Monday, December 31, 2012

Blessings in Disguise

7:00 am came early this morning for the first day out at the work site. We each signed up for a different site. One site was working on building a house for a very poor family, some of the others played with children all day and most of us from AFLV went to the site where we are building a school house.

As we departed early this morning for our work site, I felt many emotions going through my head. I was just hoping I could really put my best foot forward. As we arrived on the site, Cuidad de Arce; I really got to see what kind of schooling these children are being taught in. It was a humbling experience because it made me think of all the things I take advantage of with my education.

We started work immediately, with the direction of Lynette. She started by showing me how to dig up the grass with a hoe and also where I don’t hurt myself. After digging up the grass for a while and water breaks, Laura and I decided we would help make support braces for the concrete that will be poured into the trenches to brace the walls for the school. We felt all work was an important job on the site.  I have also realized that this was hard manual labor. These people do not have machines and other technology to get the job done. It is all hard work and these people are more proud of their work.

As lunch approached, we walked up hill to this picnic area that the school is fortunate to have. This was an amazing view of mountains and the city as we ate, it was really breathtaking. For lunch we had our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we made that morning. Lunch came to an end and it was back to work. Sister Lynette offered us to take a taxi (tuktuk) ride through town for $2.00. Sonja, Laura and I were the first on this ride. It was really eye opening to see that these people are just like us in the United States. They are just as excited about the New Year as we are on selling fireworks and other celebration items. We got to really travel further and see more of the mountain side on this part of town. I say it was well worth my money. As we arrived back at the work site, we found children from the neighborhood that wanted to play with the volunteers such as coloring, cards and soccer.

As the children were playing, Laura and I decided to continue to work.  It was amazing to see all volunteers we had in the community to help us at this time. I even saw the father of some of the children that were playing working with us on the work site. This was a blessing experience that I don’t see in America. Volunteers that just took a few hours of their day just help us out because they know it is for the betterment of the community. Laura and I worked hard and made new friendships with these people. We held many deep conversations, as I was in amazement with the contribution. I was so thankful for the wonderful people in the community.

Few hours later, we cleaned up the work site and headed back to the house. I know at this point we were all ready to get cleaned up from the day’s work. Dinner was served shortly and soon our reflection followed.

Reflection helped me understand everything that I know I take advantage of and I felt today was a real blessing in disguise. I could not have asked for anything better than really immersing myself in the culture. I have realized how privileged I am and I should be more thankful for the opportunities I am given.  And knowing that happiness is all I need.

Chelsea Braune is a senior at Tarleton State University and a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta Fraternity.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Many Questions

When I woke up this morning, I awoke at around 5:30 am. Realizing that I had to wake up two hours later, I decided to continue sleeping forgetting that my wakeup call would be hearing a bull horn. Sure enough, a little after 7:30am, the sound of a duck noise (which was the bull horn) woke me up. It didn’t help that when the sister using it asked if the boys were up one of the guys from Villanova said, “No.” Upon him saying no we got up, but she still proceeded to come in our room and make noise a couple of times. It was an interesting first day to say the least.

Following the glorious wake up call, we got ready and went to breakfast where I chose to have frosted flakes and cantaloupe. Though simple, it was nice to get up without being in a rush and taking my time to finish my cereal and think about the day ahead.

After breakfast we all bunched in a van (that can hold all 25 of us, if I may mention) and made our way to mass to the Maria Auxiladora Church. It was a wonderful service given by the priest and the church had beautiful murals, statues, and stained glass windows. While there, it made me appreciative as I started to think about my upbringing and my ability to understand the Spanish being spoken for mass, but also the message that was being expressed by the priest.

Once mass was over, we visited the tomb of Archbishop Romero who was a very important figure for the lower class people of El Salvador. To be in that room and to hear about some of the history regarding this man was humbling and it was also tragic the way that he died. I am glad that I had the opportunity to learn about a man who said, “As long as people are starving in El Salvador, the walls of my church will not be decorated.”

From there, we went to a market in the area that had many small shops where I was able to purchase several things for family and my sponsors. What was important to me, however, was to get to know some of the shop owners as much as it was important to get souvenirs for people I care for. I met a woman that had a small shop for 35 years, had two sons and one of which was helping her in her shop. I went to her shop twice and the second time I thanked her for her service and left her with a warm hug and a big smile. Sometimes we take for granted the living conditions and jobs that we have in the U.S and rarely take the time to reflect that our opportunities are far greater than other people. To be there and have a conversation with that woman, made me appreciate what I do have and to be happy for those things. We then left the shops and went back to the house for lunch.

Finally full from a couple of tuna sandwiches, we hopped on the van once again and made a one hour trip to an orphanage. Once there, we started playing basketball with a couple of the children and at one point we had a four on four game going. It was an enjoyable time and at one point, Griffin, a participant from Fort Hays State University, took video of me playing with the kids. After looking at the video I came to recognize something that I hadn’t before. As I had mentioned before, we have more opportunities in the U.S. than most people do in other countries and something as simple as playing basketball came to mind as one of those things. When we played with the kids they traveled, double dribbled, fouled like crazy, and didn’t take it back to an imaginary three point line after our team missed making a shot. In the U.S these things are considered to be incredible mistakes that would have anyone ousted from a basketball court. With these children, however, I realized that it’s not as simple. The norms in the U.S are things that are overlooked especially when the people here are poverty stricken and worried about having a decent job to help take care of their families. Hanging out with those kids and reflecting on that experience on the way back made me truly appreciate many things especially the power of a smile that with its genuineness can transcend anything and brighten someone’s day.

The day ended with dinner and a talk from a man named Eugene Palumbo who has worked for many publications including that New York Times. His talk included information about the country as well as other information that was truly helpful to understand the reasons for why the Salvadorian people are the way they are and why difficult times have come about in this region. I really appreciated his visit and the wealth of knowledge that he was able share with us.

 It was a busy and thought provoking day that brought about many questions for me to ask and find within myself what I truly value in life. I hope to continue to have more experiences that I can challenge myself with.

Miguel Acero Jr. is a Senior at the University of Arizona and member of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Opening hearts and opening minds!

After a long day of traveling, we all have arrived safely in San Salvador! There were a few glitches and delays for some members of the group, but smooth travels overall. Tricia didn’t waste any time exposing us to the true culture of El Salvador. We met our van driver, Miguel, at the airport and we were off in a flash. The speed, intensity, and chaos of drivers here was a bit of a culture shock for most of us.

The first stop of our trip was a brisk afternoon hike to the top of El Puerto de Diablo. It was a bit more of a workout than some of us anticipated, but the breathtaking views and photo opportunities definitely made our hard work pay off. Our group really enjoyed this first adventure because it allowed us to see some of the people of El Salvador in a natural setting. This area wasn’t a tourist stop, but a place where normal people would spend an afternoon.

After seeing a bit of the city and culture, we went to the Casa Voluntariado Santa Rafaela Maria, where we will be staying all week. We enjoyed meeting the Sisters and hearing about their mission and why they are working to help the people of El Salvador. Dinner tonight was a traditional Salvadorian dish: papusas!

Our first reflection of the week followed dinner.   We opened our discussion with a quote from Rabindranth Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was pleasure: I woke and saw that life was service; I served and discovered that service was pleasure.” While discussing this quote, it was great to see that even though each of us comes from a different part of the United States and has different backgrounds, we all have a common purpose. We have given up a week of our time to come to this community to make a difference and serve. An open mindset is something that each of us possesses and we know that the people of El Salvador will make a large difference in our lives as well.

Even though this trip is only a week long, we know it will impact the rest of our lives. It will help us remember that service is a strong value that each of our organizations have in common. We must allow this week to motivate and empower us to bring a passion for service back to each of our communities. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds!
Laura Mason is a member of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority and a senior at the University of Southern Indiana.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Consciousness of Self

My name is Kelly Griffith, and I am a a sophomore and a proud sister of Alpha Xi Delta at Florida Atlantic University.

On site today we continued to put our hard work into this house that we aspire to make into a home. In the past couple of days we have made incredible progress on this house as a team, and I believe that the positive energies that are being exuded from each and every man and woman on this trip have been a huge contributing factor to that progress. I have been thinking that these nails that we are hammering into these walls aren't just nails; these nails, walls, and windows represent a new beginning for a family that might have not had one otherwise. They represent a reinforcement that their home will hopefully be safe, God forbid, if another storm like Katrina were to hit this area again.

In tonight's discussion we talked about "Consciousness of Self" and how self assessment and awareness of our personal beliefs, values, and attitudes, is a integral part in the leadership process. We also discussed what growth and changes we had personally experienced so far this week. That gave us all time to think about our experiences, what we've learned, and how we are going to internalize them and use them to lead in the future when we go back to our organizations in the Spring semester. A beautiful quote was brought up in the group conversation today by a gentleman of Pi Kappa Alpha named Scott Cunningham. He quoted, "Service is love made visible", he explained this quote by saying that you can serve your financial wealth or material wealth and it will show that that is what you love, or you can serve your community and it will show that you love others and that you are willing to sacrifice your time and energy to help another person. As the Dalai Lama said, "As long as space remains, as long as living beings remain, I will remain in order to serve."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Is Privilege?

Today was our first full day on the AFLV immersion trip to New Orleans, where we are working with Habitat for Humanity as well as living together in a neighborhood home for volunteer. We are all affiliated with fraternity/sorority life in some way and have answered a call to serve others in New Orleans.

But why have we answered this call? I can't answer for everyone, but for me, it revolves around something covered in tonight's discussion: privilege and poverty. The house we are working on is in a low-income neighborhood that has been severely affected by Hurricane Katrina. It was impossible for me to not notice the homes that were essentially uninhabitable in the neighborhood; several homes and other buildings still had noticeable damage, despite the fact that the hurricane had occurred several years ago. We discussed the concept of poverty at length upon returning to our bunkhouse, and toward the end, we covered a pretty broad spectrum of the subject.

One thing that affected the discussion was a quiz we took called "Are You Privileged?" This was important for me because I personally connect strongly with those who are impoverished and who are struggling, because I see myself as someone who knows struggle. However, upon taking the quiz, I realized that I am actually more privileged than I had thought. Although I feel connected with those in poverty, I have to realize that I know a different form of struggle than these people do, and I might not know everything about what these groups of people are experiencing. For me, it was eye opening to realize how fortunate I have been to have all of these things when other people were having very different experiences.

We also talked about the idea that although we may have financial privilege, it doesn't necessarily mean that the people we are working with are poor in every sense of the word, as many people noted in our conversation. These people might have fewer material resources to work with, but they often have values and intellectual currency that we may never accrue without connecting with these people. By allowing them to teach us instead of focusing on teaching them, we can both benefit each other in amazing ways.

Miranda Huber is a sophomore at Elmhurst College and a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason 6

Santa Claus would like you to stay safe this holiday season and follow all local laws.

Do you have an entire chapter that rages 24/7? No? That's what we thought.

Reason 6: Alcohol consumption among fraternity and sorority members has decreased.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Obvi, we still have some work to do when it comes to alcohol-related incidents. But, compared to the 1990s, alcohol use has decreased among fraternities and sororities.

We think part of this has to do with the way we are recruiting. As dry recruitment is better enforced, we do a better job of explaining what we are about. While we do like to have fun, when we put alcohol front and center, it makes it seem like that's all we're about. By recruiting members who are more interested in our values and leadership opportunities, we'll get more members who aren't focused on getting wasted. Isn't that what we're looking for to take our chapters to the next level?

Related to better recruitment practices, students are entering colleges with different priorities. In 2011, the amount of drinking and time spent partying in high school was at an all-time low for entering freshmen. With more academically-focused students entering college, we are able to recruit members who can prioritize.

Another factor we think has contributed is improved alcohol education by our higher education professionals. We are seeing many more educational programs happening on campuses across the country, more programs like GreekLifeEdu, and more resources developed by our inter/national organizations that make us confident that the information is being presented to our collegiate members. By doing our homework and performing legit research, we get numbers that support our claims and hard work.

We know we still have some work to do. We get stories and reports every day that tell us that. But don't let them call all fraternities and sororities just a bunch of drunks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is Your Party Racist? Because These Are

Well, if you've been paying attention to the news this week, you've likely seen this story.

While the Nu Gamma chapter of Chi Omega at Penn State has made the news this week, this is a much larger problem. We're really tired of reading stories like this, this, and this.

Seriously though, haven't you gotten the memo by now that these parties are offensive?

However, we're thinking we shouldn't be so angry right away. The more important question is do you understand why these parties are offensive?

  • By throwing these parties where guests show up in stereotypical garb, you are reducing entire cultures and groups of people into a caricature.
  • It's pretty basic. By making other cultures into what you think is a joke, you're basically saying you're better than them. We can't think of anything more condescending and arrogant.
  • As members of values-based organizations, we talk a lot about how our fraternities and sororities make us better people. How are these parties congruent with that at all?

If you are having trouble with this issue, reach out. Your Multicultural Affairs office on campus is more than happy to help you understand how this is not inclusive. We have some different resources here, here, and in our Summer 2012 issue of Connections, as well.

So stop being racist. It's not cool, bro.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason 5

Have you ever made a decision and thought to yourself "Is this going to make my chapter look bad? If I do this, will these people think we're the -insert stereotype here- chapter?"

Reason 5: Fraternity membership has a positive influence on moral development.

So, when you are having that inner dialogue with yourself (and we all do), that's all a part of moral development. We totally know that there are some horrible chapters that aren't developing morals at all, but most chapters create some of the best environments for moral development.

Before you joined a fraternity or sorority, you had less people to consider in making your decisions. You may have had to consider your athletic team or choir in high school, but the vast majority of people have never had to consider representing an entire inter/national organization.

One of the top issues we hear from students regarding new member education is the fact that new members don't seem to "get it" yet. While we think this is obvious because they are new, it's like we just explained: they have never had so many people to consider while making decisions.

Other aspects of moral development include using values and beliefs to guide behavior and maintaining self-respect. Let's use this in some specific examples and ask ourselves some questions.

  • You are wondering if animal ears and lingerie make a good Halloween costume, a la Mean Girls.
    • How does this reflect on all the members of my sorority? 
    • Does this match my value of being a classy lady?
    • Is this an image of self-respect?
  • You are thinking about great ideas for your fraternity's recruitment events. What about a stripper?
    • What does that say about my fraternity?
    • Does this match our value of respecting all people, including women?
    • Does hiring someone as a sexual object say a lot for my self-respect?
To us, moral development is what fraternities and sororities are all about. A lot of what is portrayed in the news is a failure in that process, but YOU are better than that.

So, ladies and gentlemen, keep being good people. We know you are.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason 4

Graduating on time: it is a more likely outcome if you are in a fraternity or sorority.

Reason 4: Members of fraternities and sororities have been found to persist to graduation at higher rates than other students.

A study by Auburn University found the four-year graduation rate for students in fraternities and sororities to be just over 80% while only 70% of unaffiliated students graduated in four years. We put our heads together and brainstormed a few ways our brothers and sisters subtly and not so subtly encouraged us to make it to graduation (and in a timely manner at that).

First off, fraternities and sororities automatically create an environment of people with similar goals. When you're surrounded by brothers or sisters who want to succeed and progress academically, it makes it a lot easier for you to stay focused on your academic goals. By studying in groups, even when you're all working on different things, you have people pulling you through your next test or big paper. Additionally, by having a network of people with different areas of study, it is a lot easier to get help in a class you may have to take from someone who has a major in that area. If you're an English major struggling in economics, it's a lot easier to ask a brother who is majoring in business than someone you don't know in the business school.

Whenever you have a chapter of 20-300 people, there is a high likelihood you will find someone with your same major. By having a built-in cohort, you have created a learning community that increases your chances for academic success and university engagement (Zhao, 2004). 

Think about it: when you have classes together and similar material to study, you can think more critically and deeply about concepts, thus better understanding the material. In addition, by connecting with older members in your same area of study, you have an invaluable resource for knowing which classes to take to achieve your goals and more information about what you can do with your major. It's pretty hard to make those connections without a fraternity or sorority.

So, more than the general student leader experience, membership in a fraternity or sorority (if done right) can provide a dedicated network to help you succeed academically and push you towards graduation. Doesn't sound so stupid to us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason 14

So we're a little out of order today, but today's post is in honor of October 3, Mean Girls style.

We know, so fetch.

Reason 14: Membership in a fraternal organization exposes students to a more diverse variety of personality types.

Think about going through the recruitment or intake process. When you're unfamiliar with fraternities and sororities, it's easy to stereotype an entire chapter.

But once you join the chapter and get involved, you realize that each member is in fact, very different. Put 20-250 personalities together, and each chapter is bound to have internal disagreements. By joining a fraternity or sorority, you are developing interpersonal skills that will serve you throughout your life. Working with a group that doesn't always see eye-to-eye to achieve the same goal is something that you will deal with often in your professional life. Research by Hart & Associates found employers cited the ability to work in a diverse team as one of the top skills they were looking for in recent graduates.

Working with different personalities is especially important as chapter and council leaders. Disagreements stemming from different work styles and beliefs can lead to problems with communication.

Learning how to communicate with people who are different from you is essential because you make decisions for the chapter or community. Set an example for tolerance and civility.

Additionally, it is important to respect and accept each member's individual differences. Continue to recruit different members who each contribute something different and essential to the chapter. I mean, you can't expect everyone to buy army pants and flip flops or wear pink on Wednesdays (although we totally are today in honor of October 3).

We're sorry that people are so jealous of us,
but we can't help it that we're popular.

You need people of all talents and beliefs for your chapter or community to succeed. If you had a chapter full of artists, who would be the treasurer? Similarly, if you had a chapter full of mathletes (not social suicide, by the way), who would lead your public relations efforts?

So, continue to recruit all kinds of different people. It allows you to become a better person and communicator, and it makes your chapter or fraternity/sorority community better. Everyone wins!

Keep up the good work, and don't let the haters stop you from doin' your thang.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason 3

So, fraternities and sororities are not stupid. Know why? Because our members stay in school, that's why.

Reason 3: Membership in a fraternity or sorority increases first-year retention.

Based on state-reported data to the Integrated Postsecondary Data System, the national average for first-year retention is about 75%. Based on a multi-institution study by Robert DeBard and Casey Sacks, average first-year retention for fraternity and sorority members is about 94%.

We think that's pretty dang significant and impressive. Just like with grades, let's think about why our numbers are higher so that we can keep it that way.

First off, fraternities and sororities are founded upon brotherhood and sisterhood. So, by forming connections and families away from home, first-year new members are usually able to better adjust to their new environments. Think back to your first year of college. It can be super overwhelming when everything is new. When your new sisters and brothers join your organizations, it is your job as initiated members to make sure they feel welcome. A lot of that is just being their friend. Having friends somewhere makes you more likely to stay in that environment. Most of y'all seem to be doing a pretty good job of that.

In addition, sorority and fraternity members, whether formally or informally, serve as role models. Since our members tend to be more involved on campus, new members are able to talk to student leaders on a more intimate level, making them more likely to also get involved on campus. Questions about joining student government? New members can ask a sister who serves as Vice President. That new member who is not sure how to get involved in that service trip he read about? They can ask a brother who has been before. Even if our members are not involved in every organization, their involvement on campus helps them make connections to stay informed about other organizations.

Apart from friendship, sisterhood, and brotherhood, fraternities and sororities provide structured assistance when it comes to adapting to a university. Chapters' academic achievement programs, connections on campus, and knowledge of resources are invaluable to a first-year member's success. For students fresh out of high school, it can be daunting to figure out how to get help in an unfamiliar setting. Fraternities and sororities help their new members by being able to connect them with resources on campus before their problems get too big to handle.

So, by providing a home away from home, setting a good example, and helping our new members adjust to campus, our organizations are keeping our members on the path to success.

In other words, be cool; stay in school.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason #2

And we're back! It's one week later, and fraternities and sororities still aren't stupid. In fact, today we focus on exactly how not stupid they really are.

Reason #2: The Greek GPA is higher than the non-Greek GPA at the top party schools.

We recognize that the Princeton Review's rankings are highly subjective, but this report shows at the "Top 20 Party Schools" known for their party cultures and large fraternity/sorority communities, the fraternity and sorority GPA is actually higher than that of unaffiliated students. Fraternities and sororities form an academic support network to help their members succeed.

We've heard some really cool ideas from different chapters that succeed academically. Since we're such great friends, we thought we'd share.

  • Partner with academic resources on campus like the Writing Center, the Math Lab, or Supplemental Instruction. This one seems the most practical, but it's totally underutilized. They are on campus to help you succeed academically. Your sorority or fraternity is on campus to help you succeed overall. It's like a match made in Heaven.
  • Give your chapter members incentives to achieve. We already know that bad grades get punished: by the chapter, by the university, by your (inter)national organization, and any others who choose to shame you. But what if you recognize and reward academic achievement? Try small gifts at chapter to recognize achievements throughout the semester like A's on test or papers. Keep chapter members motivated throughout the semester so they can celebrate great things at the end. We're obsessed with the ones with catchy names like "smarty pants" involving free pants or "skippy award" involving peanut butter cookies for those that do not skip class.
  • Have coffee or dinner for your professors. This is a great way to get to know your professors and do something great and commendable on campus. Invite all professors on campus and let them get to know your chapter. Your chapter members are more likely to visit their professors when they need help if they've met them before. Not to mention your faculty will remember be able to make a connection between the organization that showed their appreciation and the students rockin' their letters in class.
So, now you know that fraternity/sorority members tend to have a higher GPA, and you have tips to keep it that way. Let's keep it that way so we can still mean it when we say we aren't stupid.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason #1

How many people were skeptical of your decision to join a sorority or fraternity?

We've heard the phrase "From the outside looking in you could never understand it; from the inside looking out you could never explain it."

This new blog series based on 16 Reasons to Join a Fraternity is here to help you explain it. Plus, these reasons are all backed up by scientific research, so you know they're legit.

Reason #1: Fraternity and Sorority life builds better leaders and more active citizens

These findings are based on the University Learning Outcomes Assessment (UniLOA), a diagnostic tool used as a "dashboard indicator" of student growth, learning, and development. In its 2010 study with responses from about 5,700 male students, the assessment found that fraternity men scored substantially higher that non-affiliated men in the domains of citizenship and membership and leadership.

Some specific items where members scored higher than non-members were:
  • engagement in the political process through voicing viewpoints such as writing letters to the editor, engaging in debate, and contacting political leaders;
  • involvement in organizations relating to personal or professional interests;
  • leadership opportunities in important/expert areas;
  • and effective management of an organization, group, or club.
Think about those leadership positions in your chapter or council where you have to find the best way to run a committee or meeting. Yup, you are developing transferable skills that translate to leading a department or task force. The same skills you learn as a vice president of programming mentoring committee chairs will be used when you supervise individuals someday.

And those times when your sisters or brothers encouraged you to join organizations you were really interested in? It's definitely setting you up to be an involved professional with great networking opportunities within a field you're interested in. Involvement in organizations like the Pre-Medical Students Society or the Public Relations Student Society of America is a great way to network within a future profession while you're still in college.

And those times you had the courage to speak out in student government meetings or to the campus newspaper? Your engagement as an involved citizen spurs discussion that is instrumental to forming opinions on important issues in your community. As engaged citizens, your involvement today is a start to future civic engagement like holding positions on your local school board or even running for a political office.

So the next time someone asks why you made the decision to go Greek, here's just one reason you can give her or him with stories to support it.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My New Perspective - Inclusive Leadership

By Chelsea Simmons, Alpha Gamma Delta, Chapman University

As someone who has attended many different leadership conferences, I sometimes get frustrated by the repetition in the topics and discussions. One thing that I rarely have conferences focus on is inclusion. The AFLV Session of LeaderShape is an exception to that experience.

After spending the morning learning about the power of us as individuals, we spent the night relating that to how we can work as a team and what we need to do to include everyone. The conclusion that I came to is that I am discriminatory. No one ever sat me down and taught me to be. No one ever explained privilege to me, or taught me how to use it to my advantage. Even without someone teaching me that, I still have these thoughts. I still make rash judgments based on what people look like, where people come from, their gender, their religious beliefs, and basically anything that I am unable to relate to. I am not proud of these beliefs, and in no way is this me saying these thoughts are right. But my goal after LeaderShape is to work on acknowledging these thoughts so that I can work on eliminating them.

No one is perfect, and I don’t imagine we will ever live in a world free of judgment. But I do hope that we can find a way to realize the fault in these thoughts. That we can work as leaders of any organization to be inclusive and tolerant. Just because I see the world a certain way, that doesn’t mean that everyone views the world that way. I want to work on being open to sharing my opinions and experiences without projecting those on my peers. I am hoping by the end of the week LeaderShape will give me the tools to be able to do that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Unexpected Life Changing Experience

By Anthony Ferguson, Jr - University of Iowa - Alpha Theta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc

Unexpected. Inspirational. Exciting. Life Changing. All words that can describe what today was like at AFLV LeaderShape. Today we talked about vision, passion, and drive, and how we could go about effectively constructing these things to better help out our organizations. This was very hard for a person like myself who is usually pretty fast at turning an idea into action. Today however, I learned how to take that vision, sit with it, mold it, and than sit with it some more.

Possibly the most exciting piece about this segment was watching another student boldly share his vision in front of the rest of the group as two other students challenged him and asked tough questions. This process helped not only the person sharing his vision flesh out his ideas further, but it also gave everyone in the room a chance to think critically about our very own visions, dreams, and aspirations. The next great part of the day came after dinner when our panelist arrived.

Not knowing what to expect from this panel, I sat back in my seat, ears relaxed yet still very attentive. I had no idea of the magnitude of knowledge that these people would be bringing to the Beta Class of LeaderShape.

The panel spoke on everything from more effective recruitment, to challeging our entire organization when things don't line up with our own personal values and beliefs, to my favorite topic, men and their sometimes disregard for others. I had no idea that this would even be touched on this week but I am certainly glad that it was. After hearing this open, honest, and very direct call out to fraternity men it reconfirmed for me that we as men have to do better, and have to hold one another to a higher standard. Our panelist described for us that this standard not only included social, but academic standard as well.

This type of leadership and call to action requires us to call out members of our organizations that we hold near and dear to us when we see them misbehaving, acting out of charecter, and not upholding the standards of our fraternity or sorority. This type of leadership is crucial and I am glad that I had the opprotunity to be reminded of my job as a leader and a brother. This conversation was unexpected, inspritaional, exciting, and life changing, and I cannot wait to get back to my campus to spread what I learned.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Can See Clearly Now

By Diana Soria- Texas State University- Sigma Delta Lambda

Coming into a house full of strangers, I didn’t know what to expect but I must say that I am pleasantly surprised. I have made such deep connections with my colleagues and it’s only been day two!  I came to AFLV Leadershape thinking that I already knew what it takes to be a leader but today’s curriculum has shown me otherwise. First of all, I really appreciate that the facilitators make us feel comfortable with each other to discuss issues that can be a sensitive subject for some people. They allow us to share our stories so that others can take something valuable from it and vice versa. Secondly, the discussions that we had today were very stimulating. It has really pushed me to think outside of my comfort zone and that’s okay with me. I needed an experience like to help me shape my potential abilities so that I can be an effective leader. You see, I learned today that in order to be an effective leader I must be willing to go out of my comfort zone. After all, how can I lead with a vision and work towards a greater good of my council if my vision is blurry? Because of this institute, I feel a new sense of ambition to do great things on my campus this upcoming school year. I look forward to tomorrow as well as the rest of the week. This has truly been an interesting, fun experience. I highly recommend any leader in Greek life or not, to take advantage of participating in an AFLV Leadershape Institute. It is a fun, eye opening experience that you will never regret!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My First Day at AFLV LeaderShape

By: Brandy Flatley, Elmhurst College, Phi Mu

Going into this amazing opportunity I had no idea what to expect, I have never been to a leadership conference that was involved with my love for Greek Life as well! I was nervous just as much as excited to embark on this new adventure, but right when I walked in my nerves went away when I met the facilitators, and volunteers. They were so welcoming, and made me feel at home. I was somewhat expecting the typical ice breakers and leadership activities, but AFLV LeaderShape was much different than what I thought I was walking in to. We jumped right in on the definition of leadership and what core values a leader was to have, some that I have never even thought of before. One thing that I learned today that really stuck with me was how important relationships are when becoming a leader. Everyone has friends and family, but these types of relationships are so much more than I realized. I learned how important it was to build trust in a relationship because without trust, no one will try to follow your lead and have faith in your advice. We talked about using the people in your life to help you become the best leader you can be. I would not personally be here without Liz Doyle, who is our Greek Advisor at Elmhurst College, who is also here with us. She really has pushed me to become the leader she knew I can be and has given me the opportunity to be here, and thanks to that one relationship, I am growing as a leader so much within just 6 days while being here. So do not take advantage of any of your relationships, because they will help you grow to be the leader you are meant to be! I am so pumped up and excited to see what tomorrow and the rest of the week have to offer!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Going to Convention this summer? Here are some tips.

I have been a fraternity man for a little over five years now.  I was heavily involved with my fraternity chapter during my undergraduate time, and participated in many student organizations such as student government and Interfraternity Council.  I attended various leadership programs and engaged in many community service opportunities.  As a graduate, I serve as an adviser for my undergraduate chapter, house director for my fraternity at graduate school, and co-contributor for the development of a new fraternity graduate chapter.  But what is missing from this list?  Attending my fraternity’s national convention.  Throughout my entire fraternal experience, I have not had the opportunity to attend one of these educational, inspiring events.
Am I jealous?  Oh, most definitely!  However, I thought I would offer some advice to those attending undergraduate members, from an outside perspective.  Whether you are a member of Phi Delta Theta traveling to Washington D.C. or a Delta Zeta traveling to San Antonio, here are few tips that hopefully guide and inform you while at convention:

  1. Be absorbent – Soak in as much information as humanly possible!  If your brain literally aches from all of the active learning you have participated in creating or gathered, then you have successfully completed this goal.  Invigorate your mind with new ideas, remind yourself with already known information, and challenge your assumptions with different knowledge.
  2. Be practical – So you learned all of these great things about what other chapters do at their schools and want to implement them within your chapter.  Now what?  Take a step back and evaluate if any of these idea are worth exploring.  Recognize the successes and limitations of your chapter and whether such an endeavor can flourish and be sustained within your chapter’s current state.
  3. Be friendly – It can be very intimidating to see other members from your organization from across the nation, despite taking the same oaths during the same Ritual ceremony.  However, instead of leaning on fellow chapter members, or previously met members, challenge yourself to meet others.  Remove that cool cap, put on a smile, and be socially excellent (Shout out to Phired Up!).
  4. Be congruent – The values congruence talk in conference settings is as a common as a pair of Sperry’s at a Greek social.  However, until all members of the entire national fraternal community walk the congruent walk, this topic will exist.  Of all the times and places in your collegiate career, make sure your espoused values align with your enacted actions.  It is a simple request; just do it!  
Make the time spent at your national convention an enlightening, transformational, and joyous occasion.  Remember why you joined your specific organization, what that organization has provided you, and how you can continue to give back to its cause.  Have a great national convention season, everyone!

Carson Lance is a guest blogger.  He is a second-year graduate student at Bowling Green State University and summer intern at the University of Louisville.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Trip to Honduras: Gabriel Fernandez

When I was very young, my uncle Eduardo Fernandez, a Catholic priest and Berkeley professor of Theology, used to prop me up on his lap and share with me countless stories of his many journeys around the world. He told me stories of children who were my age and sadly did not have the privileged life that I so guiltily took for granted every day. He told me stories about families who pursued survival every day and not newer things for the home or ideas for an exciting summer vacation. He even told me stories of places where people could die for merely choosing one God over another. All of these stories I took in, so young and so naive. But now, I finally know what he was trying to do. His stories took me through the mountains of Central America, the historically rich cities of Europe, the indigenous communities of Africa and through many unseen cultures in Asia, all for the purpose of fostering within me a love for mankind and a growing urge to take action. For this, I will forever be thankful to him.

From May 19 - 26, I joined my brothers of Phi Delta Theta in an international immersion trip to Honduras. To say that this trip was life changing is a mere understatement. Never in my life have I ever been so humbled and inspired. The experiences that I had in Honduras will forever remind me that anything is truly possible in life, for the world’s problems are far greater than those that we fight at home every day.  In Honduras, I had the privilege of sharing my daily experiences with the rest of the brothers that attended the trip. Our talks and trading of experiences every night helped me to grow deeper in the very things that make me a Phi Delta Theta. I will forever remember these brothers and I hope that they had as great of an experience as I did. 


“One man is no man.”

On the third day of our trip, I had the experience of joining a group of children for an afternoon on a soccer field that was in the village right outside of where we stayed. Many of these children had holes in their shoes, old clothes, scratches all over their body and occasional health issues, but each of these children wore the most enormous smiles I’ve ever seen. In my community at home, it is becoming less common to see children putting down video game controllers and taking their play outside. In this fast moving world that we live in, technology has become the standard for fun and entertainment and unfortunately, many children will grow up not valuing the person to person contact that is shared outside on the playground. In Honduras, however, technology was not an option. With no toys, no playground, no balls and no pavement, these children reminded me that all that is needed to enjoy life is the mere society of others. We learned the games that these children played and we spent three hours running around, getting dirty, falling on our faces and enjoying life by the help and society of these children. I will never forget the love and compassion that they all shared with each other and the amount of love that they shared with us despite the fact that we were odd strangers.

Friendship is an element of life that exists when one chooses it. It doesn’t happen by chance or by coincidence. Friendship is the foundation for any relationship no matter what kind, and I will now forever value all of the great people that I have ever welcomed into my life far more than I have before. Friendship is what makes someone commit an act of bravery; it is what makes one decide to do something about the problems within his community. It is what shapes the minds of fraternity men who go on to shape the world. Friendship, though often taken for granted, exists not between computers or between phones, but between people. Friendship is God’s gift to humanity and without it we are nothing.

Our day with the children of San Isidro
 Sound Learning

Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” – John F. Kennedy

Throughout our trip, we were treated with incredible hospitality by some of the most compassionate people that I have ever met. We stayed in a missionary camp that was founded in order to host travelers who went to Honduras with the plans of helping to better the surrounding communities. One of the people who I grew closest with was Leo. Leo is a native of Nicaragua and traveled to Honduras to follow his brother who is a pastor. Leo has been serving with the missionary for five years and told me that if he didn’t have necessities in life, he would do his work for the mission for free. Though born in a less fortunate family, Leo went to Honduras with a plan to better himself in order to enable himself to help others. Throughout his five years in Honduras, Leo has managed to learn English, attend a university, start a business, become a leader in many communities in Honduras, start a family and become one of the most faithful employees of Heart for Honduras. In my eyes, Leo greatly exemplified our cardinal principle of sound learning through his diligent work in bettering himself as a person through persistently seeking knowledge. In college, we are often taught what to think and seldom how to think. It is only a small percentage of the college population that chooses to pursue the ability to think efficiently rather than accepting what they are told to think. In a way, Leo fought the same battles that we do but on a different level. Everywhere around Leo, there are people struggling, hurting and often giving in to the challenges of life. Leo, however, chose a different path for himself and although he struggled far more than the average person, he never lost sight of his path and he finally created a life for both himself and for others.

In life, we need to accept where we are and learn to move forward. Oftentimes, we let the biggest opportunities pass us by and we allow the most insignificant things to get in our way. Those who never lose sight of their path are the ones who arrive at their destination. Sound Learning is about everything that happens outside of classroom. It is about what we do to seek out a high standard of mental culture no matter what area of study we come. We need to always remember to be mindful of what we accept into our minds as individuals and to always remember to pay our blessings forward. Like Leo, we should love what we do so much that if we could, we would do it for free.

Brother Joel Vega (left), Leo (middle), and me
 Moral Rectitude

“Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.” – Thomas Aquinas

On the sixth day of our trip, we had the pleasure of visiting an orphanage in San Pedro Sula, one of the world’s most dangerous cities. This orphanage housed children of all ages, most of whom needed medical attention. Children who lived in the orphanage were children who were left behind by their parents for one reason or another. In my eyes, it is a calamity that I child can go unloved by their parents.

Upon entering this orphanage, within a few seconds, children were jumping all over us asking us to pick them up and to hold them. They called us, ‘Tio,” which literally translates to, “Uncle,” but in the Honduran culture is used as a term of endearment. These children had so much energy that many of us were tired before they were. We played soccer, showed them things of ours, took pictures, offered a hand in the nursery and had conversations with the more timid children. One child I will never forget was Abigail. Abigail is 10 years old and is dying of leukemia. When she was 8 years old, Abigail’s right leg was amputated and she is now forever confined to crutches when she walks. At merely 10 years old, Abigail was already the sweetest and most loving young lady I had ever met. She complimented me on my smile, asked questions about my American education, told me something about each of the children in the nursery and even teased me about my Spanish being terrible. Abigail went on to tell me that her medical condition can only hold her back if she lets it and that she would never let that happen. Abigail’s smile will forever be a memory that I recall when my life seems to come to a halt. 

One of the most surprising discoveries I made at the orphanage was the amount of pay for the nurses that run it. Nurses who work at the orphanage, though nationally certified and fully educated, are paid no more than a few thousand dollars a year. I wondered to myself, if a degree in nursing is extremely difficult to attain in a country like Honduras, why would one choose to pursue a career in nursing knowing that the pay is not logical? To my humble surprise, these women told us that if they did not care for these children, who would? If they had not done what ought to be done, then no one would have.

That evening, we visited to a local children’s program that was headed by a Honduran pastor who has dedicated his life to helping children escape the shackles of poverty through providing education and opportunity. Pastor Francisco Huete was one of the most compassionate men I’d met throughout the whole trip and his dedication to both his faith and the children of Honduras was incredibly inspiring. “Pastor Freddy,” as he told us to call him, gave us a tour of his facility and acquainted us with the program. He explained that international donors from all over the world fund the program and all money received goes towards funding educational programs, leadership development opportunities, sports, books and basic living needs for over 30 children. 15 children, Pastor Freddy informed us, currently still need sponsors and cannot be included in the program until they are found sponsors. “You, my son, will change the lives of one of these children when you get home,” he told me as he put his arm around me and looked me straight in the eye. I am currently in the process of applying to become a sponsor.

Before the trip, I thought I knew how meaningful Robert Morrison’s philosophy was. “To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it,” is a philosophy that we as members of Phi Delta Theta constantly hear in our minds throughout our everyday lives. Until I had seen it in action in a place like Honduras, I never realized how important it really was. In a place that is home to the world’s most dangerous cities, there still exist brave men and women who strive to do what ought to be done everyday. Though it is difficult and though it called for major sacrifices, the men and women I met on my trip lived this philosophy without question. Everyday, whether it be with a group project, a chapter meeting, a community service group or our own families, we always wait for someone else to step up to the plate and make something happen. We always assume that there is someone else to fill a position that needs to be filled or that there is someone else who will be willing to take up a responsibility. However, I am very sure that those who have made the biggest impact in history were the ones who did what ought to be done. The reality of life is that sometimes that person is not there and sometimes that person does not show up. We, as men of Phi Delta Theta, need to be that person who people can count on. When people assume that someone will fill a position, because they will, we need to be that man. When people are lost and need a leader to show them the light, we need to be that man. When there is calamity all around us with no one brave enough to do something about it, we will be those men who do something about it.

In all ways, in all things that you do and in every moment of your life, live with every single ounce of you because when the time comes to do what ought to be done, the world will look to a leader to get the job done. We are those leaders.

Gabriel Fernandez is a member of the Texas Tau chapter of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Texas. This post was originally posted on the Phi Delta Thetablog.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Trip to Honduras: Adam Davis

Traveling to Honduras with twelve Phi Delts from around the United States and Canada to serve the people of Honduras was definitely the experience of a lifetime.  I knew from the minute my plane landed in Miami and my brothers whom I’ve never before met greeted me, that this was going to be a trip unlike any I had ever experienced.  Being a part of the same great organization that is Phi Delta Theta helped us to form strong bonds of friendships within the short time we spent together. 
My favorite part of the trip was being able to share in our nightly ritual and see that although we are all from different parts of the country and different walks of life, we are all able to live the ritual in our daily lives.  Each night, we would spend hours reflecting on our days and the different observations we each made.  We would share stories and our realizations of our “first world problems” and we would take the time to evaluate our own values. 
I will never forget the friendships that I made that week abroad, and the impact that we had on the native people of Honduras.  I challenge every Phi Delt to experience some sort of service immersion trip sometime in his life. 

Adam Davis is a member of the Indiana Gamma chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Butler University. This post was originally posted on the Phi Delta Theta blog