Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seniors: Give them a reason to stay involved

Mike, Alex, Paul, and Carlisle moved out of the chapter house last year after completing their two years of residence requirements and each serving in various positions in your fraternity as well as the All-Greek Council. They don’t come to the house much anymore, even for socials. You ran into them at the University Center and they said hi and went back to their conversations with some guys you recognize from another chapter on campus.

Xavier is doing an internship at a local nonprofit. Working there 15 hours a week and taking four classes is keeping him busy, not to mention studying for the GRE and managing his relationship with Vanessa. He approached you as chapter president that he’s going to have to step back from his responsibility as Vice President.

Maria just studied abroad in Brazil in the spring. Entering her senior year, she’s decided to add a minor of international studies. She hasn’t come to the first three chapter meetings, Saturday service project, or the beginning of the semester swap with Alpha Beta Gamma. You ran into her over the weekend at a local coffee house with some friends she had made through the study abroad program. She was nice to you but didn’t even ask about how things are going with the sorority.

These cases are not unique. They happen all the time in fraternity and sorority life: seniors start to disengage.  All types of fraternal organizations have the challenge of members who are looking ahead to graduation and life “in the real world.” This article addresses the causes of this disengagement and solutions to fixing it.

Reasons for Disengagement:
  1. Beyond social: seniors have grown a lot over their time in the chapter. While they may have joined to create a group of peers with similar interests, they have now created those relationships, maintained those that matter to them, and are less interested in creating new friendships. The core of many fraternities and sororities is the social aspect and this is just less important for seniors. As the case with Mike, Alex, Paul, and Carlisle, they have chosen to socialize with those who are their friends and do so outside of the typical chapter provided experiences. 
  2. Fraternity/Sorority takes a lot of work: and ultimately some who lead will need to lead for now and then move on. The case with Mike, Alex, Paul, and Carlisle is evidence that chapter leaders and those who meet the requirements of membership can possibly burn out or disconnect because they have already given so much. They may have an impression that they have “done their time” and now they can pass the torch to you and others (and likely feel confident that you will do good work). 
  3. Priorities (appropriately) shift: Xavier is focused on preparing himself for life after college. His internship will help him make connections for a job and his classes are demanding. His relationship with a significant other is important to him and he’s considering life after college with this person. It makes sense that his time and energy is given to those things that he sees as part of his future. Even as organizations that have lifelong membership, the extent to which he sees his fraternity involvement continuing is much more questionable than the needs to find a job and manage a long-term relationship. 
  4. Expanding worldviews: Maria is an example of someone who has expanded her perspective on the world through her study abroad experience. She is experiencing changing priorities and the same old activities, even if somewhat meaningful such as serving the community, just aren’t as important to her right now. While she once had meaningful relationships with others in the chapter, she is now spending time with those who have had the shared experience of studying together in another country. To some extent, this shouldn’t be a surprise: the kind of intense, shared experience that she had with others during study abroad could be likened to the intense shared experience she had during the new member education process.

It is natural for college students to develop over time; this is likely the most intense period of cognitive and affective growth you will experience. Priorities will change and to some extent disengagement shouldn’t be a surprise. However, there are ways to keep the fraternity/sorority experience meaningful for students even as other priorities emerge.
  1. Develop shared expectations early and continually revisit over time. Members enter with an impression of what is necessary for them to have the experience they want. The chapter has certain standards it wants to uphold. Reconciling changing perceptions of individual and chapter expectations is vital to keeping members engaged at any time. It is pivotal to engage students BEFORE the senior year in a discussion about what it means to stay engaged at this point in their lives.
  2. Shift the perspective of “all in” to “as much in as able.” Many fraternities and sororities, regardless of their size, expect members to be equally engaged in all aspects of the experience. It’s just not possible. T.J. Sullivan writes of “the middle” in his book and explains that sometimes “good enough” is all we can expect. For seniors, requiring fewer meetings, providing different educational experiences, and offering opportunities to connect with alumni/ae may be ways to keep them engaged.
  3. Keep the mission and purpose of the organization forefront and center. The relevance of fraternities and sororities can be powerful: we’re organizations grounded in common values and a shared commitment to something. If seniors understand the importance of their contributions to these shared goals and can find ways to infuse the chapter into their lives at this important stage, then maybe they’ll maintain involvement.
  4. Create rites of passage that respect seniors’ developmental needs. Maria has experienced a different culture. Coming back to talking about with whom you’re doing socials is not of importance. She wants to have conversations about her new interests. Host an event for those who study abroad, letting them tell their story and having other members share what it is about them that they missed while they were away. This rite of passage will help someone like Maria remember the friendships she had and help others understand how her perspective has changed.
Seniors disengage for a range of reasons; some within the control of the chapter and some are just a natural part of human development. This in mind, it’s important to recognize the reasons behind disengagement and what you can do to connect them to the organization in a way that meets their needs at this critical juncture in their lives

Written by guest author, Dan Bureau, Ph.D. Bureau has worked with fraternities and sororities for 16 years in a range of roles including campus professional, national volunteer and with CAMPUSPEAK and RISE Partnerships.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In a world of #hashtags

In a world where Facebook and Twitter rule our lives, it's sometimes hard to notice real stories even when they are right in front of our faces on our computer screens. Over the last few years, social media has changed the way we see our community, our friends, and ourselves. It has transformed the way we communicate and the way we keep in touch with everyone we know. But, in this world of social media, are we are beginning to lose touch of how we express ourselves?

Communication has turned from personal, face to face communication to email, texting, and Facebook, and Twitter. This that this is a bad thing... but, we need to consider the possibility that we lose some of our ability to express our feelings. Being limited to 140 characters or less might make a greater impact on how we communicate in "real life." When trying to express our feelings, do we think about how we feel or do we think about how it will come across on Facebook? When we want to express an opinion, do we spend more time thinking of a nifty hashtag rather than expressing how we actually feel?

While thumbing through Facebook recently, I began to think of how different our world would be if we didn’t have this kind of technology. I have heard so many people say that they would rather text than talk on the phone or they would rather write on someone’s Facebook wall instead of actually talking to them in person. I am guilty of this myself.

Are we simply scared of face to face communication?

Why is that? I think it's because we haven’t had the practice that past generations have had. When talking to someone in person, you don’t have time to think of your response. You cannot delete your thoughts mid sentence like you can when texting. We are forgetting how to communicate without preparation and approval by our minds.

This type of communication does have its perks though. We have the ability to think about our response before sending it. We have the opportunity to take time and breathe before making a situation worse. These are all great things.

But, what about the negatives? Personal communication has become a thing of the past. I know I get extremely nervous when talking to a professor face to face, but I have no problem shooting them an email. I can't image many people my age would disagree.

But here’s the kicker. You will not always have the opportunity to text or tweet or email someone. There comes a time when you have to put on a brave face and face reality that you need to be comfortable talking with someone. I personally believe that this is one of the biggest challenges our generation is facing.

Within our fraternal communities there is evidence left and right. Mass texts and emails have replaced personal responsibility to remember everything from chapter meetings to important events. Facebook groups have made it useless to stand up during chapter meeting and present the theme or ideas for the next social. Skype has ended the late night talks that use to take place in the common room. Chapter houses are completely different than how they use to be, which is extremely disheartening. The memories you are going to take away from this experience are the personal interactions you have with your brothers and sisters. So don’t get lost in your internet life at night, step out and have a deep conversation with someone.

Next time you are having a problem or need help try something new, pick up the phone and call someone or go see them in person. I’m sure it will make you feel a lot better and will be much more rewarding then sitting behind your computer screens or holding your cell phone.

Guest Blogger: Addison Ellis, AFLV Intern. Addison is a student at Colorado State University and is president of the CSU chapter of Alpha Tau Omega.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ready, Set, Change the World!

But first, let's focus on a few things.

By now, you’ve made it back to your campuses from the AFLV Central Fraternal Leadership Conference and National Black Greek Leadership Conference and are ready to change the world, right? Good, but let’s take it one step at a time.

Attending a student leadership conference can be a very enlightening and rewarding experience. You just spent a weekend with student leaders from across the country that share a similar passion for success and the values of your fraternal organizations. When you head back to campus, however, you are going to be surrounded by those who did not have the opportunity to attend the conference and you will be faced with the task of implementing all your new ideas and convincing others to support them.

Yup, you guessed it…this is the hard part.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a conference experience, but now that you are back on campus facing the hurdles of implementing your new found vision, let’s break it down for you. I’m a big fan of lists, so here it is:

Seven tips you need for changing the world (or at least what you need to succeed) after CFLNBGLC:

1. Process:
You got A LOT of information at CFLNBGLC and it can be like trying to drink from a firehose. You need to process and reflect on what you learned. Schedule a time that you and your fellow campus attendees can meet and sort through the information, notes, handouts, and overall experience. Share your thoughts and what you learned at the conference as well as what you would like to see implemented on campus. Having your advisor around is a good thing here; they can help you make sense of it all.

2. Prioritize:
You won’t be able to accomplish everything, you just won’t. But, you can do a lot. Make a list of the ideas and programs you would like to see implemented and start to prioritize. It is better to focus on a few new ideas and programs and deliver a quality product than try to do everything at a subpar level. Trust me, you will feel more accomplished and less frustrated in the long run.

3. Start a Group:
Use Facebook or some other social media service to create a group for your campus attendees. These are going to be your best allies throughout the year. Hopefully you were able to bond with your fellow attendees at the conference. Now use that opportunity to share thoughts, successes and frustrations throughout the year. 

4. Meet Regularly:
All too often, conference attendees bring their ideas back to campus, begin implementing them, and when they face their first roadblock they stop or get burnt out. Keep your motivation level up by meeting with your campus delegation regularly. This doesn’t need to be a formal meeting, but just a way to reconnect and share your stories. Your campus delegation will be your best motivation when you get home. Go out for coffee, meet for dinner, or schedule a camping trip. The important thing here is that you are supporting each other and building ongoing interfraternal relations.  

5. Follow Up:
Hopefully you took full advantage of the opportunity to meet new people, if not,you missed out! Find your new friends on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn. Be sure that you take the opportunity to follow up with anyone you met at the conference, including your interfraternal brothers and sisters, presenters, and vendors. Mention how much you enjoyed meeting them, ask questions that may be your mind, and reach out to them throughout the years to come. This is called networking. Get use to it, you’ll need this skill throughout your life.

6. Share Your Experience:
Not everyone can experience the awesome opportunity to attend a conference like CFLNBGLC, so share it! If your university, council, or chapter manages a blog, consider writing a reflection on the experience you had at the conference. Take this opportunity to publicly thank anyone who may have funded your trip or perhaps your advisor who encouraged you to go. Write about what you learned by attending the conference. Not only will this give you some practice at writing, it is an excellent opportunity to share your experience with you chapter(s), campus, and even prospective students.

7. Find Your Allies:
Change is hard. We know. However, you do not need to go at it alone. You need to find your allies in your chapter and in your council. Sit down with those individuals and share your experience and what ideas you would like to implement. Paint the picture of how great things will be and inspire a shared vision for the future. Your allies don’t necessarily need to implement your new ideas, they just need to help support them when you present to larger audience.

I know you want to make a huge impact on the world and that is awesome, but your campus needs you now and you have the resources to make an impact at home!

Written by guest blogger, Kevin Bazner, Midwestern University.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ten Tips to Get the Most from CFLNBGLC

If you're attending AFLV Central this week, we've put together a handy dandy list of tips that will help you enhance your experience.

You're welcome.

Download the conference app.
We put a lot of time into the conference program book, but this app is seriously sweet. It will give you all of the schedule information you need - plus, any updates, cancellations, or changes to the schedule will be reflected there immediately. Download it now and start perusing through the sessions. After you click on any session or event, you'll be able to click to add that event to your own personal schedule. Go ahead, start reviewing all the educational sessions now and choose those you're interested in attending!

Get excited.
Some people are just naturally excited people and are already tweeting about how excited they are. Others aren't really sure what to expect. For many, this will be your first professional conference... and since it's so large, it might be a bit intimidating. We know this! So, to help you wrap your brains around it all, we've given you the entire schedule ahead of time. Take a look and get excited. But, we've already told you this. We want you to go further than that... think about what it is you're looking for. What does your chapter need? Where can your council improve? What are your leadership goals this year? Taking a moment to think about these things will help get your appetite going for the whole conference.

Meet new people.
Most of you will be traveling to St. Louis with a delegation. As much as we want you to take this time to bond and plan with your fellow council leaders, we also challenge you to intentionally stay away from them. This event will enable you to meet people from all over the country. Share ideas, make connections, and build your networks! We recommend having check-in meetings with your delegations in the morning and processing in the evening. Everything in between should be about branching out. We definitely don't want you going to the same breakout session as a fellow council member; it's better to split up and get breadth of education. Don't worry, you'll get to sit together at a few meals.

Realize you're a small fish.
Many of you are big fish when you're at home. You're a known leader in your campus community and people know you and think you're a pretty big deal. So, how do we break this to you? We'll just say it: This week, you'll be a small fish. We're telling you this now so you can plan for it. Every one of the more than 2,000 students at this event will be equally as big a deal as you.... and almost no one will know who you are. But, don't let this bother or scare you. View it as an opportunity to meet new people, share ideas, and have a great time. We're all on the same playing field - a very elevated playing field. It's an awesome environment!

Take off your cool cap.
Some of you don't wear cool caps, but if you do, consider this your warning. A cool cap might be a pretty cheesy term, but we still think it's one that's important to discuss. Wearing a cool cap prohibits you from being honest and getting the best experience at the conference because, frankly, you're afraid of looking stupid, nerdy, vulnerable, or naive. Or, just uncool. Consider this: good leaders and honest and genuinely committed to making change. That, in and of itself, is cool.

Don't oversleep.
Some of the best sessions are in the morning. If you miss them, you're not getting the full experience. Plus, it's unprofessional and a misuse of your council's money to skip sessions. Get up, drink your coffee, and join us looking your best!

Don't get drunk.
In order to be looking your best you need to be feeling your best. Hungover brains and bodies don't function as well. That's a fact. Trust us, you'll be missing out on the experience if you're not entirely present (physically and mentally). Not to mention the fact that drinking at a fraternal leadership conference is pretty incongruent with the whole fraternal values idea... whether or not you're of legal age.

Be honest.
For some of you, this conference might be the best opportunity you'll ever have to dialogue about fraternal life. Take full advantage of this; be honest in your personal, chapter, and community strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has them. Don't be afraid to talk openly and ask questions. Whether you're in an educational session or just chatting with someone in the hallway, this is your chance for honest feedback and ideas.

Walk around.
Experience the entire environment. Any conference, including this one, is about so much more than what's listed in the schedule. Take time to take it all in: the vendors, the displays, the bookstore, and the people. If you feel like you have idle time, go do something!

Plan ahead to bring it back.
The conference events are over on Sunday morning, but that should only be the beginning for you. Throughout the event, take notes, make goals, and set standards. You'll be exhausted traveling home, but that's actually the best time to gather your thoughts and make plans for the future. We want this experience to catapult you into the future. Simply put, if you go back to campus and just keep doing what you were doing before, you missed the whole point.

Our expectations are high - and we know yours are, too. We're excited to see your smiling faces in a few days.

See you in St. Louis!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why are women the only ones who care about scholarship?

Now that we have your attention...

In February, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) celebrates the "Month of the Scholar." But, obviously, scholarship is something that all college students - especially members of fraternities and sororities - care about, not just the women.

Or do they? It's pretty much known nowadays that college women outperform their male peers. There are more of them enrolled, they study more, they earn higher grades, and they graduate sooner. Yikes. If that hit you hard, consider this: men not only perform worse than women, they actually value college less and don't try as hard.

Men: are you still standing? If you are, you might want to sit down for this one. Some are actually suggesting that fraternities contribute to men's underperformance. Ouch.

So, what gives? Fraternities and sororities are supposed to enhance a member's academic experience. We know men aren't stupid. Statistically, they're actually better prepared for college than their lady friends. Yet, once they get here, they do worse. Why is that?

Here's the good news. Fraternal organizations are set up to support scholarship. Newsflash: our organizations were created around this concept. Members of fraternities and sororities have more support than most other college students. That's probably one reason why we outperform our non-Greek peers, but it's no excuse for not doing better still. Each chapter, council, and community has a network of support that includes advisors, volunteers, and alumni. Don't forget, there are also 10 to 200 other members of your chapter; all of these people can provide low performers the support they need to do better. And, to top it all off, you're all students - at a university. A school that has endless offices, departments, and professionals who get paid to help you succeed.

So, what gives?

To recognize the Month of the Scholar, the NPC is offering Academic Excellence: A Resource for College Panhellenics from their website. And, lo and behold, we've got a pretty useful Office Manual for your council's Scholarship or Academic Chairperson available. You should take a look.

We've said in previous blog posts that fraternity and sorority members are superior scholars to their non-affiliated peers. And, we still mean it. But, being better than others doesn't automatically mean you're good. Our organizations aim to teach and support us in becoming our personal best - not just better than others.

What is your organization doing to be the best group of scholars it can be? What you are doing do be the best scholar you can be personally?