of evidence” standard for resolving these cases. A governmental agency is promoting legislation to make your members safer and to make it easier for them to resolve their claims of sexual assault and you lobby AGAINST these reforms?  Your student members demand better.  I am ready for the NPC or one of its member organizations to stand up and LEAD on this issue.

National Organization Executives: Commit to not waiting until the press declares you the “Nation’s Deadliest Fraternity” before taking drastic measures. Our system is broken. Pledging, as we now know it, needs to become a thing of the past. We need new systems of shared alumni governance. We need to educate our members about sexual assault and consent. We need more national headquarters willing to make substantive structural changes that will help create cultures in which values congruence is the norm and not the exception. Don’t wait for negative press or ultimatums from your insurance provider before making these changes. Stand up and LEAD on these issues.

Campus-based F/S advisors: Commit to being better at your job. We all need you to stop buying into the latest bright shiny object and to begin thinking for yourself. Assess your communities to find out what the critical issues are. Plan strategically to address those issues. Measure your results. Use data to become a better advocate for yourself and for our profession.  Stop wasting time with the 10 percent of students who “get it” and get out of your office to spend time with the other 90 percent who need you. Stop doing things because you think they will make you look good to the AFA crowd, and start doing things that will have a meaningful impact on your campus. Stand up and LEAD the F/S community on your campus to a better place.

Some, particularly those who support the status quo, will misinterpret this post as me being negative – of me seeing the glass half empty and just rabble-rousing in order to get attention.  Nothing could be further from the truth. This post is not intended to be negative. Rather, this post is intended as a call to action. We must stop putting the burden of fixing our problems squarely on the shoulders of our students. We have to stop sending them out as sheep amidst the wolves and not doing our part to support those efforts. We have to stop setting lofty expectations for our students to lead in drastic ways if we aren’t willing to do the same ourselves

We can all do better.