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 .

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?”

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