“Check the Box” or Checked Out? Considerations of Change for Campus & Chapter Accreditation, Awards, and Reporting Programs

by Alison Burke, Cassie Little & Rachel Shaffer

If you saw our session at the 2022 AFA Annual Meeting and are back for more, welcome! If you missed us and are having strained attempts at administrating your program, we are here for you. We hope this is your first step in removing “check the box” programs from your campus or organization!

What is a “check the box” behavior, and how are we perpetuating them?  “Checking the box” behaviors include: hosting workshops or events because of an obligation to do so, not because of a desire to do so; providing redundant programming between headquarters and campus-based programs; participating in philanthropic initiatives but not doing actionable service work that reinforces that work; or rinsing and repeating chapter events because they meet the baseline criteria being asked for.  Too much of the “check the box” leads to students, unfortunately, checking out and we sense lower levels of engagement, lower rates of participation, and burnout for everyone involved.

The impetus for our presentation was to identify what data, information, and expectations we were seeking from these programs and the reality of what we were actually getting or experiencing from them.

  • First, and most importantly, we saw a huge misalignment between chapter activities and the results of their end-of-year reports. Chapters either embellished programs to “check the box” on the content area or didn’t get a chance to offer up something they did because it didn’t check the box
  • Second, we, and many others, were exhausted from grading and administering our programs and felt like our colleagues were “going through the motions” just to complete the program expectation.
  • Third, we wanted to provide some tangible solutions to begin improvements to campus or organization programs to help remove those check-the-box behaviors or re-think how a program may be attempting to check the box.

How do we suggest you improve the system that exists? Here are our top tips:

Incorporate Students in Reporting Criteria

Roundtable every one to two years to ensure reporting reflects today’s students’ priorities. Let them drive the bus on what they want recognized to build buy-in from peers.

Stop Using External Graders

External Graders lack context behind membership experiences and cannot provide holistic assessment for chapters’ or community performance. Externally graded programs get the only great on paper groups, and no understanding of what actually happens throughout the year. Utilize current members, officers, alumni, campus professionals, and volunteer committees that work with and know chapters/members to assist in this process.

Student Driven Selection & Grading

Select one representative per governing council or regional area to run awards criteria, submission, and selection to ensure student ownership in the entire process and recognition in desired categories. Build a selection committee!

Narrative Format Submission

Since recruitment and retention numbers are recorded at other points in the year, reporting should give us understanding of the process and work behind the data.

Don’t Withhold Info from Underperforming Groups

If a chapter does not receive feedback that they are falling behind until after the recognition process, it wastes the opportunity to help them progress or improve. Don’t let the accreditation program be the time to let them know they’re not doing well.

Student ownership over the process is so critical as we’re seeing such stark differences in the actual performance of chapters and the submissions they provide. Amazing students and exemplary chapters are so burnt out by the end of the year, that they’re submitting less-than-satisfactory materials; alternatively, chapters that are good at submissions are getting high scores or taking home awards that aren’t reflective of the lived experience within that chapter. It’s more important to seek out the positive stories of the experience as opposed to the “check the box” behaviors of the experience. We don’t want you checked-out OR “checking the box.” Instead, we want you to celebrate success, find efficient data to tell your chapter and community story, and make this easier for yourself moving forward.


About the authors

Alison Burke is the Assistant Director for Greek Affairs at the University of Rhode Island. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in higher education from Arizona State University. Alison is a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi Sorority.

Cassie Little is a sorority speaker, content creator, and the founder of Her Sorority Journey, an educational platform for members to gain perspective & grow in any season of their membership experience. By starting her company weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, she learned how to execute her vision & overcome obstacles with creative solutions. She utilized Instagram & TikTok to cultivate a community of sorority women eager to deepen the value of the sorority experience. From her social media presence, collegiate members & advisors have booked her to speak to their members on the topics of chapter morale, leadership development, resilience, and career preparedness.

Rachel Shaffer works for Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity Headquarters and is a 2nd-year law student at Seattle University. She volunteers as a Sigma Kappa Advisory Board Supervisor and an NPC Area Advisor. Rachel is a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority.

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