Making Timid “Leaders”-Why Failing the Maryland Delta Gamma Shames Us All
By now many of you know about the email sent by the UMD Delta Gamma Social Chair to her sorority sisters where she chastised them for their actions and attitudes during Greek Week. Apparently someone in the sorority shared this email with the public, it went viral, got lampooned, and now the author has “resigned” from the sorority. While there are apparently many people who feel that her actions were “inexcusable,” I believe that the people who should truly be ashamed are the sisters, Delta Gamma national, and any administrators who did not stand up for this woman. Loyalty and support are great values, but if they only exist when things are easy then they are meaningless.
Delta Gamma posted their position on this incident on their website describing the email as “highly inappropriate and unacceptable by any standard” and “as all reasonable people can agree, this is an email that should never have been sent by its author. Period.” I have tremendous respect for Delta Gamma, but they are wrong. The young woman did not make serious threats, there was no promotion of drug use, there was no pornography, there was no hazing, and there was no promotion of illegal activity. The “unacceptable by any standard” content was simply swearing, name calling, and exaggerated threats. When you read the email (which, by the way, is hilarious) what comes across most is the frustration and anger that she’s feeling. She absolutely could have toned it down or used a different approach, but why did she HAVE to? What was more unreasonable, the way she worded her email or the actions that lead her to do it? Her decision to write an email without the false niceties, insincere politeness, and passive aggression we see in most chastising emails may have embarrassed the national organization, but what this reasonable person things should have never been done is for National to have thrown her under the bus. If a national organization cannot rally around a member when she is under intense pressure and publically support her while addressing the issue in private, then what type of loyalty should they expect from members?
One of the reasons we do what we do at College Judicial Consultants is because in most cases, the student support resources and professionals fail students when they need them the most. Most of the time that failure is a result of a lack of resources-it takes a long time to work with one student in crisis and spending that time means you cannot spend it with the thousands of other students who need you. However, there is commonly also a loss of perspective regarding what it is like to be college-aged, and we are losing the lesson that it is how people respond to their mistakes that define them. When a student or organization stumbles, the response should be “what do we need to do to pick them up” rather than shaming them or banning them from the communities. (It is worth noting that UMD’s Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Matt Supple did just that.)
There are actions so terrible that by committing them a student irredeemably abandons the community, but this was not one of them. This was a woman frustrated by the failure of her sisters to meet their obligations during a high profile event for which she was responsible. She likely spent weeks during chapter meetings trying to get them to understand their obligations, and made attempts to address behavior prior to the infamous email. When she heard that her sisters were not only failing to meet those obligations, but also doing so in a way that embarrassed the chapter she lashed out while still addressing the specific behaviors. I, for one, would love to know there are more people out there like her.
We need to stop letting style dictate our response and focus on substance. She clearly articulated her frustration and disappointment, but if she would have been phony and polite it would have been praised. More importantly, how does demanding insincerity make someone a better “leader,” and where is the accountability for the sisters who were behaving contrary to the chapter values during Greek Week? Where is National’s public shaming and abandonment of the people who shared private communication with the world? Where are the campus harassment charges for taking action against the social chair that they knew would humiliate her, and sharing confidential communication against her will to do so? Once again, we praise people who fail to confront openly while vilifying someone who speaks her mind simply because the language used was considered “offensive.” I’m willing to bet $20 that her sorority sisters knew her personality when they elected her, and that none of them were offended by the email.
If we want better leaders we must not only allow students to make mistakes, but encourage them to make big ones. We need to praise the efforts behind the mistakes rather than separate ourselves from the people who make them. Otherwise we create leaders too afraid to make big choices for fear of losing their positions, a culture where sharing private information with the world is praised and the person who does so is free from accountability, and the fear of abandonment by anyone who tries to do something other than in a proscribed way. These are not “higher standards,” and the way this woman was handled should shame us all.
How do you respond when a student leader you work with acts in a way you disapprove of? How would you have handled this situation? Let us know in the comments or email me at DaveK@CollegeJudicialConsultants.com.