Facing Our Future: Reflections on our Work

by Keith Garcia

In August of 2015, a piece I wrote for AFA Perspectives was published.  The piece began with the following statement: “The ugly truth is that entering the field of Fraternity & Sorority Life (FSL) at a time like this leaves much to be desired.” I had just accepted my first full-time role post-master’s degree as a Coordinator of Fraternity & Sorority Life at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and was asked to contribute a piece about why I was entering the profession. I shared my thoughts “from the eyes of a bright-eyed new professional” about “who we are, what we must do, and where it has the potential to take us” (Garcia, 2015, p. 26). The focus of that piece was the necessity of our field to confront the most glaring challenges we faced. I referenced our propensity to operate from a space of crisis rather than intention and the challenge of reckoning with whether our missions, once perceived as timeless, were dated.  I then shifted the focus to my experience within my fraternity and its commitment to support, access, and engagement.  Support meant engagement with students beyond the confines of membership, access meant examining the artificial barriers we create to this experience, and engagement was really a call to action around addressing societal ills. I contend that the vision I had for fraternity and sorority life in 2015 is just as critical to our ability to remain relevant in 2022.

I shared that the “FSL community attempts to skirt the ugliness of what is taking place” (Garcia, 2015, p. 26). The ugliness I referenced included hazing deaths, sexual violence, racism, and other behaviors misaligned with the espoused values of the fraternity/sorority experience. That June, Bloomberg published an article titled Every Time a Fraternity or Sorority Got in Trouble This Year (Otani & Diamond, 2015). I felt then that we were all too often approaching these intransigent issues from a lens of public relations rather than a desire for meaningful change. I argue we might fall into those traps every so often but I am appreciative of the progress made in spite of it. I think of the partnerships developed and progress to root out hazing through advocacy and legislation. I consider the critical look inward some of our historically/predominantly white fraternities/sororities made, for example, Delta Gamma’s contextualization project, and the recent work that is Byron Hurt’s documentary shining a nuanced light on hazing from the lens of a member of Omega Psi Phi come to mind. The level of intention with which we approach our work must continue. We are so much better when we are not consistently playing defense. However, even my statement “we are guided by crisis response” still rings true. Helen Stubbs, who was a Senior Consultant at Gallup when she delivered remarks at a Northwestern University Division of Student Affairs breakfast in 2018, shared “[y]ou should never have the people responsible for putting out fires be responsible for preventing them. You’ll never get to the prevention work.” While it’s imperfect – yes, I know firemen engage in prevention work – the sentiment is well noted.

My experiences as a full-time professional since 2015 have been rich. I navigated the complexities associated with my critique of the fraternity/sorority experience and our roles therein. I consider the ways in which we eliminate barriers to pursuit of membership in fraternity or sorority almost daily.  We must be diligent in our continued exploration of ways to make fraternity/sorority accessible. We must continually commit to our work in service of those beyond the confines of our membership, and not just in service projects in the community but right at the heart of the communities we comprise on campuses. I always share with my Hermanos the expectations I have for our fraternity to serve Latinx students without respect to their membership in our organization. It is that work that is the most meaningful and the most powerful tool for inspiring a desire for membership. I have experienced the personal and professional injuries of racism. Supporting students and colleagues through the challenges of frequent manifestations of white supremacy, sometimes expressed by the students and stakeholders with whom we directly work. I am grateful for the continued development of affinity spaces so those of us holding marginalized identities might find a sense of safety – as imperfect as these spaces might be. Our organizations should be places where members experience belonging as their whole selves rather than exposure to bigotry from amongst our ranks. It was great to see so many groups that would have never uttered the phrase “Black Lives Matter” respond to the racial justice reckonings of 2020. But in 2022 we are still experiencing the harms of organizations too afraid to respond to societal ills. Know that our future and relevancy is indeed rooted in our abilities to evolve toward positions firmly planted in equity and justice. If you have not already heard from the more activist minded student bodies, listen to someone who has firsthand experience responding to their demands that we be part of a more just world or find ourselves obsolete.

And while all these challenges persist, I remain hopeful about fraternities and sororities. While the light may dim sometimes, I have not lost the spark that keeps me in this work. We have so much opportunity ahead of us. We can create new infrastructure to ensure our organizations and campuses are meeting this generation of students where they are. We can further the progress made and be bolder in our declarations about who we are and our relevance today. For instance, I think about the progress made on trans inclusive policies and I ask myself, “This is great, but what more can we do so that policies aren’t the only thing that is inclusive in this experience for our trans siblings?” How do we continue to challenge ourselves as professionals and ask those difficult and uncomfortable questions about the work we are doing and whether it stacks up against our potential? I am encouraged by the newer professionals in our field who keep challenging me to innovate, as well as the seasoned professionals who have weathered the storms to stay in this field. For us to realize a “successful future” and “truly address” our issues we’ll need to continue reflecting on “who we are, what we must do, and where it has the potential to take us.” I can commit to standing alongside you as peers to do the difficult work of ensuring fraternity and sorority life remains a relevant part of the collegiate and alumni experience.

References:

Garcia, K. (2015). New Professionals’ Perspectives. Perspectives, August 2015, p. 26. https://issuu.com/afa1976/docs/august2015perspectives/26?fbclid=IwAR3czikKeY6upqcw39RKwOdQzQwieKQVqFrHtKR5d2m2regulSOpFe27-Ek.

Otani, A. & Diamond, J. (2015). Every Time a Fraternity or Sorority Got in Trouble This Year. Bloomberg, 4 June 2015. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-frat-sorority-offenses/.

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