College Judicial Consultants

Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Archive for the category “leadership”

The Real Problem with SAE’s Bus Video

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” —W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming

If you’ve read this blog, or if you’re going back and doing so now, you know I’m pro-Greek life. I really like fraternities and sororities and, for the most part, think that they are often the “low hanging fruit” when someone wants to seem like they’re addressing systemic issues of alcohol and drug abuse, rape culture, and other issues that I despise. My premise in earlier writings was that people who want to target Greeks can easily do so because Greeks give them plenty of opportunities, but that the things we vilify them for are done by less targeted areas of a campus community. In other words, if we’re fighting Greeks then fine. If we’re fighting the things we accuse them of then we need to be more systemic in our approach. I have also said that part of the problem is that by segregating themselves, requiring a selection and initiation process, and by being so visible as an exclusive group Greeks are understandable targets of scorn and concern, especially by non-Greeks.

Then the SAE video comes out with a bus full of white kids with names like “Parker,” embodying the privilege that people despise and “proving” what everyone has said about them. Enough people have broken down the video, but I think that there is a really important point being missed in the discussion of whether fraternities are racist or “America’s apartheid.” The video is terrible and I have no doubt that it’s happening elsewhere. In fact, we have already had this discussion when we were talking about sororities at the University of Alabama a year ago. I hate the entrenched privilege and exclusion in many Greek chapters, but the thing that makes me the saddest about that video are the brothers and guests who weren’t chanting.

I’m not sad that they are in a chapter that got kicked off. I’m not sad that they’re embarrassed or that people think they’re racist. I’m sad because they did not have either the tools or the courage to speak up. I’m sad that in the BEST light, this is an organization run by the worst of them. I don’t mean their elected President or other officers, but I mean the guys who put their chapter at risk with every social event, endanger the health and safety of their guests and brothers, and who do so while demanding loyalty and silence from those people in the name of “brotherhood.”

When I spoke at a sorority on “Making Good Bad Decisions” I asked the organizer what she wanted me to talk about. She said that in their group of about 130 there were 20 or some odd sisters who were going to “get them in some real trouble.” This didn’t mean that other 100+ were following all the rules, but that this group were doing things without regard for themselves, their sisters, or their chapter as a whole. I asked “why do you think you guys let them” and the answer was the same as I hear from officers when I help a chapter in disciplinary trouble “nobody wants to be that person” who ruins a good time or seems uncool.

I believe that there are chapters that are irredeemable. I believe that there are chapters that do nothing wrong and meet/exceed every expectation set for them. However, I think most chapters are filled with good men and women who may break some school policies on occasion, but who are adamantly opposed to the same things the rest of us are–hazing, forced consumption of alcohol, sexual assault, racism, homophobia, etc. I also think that many of those chapters don’t have the ability to intervene and address behaviors that are against their organizational and personal values, and that that inability leads to the worst of them controlling how the chapter behaves.  When a chapter does not address that behavior and correct it, it is the same thing as embracing it. So when a fraternity in trouble comes to me and tells me that “it’s the seniors” or “this one pledge class” that keeps getting them in trouble I tell them that that stopped being true after the first time they did something with which you disagreed and the chapter did nothing.

The simple fact is that disciplinary action isn’t going to fix anything unless the chapters themselves preempt the need by dealing with those people within their organization that are betraying that organization through their actions. National organizations are suspending and revoking charters and schools are suspending and expelling organizations more than ever, and in some cases disbanding entire Greek programs. This will not stop until fraternities and sororities show that the problems are with a small percentage of their members and are being addressed meaningfully by the majority because, until then, the ones caught are indeed the entire chapter in every way that matters. The obligation for this training should be with the national chapters themselves. College administrators can support this bystander training, but the responsibility needs to come from the organizations that abandon chapters when things go wrong and claim that they are not acting in accordance of the national values. Unless a national organization BOTH teaches values AND how to support and act within those values, they are 100% culpable for the actions of their chapters.

Does your chapter do anything to address harmful or hateful behavior? Does your school provide any bystander training? Let me know.

 

Next post: Should the Oklahoma SAE’s have been suspended? What about the brothers?

Never Accept “Choose Your Battles”

david_v_goliath

You will interact with many faculty and staff this semester as you engage in various activities outside of the classroom. Some of you will be working on developing your leadership skills and this means you will work with dedicated professionals all committed to helping you develop strong leadership skills. There will be retreats, meetings, trust falls, Leadershapes, and other awesome experiences. As you work with these people you will become closer to some as you identify your area of interest (Greek life, public service, college radio, LGBTQA advocacy, etc.) and assume a leadership position in these areas. You will hear words like “change agent” and be told that you can make a “huge impact” within your area, both locally and globally. If you do well, you might even be invited to sit on numerous administrative committees as the “student voice” and that will give you an inside view of policy making on a college campus. You will get to know some of the higher level administrators and feel really involved in the running of your school.

Then one day, you’ll be talking to some friends and realize that there is something you think is unfair or just plain sucks. Maybe your school receives money from a corporation you believe is anathematic to its values, maybe you think the sexual assault policy revictimizes, or maybe you just think your student fees are being mismanaged. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. The point is that there will be a policy or lack of a policy that you believe affects the people and issues you cares about. You know it will be controversial and will upset some people, but it is important to you. So you turns to your mentors in student affairs or in the administration who hears your concern, they nod and indicate that they’re listening to you, and when you’re done they say “You should choose your battles.”

keep-calm-and-shhhh-21

That phrase, and the idea behind it, is completely against everything you are being taught about being a leader, and you should demand more from your co-curricular educators.

While there is some value in the idea that not everything that annoys you should become a bloody cage match, in almost every instance the person who tells you to “choose your battles” is in a position of authority over you, disagrees with your opinion, and/or knows that if you choose that particular battle their life will become more difficult. Unfortunately, there are some places where the upper administration is insecure or desires to separate itself from controversy. At those places, the administrator you’re talking to might indeed get some heat if you protest too hard or loud, but that should never stop you from fighting a fight you think is worth it. “Choose your battles” is not the advice you give someone when you want them to pursue an issue, and it should never be the advice anyone in student affairs gives you. It is lazy, passive aggressive, and anti-developmental-you deserve better.

No matter how much of a student advocate someone is as an administrator, that person is still an administrator. This means that he or she is part of the system that is perpetrating the problem. This is true for everyone (including me) and you can forgive someone for not wanting to be seen as backing a potentially high-conflict issue when that concern isn’t shared. However, what you should not forgive them for is not helping you understand the potential consequences of their battle and then helping you prepare for that battle if you want to proceed.

Sometime ago someone decided that education should be neat. That we should be able to measure knowledge like calories and that there was such thing as “acceptable” dissention. That’s crap. The truth of the matter is that you should be encouraged to not only make mistakes, but make HUGE mistakes. Career injuring mistakes. Picking your teeth off the floor mistakes (this might have just been me.) This does not mean you should be sent into battle ignorant of the consequences, but that once you decide the potential consequences are worth the risk—they should cheer loudly for you. The key is to make sure you’re making informed mistakes. Once you do, you should be raised high on their shoulders and have a spotlight on you a real leader—willing to risk what others will not to fight for an issue you believe is right.

Notice that nothing I’m saying means that the administration has to back your issues or even defend you from people who attack you for fighting your chosen fight. It does mean, however, that they should help you develop the tools and understanding you need to fight the fight you choose. As long as you know that your battle could result in a disciplinary violation, jail time, getting fired, or any other negative consequences and your understand what those consequences mean-they have done their job.

I think there are three primary responsibilities of the student affairs staff working with you to make you the type of leader willing to stand strong in the face of opposition for your principles. The should:

  1. Help you really understand the issue. When something happens that you don’t like, you tend to react strongly. However, few issues are as simple as they seem. The administrator should help you understand why a decision was made or a policy is in place, what it accomplishes, who it affects, and who will be affected if your are successful. I have had many students decide that an issue was not “that bad” once they understood it completely, and regardless of what you decide to do once you have all the information you will be able to be confident as you move forward.
  2. Help you identify the proper audience for your complaint (or target for your outrage.) When something happens on a college campus people tend to write the President or the Trustees without realizing that doing so will just delay a response since the higher you go in a university hierarchy the less chance there is that person will be the one who understands the issue. Administrators have the ability to look into issues and identify the decision makers, and they should do so and share that information with you to not only make sure you have the right person/people in your crosshairs, but to protect everyone else.
  3. Make sure you understand all the rules and policies that will come into play as you move forward. Most campuses have rules governing when and where students can protest, appropriate language, posting rules, etc. Making sure you understand the rules not only stops you from getting in trouble accidentally, but it also allows an administrator to give you the proper framework to make it more likely you will be heard.

In the academic world students are taught to challenge the information that has been amassed before them, and to rethink issues and challenge the norms. Until student affairs not only supports students as they fight against issues but encourages them to do so, it can not claim to fully develop leaders or advocate for students. Every student affairs professional I have ever met is dedicated to doing both of those things, but when discourage dissent they encourage conformity.

And frankly, we have enough apathy and conformists in my generation. We don’t need more from yours.

Has this happened to you, or have you had the opposite experience? Let me know in the comments or email me at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com!

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.)

You tried to make us behave better, and because we didn’t like your tone you’re on your own.

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.

Can we please stop teaching our women that “demure” is a positive value?


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.

Be better.

 



Greek Case Study: How to Stop One Member’s Misconduct from Defining Your Fraternity or Sorority

[NOTE: All names and identifying information has been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved. Any relation to a case you may know is purely coincidental.]

Johnny is a junior at a competitive school and a member of a popular fraternity with a physical house. While responding to a noise complaint at the fraternity, the school’s police smelled the strong aroma of marijuana coming from the house. They are allowed in and locate the smell coming from Johnny’s room. They knock, Johnny opens the door, and there are 2 bongs going, scales, baggies, and a half-pound of marijuana. Because the police want to cut Johnny a break they do not arrest him, but they do refer him to judicial affairs for possession, intent to sell, and other charges. Judicial Affairs also refers the case to the Interfraternity Council Judicial Board to address the potential fraternity misconduct.

Johnny is found responsible at the judicial hearing and suspended for a year. At the hearing he reveals that he was dealing, but only to people he knew like his brothers and other friends. Since smoking marijuana is only a citation in the state he figured he could make a little money, smoke for free, and that it wasn’t a big deal. That information is shared with the IFC.

At the IFC hearing, the fraternity says that they “did not know” Johnny was dealing, and that they would never have allowed it in the house if they did. They admit that they knew Johnny smoked, but claim that no other brothers smoke and that they too did not think it was a big deal since “it isn’t against the law or anything.” They admit that they should have stopped Johnny from smoking, but deny responsibility for everything else. They are found responsible for dealing and suspended for 3 years.

___________________________________________________________________________________

So what happened? What could the fraternity have done to prevent the hearing, or failing that, have a much lower sanction? (I’m assuming you know if you deal drugs you risk getting kicked off campus/arrested, and that you’re smart enough not to do it so this is about the fraternity.)

The fraternity did not get in trouble because Johnny was dealing (or even smoking in the house.) The fraternity got in trouble because they did not stop Johnny and thus let Johnny define them. In other words, by allowing Johnny to continue doing whatever he was doing in the house they endorsed the behavior, making that behavior part of the chapter’s culture. Not intervening when a brother/sister does something against the rules or values of the organizations dos not mean you are passively allowing something, it means you are actively embracing that behavior.

Don’t let one brother or sister make all of you into a herd.

When a single member or a small group “go rogue,” you are expected to put a stop to it, and will be held accountable if you don’t. While you can’t stop someone from acting like a donkey, you must stop them from feeling supported or comfortable doing so until the behavior stops OR they leave the fraternity/sorority. When I work with fraternities or sororities I recommend some ways of dealing with this with different levels of severity, but it important that you address it (and move through the options) quickly:

  1. Have the President, VP, Standards Chair, or Risk Manager (i.e. whomever the chapter agreed should address member misconduct informally) talk to the brother/sister and get them to stop immediately and get it out of your house. This will usually be enough, but if it isn’t;
  2. Have an active and effective judicial committee in place to give a formal mandate and sanction. Most chapters I know have someone with a title like “Judicial Chair,” but almost none of them have an active and trained judicial body to address misconduct and keep it in house. Not having one is a huge mistake not only because it is a very useful tool to uphold the values of your chapter, but also because demonstrating the ability to and history of dealing with internal issues will help you if your organization ever gets in trouble. If, after getting the sanction the behavior still does not stop;
  3. Notify your chapter advisor (if that person is unaffiliated with the University) and have him/her speak to the student. This is the “last chance” discussion that should work, but if it doesn’t;
  4. Notify the Greek life office that you have a brother/sister doing something harmful, that you’ve tried to make them stop, and he/she won’t listen. You may still have some accountability for that person’s actions anyway, but I guarantee it will be much less than if you get caught and haven’t dealt with it effectively.

I know it may seem harsh to “offer up” a brother/sister, but when they stop acting like one you can stop treating them like one, and by this point you have given him/her/them plenty of opportunities to change.

When you do not address and correct the behavior of one of more members of your chapter, you should assume you will become known for that behavior. While the necessary conversations to fix that behavior may be uncomfortable, difficult, and hostile, it is a lot easier than proving that the worst of you do not define you.

Do you have any difficult members putting you at risk? Let me know about them in the comments or at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: