Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Sororities (Or, Perhaps Its Time to Stop Evaluating Sororities Based on Recruitment Strength)

It is time to stop using recruitment statistics as a measure of chapter quality.

I have long felt this way, and I have long known that I am not the only person who feels this way, but I could never really conclusively prove why I felt this way.

Until now.

Let me tell you about two sorority chapters I had the chance to work with on a recent campus visit.

Sorority A is the top-recruiting chapter in their campus Panhellenic community of six NPC sororities. They have great members – women who are involved on campus, who excel academically, and who win award after award after award. SGA officers. Homecoming queens. Greek awards. Their members are physically attractive by most definitions – slender blondes and brunettes, most of whom were likely homecoming queens in high school. Picture-perfect in every way, with the Relative Recruiting Strength to prove it.

Sorority B is on the same campus. Based on recruitment statistics, they are a “bottom tier” organization, ranking fifth out of six on campus. They readily admit that they have a lot of young women crying at their house on bid day, disappointed to have received their second choice. Their members, while attractive, are not generally considered the “classic beauties” as seen in Sorority A, and they represent a broad diversity of body types, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, and rungs on the socio-economic ladder. They make good grades – acceptable, but rarely the best on campus. Their members are involved on campus, but rarely do they boast of a top-ranking SGA officer or homecoming queen amongst their ranks. Most campus-based advisors, and certainly most sorority headquarters staff, would consider them a “below average” chapter. In fact, this sorority’s national organization is so concerned about the chapter’s recruitment statistics that they disbanded the chapter’s local advisory board and the chapter is now advised by IHQ staff members, who spend a few weeks with the chapter every year.

But there is a deeper story to these two sororities – a story that recruiting strength statistics or the “eye test” could never tell. A story that, I would argue, should be the most important consideration of chapter quality, but one that rarely, if ever, warrants even a passing mention in those conversations.

You see, the sisterhood in Sorority A is…well, for lack of a better term….shitty.

And the sisterhood in Sorority B is off-the-charts awesome.

Sorority A measures well-below the campus and national averages on three important measures of sisterhood: belonging, support/encouragement, and common purpose (click here to read more about the five schema of sisterhood). When you talk to the members of this chapter, you understand why. They don’t see the sorority as “home” or their sisters as “family.” In fact, many of the members joined the chapter not because that is where they felt “at home,” but because of their perception of the sorority’s status on campus as “the best.” They do not feel supported by their sisters, they are not unified in any other pursuit or purpose other than maintaining their status as “the best” sorority on campus. Relative to other chapters, they do not feel connected to their sisters or to their organization’s purpose. Their outcomes as a chapter are great, but the experience itself leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Sorority B, on the other hand, is off the charts on the measures of sisterhood based on belonging, support/encouragement, and common purpose, far outpacing both campus and national averages. They genuinely love one another. They are connected to one another in meaningful ways. They support one another and take an active interest in one another’s lives and in the life of the chapter. They understand and are connected to their organization’s values, and regularly incorporate the values and ritual into their activities as a chapter. Women in the chapter are happy with their experience, are committed to one another, and feel loved and supported by their sisters.

In conversations with the leaders of Sorority B, I asked about areas where they felt they needed to improve. Their response left me astonished, sad and angry.

“Well, nationals think we really need to improve our image on campus. They want us to do more social events with the guys and to work on our image during recruitment.”

They went on to talk about the lack of confidence they have during recruitment, because of the pressure they are under to “look like and act like” the “top” chapters on campus (i.e. Chapter A). What they really want to be able to do is be themselves, and to share with prospective members their stories – stories of being disappointed on bid day, but of quickly coming to understand that they had joined a sisterhood where they weren’t judged by their outward beauty, but by their reciprocity in loving, serving, and supporting one another. Simply, they long to be authentic during recruitment, but are being told to instead work on their “image.”

My friends, if this is what we have boiled the sorority experience down to, then we have much work to do.

When we reduce our definition of a successful chapter down to Relative Recruiting Strength, we reinforce the idea that the only thing that matters is image. Sorority B, who by every conceivable measure is providing a positive and meaningful experience for its members, has been placed on national receivership, is getting multiple consultant visits per year to help the chapter “polish its image”, and is under orders to have more parties with fraternities, all because someone at their national headquarters feels their RRS should be 10 percentage points higher. And this amazing group of young women, whose love for one another can literally be felt when you walk into their chapter room, are being made to feel “less than” not by the other sororities on campus, but by the adult leaders of their own organization.

Why do we focus so much on the outcomes, and not on the experience, of sorority membership? The point of being in a sorority, or a fraternity for that matter, is not to focus all of our time and attention on some externally construed notions of success. The point of joining a sorority or fraternity is to become part of a group of people who will support you, value you, make you a better person, and provide you with a sense of shared purpose and identity. Sadly, the metrics we are using to determine the strength or quality of chapters often has little to do with any of this. We focus on grades, we focus on awards, we focus on dollars raised, and we focus on recruitment stats. And all of these metrics share one thing in common – they often have no bearing whatsoever on the experience that organizations are providing to their members.

It is time to seriously reconsider how we are measuring chapter success, how we are rewarding chapter performance, and why we are rewarding outcomes over experiences. Fraternities and sororities are co-educational offerings that should provide students with both the challenge and support necessary to help them learn and grow as humans, providing some fun memories along the way. They are not about maintaining a social image. They are not about desirability. They are not about how many homecoming queens your chapter has had in the last decade.

And they are sure as Hell not about Relative Recruiting Strength.