Monday, October 31, 2011

Consider Your Costume Themes... and not only on Halloween

If you go to college, work at a college/university, or know people who fit into either of these groups (that's pretty much everyone who might read this), you've probably seen this poster in circulation.

This call to be thoughtful in Halloween costume selection was initially made by a student group at Ohio University called Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) and it's good. It's getting tons of national press for all the right reasons.

Today is Halloween and by now, most have already chosen their costumes if you're going to wear one. Yes, choose your costume thoughtfully. This is not new news.

What this poster made us think more about, however, is the fact that fraternity and sorority members have lots more opportunities to wear costumes than the average college student. For some reason, a culture has been established where party/event + costume/theme = AWESOME.

For the record, we love costumes. So much that we've considered the concept of 'costume Friday' instead of 'casual Friday' here at the office. Okay, that's not really true, but you get the picture. We're into dressing up.

To us, one of the larger conversations that needs to be tied to this campaign is this: what themes are you choosing for your chapter events where costumes are involved?

Let's think of a few popular ones:

Cowboys and Indians
Dressing up like 'Indians' (and, really, you probably shouldn't use that term in most areas of the U.S.) is not only offensive, it's almost always incorrect. The garb that American Indians wear for spiritual ceremony is sacred. No American Indian wears feathers and moccasins as their daily clothing. The wearing of feathers has deep spiritual meaning. For example, they might be worn by chiefs to symbolize their communication with the Spirit and to express their celestial wisdom.

Other themes that may offend a culture:
  • Cinco de Mayo
  • White Trash Bash (fraternity/sorority members are the most affluent college students in America - basically this is like saying "let's dress like poor people!" That's really not that funny.)
  • Homeless Ball (see above)

Pimps 'N Ho's
Do you even know what a pimp is? Sure, the word has become casual slang and probably you're not using it literally when and if you do, but here's what's wrong with pimps. The pimp/ho relationship is abusive and possessive. Physical and psychological manipulation, starvation, rape (including gang rape), beating, forced drug use, and shame are all commonly used techniques to establish the culture that the pimp owns (literally) the prostitute. Prostitutes have sex with five, ten, twenty (or more) strangers a day, every day. Besides the sheer numbers involved, some of those strangers are going to use a person in ways that are bizarre, painful, disturbing, humiliating, and occasionally fatal. And, to boot, they don't even get to keep the money paid - it all goes to the pimp.

There are lots of renditions that are basically the same as Pimps 'N Ho's:
  • Bro's 'N Ho's
  • Catholic School Girl/Principal
  • CEO's and Secretaries
  • Playboy mansion
  • Lingerie party
  • Pajama party (It's not like you think the ladies will show up wearing bathrobes, fellas, we know what you're hoping for.)
  • Dirty Doctors/Naughty Nurses

What do all these themes have in common? The woman is the slut. The men get to wear (basically) normal clothes and the women dress scantily clad. Any rendition that glorifies the dominant male and provocative female should be reconsidered. Ideally, because of the dangerous roles they perpetuate - but in the least because of this: lots of people stereotype fraternity and sorority members to be more promiscuous than the average college student - why purposefully perpetuate that stereotype?

Maybe we're overestimating your intellect. Maybe these themes aren't plays on power and sex. Maybe it's simply a group of adolescent men's efforts to get a whole slew of women to come over dressed in practically nothing. But, seriously how juvenile is that? If you have to have a slutty party theme to get to see a lady in her undies, that's your problem.

As you can see, we're not just talking about being politically correct, we're talking about some serious issues, folks. Sure, we get it, wearing a pimp costume doesn't mean you're actively advocating for sex trafficking and rape. But here's what it DOES mean: you're either ignorant to the issue or you know about it and simply don't give a damn. Either way, this spells out P-R-O-B-L-E-M.

Sorority ladies, sick of people saying you're a bunch of sluts? Fraternity men, sick of people assume you've committed a date rape? Besides the obvious - stop doing these types of actions (if you are). But also, consider stopping sexualizing your date parties, for starters.

Finally, if you're reading this and thinking, "that's an awesome theme idea! We're going to use it!" We have two reactions:
  1. Get real
  2. Don't

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fraternal Life: Not an Ad Campaign

I don't think Siri even knows what a fraternity or sorority is. I find this hard to believe since she knows everything - including how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if it could chuck wood. We asked Siri, "what are fraternal values?" and she had nothing. When we asked why she had nothing, she referred us to the Genius Bar folks. We felt snubbed. She couldn't even think of something witty to say.

So, we got to thinking. Why doesn't Siri know more about fraternal organizations?

Maybe it's good sign. Maybe the fact that she didn't respond with something horribly cruel, stereotypical, or Animal Housey should make us happy. 

Or, maybe she's just practicing the age old adage "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Well, now we're just paranoid.

All of this begs the same question that has been asked a thousand times: what do the non affiliated think of us (we're making the safe assumption that Siri isn't a sorority woman)? But, more importantly, how are we earning our reputations? Far too often, fraternity and sorority members talk about PR from the viewpoint of wanting to pick and choose a few good things they've done in order to guide and control how the rest of the world views them. For example, we create a press release about the $2,000 raised at last week's philanthropic event and want the world to read it with awe but get pissed when people talk about us when we get busted for hazing.

In order to have a good reputation, a few things need to happen. First, you have to actually do good things. Second, you have to actually be a nice person. Third, you have to do good things and be a nice person consistently - and not just for show. We have little tolerance for fraternity and sorority members who say stupid things like "people only know us for the bad things we do." Um, the problem isn't that people only know about the bad things, the problem is we're doing the bad things.

Okay, blah blah blah, you've heard this before. But, here's a spin you might not have heard before: flaunting that aforementioned $2,000 kind of makes the whole fundraising action a little less authentic - if we may be so bold. The best leaders tend to let their actions speak for them; they don't run around shouting, "Hey, everyone! Come see how good I look!"

We can't pick and choose what people know about us. We can't advertise the good stuff and hide the bad stuff. Worse even, we can't do the good stuff to make up for the bad stuff. I mean, Lindsay Lohan can say she's a stable and reliable adult a million times but no one is ever going to believe her if she keeps acting like a head case all over the place. Call it JV, call it Gaper Greek, call it whatever, you get the idea.

So, Siri doesn't know who we are. Fine. We can wrap our brains around that. We shouldn't need Siri - or the rest of the population - to tell us we're great to know that we are. We'll let our actions speak for us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Wolf Creek ski area in Pagosa Springs, Colorado opened this weekend. One of the first ski areas (and THE first in Colorado) in the United States to open this season. Ski and snowboard season has begun, folks.

If you ski or ride, we assume you've heard the term 'gaper.' If you don't ski or ride, we think it's safe to assume you've heard of the Urban Dictionary. According to Urban Dictionary, a gaper is a skier or snowboarder who is completely clueless. They are usually distinguished by their clothing and their oh-so-noticeable "gaper gap" - a gap between the goggles and the helmet (or worse, they're not even wearing a helmet). Urban Dictionary states, "[gapers] will sit on their ass for a good 5-10 minutes talking about what they're going to do off that "jump" or "rail" while everyone behind them goes before them and they stare with their mouth gaped open." Gapers go up lifts that only access black runs but look like fools trying to get down them. Basically, gapers are posers. They *kind of* have the right outfit on the mountain and talk like they can ski/ride but they pretty much suck at it.  So, they just sit in the snow and talk in skier/rider lingo and annoy all the people who are actually there to fine tune their turns.

Gapers think they're cool, but to the people who are actually know how to ski/ride, they suck. They spend thousands of dollars on passes and gear to just sit around and make the rest of us look bad. Gapers are just there for the image - and for the beer drinking that follows their difficult day of skiing/riding - I mean gaping.

Yesterday I was at the grocery store and saw a group of five or six fraternity men outside collecting food for a campus food drive. I don't know what the other unpresuming grocery patrons were thinking, but I was thinking, "blech" and curling my lip and rolling my eyes while thinking it.

What?! You're surprised! You thought I loved fraternities and sororities! Well, I do.

I might love fraternities and sororities, but here's what I hate: Gaper Greeks.

These men were wearing the perfect outfit: clean sweatshirts with letters, well tailored jeans, preppy-but-but-not-too-preppy running shoes, and they were all standing next to their new and freshly washed typical Colorado extended cab pickup truck. Plus, the chapter clearly chose their perfect match of handsome-but-not-too-sexy group of men to represent them at the grocery store. Don't they look like nice young men collecting food for the food bank?

Sure they do, but I knew they were #GaperGreeks so they made me gag. This is the same chapter that is constantly getting busted for drugs and alcohol at events in their chapter house. Oh, wait, their "chapter house" isn't even an actual house - it's basically two third-world-looking run down shacks next door to each other. There are three foot weeds in the yard and - literally - there are boarded up windows. Yes, these clean cut classy men *live* here and ladies enjoy going to their parties. Rumors of sex assault swarm and let's just say, if I wanted to buy an eight ball I think this would be a good place to look. Oh, and did I mention, they're not even recognized by IFC due to their repetitive bad behavior.

Yuck, #GaperGreeks.

Gaper Greeks are all talk, they sit around and talk about fraternity and *think* they know what that means and feels like. They don't. They're not there to actually fine tune their leadership skills and practice their fraternal values - they're only there for the beer drinking.

While these #GaperGreeks were  flaunting their Greek at the grocery store, a man from another chapter (of non-GaperGreeks) humbly came to my door with a grocery bag to collect food for the same drive. He introduced himself, told me about his fraternity, and asked if I would donate food. Get this, he left the bag with me and said he would pick it up the next day if I left it on my doorstep. Um, these guys were actually doing work - and they chose to do the same task without parading themselves around. They just wanted to collect food and were seemingly uninterested in promoting their chapter in some inauthentic way. This guy wasn't even wearing letters.

The problem with gapers - of any kind - is that the majority of the population thinks they fit into our non-gaper group. They say things like "Ugh, I hate snowboarders because they just sit on the hill and get in the way of the skiers." Um, not true! If you actually know a snowboarder - who's not a gaper - you know they can rock the back bowls and the T-bar lifts as well as any good skier can. It's the gapers who are on the front side just planting their asses under the lift - and the rest of us don't like being associated with them.

The same goes for fraternity/sorority members: many people think all fraternity/sorority members are huge partiers. We're poor students and don't enhance our college/university whatsoever. Not true, those are the #GaperGreeks you're talking about. Like the gapers on the mountain who stand out because of their bright-colored clothing and the fact they're always in your way, #GaperGreeks, steal the spotlight with their substance abuse and hazing. You don't see the non-gapers on the mountain because we're in the back bowls - away from the crowds and not calling attention to ourselves. We actually want to spend our day skiing/riding. Similarly, the non-gaper Greeks continue to plug away with community service, building relationships, developing leaders, and succeeding in school.

The problem is, gapers do actually fool people. But, the only people they're fooling are the tourists and the novices - those people who only get out to ski/ride a few times a year. Unfortunately, this is about 90% of the people on the hill. Same with #GaperGreeks - you might be fooling lots of people, but you're not fooling those of us who matter - the ones who are members of a fraternity/sorority for the values.

We're onto you, #GaperGreeks. We can spot you from a mile away. And, while you might be feeling proud and smug about fooling 90% of the people who came to the grocery store that day into thinking your fraternity is a group of classy guys who does philanthropy, you'd be arrogant to forget about the 10% of people who saw for what you really are: a #GaperGreek.