Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Divergent: Just like recruitment and our new member processes?

For those of you not in the Divergent loop (don’t worry, half of us weren't either), the plot of the movie centers around a society broken into five factions:
  • Abnegation (selfless)
  • Erudite (intelligent)
  • Amity (peaceful)
  • Candor (honest)
  • Dauntless (brave)
Following the results of a special test, teenagers are forced to make a binding decision of which faction they want to join. Should they follow their test results, which are meant to tell them the faction they fit into best? If they disagree with their test results, should they follow their hearts and choose their own factions? What about those who fit into multiple factions? Those folks are Divergent and are meant to be eradicated, as they cannot be controlled or manipulated by the government that put the faction system in place.

Choosing a faction is strikingly similar to recruitment and intake processes held annually year (the factions names are even in a different language!). Once you join, it is rare (if not impossible) to leave the organization to join another group that fits your needs better. Based on limited interaction, information, and experiences, thousands of college students each year make a lifelong decision to join a group they ultimately know very little about. Many students feel like they could fit into one or more groups and choose their fraternity or sorority based on superficial reasons like a group’s colors or social status.

Take what happens after Divergent’s protagonist Tris chooses to join the Dauntless faction following her divergent test results. She leaves the choosing ceremony with all of the new Dauntless initiates and is forced to jump off moving trains onto high buildings and off high buildings into an unknown abyss. It is immediately clear that Tris wasn't necessarily meant to be part of Dauntless, but her instructor works to help her fit in and stay alive. Those who fall to the bottom of the initiate class in Dauntless are cast away to become “factionless”: jobless, homeless, and ultimately forever at the bottom of the food chain. “Faction before blood” is the motto of the society (seriously), meaning those who leave their families for a new faction are cut off from their family and former lives, even if they are ultimately not accepted by their newly chosen faction.

They weren't this "frat" before recruitment.
Countless fraternities and sororities follow this method of bringing in their new members. They tell potential members just enough during the recruitment and intake process to make the organization seem appealing, but the moment someone becomes a new member the truth comes out. New members are oftentimes subjected to strenuous physical and mental tests. They need to change their wardrobes, interests, and friends to fit into the mold of the organization they joined. Being outside of the fraternity/ sorority community is for outcasts, and befriending members of other fraternities and sororities can be frowned upon if they’re not in the “right” fraternity/sorority.

This is the antithesis of the experiences relevant fraternities and sororities should be providing to their members. Recruitment or intake should be a time where the real membership experience is conveyed to members. By the end of the recruitment period, interested students shouldn't feel conflicted or nervous that they will not fit in. New member processes should be about building brotherhood and sisterhood through positive interactions and mutual learning. Fraternity/ sorority communities should be united together and with the greater campus community, forming positive and impactful relationships.

“Divergent” potential members possess many great skills and qualities that would make them a valuable asset to any organization. How can you improve your chapter and campus operations to be less like the society in Divergent, and more like the relevant fraternity/community new members deserve?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

They are happy because they read these tips!
The new year has arrived, and with the new year comes new opportunities to learn and engage at a variety of conferences, academies, and institutes hosted by institutions, inter/national fraternities and sororities, and interfraternal organizations.

How can you make the most of these opportunities in 2014? Be sure to pack these seven tips I’ve learned along the way to maximize your conference experience:
  1. Check Your Attitude: Before you even arrive at the conference, be sure you’re mentally ready to be there. The wrong attitude can ruin the entire experience. Head into the event expecting to learn some new information and generate new ideas, make new friends and connections, or just get some time to recharge. If you don’t think you’ll gain any of outcomes before going, you probably won’t.
  2. Eat, Sleep, and Keep Warm/Cool: We’re talking about some basic Maslow needs here, but they need to be met before you can get the most out of that session you so badly want to attend. Take advantage of the meal times that are allotted; if you don’t want to skip a session to eat, be sure to pack some snacks. You’ll probably want to stay up all night meeting new people, but remember: you need to be up early for tomorrow’s sessions. Dress in layers so you can be ready for any temperature situation. Being too hot or too cold can make you zone out and miss some great information.
  3. Network: We’ve all heard a thousand times about the value of networking, but it’s worth repeating. Networking, however, is something deeper than just collecting business cards or shaking hands. The people around you at this conference truly care about what they do. Learn from them. To do this, you've got to learn about them. Figure out what positions they hold (if any), where they've succeeded and where they've failed, what are their struggles and so on. By learning this information, you’ll better understand who might be able to help you when you need it most.
  4. Divide and Discuss: If you’re attending the conference with others from your chapter or campus community, it’s important that you don’t stick together the entire time. There will likely be a session that many of you would like to go to, but I encourage you to split up. You may want to plan out ahead of time who will attend what sessions. Send one, two at max, to the fabled session. Later, over a meal or in the evening, get back together and share what you learned at your sessions. Now, instead of several people talking about the same topic, you all have different perspectives and ideas to bring back.
  5. Repurpose Rather than Recreate: You’re going to hear a lot of great ideas at these conferences. The presenters and main speakers have been chosen for a reason—they are good at what they do and have found something that works for them and their campus. With that said, avoid taking their ideas or programs and immediately recreating it in your organization. Instead, identify the core components of the idea and figure out how to repurpose it so it can be successful on your campus.
  6. Reflect on Your Experience: This is probably the most important tip of all, and one I’m pretty bad at doing myself. Reflecting on your conference experience allows you to process all the new information you received and really figure out how you’re going to use it. This process also helps to keep your conference high going. After you've reflected and determined what the most important outcomes are, you’ll be able to make the proper connections and move your chapter, council, or community forward. A basic place to start is to answer three questions: What? So What? and Now What? Essentially, what happened, why did it matter, and what will you do now?
  7. Have Fun: I think conferences can sometimes become a burden. They see it as just another responsibility of an office they hold or a way to get the next best idea for their chapter, council, or community. I encourage you to have fun and make memories. The individuals you attend this conference with may never all be together again, so take some time and create something worth reminiscing about later down the road.

Whether this is your first conference or one of many you've attended in your lifetime, I challenge you to take these tips to heart. Electing not to put these tips to use won’t necessarily ruin your conference experience, but they will make it more enjoyable, and you’ll walk away appreciating the experience so much more.

Nick Estrada is the Director of Leadership Development for the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. Find him on Twitter: @nestrada89.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let's Make 2014 the Year of the Member (Part 2)

So you read part 1 of "Let's Make 2014 the Year of the Member." Now you're ready to make your plan and implement programs that are about the member instead of checking off your box of stuff you have to do. Let's do it!

Making the plan
For each bullet point, checkbox, or requirement, go through the following steps:
  1. Brainstorm ways to accomplish this task that will make members want to be a part of the process. Think about it in this mindset: What will make them want to attend? Will they find it valuable?
  2. Decide on every step necessary to complete this task, write it down, and delegate tasks. What is EVERYTHING that needs to happen? When is the deadline for each step? Whose help is needed
  3. Pick a person (or people if appropriate) to be responsible for each item. This individual will be held accountable by everyone to make sure things get done.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for each requirement.
  5. Be the best chapter or council anyone has ever seen.

Still confused?
Let’s try it with an example of a requirement for a chapter regarding philanthropy.

The chapter sponsors or co-sponsors at least two philanthropic projects per year with a chapter from another council.
  1. Brainstorm ways that make members want to be part of your event. Once you get everyone together, try to consider events that most of your members will be interested in. Come up with something that people will not only attend, but will be excited to participate in and be a part of.
  2. Pick a date, find a space, reserve any equipment needed. When does each part need to be completed, and who will complete them? These individual due dates should be written down and posted for everyone know.
  3. Appoint a Leader. Who is responsible for it all? Ultimately, everyone should have some responsibility and should be holding each other accountable, but you should pick one individual to be the ringleader. If this is related to recruitment, the Recruitment Chair should probably be in charge. If you are working on a PR campaign, it might not be wise to have the Intramural Chair in charge.
Following this simple process for each step will set you up for success when you apply for your awards and fill out accreditation applications. Just remember: getting the binder filled is the easy part; the most important part is setting up your year around the members of your organization.

Oh, and make sure you turn your report in on time!

This guest blog is the second in a two-part series by Steve Backer. Steve is in his second year of graduate school studying Higher Education Administration at Southeast Missouri State University where he serves as the Graduate Assistant to Fraternities and Sororities. Connect with him on Twitter at @Stevewithaph. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Let's Make 2014 the Year of the Member (Part 1)

There is a good chance your campus or headquarters (or both) requires large amounts of documents to ensure chapters are performing up to a required minimum standard. I would like to begin by saying that I am not suggesting your chapter throw that process out the window.

BUT if I were a betting man, I would bet your chapter spends more time making sure the minimum required attendance was met at the educational programs you put on than actually making sure the quality of that program was benefitting your members.

Look at the mission of your organization. Odds are, it is about making men better men or women better women. To prove this, I did a quick Google Search and the first ten organizations that popped up (belonging to a variety of different umbrella groups) have missions that serve their members, not their chapters. Not one that I looked up used the word “chapters.”  So why are you focusing so much on doing things for the chapter and not for the members?

Now you’re probably thinking, “If the chapter is strong, then the members will grow too.”

This is true only if you are making the chapter strong for the sake of the members it serves. If you are focusing on making your organization strong to check boxes off a list and not for the benefit of members, then you are not only skipping the best interest of members, but your constant emphasis on attendance at a crappy program is annoying people too.

So now what? 
We are all just getting back to campus and beginning to plan formals, brotherhood/sisterhood events, and community service. So when you are doing all this, let’s shift the focus from the “what” to the “who” and the “why.”  Once these become the central focus, you will not only be better serving the original vision of your founders, but you will also have happier members. And who doesn’t love when members are happy?

Making the plan
Most of you are planning some kind of retreat in the next couple of weeks that will consist of your exec board, the whole chapter, maybe some advisors, or whoever else has a stake in the group’s success. In the past, you probably used these minimum requirements to plan for your entire year, and you should. Don’t let your renewed focus put you in bad standing. This year, however, you are going to spend a little more time making sure that planning reflects the interests of your members. We'll tell you how in part two.

This guest blog is the first in a two-part series by Steve Backer. Steve is in his second year of graduate school studying Higher Education Administration at Southeast Missouri State University where he serves as the Graduate Assistant to Fraternities and Sororities. Connect with him on Twitter at @Stevewithaph. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

nourish: your mind, your body, your soul

The Questions
What would it look like if women in our field had the opportunity to come together regardless of age, position, or affiliation to just be with their thoughts, their fears, their dreams, their hopes and their insecurities? What if we found a way to be more self-aware so we don't aspire to be someone we ARE NOT and were comfortable living as the person WE are? How would our relationships be impacted if we skipped all the surface-level B.S. and focused on the things that matter?

Our Story
These are all questions I asked myself as I attended The Gathering during the summer of 2012. I wanted to create an experience similar to The Gathering but for women only where we could learn and grow from and with one another. I dreamed about what impact women in our field could make if we were more aware of who we are and what makes us happy to be women and content in what we do professionally. I wanted peace. I wanted support. I wanted balance. I wanted yoga. I wanted conversation. I wanted quiet. I wanted no drama. I wanted meditation. I wanted the beach.

I have always longed for real, honest, non-competitive, unconditional friendships—especially with women. On one hand, I always felt there was something powerful in the female connection—an understanding, empathy, nurturing - that women shared in friendships. On the other hand, I had also experienced the competitiveness, cattiness and judgmental perspective in some of those same friendships—and in some of those cases I was an offender!

 I got the book The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, as a gift from an amazing woman (grateful to Lori Neff—you are still teaching me today) who I attended the Interfraternity Institute with in 1999. She warned me the book was a “little hippy-dippy” but to stick with it because it taught her more life lessons in 200 pages than anything over the last 20 years. So, I read it. Over and over and over—and continue to read my battered-up copy at least once every six months. For me, nourish had been in the back of my head as a thought, a hope, a concept since 1999. It just took some life and professional experience, some amazing and some disappointing experiences with women and a great conversation with Jenny to realize that there are women (including myself) who want and need a space to explore the questions from above; a place for women to deeply connect with other women; a place to nourish body, mind and soul. And so it began.

Our Motivation
So we were two women with a similar idea that needed each other to push to actually make it happen. We put our hearts and our minds together and built nourish. We submitted a grant proposal to The Gathering Class of 2012 and were lucky to be the recipients of the grant. This officially made our vision one that had the ability to become a reality.

The Context
We revisited the book to frame our work, The Invitation by Oriah. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back. It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.” – The Invitation

The Invitation is a declaration of intent, a map into the longing of the soul, the desire to live passionately, face-to-face with ourselves and skin-to-skin with the world around us. nourish is an intense sabbatical designed to help women in the field of higher education accept the Invitation.

nourish is not a retreat, it is not a conference, it is not a stand-alone experience. nourish begins by making a personal commitment during an annual sabbatical to finding your authentic self and living an authentic life by nourishing yourself, nourishing others, nourishing your body, nourishing your mind, nourishing your soul and nourishing the sisterhood (relationships) in your life.

Nourish … the Experience
On September 9 we arrived to the Islander, a beautiful beach-front property on Oak Island, North Carolina. We began with conversations around what nourishment looked like to us. We discussed how and where we find nourishment in our lives and what will it take to let go of what is and find nourishment within ourselves over the next few days. That night we were lucky to experience a sunset meditation on the deck overlooking the ocean. The sound of the waves and the fresh air across our faces was the perfect natural setting to begin our work.

We spent time nourishing mind. Through the nourishing of the mind we read books and articles and challenged our minds to open up in new ways. Through proposed discussion topics from the book we chose a partner and nourished one another. This was a critical time in the experience where we appreciated one another and accepted the other person and ourselves for all we bring to the field and the world. Through guided conversations, participants were encouraged to explore ideas and concepts many had not explored in depth before. Nourish soul was conversation around sharing perspectives, insights, experiences and spirits of the women in the group. This was the group time where we had no leader but great discussion as a large group. Last but certainly not least, at the end of each night we nourished sisterhood. Each of the women who joined us in this experience has a passion; love and dedication to the field of education and helping others achieve their potential. When we nourished our sisterhood, we focused on how we could experience and share our sisterhood in a more authentic way in our professional lives.  

We both feel after writing the grant and dreaming about the potential of this program that it far exceeded our expectations.

If you want to talk about our experience and what has changed for us since nourish, feel free to reach out. We all had different experiences but we all had balancing experiences that have changed and improved who we are as women and as professionals.

We are excited to announce we will be doing another nourish in fall of 2014. Applications will be available in spring of 2014. Please contact us at in the meantime if you are interested.

Thank you to AFLV and The Gathering Class of 2012 for having faith in us and for making our vision become a reality! We all are forever grateful and blessed to have had the experience.

Mingle often with good people to keep your soul nourished!

A guest blog from Megan Vadnais & Jenny Levering, 2012 grant recipients from The Gathering for their program, nourish.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hazing - It's Weird

We're totally serious on this one. As we talked about National Hazing Prevention Week in the office, we tried to be really deep and figure out why people haze. But as we talked about different hazing activities people partake in, we kept ending up at the same reaction:
"That's really freakin' weird."

A summary of our faces
Think about it though. Let's pretend we're explaining some of our activities to our parents. Let's even pretend our mom is not like a regular mom, but a cool mom.
Mom: What is the 4-1-1? What has everybody been up to? What's the hot gossip?
Hazer: Well, tonight we had a line up, so we made the pledges stand side-by-side. Then we all pointed out where each girl needs to tone up. It was really fun, and they appreciated the constructive criticism about their bodies. One girl even cried!
Mom: Wait ... what? Honey, I'm confused. That doesn't sound fun; it sounds weird and mean. Why would you want to look at all the pledges in their underwear?
Hazer: Well, she needed to prove she belonged. It's like, the rules.
Mom: But why would you pick her for a pledge if she has so many things to fix? Maybe you should do that whole rush thing better and pick girls you don't think you need to fix.
Hazer: Mom, go fix your hair.
Even if you had a cool mom, explaining some of the activities that chapters use to haze is hard to justify because it sounds kind of insane.

Even when we were trying to use common excuses like "they need to prove they belong," the activities just sounded weird. In what universe are line ups, pledge book signing, dressing in embarrassing costumes, or blindfolded quizzes considered normal behavior, let alone behaviors you could use to prove your worth? A recent Cosmo story of one woman's account of her experience being hazed has garnered attention for degrading women in general, but mostly because no one could look at these activities and call them normal by any standards.

Take a look around you this week. There are many great statistics and campaigns that tell the physical and psychological effect of hazing. There is also a lot of great info about what could happen to hazers since it's against the law in 44 states. But take a step back and look at hazing from a normal perspective: it's pretty weird.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Good Times are Consensual

We seriously never imagined the day when we would be giving a shoutout to Playboy for its perspective about sex. But the day is here, and we're all about Playboy's Top Ten Party Commandments for a Consensual Good Time.

As we've talked about before, many behaviors, attitudes, and words on college campuses across America are conducive to a rape culture. But as Playboy puts it, "Consent is all about everyone having a good time. Rape is only a good time if you’re a rapist. And f@¢# those people."

Why does this matter to you as a fraternity leader?

Let's think about the overall perception of fraternity men. There are a lot of uninformed people out there who think we're all rapists. But, just like the examples Playboy's list gives, there are many ways for men to stand against rape. 

Fraternity men at Northwest Missouri State University, the University of Iowa, Ohio University, Washington University in St. Louis, Wittenberg University, and countless other universities are leading the way in efforts like A Walk in Her Shoes and No Woman Left Behind.

In fact, a recent study finds fraternity men have lower levels of hyper-masculinity, a predictor of sexual aggression, than unaffiliated male students. We're not saying we're perfect by any means, but the current sexual assault education fraternities receive should serve as a catalyst for fraternity men to educate their entire campus communities.

Not sure where to start? There are plenty of creative ideas in Playboy's list, or you can look into national movements like Men Can Stop Rape and One Student.

If the Hef can take a stand for a consent, we're pretty sure you can, too.

Editor's note: We've recently discovered that this article is a hoax by the group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture and was not published by Playboy. But that does not detract from these great ideas, and the group's ideas are spot on.