Friday, March 27, 2015

Regression to the Mean and the Single Most Important Thing We Can Do to Fix Fraternity Communities

There is a phenomenon that is observed in statistics known as regression to the mean.  In research, if a data point is an extreme outlier on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second and subsequent measures. This is one of the most universal laws in all of statistics.

Regression to the mean doesn’t just happen in statistics. In happens in real life.

It is the single biggest challenge facing fraternity communities on college campuses today.

It’s a familiar story – a fraternity finally screws up badly enough for its national headquarters and/or the host university to close the chapter, with all of the usual weeping and gnashing of teeth. After a hiatus of a few years, the fraternity comes back to the campus and recolonizes that chapter.

Most of the time, the national headquarters does a great job recruiting the right guys for the right reasons into the newly recolonized group. They are the “maybe joiners” or “never joiners” we love to talk about – those guys not interested in the stereotypical fraternity experience, but who are interested in a value-added experience that helps enrich their college experience in a meaningful way. And so it goes for a few years – the chapter is high performing, recruiting other good guys interested in joining for the right reasons. Maybe they have the best grades on campus. They may even win a few national awards.

But you know how this story ends.

After a few years, after all of the founding members have graduated and the notion of offering an experience that is “different” becomes less salient in the minds of current members, the inevitable happens.

Regression to the mean.

The chapter members start looking around, comparing themselves to other groups on campus who have a more prominent position in the social hierarchy. As they look around, they begin to ask themselves “Hey – how can we be more like those groups? How can we increase our social capital? How can we stop being the dorky fraternity and be more like the cool groups?” And, over time, they become less of an outlier and begin looking more and more like the other fraternities on campus. 

They become, for lack of a better term, average.

This is not the result of some phenomenon unique to the college fraternity. Rather, it is the result of a widely observed statistical law. We can’t change it. Regression to the mean is inevitable.

The only way to offset the effects of regression to the mean is to elevate the mean.

In other words, we have to redefine what it means to be an “average fraternity” on a campus. The average fraternity needs to be much higher performing that today’s average fraternity. If we are able to elevate the mean, then the results of regression to the mean will be less disastrous than they currently are on a majority of college campuses.

But how do we do that? How do we artificially and positively adjust the mean on a particular campus?

Here is my idea:

Every year, the executive directors of all of the fraternities and sororities should get together and hold a secret ballot vote.  The question put to them should be “what is the campus that gives you the most headaches.” Each executive director gets one vote. An independent arbiter would tally the votes and announce the 10 campuses who received the highest number of votes. Whether or not other campuses can volunteer as tribute is a matter I am open to discussing.

Those 10 campuses would then get their worlds rocked.

If a campus makes the “Top 10” list, the campus administration would be notified and representatives from the national groups would make a trip to that campus to work on a plan of action on that campus.  Each group represented on that campus would volunteer to undertake an exhaustive membership review, getting rid of every single bad apple in the barrel. They would institute models of shared governance. They would mandate alcohol free housing. Guys only there for the party? Gone. Guys only interested in drinking and hazing pledges? Gone. Guys who underperform academically and don’t give a darn for community service? Gone. You get the idea.

In exchange for this cleanse, every campus selected should agree to increase its staffing and support of the fraternity/sorority advising office. Commit resources to hiring additional staff – seasoned staff with the ability to align the fraternity/sorority program with the goals and mission of the host institution. Commit to recruiting, training and providing support to additional chapter advisors. Invest in meaningful educational programming. Spend serious time and resources building an infrastructure capable of sustaining a thriving and successful Greek community.

Will this approach fix all of our problems? Of course not. 18-22 year old college students are always going to be 18-22 year old college students. They will continue to experiment with boundaries and make mistakes. And we can all be there to help them learn and grow from those mistakes.

But if this type of system were actually implemented, imagine the impact it could have. In a period of five years, 50 campus fraternity communities would be completely transformed. It would institute a “new normal” of what it means to be in a fraternity on those campuses.  And as new groups come to campus and “regress to the mean,” the mean to which they are regressing will be shifted upward in a significant and meaningful way. 

We can’t stop regression to the mean, but we can change the mean to which organizations regress. And doing so may be our best chance at fixing our broken fraternity system.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Text of FSPAC Email to Congressional Visit Participants

The following is the text of an email message sent from Jen Kilian from the North American Interfraternity Conference to students selected to participate in the 2015 Fraternity and Sorority Congressional Visits.


Congratulations! You have been selected to participate as a student lobbyist for the upcoming 2015 Fraternity and Sorority Congressional Visits. Your sorority or fraternity will sponsor your participation in this event, which will take place April 26th –April 30th in Washington, DC.

While in Washington, you will participate in a day and a half of training sessions on Monday, April 27th and Tuesday, April 28th leading up to our day of meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress and their staff on Wednesday, April 29th. The Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (FSPAC) will also host a dinner on Wednesday night where we expect numerous Members of Congress to be in attendance.  It is possible/likely your national organization may be paying for you to attend that fundraising dinner.

You MUST be able to arrive in Washington, DC on Sunday, April 26th (training begins on the morning of April 27) and depart Thursday, April 30th.  Failure to meet this requirement disqualifies you from participating. We need to know as soon as possible whether or not you can attend so we can choose another student in your place if you are unavailable. Please send an email confirming your participation or declining your participation by Friday, January 23.  The confirmation/decline email should be sent to Samantha Martin at

As a participant, you will be asked to engage in various activities in preparation for your time in DC, such as garnering support for legislation that impacts student housing and college affordability by getting letters of support from your university leaders and working with your student government organizations. In addition, you also may be asked to advocate on several Title IX and campus sexual assault legislative priorities outlined below. It is imperative that you read the legislative priorities below.  If you do not feel comfortable lobbying on these issues or cannot support the positions being taken, you should not participate in this event.   If you are not comfortable with the positions and issues discussed below or have any questions about the priorities, please email Kevin O’Neill at as soon as possible.

Furthermore, you will need to spend at least several hours prior to the visits preparing and reading over materials provided for you on the issues that you will lobby on once in Washington.  We are likely to have a training webinar in February/March that you will be expected to participate in live or on tape.   The time commitment for these efforts is minimal but vital to your success. Once you have registered, you will receive additional information on these activities.

In order to confirm your participation you must register via this link by 5:00pm on Friday, January 30th: 2015 Capital Hill Student Registration<>

*Please note: You should not attempt to register until you hear from your contact representative from your organization. They will provide you guidance on payment and reserving your hotel room.

Once again, congratulations and we look forward to seeing you in April!

Jen Kilian

In addition to efforts to pass the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act, students and alumni participating in the Greek Hill visits will be lobbying on the unified position fraternities and sororities have adapted on Title IX issues.  A summary of those issues and positions is outlined below.

1.       Preservation of single-sex exemption and protection of Title IX rights by challenging any mandate aimed at requiring social fraternities and sororities to become co-ed.

2.       Ensure federal laws and regulations are supportive of and response to the following:

a.       Development of reliable, extant data on the level of occurrence of sexual assault on American college and university campuses;

b.      Education and prevention programs focused on healthy relationships, dispelling rape myths, how to report occurrences of sexual assault and bystander intervention training;

c.       Appropriate institutional care, support and guidance for any student who believes he or she has been the victim of sexual assault;

d.      Respect for the constitutional and human rights to due process owed to every student;

e.      Handling by the criminal justice system of the serious crime of sexual assault that occurs on campus and/or involves students.

f.        Deferral of any campus judicial proceeding until completion of criminal adjudication (investigation and trial).

g.       In order to provide justice to all parties involved in campus judicial proceedings for alleged sexual assault

  i.      The roles of counselor to the alleged victim, investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and appealing body must be split into distinct positions

 ii.      The rights to counsel, to confront witnesses and the accuser in an appropriate manner that is safe for all parties, to have timely access to charges and all evidence, the prohibition of hearsay and protection from double jeopardy are fundamental.

  iii.      A standard of evidence determined by the institution.

3.       Prevention of alumnae/alumni volunteers from becoming unduly burdened by the imposition of significant new legal requirements in order to serve as a volunteer.

4.       Constrain the inappropriate use of system-wide suspensions.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Oklahoma Happened

Over the last few years, while teaching student development theory to graduate students, I have developed a list of edicts that my students now (affectionately?) refer to simply as Gentry’s Laws.  They deal less with theory and more with the application of theory – how do we turn theories into practical and useful strategies in our daily work with students? At last count, I think there are nine laws. Perhaps I should add another just to round it out to a nice even number. Maybe some other day…

Here is Gentry’s First Law:

Any program or activity is only as good as its ability to get students from different backgrounds interacting with one another.

The impetus for Gentry’s First Law comes from a host of student development theories (Kohlberg, Perry, Helms, etc.) which suggest that development (moral, intellectual, personal identity, etc.) occurs when students are exposed to differences (different people, different ideas, different cultures, etc.) and are forced to reconsider their previously held, and less developed, notions of the world and themselves. Pretty simple, really. If we know that exposing students to differences leads to growth along a multitude of developmental fronts, then it makes sense that we should be creating those opportunities as often as possible - not just because of some watered down, half-hearted attempt at “diversity,” but because we want to develop all of our students in a variety of ways.

The recent nonsense with the SAE chapter at the University of Oklahoma has been an all-to-real reminder to me of something I have long felt; the basic setup and structure of fraternities and sororities works in direct opposition to Gentry’s First Law.  I will now demonstrate what I mean by asking one simple question:

Do you think those students would have sang that song had there been a single person of color on that bus?

Of course not. And the fact that, in a bus of 100 people heading to what I assume is a formal, there were 100 white faces and not a single brown one demonstrates what I think is one of the greatest challenges affecting fraternities and sororities nationally – the stark and overwhelming lack of racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity.

And when I say diversity, I don’t mean diversity for diversity’s sake. I mean diversity that will lead to conversations and understanding of difference - conversations that will lead to the growth and development of our students.  Of course students have the right to freely associate, and of course we know it is human nature to select a group of people who look like you and act like you when choosing groups with which to associate.  But acknowledging only those facts belies a very important truth - college really should be different. College should be a place where we are challenged to leave the safety of the nest, to break out of our comfort zones, and to experience new things and new ideas. This is how growth happens.

Here is my guess about the students in that video: they grew up in all-white gated communities, went to nearly all-white private or suburban public schools, grew up attending an all-white church and then showed up at the door of the University of Oklahoma. And guess what we immediately did with them? Put them in an all-white fraternity. You saw the result of that choice on the video you watched. The students in that video are only partially to blame. Society is to blame. Higher education is to blame. Fraternity is to blame. We all are to blame. Because we failed them.

Student affairs professionals love to talk about (although they frequently and flagrantly misuse) Sanford’s theory of challenge and support. Here is how you diagnose culture using Sanford: the students in that video had way too much support and not nearly enough challenge. We allowed them to go on thinking that what they were doing was OK, put them in a palatial mansion surrounded by a few hundred like-minded individuals, and wrongly assumed that we could tweet enough about diversity and social justice for them to get the message. Lots of support, not nearly enough challenge.

Fraternities and sororities that resemble Augusta National more than they resemble collegiate living-learning communities are a problem. They are a big problem. And we all need to start doing our part to undue the systems that have allowed the country club experience to be the norm and not the exception, particularly on our larger and more affluent campuses. We are not doing anyone any favors by creating these environments. Students who will one day have to work and interact in an increasingly diverse and global marketplace have no idea how to interact with people who are different from them, and we have long supported and upheld the structures that perpetuate that ignorance. We do a disservice to our students and to our society when we allow students to live in a world where everyone they surround themselves with on a daily basis looks, thinks and behaves just like them.

National fraternity and sorority headquarters – begin insisting on diversity in your organizations.  Make sure your expansion efforts are reflective of the racial diversity of the campuses who graciously host you. Insist that your chapters are inclusive. Insist that your chapters co-sponsor programs with student groups outside of the norm and engage in meaningful service learning experiences that will expand their horizons and understanding of the world in which we live. If you have chapters (and all of you do) that look and act like country clubs, begin asking difficult questions of those groups. Insist that your members are meeting and having significant interactions with people who are different with them. Make an effort to have diversity on your staff and on your board. Lead by example.

Campus-based professionals – if ever there was a case for deferred or delayed recruitment, then this is it. Stop taking students from their all-white neighborhoods and immediately sticking them in all-white fraternities and sororities before they ever set foot inside a classroom. Intentionally create opportunities for fraternity and sorority new members to interact with diverse others during their freshman year and beyond. Create meaningful service-learning opportunities that expose your students to the realities of race, poverty, hunger, homelessness and the social institutions and governmental policies that contribute to those issues. Stop talking about diversity and start demonstrating it.

Like so many other things in the “fraternity movement,” the status quo is failing to adequately address the needs of our students and their development. We have to change, or the intolerable behavior will continue. It is easy to throw the students from that video under the bus they were riding in, but before we do that, we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and examine the policies, practices and institutional fixtures that helped allow that behavior to occur. We are part of the problem, and we have to do better.