Category Archives: stereotypes

My Fraternity Tattoo

Photo by Flickr user deano

Photo by Flickr user deano

By Steven Harowitz (Central Florida)

I broke a well-known rule of life: Don’t get a tattoo on spring break in Panama City when you’re 18.

I placed the Fraternity letters on my right shoulder one sunny day with some of my brothers circled around me. It wasn’t planned and definitely not thought out, but in the moment I felt like it meant enough to me to have the letters placed publicly on my body.

Fast-forward a few months. I’m visiting friends in a sleeveless T-shirt (which warrants an entirely different discussion) when one remarks about my “frat tat.”  It was the first of many less-then-enjoyable conversations over the next few years with one central theme:

“Why would you get that on your body… forever?”

It seems that most individuals, even those involved in Greek life, did not feel this permanent choice was wise. As if being a fraternity member was only acceptable as long as I wore my letters in a non-permanent way.

I’m willing to admit this only now with a few years of reflection: I bought into the shaming. I believed the friends and acquaintances who took my choice away from me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten that tattoo. Maybe I should always have it covered so people don’t judge. Maybe I shouldn’t have placed something on my body that wouldn’t identify me as a “frat boy” the rest of my life.

For the majority of the last five years I refused to show my tattoo to people.  I would make up an excuse, or say it wasn’t done, or just downright say no. I was afraid I would be labeled, yet again, as a dumb “frat boy” who made a bad choice one spring break. My arms, and fraternal pride, went into hiding.

I placed the letters on my body because I wanted a reminder to myself, and to those who see it, that I strive to live a life based on a set of values.

I helped facilitate an Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute last summer during which I asked a participant to redefine the term “frat hard.” It was written in his Twitter profile and when I pointed it out he apologized and then deleted it.  I pushed back, telling him not to run from the term, but to tell people what “fraternity-ing hard” actually meant: living by your values, caring for your brothers and the greater community, leading a life of integrity.  A renewed sense of pride rushed over me until I remembered my own refusal to own my fraternal roots. I let those around me take the symbolism of my tattoo and skew it into a generalized, stereotyped version of fraternity.  I didn’t have Greek letters (and in correlation, my values) placed on to this once-in-forever body for others; I placed the letters on my body because I wanted a reminder to myself, and to those who see it, that I strive to live a life based on a set of values.

How dare they see this symbol and think it’s a mistake. Those values are tattooed to my heart, mind, and soul; what’s a shoulder in comparison? Even as I write this article at a crowded coffee shop I get antsy thinking the woman next to me saw the title of my article and upon reading “My Fraternity Tattoo” decided I was just another frat boy. It’s an ongoing struggle.

I strive to live a different life. I refuse to let Greek members who live incongruently with their values ruin an experience that helped thousands become leaders in their communities.

I refuse to let people take an experience that has shaped me into the person I am today and decide that it must be the same as that of all others.

I refuse to let others turn my tattoo into a symbol of raging parties that upset entire neighborhoods. I refuse to let my tattoo stand for disrespecting other’s identities. I refuse to let my tattoo stand for hosting theme parties that disparage a community. I refuse to let my tattoo stand for hazing new members because of a skewed perspective of what building brotherhood means.

My tattoo stands for actual community service, where brothers spend their time directly helping others, not planning a philanthropy that just swaps money between organizations. My tattoo stands for not being a bystander if I see someone acting dishonorably. My tattoo stands for supporting my brothers in all their endeavors, not just by liking a Facebook status, but actually showing up at their athletic events or at their bedside when sick.

My tattoo stands for refusing to let Greek professionals be harassed because they held a Greek community accountable for the community’s actions or inactions.

I now wear sleeveless shirts – not because it’s hot outside or because I feel like I have muscles to show off (which believe me, I do not) but rather because I invite the discussion.

“Yeah, I do have a tattoo.  I’ve had it for a few years.”

“Yep, those are Greek Letters. I am a member of a Fraternity”

“No, I did not get hazed.”

“No, I didn’t pay for my friends.”

“Do you have a few minutes, I would love to tell you what a true Greek experience looks like.”

My tattoo stands for opportunity to educate others on what Greek membership really stands for.  My tattoo stands for Love, Honor, and Truth. My tattoo stands for the pride I carry from being a Sigma Nu and a fraternity man. Want to talk about it?

Steven Harowitz is an initiate of the Mu Psi Chapter at Central Florida and the Coordinator of Student Involvement and Leadership at Washington University in St. Louis.

Time to stop blaming the media and start living the ritual

By Leadership Consultant Spencer Montgomery

In such a short history, fraternities have evolved immensely and have experienced a vast shift in cultural identity. Many would suggest the only constant among all this change has been the values we say we represent, but are we sure about that?

Over the past few months, I have questioned what fraternities actually represent; not by what we say, but what we do.  This question demanded that I take a closer and more detailed look, so I decided to follow “fraternity” via Google’s alert system for the past month and see what was being reported on the Greek life I love so much.  To say the least, I was beyond disappointed.

Turns out, there has been a lot of negative coverage on fraternities lately.  It seems as though the media is relentless in their pursuit to find any and all negative byproducts of this system.  I can hardly blame them; no more than I can blame the media for those actions being made in the first place.

Too often, we jump to the same tired defense, arguing that the media fails to report all the good we do.  But is the good we do good enough?  Have we reached a point where we truly believe that six community service hours justifies the mental distress of an 18 year old?  Do we think raising 6,000 dollars can replace a life?

Like it or not, these horrible acts are committed.  And yes, they will always be the only aspect of fraternity reported by the media.  But is pointing out the good we do even an appropriate response?  It’s like we just accept this behavior as a necessary evil to all the good we do.  I just can’t bring myself to believe that.

Instead of fighting against what is reported, let’s give the media nothing to report.  We say we hold ourselves to a “higher standard” yet too often there is a report of alleged hazing or sexual assault by a fraternity member.  Look, we will never be able to control what is reported, but the one thing we can control is our actions.  Let’s stop playing into the stereotypes that we created.

I guess what I’m asking is at what point will we truly do what we say we do, without exception.  Reaching that point includes everyone in the community. Regardless what you think your level of guilt is in all of this, if you’re not doing something to actively stop those who are, you’re not doing anything to help our cause either.  Remember, the next time you turn your eye to what you think is minor hazing, it was that same bystander behavior that led to the death of an 18 year old being the top story on CNN.com.

Are we so far off the beaten path that we can’t come back to the pure state that we once were? Are we so concerned with fulfilling social norms that we dismiss the very reason we exist as an organization? Is the type of man that our fraternities originally sought even relevant anymore?

If you are looking for an answer, I don’t have them.  Sorry.  What I do know is that I took a vow to my organization, promising to be a better man and to make a difference. I’m committed to this vow. I commit to never giving up on our high ideals. I truly believe in Fraternity.

I’d like to challenge the fraternity men who continue to dismiss the values by which they vowed to live:  I challenge you to start living to our high standards and stop making those men doing the right thing defend your actions with their own.  I challenge you to stop giving the media stories to report.  I challenge you to earn your place in this Greek life I love so much.

HuffPo: Want to Build a Better World? Go Greek

Collegians participate in teambuilding activities during 2009 College of Chapters in Lexington, Va.

Huffington Post College published a piece today explaining why fraternities and sororities are well ahead of other student organizations in discussing and solving common campus issues. Here are some of the highlights:

In truth, the college Greek system may be one of the healthiest forms of community in our nation, and any student who refuses to consider entering the community may be doing himself or herself a disservice.

In that light, the college Greeks have actually been heroic in their attempts to move beyond conformity in order to achieve diversity. Brian Johnson, an African-American professor at Bloomsburg University and Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for Academic Excellence, is a sought-after speaker and consultant on multicultural issues among Greeks and other college audiences.

“As I travel the country speaking to student leaders about stereotypes,” he says, “I find a great number of students who, with their national organizations, are pressing for a return to the true mission of fraternal organizations — those being service and philanthropy, academic excellence and being good stewards to the campus community.”

The genuine challenges that fraternities and sororities face are hardly unique to their communities. What may be unique is their collective commitment to addressing their challenges head on.

Read the full story here.

(HT Drew Logsdon)

How Does a Group Change What You Think?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?

These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.

Have you observed how behavioral norms are established in your chapter? If your chapter needed to make a serious change (e.g. reforming a questionable practice during candidate education) what members would you need on board to shift what is considered acceptable by the others?

Here’s another excerpt on the power of leaders to shape the culture of an organization:

Group leaders, however, help perpetuate or shift the norm. Unlike innovators, leaders tend to be high-status “superconformists,” embodying the group’s most-typical characteristics or aspirations, says Deborah Prentice, a social psychologist at Princeton University. People inside and outside the group tend to infer the group’s norms by examining these leaders’ behaviors.

As the oft-repeated phrase goes, the fastest way to change the culture of a chapter is the behavior of the leadership. With such influence over the accepted norms of behavior, leaders must be the paragon of conduct at all times.

The story then offers a word of caution on observing the behavior of others:

The researchers found students often overestimated how much others drank. The amount students reported drinking was closely related to their beliefs about how much others drank: Students who thought others drank more tended to report drinking more.

What do you think? Are leaders merely products of their group or do they possess the potential to change a group for the better?

The full story is worth a read.

One Good Turn, and One Broken Stereotype, Leads to Another

When Dave Talley, a Tempe homeless man, found a backpack this month at the light-rail station near Rural Road and University Drive, his first thought was to look through the bag for the owner’s identification or contact information. Instead, he found an envelope containing about $3,300 in cash.

The temptation to keep the money was almost overwhelming, he said. Then, his conscience kicked in.

Read the full story.  And a lighthearted account of a another homeless person who returned a credit card.

What Drives a Culture Change?

After a series of embarrassing events this semester, Duke University president asked students in this letter to join him in starting a culture change.

Here’s my favorite part:

Duke’s best tradition is that it’s not stuck in traditions.

Tradition is great; blind devotion to any and all traditions is not so great.  Arbitrary traditions that result in boorish behavior and damage an institution’s reputation deserve to be questioned.

Day 35: “Other chapters won’t take us seriously if we don’t haze.”

The following is a guest post from Director of Financial Operations Justin Wenger.  Justin is a former Leadership Consultant and Director of Education for the General Fraternity staff.

Really? This excuse seems a tad absurd, doesn’t it? If there are organizations on your campus who would haze (i.e. treat their members like second class citizens) and be so juvenile as to attempt to negatively impact your chapter’s reputation because you don’t haze, then one would hope that your chapter would embrace that scenario. And, make no mistake, not having the respect of an organization who hazes their members is not a bad thing. In truth, it’s probably a good thing. This line of thought may seem “backwards” for some collegiate members, but in the world outside of the walls of a college/university, no one views a hazing organization as one to be respected. And, please, let us not defame our military branches by dragging them into this discussion by having attempt to say that they utilize hazing. They are not and to say otherwise would, in my opinion, be very insulting.

Stand up, be men of honor, and proclaim for all to hear that you don’t haze. What are the other organizations on campus going to say/do? What, are they going to “dirty rush”? Let them. If people want to join an organization that’s going to haze them, then why would you want those people for members? Those are cattle; they follow the herd because, well, that’s where everyone is going. If you stay in front of the herd, it will follow, and the naysayers will either join the herd or wander off…all alone. In the end, the organizations that participate in hazing become nothing more than after thoughts. Why? Because they won’t exist.

This post is part of a series dedicated to providing answers to common excuses for hazing.  The #40Answers in 40 Days campaign aims to promote National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20 – 25, 2010) and to ultimately create the definitive collection of crowdsourced knowledge to eliminate hazing.

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