Past Regent and current Educational Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Joe Gilman (Morehead State/Georgia) shares his thoughts on hazing prevention, the traits of excellent leaders, and what fraternities must do to remain relevant.
How will fraternities remain relevant as higher education changes?
Higher education is facing a number of challenges today that may cause the experience to change drastically in the future. The rise in student debt and the onslaught of online courses and degree programs pose some serious challenges to the higher education experience that many of us have had. Fraternities will be challenged as a result. Our physical properties–our beloved fraternity houses—may be more gathering spaces than living spaces. Our development programs will need to be very focused on interactions through online capabilities. And our alumni must step up to Educational Foundation contributions to fund educational program costs to keep the fees to our collegians as reasonable and competitive as possible.
I am concerned about a future without some level of classroom and campus interaction. I believe that there will continue to be a demand of the campus-based experience, assuming universities are able to deal with the spiraling costs. I also believe that fraternities will continue to be necessary to bring an important aspect of social development to the complement the classroom or distance learning experience.
For fraternities to remain relevant, however, we must do two things. First, we have to live our values. We have to be about what we say we are about. Second, we have to find ways to work with students who interact primarily through digital communication rather than face-to-face conversations. And we need to clearly communicate what we stand for to all constituents – members and non-members alike. We have to find ways to continue to do the things that we’ve always done and do them better than any other organization on campus.
How do we prevent hazing?
Hazing is an insidious problem. By insidious I mean that it’s a problem that is cultural. It’s very difficult for one person to truly change a culture; it has to be a movement. I’ve worked a lot with HazingPrevention.Org (HPO) and we are aware of some aspects of chapters with a hazing culture. In such chapters, hazing practices are passed down from class to class and from alumni to the collegians. The mindset becomes, “Let’s make it harder on the next group.” It just continues to snowball. And I’m a believer that a bystander is just as much as hazer as a person who participates in the act itself. When you put all that together it makes it very difficult for one person to change. But that doesn’t say that one person should not try. To fight the hazing culture you should begin by gathering up others in the chapter of a similar mindset. Talk with them about the way things can be better. Talk about the values and why the values are important and that hazing is not a part of those values. Hazing is often the outgrowth of a chapter already in decline. These chapters can’t show their achievements in athletics or academics, so they resort to having their “fun” in a different kind of way.
Hazing prevention is often as simple as saying, “Live our values” rather than “Don’t haze.” HPO teaches a model of hazing prevention based on the research by Linda Langford and other highly-respected individuals. It focuses on cultural change rather than sets of programs. It requires the actions of organizations across a campus to develop initiatives to address the environment rather than depending on programs that address only the symptoms. Given that we are the only Greek organization founded on opposition to hazing, which remains one of our cardinal principles, we have the challenge of being that organization on any campus whose values-based leadership can be the cornerstone of a hazing-free campus environment.
What are the common traits of excellent chapter leaders?
Excellent chapter leaders clearly state what they believe in, set goals for themselves and their chapter, measure and celebrate their success, provide an example for others, and lead through inclusion rather than self-centeredness. Excellent chapter leaders inspire others by the way they live their life and the ideas they put forth in terms of bringing the group with them to accomplish those goals. They set very high goals for themselves as well as the organization. Excellent chapter leaders then explain to the chapter why it’s important to achieve those goals. They measure their progress against those goals on a regular basis, celebrate success, and recognize the achievements of others. And finally, chapter leaders go back and re-evaluate actions after progress has been made.
It’s a lot like the strategic planning cycle. Start out with a vision or a broad view of what you want the chapter to be—or what you want your particular aspect of the chapter to be—and then translate that into strategies and goals. Finally, translate those goals into specific actions that you measure. You then assess your results before going to the top to start the process again, modifying your strategies as necessary.