Since 2019, AFLV has managed the UIFI program, the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute. UIFI is a four-day, three-night, immersive leadership experience where fraternity/sorority students come together to learn from one another, engage in important conversations about their opportunities for influence, and gain new perspectives on their fraternity and sorority experiences. UIFI was created by the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) more than 30 years ago and was hosted by the NIC until the transition to AFLV in 2019.
My first experience with UIFI was as a facilitator in 2017. I remember a conversation around the phrase, “Change is hard, but staying the same is fatal.” We were talking about fraternity and sorority life on campus. I didn’t realize then we were also talking about our profession. I still thought someone, somewhere, had it all figured out. Six years later, I know no one has it figured out; instead, smart, hard-working people who are constantly evolving are what keep our industry alive.
After transitioning to AFLV in December 2019, the program experienced a two-year hiatus and returned in 2022 amidst a landscape that had drastically shifted. In addition to the regular evolution of a program designed to meet the needs of current students, there were new factors to consider. Students and professionals alike had grown less used to multi-day, in-person experiences. The appeal of leadership experiences was dimming as students watched their peers navigate frustrating responsibilities without the fun payoff. Opportunities for informal conversations, peer accountability, and brainstorming were eliminated due to isolation and constantly evolving regulations. AFLV’s role was to bring back to life a change-enabling experience that addressed the unique needs of students at this moment in time.
In preparation for this project, AFLV partnered with a variety of stakeholders, including undergraduate students, a team of experienced lead facilitators, and organizational leaders. We were tasked with identifying the priorities in reimagining a program that remained true to its original intent, reflected the trademark qualities of an AFLV program, and met the needs of current undergraduate students. That work resulted in the revamped curriculum which launched in the summer of 2023 and focused on the following priorities.
- Focus on community. A core feature of AFLV’s operating system is the belief that creating the conditions in person for connection and discussion of shared values can be a catalyst for change. The four-day, three-night program continues to prioritize small group conversations, informal gathering time, team-builders, and shared experiences, not necessarily to create the best leader but to create a sense of affinity, belonging, and community because a strong community creates the best leaders.
- Incremental change. Sometimes, the instinct for inspiring change in students is to paint the biggest, brightest picture. The challenge, though, is the road to achieving those lofty goals can be long, bumpy, and full of false starts and dead ends. And students often aren’t prepared for that. The rewritten UIFI curriculum includes content specifically designed to train participants on achieving 1% change, building grit, and celebrating incremental wins.
- Simple conversation starters. If there was one central theme the updated UIFI curriculum was based on, it was this: What if students were more comfortable talking to each other about the things they care about? Whether they need backup on an idea, have concern for a fellow chapter member, or need to express frustration or disagreement, they must start by initiating a conversation. Throughout the experience, there are opportunities for students to discuss different perspectives one-on-one, create conversation starters, and role-play with a peer. The best ideas and biggest breakthroughs can start with a simple text that says, “Hey, can we get coffee? I want to run something by you.”
- An alignment with individual values. Our organizations are built on a commitment to shared values. But those won’t take us far if they don’t translate to the lived experiences of the 18-22-year-olds charged with leading fraternities and sororities into the future. The new UIFI curriculum asks students to answer the question, “What are you passionate about? What do you care about enough to still be working on two years from now? What is most important to you and your friends?” The answers to those questions might include things like the safety of sisters on the weekend, the ways our organizations support philanthropy work, the mental health of our siblings, or the more meaningful engagement opportunities for chapter members. These answers naturally connect students to the reasons our organizations exist – but with more buy-in and energy for the hard work required ahead.
The future of the fraternity and sorority industry relies on the relevance of the undergraduate experience and its ability to positively influence members for years to come. Programs like UIFI are uniquely programmed to challenge the status quo and welcome students into an environment that will teach them leadership skills and a sense of community-building, which will serve them for years to come. If we build better humans, we build better organizations. Consistently reevaluating our priorities and the experience we provide for students will allow us to do just that: ensuring we continue to fill a relevant, meaningful need for collegians.
The UIFI programs continue to succeed because of the incredible support of campus-based and International Headquarters professionals and the students who want to positively influence their communities. You can get involved with UIFI in various ways, including providing scholarship funding for students, sending members of your community, or applying to serve as a small group facilitator. You can also bring UIFI to your campus! You can learn more by visiting www.aflv.org/page/UIFI, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to continuing to accelerate progress in the fraternity and sorority community with you!
About the author:
Shauna Prentice serves the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values as the Student Experience Director. Prior to joining the staff at AFLV, she served in both campus-based advising and headquarters educational programming roles. Shauna earned her undergraduate degree from Northern Kentucky University and her M.Ed. in College Student Personnel Administration at James Madison University. She is from the Louisville, KY area and is based in Johnson City, TN.