Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Busted: Stupid T-Shirt Decisions

This is a guest blog post from Ryan Hilperts, Director of AFLV Awards & Assessment, and a member of the Connections Magazine Editorial Board. 

Usually the Busted! features take a moment to point out our less-than-stellar brethren who have found themselves on the front page of the newspaper for their poor choices. But let's not forget there are other ways to have our stupidity captured!  We still have those among us who are making poor choices, and the only folks documenting it are the 2,783 people around with cell phone cameras. It’s tough to decide whether that's better than the newspaper...or not.

What can we say? When poor choices are made in the name of fraternity, we get a wee bit cranky. And we aren’t much to forgive and forget. We also think there is value in learning from others’ mistakes.

This is one such opportunity.

In case you can’t read it clearly, the shirt on the right says, “The University might have f----d us, but at least we don’t f--- each other.” Conveniently, the fraternity supplied its nickname and the year the shirt was made for historical purposes. Thanks for that.

It seems that this particular chapter may have been held accountable for some stupid behavior (poor choice(s)) by the University. It also seems that they’re less than pleased about that. Further, we think their point is that being in trouble – to whatever extent that is for these gentlemen – is less bad than other things they could be doing. We think. Maybe. Or they’re just raging homophobic folks who decided to put that fact on a t-shirt. Could be both.

It doesn’t matter when or why or how the fraternity got to a place where they decided to make these t-shirts. Not an ounce. Because here they are, live and in color.

Us Busted! folks have seen a lot of fraternity and sorority t-shrits gone wrong in our day. We may even have played a round of "I Can Beat That" with other fraternity/sorority professionals while talking about t-shirt designs we’ve seen. Yet this completely takes the cake. Do we need to point out the eleventy seven ways it’s wrong? Really? And what about the company that took money from these men and printed them right up, lickety split? We’d like a word with them too, pretty please.

The whole batch of shirts should be tossed in the middle of that Greek Week bonfire held after the all-Greek BBQ that is oh-so-good at solving all of our Greek unity problems. Pour on the gasoline. Use an extra match, or seven.

For the record, we don’t care if every single other fraternity and/or sorority on this campus wore shirts that day that SCREAMED values and integrity. Don’t care if they were glow-in-the dark or included every sequin the Radio City Rockettes have to offer. This one easily would have canceled all of that out.  Hmmmm....wonder where all those negative stereotypes about fraternities and sororities come from?... Hmmmm.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Can we please stop talking about hazing?

Rick Barnes is a member of the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values Board of Directors, a member of the CAMPUSPEAK speakers roster, and President of Rick Barnes Presents. We thank him for his guest blog post this week for National Hazing Prevention Week.

I remember when I first started thinking about joining something called a fraternity. I’m a first-generation fraternity member in my family - my parents were not in one of these organizations. I thought it looked fun. The parties were great, the presence on campus was huge, the commitment to one-another appeared solid and really looked like something I would want to be a part of. But there were a few things that made me second-guess any desire to join. One of those was hazing.

I graduated from high school as a three-letter athlete and as class president. I had great grades, had that girlfriend I thought would last forever (and she did for about three months...but that was forever back then). I didn’t need fraternity. I just thought it looked like fun. But, one thing I wasn’t willing to put up with was hazing. Not by anyones definition. Even as a freshman in college I was aware of the issue. I’m not sure I knew the word hazing...I just knew I wasn’t willing to put up with someone screaming at me, making me do things I didn’t want to do, treating me abusively, or any of that. I thought the fraternity and sorority community looked like a lot of fun, but I wasn’t about to be willing to let anyone haze me. And I challenge anyone to suggest that I am any less a fraternity man because I was willing to say no.

Looking back, I am so thankful I finally decided to join a fraternity. I can readily admit the decision to join has impacted every area of my life - my personal and professional life. It was absolutely one of the best decisions I ever made. We are phenomenal organizations - doing some of the best things on college campuses. But despite all of that...despite all the great we do...we’re still not good enough to be able to get away with hazing!

I’ll admit it - I don’t understand hazing. Either side of it. I don’t understand how you can be a big enough bully to do it to someone else, but I also don’t understand how big a wimp you have to be to allow it to happen to you. But to make it even worse, I don’t understand how organizations like fraternities and sororities can be labeled with this one. Organizations composed of “brothers” and “sisters” who have committed to a lifelong membership in organizations who espouse to high values and standards. And then we get tagged with the stereotype of hazing?! Or is it really even a stereotype? No, doesn’t seem to be. In fact, it happens. Way too often! I think it’s time we quit calling it a stereotype and start calling it a fact so that we can acknowledge its presence enough to actually do something about it.

Please don’t try to defend it as a good thing. Hazing is no longer one of those moral or ethical topics. In most states it’s against the law. To suggest that it is a good thing...or to suggest that it has a place in fraternity is suggesting a blatant violation of the law.

Okay - so what is it? The policies are often hard to interpret. They include words like demeaning, degrading and disgracing. They tell us we can’t cause bodily harm, offensive punishment or pain. We aren’t supposed to cause psychological harm or hinder a students academic efforts. So what is it? Seems to me the policies are simply saying folks should treat one another as friends and with respect and dignity. Or, another way to say it - I think the policies are simply saying we should treat each other as brothers and sisters. How can fraternity and sorority members argue with that? We claim that responsibility in our purpose. How we complain that we might be singled out or held to a higher standard on this issue. Isn’t that exactly what we want?

So can I offer this suggestion - can we please stop talking about hazing? Can we - as fraternity and sorority members - please stop complaining and arguing and suggesting that it’s not fair? Can we please just do what we said we would do - raise the standards and live to higher values. Why can’t we just step up and be the leaders we say we are? If hazing takes place at all, let’s let this one be someone else’s issue.

My #NHPW Pledge

As you are all well aware by now, this week is National Hazing Prevention Week. It is an important week to shine the spotlight on the dangers of hazing, and the ways in which each of us can make a difference, in both large and small ways. It seems like this year, we've been talking about hazing a lot lately, thanks to hazing in professional sports and other areas that has been in the news and made the way around social media circles. Unfortunately, we've had a lot of talk, and not a lot of action.

I began #NHPW with a trip to see the Cowboys and Bears play in Arlington, Texas on Sunday. I could spend time arguing for or against my decision. Just like hazers can and will provide you with a million reasons why hazing is positive for their chapter. But that would be a waste of your time and mine. While watching the game, and taking in the spectacle that is the new Cowboys Stadium (it really is something to see), I thought about all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game, and the ability to reach those 85,000 plus people in that stadium, and in other stadiums across the country. What if, instead of the silly games players hosted from the ginormous screen, we had messages about the dangers of hazing instead? What if the players themselves sent the message that hazing was wrong, and harmful? How impactful could that be?

Over the past 48 hours, I've reflected on this topic more, and read some great #NHPW thoughts from a number interfraternal leaders about their perspectives on hazing. This of course lead to more thinking. I've been quick to criticize the NFL, ESPN, and other pro-sports teams for allowing, and in some cases even promoting hazing behavior. I was quick to call Lady Antebellum on the carpet for their "Lady Hazes" series on their website and blog. But have I worked with any fraternity or sorority chapters or councils lately on combating hazing here at home in our own backyard? No. I haven't. Have you?

It is always easier to call others out, and hold them accountable for their actions. It is usually easier than paying attention to or fixing our own problems. What if we focused on ourselves for a while, made some strides, and then went out and challenged others to live up to a higher standard. Wouldn't our message be more powerful? Individually, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the issue, bury our head in the sand, and go about our work. Collectively, we are a powerful force. It just takes one student in a chapter who is willing to speak up, and someone who is willing to support them in that process. I can do that.

My #NHPW pledge this year is to focus on us. On our chapters, councils, and campuses that support and enable hazing behaviors. I could spend my time writing e-mails and challenging other groups to make a change in their behavior, but I truly believe it will be more powerful once we have made a change ourselves. Wouldn't it be cool if in 10 years, hazing is a distant memory, and we have hundreds of organizations, thousands of chapters, and millions of members who are proud of their values based organizations? How have you reflected on hazing this week? What will you commit to doing differently? Will you join me?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Supporting Multicultural Organizations

In conjunction wtih the most recent issue of Connections Magazine, focused on Cultural Greeks this week's blog post is a guest post from Gary Ballinger. Gary is a member of Phi Delta Theta and works in Alumni Relations at Indiana State University. He is also serves a member of the AFLV CFL/NBGLC Planning Team, and has held a number of volunteer and professional roles in Fraternity/Sorority Life during his career. If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, contact Tricia@aflv.org .

Over the course of my career in Fraternity/Sorority advising I have been asked thousands of questions from students, family, parents, administrators, and even strangers on a plane. For the most part the questions are pretty innocuous and it’s easy to answer in thoughtful ways even the inevitable, “So you just plan parties?” question. But the questions that have always irritated me have been ones that I’ve received from my fellow advising professionals (along with inquisitive looks): “Why are you so involved with multicultural organizations? You aren’t (insert any cultural/ethnic identity here) are you?”

Those questions have always bothered me, but I have usually answered with the stock response of “it’s about remaining culturally competent in our profession, serving the needs of all of our students, and supporting student organizations with a strong cultural identity and focus.” The answer I wish I would have given is: “Why aren’t you?”

There are number of observations that I’ve made about our profession and the way that we advise cultural organizations on campus…and to be honest the results aren’t always that great.

Advisors are uninformed. Undoubtedly we are shaped by our undergraduate experiences and the majority of professional advisors come from a traditional NIC or NPC experience. Those valuable experiences have given them insight into the workings of their organizations, but often result in a narrow view of the fraternal world. We need to encourage and promote opportunities for advisors to educate themselves on an undergraduate student experience through the cultural identity lens. Sometimes it’s difficult to admit when we don’t know how to work with a student or student group, but you must learn to admit it, utilize your students and other professionals as resources and educate yourself. You cannot be timid or afraid of admitting your faults…it is truly the only way you will grow.

Advising is delegated. Intentionally or not, advisement of Multicultural Greek Councils, Asian Pacific Islander Councils, National Pan-Hellenic Councils, or Latino Greek Councils is often delegated to a graduate assistant. While this opportunity can be very important for a graduate experience the graduate assistant may not have the wealth and breadth of experience (or time) that a full time professional staff member could devote toward a council. Often times, professional advisors put the time, energy, and money into where the majority of their student membership is based and that has been with traditional IFC or Panhellenic Associations. Advisors need to shift the way that they view advising on their campus and devote an equal amount of time to cultural based organizations and their councils.

Advisors are scared. I’ve been a part of many conversations about advisement of cultural organizations and I sometimes get a sense of fear from Caucasian Advisors. I’ve tried for years to figure out where this fear comes from and why some advisors do not hold their cultural greek letter organizations to the same standards. Unfortunately, I’ve heard one too many advisor comment that they “don’t want to be labeled a racist” when they confront issues with the cultural greek organizations on their campus. If you hold all organizations on campus to the same standard, are consistent with your decisions, fair, and reasonable there is no reason to have this fear.

Prestige. Let’s face it how much time at conferences does everyone sit around and share their “horror stories?” There are the constant comparisons of how much time you put in the office, how many meetings you have a week, how late you stay in the office, and all the weekends you spend alone at your desk. For whatever reason, all of these things have developed into sense of prestige in our profession. That prestige also carries over to the councils and organizations you work with on campus. I believe that it is seen as more advantageous to advise the “big councils” which are made up of our NIC and NPC groups. Focus some time and energy on the things that matter, take some time to really get to understand the needs of your cultural greek letter community. You might be surprised how easy it is to impact the community/council in positive ways.

Separation. On campuses with so much going on advisors are spread pretty thin. Having separate councils, executive board meetings, council meetings, new member symposiums, retreats, president’s meetings, etc. add to this burden. Look at your councils’ training and meeting schedule and see if there are ways that you can consolidate and provide the same training for all organizations and councils at one time. I’m surprised at how many campuses have separate executive retreats for each council, and then constantly complain that the councils don’t communicate or interact with one another. Build those expectations for communication and community building from the beginning of their experience…it’s part of your responsibility.

Ultimately we are responsible to our students and our campuses and should strive to give them an equitable amount of our time, energy and talent. It is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that we are able to educate ourselves on the needs of cultural greek organizations and the students involved in them. You should devote as much time to the understanding and development of a cultural greek organization as you do to other aspects of your job. You shouldn’t be asking me, “Why are you so involved with multicultural greek organizations?” You should be asking yourself, “Why aren’t I?”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Final Straw

Over the past few months, we've seen a spike in coverage of hazing and hazing related activities in professional sports and other areas. Many have posted great blogs about the topic and calls to action for the fraternal movement. I have spent many early morning runs pondering the topic, and wondering what we could be doing differently. I've avoided adding another blog to the pile, mostly because I wasn't sure I had anything different or unique to say. That is, until this morning.

I'm a fairly frequent Twitter user, and follow several hundred fellow Tweeters (or Twitters as Betty White would call them...). This morning, one of my favorite country bands, Lady Antebellum (@ladyantebellum) posted the following tweet:

"Lady Hazing is back!! The latest victim is big, bad @blakeshelton. Check out the new Webisode and sing along here: http://bit.ly/bKcnTG"

Really? When did hazing become so cool across the board? It is because of the social media explosion over the past few years? Or has it always been around and we just haven't noticed it because we didn't used to have so much constant contact with others through Twitter, FB, etc?

I've felt somewhat helpless about the whole situation for the past few weeks, as more professional sports teams and ESPN pile on more fuel to the problem. And I'm not quite sure where to start. I'm pretty sure that ESPN won't miss me as a single viewer, especially since I tune in so infrequently. I'm fairly confident most professional sports teams won't miss my ticket sale, since I don't catch that many games. I don't think Lady A will miss me at their next concert.

So what can I do? What can you do? What can we do together? Clearly we aren't doing enough. I think it is time to get the dialogue really started - with lots of voices participating in the conversation. Signing petitions is a good start - many of us have done that over the past few weeks. But I think we need to do more. Individually and collectively. It is time to make a bigger dent, and with the beginning of a new semester, the time is right. Start throwing out your ideas. Think big, broad, and bold. Challenge yourself, and challenge others.