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Fraternity and Sorority Life – We say we are values based organizations, but do our actions speak louder than our words?

by on May 2, 2012

This week’s “KC Wednesday” post comes from the Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Knowledge Community and is written by Curtis P. Burrill II, Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life at American University.

Fraternity and sorority communities across the country face many of the same challenges and have similar complaints when it comes to how those outside of their community perceive them. One of the phrases I use a lot in my interactions with members of the community I advise is “perception is reality and you are what you do”. This includes all of the positive and the negative actions that members engage in.

Taking ownership over ones actions and the actions of an organization can be difficult. Raising thousands of dollars for philanthropy and participating in hundreds of hours of community service has a direct correlation with the values of the fraternal movement. Providing alcohol to underage students and hazing members has no place in what the fraternal movement stands for.

University faculty and administrators that have not interacted with members of the fraternity and sorority community in a positive way may have a negative view of what the experience is. This is usually based on the actions that are seen on and off campus of its members and in many cases is understandable. The fraternal movement and the undergraduate membership of our organizations have a lot of work to do if we want our organizations to be around for another 150+ years.

University faculty and administrators could better see the value of membership in the fraternal movement if we did what we say we do in our ritual and our daily lives. In the fraternity and sorority advising world we refer to ritual as big R, being the action and time of ritual and little r being the daily actions of our membership that reflect the values of our organizations ritual.

The foundation for all fraternal organizations is based on similar principles and values as their host institutions. The ideals of scholarship, leadership, brotherhood, sisterhood, service, philanthropy, and member development are all things educators desire for our students to have the opportunity to participate in and further develop.

Building a positive relationship with all constituents is going to take more than better public relations.  It will take an evaluation of what our organizations say we are and what we actually do, while building in true accountability.

A constructive first step is the call for values congruence, which was created by the Franklin Group, comprised of university presidents with the intention of bringing all of the stakeholders involved in the fraternal movement together. They believe that in order to create true and lasting change we must take a proactive approach collectively as we support each other’s purpose and intentions. By including all stakeholders in the accountability process we have the potential to create an experience that is true to its mission and improve the quality of the fraternal experience collectively.

The best part about being a fraternity and sorority professional is that I have each organizations ritual to challenge my students on every day to further their development. That is what will continue to move the fraternal movement forward for years to come!

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