What should the priorities of (inter)national fraternity or sorority headquarters be? This is an incredibly complex question. As an international fraternity staff member, I have beliefs about what is essential, and I must consider my beliefs of what is a priority coupled with the views of what should be a priority from stakeholders such as fellow staff members, campuses, volunteers, and board members. However, at the core, there is one perspective that is seemingly the most important: our members’.
It’s crucial to recognize the current position that most organizations and campuses are in. Many are still dealing with uncertainty generated from the pandemic. A significant number of our current undergraduate members joined through a virtual process, leaving them in need of help understanding the long-seated expectations that we tend to have of our chapters and organizations. Many do not understand our policies and procedures, and struggle to hold their peers accountable. Studies show that current undergraduate students are struggling with anxiety and mental health concerns now more than ever. This, along with the continued issues surrounding recruiting and retaining members and growing financial concerns, only exacerbates the need for us as educators to be flexible.
The profession needs to adapt to the ever-changing values of our members. We must recognize that while some of us may not see our organizations as entities that should get involved in making bold statements and taking stances on issues, our current and future members come from a generation that values these things. We cannot shy away from hard truths and painful histories; we need to address them, own them, and make a conscious plan to move forward knowing and doing better. Fraternities and sororities will cease to exist if they do not listen to their members and adapt to their expectations. Our organizations should be a force for good; we have the power to let them be just that. To get there, we cannot shy away from critical conversations.
At Zeta Psi, we embrace feedback from our members, both positive and negative. We recognize that our members’ experiences are varied. Our chapters are located across the world in seven countries at institutions with varying levels of support. We try our best to keep the membership experience at the heart of everything we do. Last spring, we heard from our students that they wanted in-person education programs again, so we excitedly returned to hosting eight in-person regional leadership institutes while keeping our virtual education offerings. We also heard our members’ desire for financial transparency and have made it a priority to educate them on the organization’s finances. These are just little steps we are taking to meet our students’ needs. We operate by being unafraid of failure because we know that there are always risks worth taking, and even if we fail, we will still learn.
Though it is easy to allow ourselves to feel pulled in many directions because all stakeholders tend to want something different and feel their perspective is the best one, we must remember the true priority: ensuring the membership experience in fraternities and sororities is positive, meaningful, and purposeful.
The “big topics” (mental health, hazing prevention, risk management/harm prevention, financial health, recruitment/retention, academic success, etc.) will always be there and will continue to be moving targets. This is not to dismiss their importance, but to recognize that different things will matter differently at different times. The priority of those who work with and for our organizations should be putting channels in place to hear our members. Ultimately, our organizations exist—and our jobs as paid staff members and volunteers exist—because of our members. If we are not taking the time to listen to them, learn from them, and provide them with what they are telling us that they need, then what are we doing this for?
About the author
Caitlyn (she/her) has been in the Fraternity/Sorority profession for almost 9 years working as both a headquarters and campus-based professional. She is a proud alumna of Sigma Sigma Sigma National Sorority and currently volunteers at the national level as a member of both the Ritual and Inclusive Excellence committees and at the local level as an officer for the Greater St. Louis Alumnae Chapter and chapter advisor for her collegiate chapter. She currently serves as the Director of Membership Education at Zeta Psi International Fraternity. Caitlyn has a passion for serving others and has volunteered with many fraternal organizations and college campuses.