Category Archives: risk reduction

Twitter tries, fails to hold fraternity-themed party

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons license by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons license by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (

Twitter is taking criticism this week after employees at the San Francisco office hosted a fraternity house-themed party reportedly organized by the company’s revenue team.

Some critics condemned the event as tone-deaf in light of Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture that fails to adequately promote women to leadership positions. This lack of diversity has been well-documented in recent months, underscored by high-profile lawsuits from former employees alleging gender discrimination.

In hosting this event Twitter employees revealed another area of ignorance: they have little idea of what a fraternity party actually looks like. Far from the unregulated, anything-goes caricature many have about fraternity parties, these social functions are beholden to pages of detailed but necessary requirements to ensure the safety of all guests and members.

If Twitter wants to host a true fraternity-themed party, here is what it would actually look like.

BYOB. No alcoholic beverages are purchased through the chapter treasury nor is the purchase of same for members or guests undertaken or coordinated by any member or candidate in the name of or on behalf of the chapter.

No tap system or bulk alcohol purchases. No tap system and/or a keg is present in the chapter house, on chapter property, or at a chapter function (unless the tap system and/or keg is part of a cash bar operated by a licensed and insured third party vendor).

Sober monitors. Chapters are required to have designated sober monitors to ensure the safety of members and guests.

Attendees must be of legal drinking age to consume alcohol. Valid identification of those claiming to be entitled legally to consume alcohol at chapter functions (where legal consumption is permitted) is checked for the correct age.

No drinking games. No chapter member permits, tolerates, encourages or participates in drinking games in the chapter house, on chapter property, or at any chapter function. Drinking games like Twitter’s beer pong table encourage the type of reckless over-consumption of alcohol that leads to accidents and the ensuing negative media coverage.

Scholarship comes first. A chapter that falls beneath its school’s All-Men’s undergraduate, All-IFC or a 3.0 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), whichever is lowest, shall be placed on academic warning for the next academic term in order to allow for the chapter to raise its GPA to be at or above the applicable GPA. (If Twitter’s staff had been a fraternity chapter they would have been barred from hosting social functions due to under-performing stock values.)

It might be tempting to dismiss all this as burdensome red tape implemented by a top-down bureaucracy. However, those familiar with the typical national fraternity governance model will know this is far from the truth.

Each biennium representatives from every collegiate chapter gather for a legislative conclave known to us as Grand Chapter. During this legislative conference, members propose, discuss, and vote upon changes to our national bylaws, including the Risk Reduction Policy and Guidelines.


Collegiate delegates review materials before voting on a proposed change to national bylaws at the 66th Grand Chapter in Nashville.

The votes for these decisions are overwhelmingly controlled by undergraduates, which means no regulation governing social events is passed without the support of the collegiate members. These regulations governing all fraternity social functions ensure chapters provide a safe environment for all attendees. The Grand Chapter also delegates to the General Fraternity the authority to exercise appropriate discipline for any chapter that fails to uphold these basic expectations.

We’re flattered Twitter staffers tried to imitate their perception of a stereotypical fraternity party. In doing so, however, their employees illustrated a common misunderstanding about the way fraternity events are governed and regulated.

And while we have your attention we hope you’ll check out Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit devoted to closing the gender gap in technology and engineering.


Keeping Homecoming and Tailgating Safe

OSU Tailgate_Epsilon Epsilon_Fall 2014

Tailgating at Epsilon Epsilon (Oklahoma State).

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

It’s that amazing time of year again when college campuses across the nation are weekly engulfed with the excitement of their alma maters taking the field for one of America’s greatest past-times: college football.

For Sigma Nu chapters across the nation, this time of year also means a flurry of tailgating and homecoming festivities. While this season is important to chapters and counts as a time-honored tradition, it’s equally important for every chapter to understand the risks involved with hosting or participating in this unique type of social function.  As legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

So let’s look at tailgating and homecoming to fully understand the risks and how to avoid them altogether.

Ole Miss Grove_Flickr_Ken Lund

The Grove at the University of Mississippi. Courtesy of Flickr user Ken Lund.


Tailgating for football games can be one of the greatest examples of fellowship that college provides. Seas of grass become blanketed in an explosion of school colors, tents, grills, and fans.

However, the most obvious risk associated with these activities is alcohol. And alcohol can sour the good nature and fun of sportsmanship faster than Auburn can return a missed field goal for a touchdown. The fact that games tend be played at odd times doesn’t help either. Many Saturday games kickoff at noon or earlier which means most of those who have been consuming alcohol at a tailgate haven’t had much to eat.

Another big risk with tailgating comes after the game. Members and guests may return to the chapter house intoxicated which means some could have been on-again-off-again drinking alcohol for a 12+ hour period of time.

One of the best things your chapter can do is simply provide food. Have each member sign up for a food item to bring or have food catered. Be sure to consult your school’s policies on food to ensure that your chapter doesn’t conflict with your university’s food contract or grilling policies.

For more ideas on how to manage the risk of tailgating check out the resource We Have a Situation.

Penn State Homecoming Float

The Delta Delta (Penn State) Chapter home during the school’s homecoming last fall.


Homecoming is my favorite time of football season, as it is for many alumni. It’s a great time to see chapter brothers I haven’t seen regularly since graduation. I doubt I’m the only alumnus with these feelings and so it’s not surprising that this is an event I mark on the calendar well in advance.

But for your chapter, homecoming can present its own unique set of challenges. Not all alumni return to campus with the best of intentions and some may return with different ideas of what homecoming is all about.

It’s always best to ensure that your chapter communicates their homecoming plans with alumni well in advance. If the chapter isn’t doing anything at the house then take steps to make sure it is properly secured with help from the house corporation.

Here’s an article from a past Risk Reduction Newsletter about the importance of putting your best foot forward at homecoming and how the chapter’s behavior could negatively affect alumni relations in a single event:

How Well Do You Know Your Potential New Members?

By Director of Risk Reduction Fred Dobry (Indiana State)

Have you considered how the expectations, experiences, and assumptions you had when you arrived on campus as a freshman may be drastically different than those of the current freshmen class? Have you modified your chapter’s recruitment strategies to reflect these differences?

“68% of first-year college students identified themselves as “non-drinkers.”

One of the more significant trends to recognize is the evolving change in attitude and behavior regarding alcohol use.  For instance, 68% of first-year college students in 2012 identified themselves as “non-drinkers,” a 9% increase from 2007.  And the number of first-year college students defined as “high-risk drinkers*” has decreased by 6%, down to 19%, in that same timespan (Source: AlcoholEdu National Survey Database).  Additionally, 25% of high school seniors in 2012 reported being drunk on at least one occasion, a decrease from 32.9% in 1999 (Source: Monitoring the Future, 2012).

What is contributing to this increase in college freshmen choosing to be alcohol-free?  One study concluded “abstainers’ decision not to drink appears to be a lifestyle choice, supported by multiple reasons including personal values, religious beliefs, not wanting the image of a drinker, and beliefs about alcohol’s effect on behavior.” (Huang, DeJong, Schneider & Towvim, 2011)

How is your chapter supporting members who choose to not consume alcohol?  Remember, most incoming freshmen already have the incorrect assumption, reinforced by pop culture, that high-rate alcohol consumption is a major component of the fraternity experience.  Are your recruitment strategies effectively debunking this myth?  How many non-drinkers who would be great members of our fraternity do we overlook by not seeking them out or creating recruitment events that appeal to that portion of the student population?

If your chapter doesn’t adapt to the evolving demands and expectations of our potential recruits, you will have a difficult time competing with all those other student organizations attempting to attract those same recruits.  How will you ensure your chapter experience will continue to be attractive for incoming students?

*Defined as having 5 or more alcohol drinks

Five Things Your Risk Reduction Chairman Should Do Right Now

For most of you the semester has begun to go into high gear and for some it’s already been in high gear. So what should your Risk Reduction Chairman be doing right now? Here are five quick items that should be completed or scheduled to ensure a successful fall semester. These five items are not the entirety of what your chapter should or even could be doing for risk reduction, but they are some great items to have addressed early in the academic year.

  1. Affidavits. This is a critical component of not only the Risk Reduction Chairman’s responsibilities but also the Recorder’s. The Risk Reduction Affidavit must be completed at the start of every semester and submitted to the General Fraternity via mail. Clicking the link will send you directly to a PDF copy of that document that can be printed, completed, and mailed to the General Fraternity office in Lexington. If you are unsure of the password, contact your chapter’s Leadership Consultant.
  2. All-Chapter LEAD Module C Sessions. Module C of the All-Chapter LEAD Program is devoted to topics on Risk Reduction. Go ahead and schedule a time to have a session from Module C facilitated during the fall semester. Go a step further and schedule a guest facilitator for one of these LEAD sessions. Be sure to schedule sessions far in advance to identify the best guest facilitators and maximize chapter attendance.
  3. Crisis Management Plan. First, a simple question: Does your chapter have a Crisis Management Plan? If not, CREATE ONE! Crisis Management Plans are your fire extinguishers. You really hope you never have to use it, but when the time calls for its use you don’t want to be left without it. You can go here for a sample Crisis Management Plan for your chapter to use after filling in some specific information. Go over your chapter’s Crisis Management Plan at least once a year with all initiated members and once every time your chapter has a new candidate class with all candidates. Make sure it is posted someone where in the chapter facility or wherever your chapter meets regularly. Another alternative is to make sure every member has a printed copy of their own to reference. If your chapter already has a Crisis Management Plan then make sure it’s updated regularly with correct contact information and other revisions as necessary.
  4. Code of Conduct. Sigma Nu also offers a Code of Conduct form that clearly lays out some basic expectations the General Fraternity expects from every member in Sigma Nu. Take this opportunity early in the semester to present this form to members of your chapter for discussion and have everyone fill one out. This can be effective later in the academic year when the time comes to hold members accountable and ensures that every member understands what is expected of them.
  5. Risk Reduction Policy & Guidelines Overview. This may be the last item but it is probably the most important. Every chapter should take some time every semester to go over the Risk Reduction Policy & Guidelines with the entire chapter membership. This shouldn’t take an entire afternoon or evening but it also shouldn’t be as simple as handing out copies and calling it a day. Make sure you review each item and ask for questions. It is important that not just the officers of the chapter understand this document. A great way to make this interactive is to conduct this review with the chapter and then at a separate time have a Risk Reduction Policy & Guidelines quiz with a reward going to the best performers.

Crowdsourcing to Eliminate Hazing: Announcing #40Answers in 40 Days

To promote this year’s National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20-24), the best minds in Greek Life are crowdsourcing their knowledge to provide a comprehensive list of swift and reasoned arguments against the 40 most common excuses for hazing.

Beginning Wednesday, August 11th, this spontaneous team of contributors will blog/tweet/post about a different excuse each day using the Twitter hashtag “#40Answers”.

Some of these excuses might warrant only a short response; others might call for more complex and lengthy explanations.  Contributors are encouraged to use a variety of mediums (blogs, websites, Facebook) that can link back to their Twitter page under the “#40Answers” hashtag.

Once the forty-day countdown is complete, the responses will be compiled, edited and made available for all.  This is likely to become the ultimate resource for fraternity men and sorority women who want to eliminate hazing and provide the true Greek Life experience.

Thanks for your participation and happy tweeting!

***Contributors are encouraged to post a similar announcement on their own blog leading into the campaign.***

Click here to view the calendar and corresponding list of hazing excuses.

Teaching Empathy to Eliminate Bullying: The Reverse Parents’ Weekend

Grade school bullying and fraternity hazing share many of the same root causes.  While the activities might change from one age group to the next, the underlying philosophy of coerced respect remains the same.

As such, fraternities can draw insightful parallels from efforts to eliminate grade school bullying.  One such program, Roots of Empathy (ROE), aims to eliminate bullying by teaching empathy to students as early as preschool.

TIME magazine reports:

One of the most promising antibullying programs, ROE (along with its sister program, Seeds of Empathy) starts as early as preschool and brings a loving parent and a baby to classrooms to help children learn to understand the perspective of others. The nonprofit program is based in part on social neuroscience, a field that has exploded in the past 10 years, with hundreds of new findings on how our brains are built to care, compete and cooperate.

So maybe we’re not going to place a mother and her baby in every chapter home.  But the lesson here is about teaching empathy and living the golden rule.  What are some innovative ways your chapter can teach empathy?  Here is one possibility, the reverse parents’ weekend:

Send every initiate home with a new member for one weekend each semester.  Get to know his family and learn about his background.  When the would-be hazers have a deeper connection with the new members and their families, they’re more likely to form relationships based on common values and shared [positive] experiences rather than faux relationships built on intimidation and coerced respect.  Maybe this would pose logistical problems for large chapters but variations are available.

Greek Life professionals have two favorite reasons for eliminating hazing:

1) Someone could die or be seriously injured.

2) Hazing is against the law and the members responsible could face jail time.

Unfortunately these serious consequences are not compelling to many hazers.  Why?  Because the probability of someone suffering serious injury or going to jail are probably relatively rare for the seemingly harmless hazing.  This, however, should not undermine the importance of eliminating all hazing, not just the pernicious hazing.  Respect yourself and others regardless of age or tenure and the perceived need for respect through coercion disappears.

Where Stereotypes Come From

Out of respect for the sorority and educational institution these students misrepresented, I’ve intentionally removed the organizations’  names.

The following is  a letter of complaint from the venue hosting the sorority’s formal:

Immediately upon their arrival we were informed by the bus drivers that the students were acting belligerent during the ride down and demanded for them to pull over to let them urinate on the side of the road.  When the bus drivers did pull over, they were then stopped by a Butler County sheriff.

When the students arrived around 8:00pm most were already heavily intoxicated and some could barely manage to walk inside the facility. Upon arrival, a male student asked the Lake Lyndsay staff member Yvonne if she had a washer and dryer in the building because he had vomited on his shirt and pants.

A male student apparently became angry and decided to flip the entire appetizer table over. Red meatball sauce splattered all over the carpeted area, along with cheese and other foods that the students proceeded to walk through and ground into the carpet. When Yvonne and Elizabeth ran over to see what had happened, everyone in the area was laughing and would not tell them who the person was that flipped the table, only that it was “some guy.” This resulted in my cleaning crew having to rent a rug cleaner at 12:00am in order to have the carpet clean and ready for the wedding reception we had the next day.

Two male students started to remove their clothing and decided they were going to go swimming in the lake. Yvonne had to threaten to call the police before they agreed to put their clothing back on and go inside the building.

We let the students use our table decorations for free. And they repaid us by taking two of our crystal vases outside and throwing them off of the porch to shatter on the concrete patio below. We now have to inform the brides that are scheduled to use these vases later this summer, that we do not have enough for them to use now due to the fact that they do not make this particular vase any longer.

Elizabeth saw a group of male students on the side of the building laughing, and when both Yvonne and Elizabeth went back later to see what they had done, they found a pile of human feces on the side of the building. There is a huge ornamental concrete lion statue that sits at the front entrance of the building. Someone knocked this over and broke part of the mane off of the lion.

Yvonne found two students in the caterer’s closet having intercourse on top of the stacked tables. Yvonne turned the lights on and told them to “get out now.” The male student proceeded to curse at her and turn the light off. Yvonne turned the light back on and stayed there while they dressed themselves and left the closet.

I also found two students in our Beach House (another rental building on the property) having intercourse. I yelled into the building and told them to get out before I called the police. I then went over to Lake Lyndsay Lodge to tell Yvonne and Courtney. This is when I realized that Courtney was too intoxicated to talk to and there were no adult chaperones representing ______ University whom I could inform. A male and a female student missed the buses, and when we asked them where they were and why they were not able to see the buses pull in and out…they told us that they were picking up trash on the premises.

Thirty seven 30-packs of Natural Light beer was left behind in the building. We had a non-alcoholic wedding reception the next day that gained access to the building at 8:00am…so it was up to us to dispose of this large amount of alcohol.

I have had 13 calls for lost items from this event. This is the most lost item calls I have ever had at any party in twelve years.

We are appalled at the student’s behavior. My husband and I are graduates of _____ University, and we both agree that college students can drink and have a good time, but last Friday was not just a bunch of college students drinking and having a good time. It was a bunch of college students getting totally obliterated and behaving like immature children.

We are tempted to send this story to the newspapers in the surrounding areas to inform parents of future _____  University students just how sororities and fraternities really behave when they think no one school related is watching.

I seriously cannot believe what happened last Friday night. It saddens me to think that this generation of students conduct themselves in this way while in public.

I spoke to a mother of one of the girls in the sorority and told her all that had happened. Needless to say she was also disgusted and very apologetic.

They had a total lack of respect for my family’s business and for this reason among many others; no sorority or fraternity from _____ University is welcome back to Lake Lyndsay ever again. Please inform this chapter they will have to find a new venue for their formal next year.

We obviously are keeping the $500.00 security deposit that was paid for this event. We are not seeking any further payment for the damages, even though the security deposit does not cover repairs made to the building and extra cleaning fees that were incurred.

Don’t want the media to perpetuate fraternity/sorority stereotypes?  Then stop giving them the material.

Random Thoughts

If fraternities are supposed to stand for such values as honor, integrity and respect then why must every national office employ a full-time Director of Risk Reduction?

Why are marketing campaigns to eliminate hazing almost always directed at our our own members rather than the general public?  Isn’t it pathetic that we should have to convince our own members that the mission of our organization is in fact good?

The few chapters that are either too cool or too dysfunctional to attend Grand Chapter will inevitably complain the most about the new bylaws and policies they didn’t bother to vote for.

If chapters are so proud of their diversity, loosely defined, then why do pledge programs insist on making everyone the same (“our #1 goal is to mold a united pledge class”)?

If hazers are so confident that arbitrary harassment builds brotherhood then why not advertise every activity and expectation during recruitment?

And if hazers are so confident that hazing has an ounce of relevance to real life then why don’t they list “endured hazing pledgeship” on their resume?  Or do they understand that no employer would take them seriously?

Why do some chapters spend more time developing marketing campaigns to make themselves look good rather than actually being good in the first place?

Why do chapters spend so much time trying to motivate members for recruitment rather than just recruiting people who don’t need to be motivated?

If hazing is supposed to teach respect then why are the loudest proponents of hazing always the least respected members in the chapter?

How Econ 101 Teaches us to Eliminate Hazing

With the best of intentions, Greek life professionals are quick to cite that tragic example as chief justification for eliminating hazing.  But does this actually work?

Tragic examples of hazing-related deaths provide compelling reasons to eliminate pernicious hazing.  Unfortunately, however, these tragic examples based on emotion alone only have a fleeting effect.  When the tragic memory fades, it’s back to business as usual.  What’s more, eliminating only the life-threatening activities isn’t good enough, for the seemingly harmless “boys being boys” hazing inevitably escalates over time.

In other words, referencing the tragic hazing death does not motivate most people to eliminate, for example, house chores or running errands for brothers.  The personal servitude model of candidate education seems harmless on the surface but it sows the seeds for more dangerous hazing later down the road.

So how can Greek life professionals effectively reason against the arbitrary activities that many people regard as harmless?  One possible answer lies in one of the tenets of basic economics: opportunity cost.

The opportunity cost of hazing

If you’ve ever taken an intro to economics course, your first lecture was probably about opportunity cost–the relationship between scarcity and choice.  The cost of a choice is everything else we could have done with that time or money.  We face trade offs in our choices every single day:

By attending college we forgo the money we could have earned working full time.

By attending Thursday’s happy hour we forgo the time we could have spent studying for Friday’s midterm.

By playing video games for hours we forgo the time we could have spent writing a family member or calling an old friend.

Like individuals, fraternities also make decisions on allocating scarce resources.  In essence, opportunity cost helps us identify the best use of our most valuable resource: time.

Aside from freak accidents, house chores and other forms of personal servitude don’t pose much risk for personal injury or death.  But there’s an equally compelling reason to eliminate the arbitrary activities along with the more dangerous ones: they’re an utter waste of time.

Think of all the time-wasters many chapters accept as given:

All that time wasted memorizing Sigma Nu history (most of which is forgotten after initiation) could have been spent studying for midterms or participating in another campus organization.  (No, memorizing Sigma Nu history isn’t necessarily a waste of time.  See “Sigma Nu History Isn’t Just for Candidates“)

All that time wasted cleaning the house after brothers trashed it the night before could have been spent participating in community service projects, studying, calling home, etc.

And the examples could go on forever…

Sigma Nu was founded and still exists today for a specific purpose: To prepare ethical leaders for society.  The aforementioned activities may not be dangerous but they’re just as ill-advised.  Why?  Because they rob our candidates of precious time that could have been spent more productively.

The Shocking Reality of Irony

Irony can oftentimes be humorous, but in many other instances it can be disappointing or downright sad.

How would you feel if you opened up your local newspaper and read the following headline:

“Anti-hazing fraternity closed due to hazing.”

‘Living our Values’ isn’t just a catchy phrase or some arbitrary title for a LEAD session.  It’s what we’re supposed to do on a daily basis.  To live our values, we must understand them, lest we’re forced to swallow the bitter pill of irony.