Three Sides To The Same Coin

By Dr. Corey Esquenazi, Ian Anderson and Guillermo Flores

Humans tend to get tunnel vision, especially when it comes to issues that matter to them. Expertise and different viewpoints are ignored, and people barrel through ignoring the many perspectives that may be needed to solve complex problems. This is abundantly clear in the advice of the fraternity and sorority community. Campus-based professionals, local chapter advisors, and headquarters staff sometimes are at odds on how best to support the students they all serve. Conflicting approaches can cause chaos and confusion at the chapter level, leaving students unsure of who they should listen to. However, not all is doom and gloom. Sometimes these entities have a synergy that translates to an effective unified message undergraduates can understand. This unified message allows student leaders to lead confidently and know the advice they are receiving is sound. For the fraternity and sorority community to continue being relevant in society, campus-based professionals, local chapter advisors, and headquarters staff need to have a unified message. To do this they must understand each other’s point of view. This article brings in the perspectives of a campus-based professional, a local chapter advisor, and a headquarters staff member on how they view each other and their thoughts on what issues are holding the interfraternal community back.

Campus Based Professional (Corey): Mending fences and building bridges might seem like I am describing a carpenter and an engineer, but it’s how I view the role of the campus-based sorority and fraternity professional. You can also add another occupation to my analogy, an interpreter. To move forward as a community the structural foundations of the bridge must be strong, the coat of paint on the fence must be dry and situations should be translated clearly. To expand on these analogies’ relationships between campuses, chapter advisors and headquarters must be tended to regularly or the “paint” relationship will wear thin. The foundations of these relationships must be strong and built from a place of trust. Finally, we must use a common language or at least understand the language the other speaks so misunderstandings don’t arise. Having worked as a headquarters staff member, serving as a local chapter advisor and now as a campus-based professional, I have seen we all want the same things. For our undergraduates to have an excellent experience we all must come together to build the bridge, paint the fence and share the same language.

Local Chapter Advisor (Ian):

The fraternity and sorority community provides students with unique experiences cultivated by the values, history, and rituals of their respective organizations. Providing strong guidance and mentorship is the key to ensuring a fraternity/sorority unlocks its full potential on its campus and in its surrounding community. The guidelines a chapter must follow are derived from the rules and regulations of their headquarters as well as those of their institution. While most rules and regulations will align, there will be instances in which some conflict. This is when coordination and communication between the chapter members, headquarters staff, and campus officials can become difficult. At the intersection of these three groups is the local chapter advisor who is the appointed representative entrusted with safeguarding the welfare of a chapter. However, a chapter advisor cannot guarantee the welfare of their chapter without fostering a strong relationship with both headquarters staff and campus officials. Trust is the cornerstone of these relationships, developed through honest and open communication between all parties. Conversations with a chapter advisor should not be happening only for disciplinary reasons related to their chapter. A chapter advisor needs to establish recurring meetings with both parties, individually, to stay up-to-date on relevant policy and procedure changes that may concern the chapter. When it comes to their chapter, a chapter advisor may, unintentionally, have a biased viewpoint. These meetings should be transparent, allowing both sides to discuss where the chapter is excelling and where the chapter may need improvement. These objective opinions help to create a holistic picture, allowing for a better understanding of the chapter and how best to meet the members’ needs. We as a community cannot not move forward until we build foundational trust with one another by having those critical conversations. Formulating a strong and more unified message to our community means knowing where our strengths and weaknesses exist at the chapter, campus, and national levels.

Headquarters Staff Member (Guillermo):

After being on the campus side for six years and then going to the headquarters side in 2021, you see how much in common we all have. The fact that the term “side” for headquarters and campus is daily language in our world already says enough. After time working at a headquarters, I can see now we all want what is best for the students. I pride myself in always being a campus partner that worked alongside headquarters and advisors. Now I get to bring that in my work at a headquarters. Working at a headquarters has truly shown me how much the staff and organization partners with campus professionals and do what is needed so that support is not only seen but present. When it comes to working together, we all have information beneficial for all. I have been able to still connect with my campus colleagues and it has been mutually beneficial. We all have a different perspective crucial to the conversation needed to best support students. Many of us in fraternity and sorority life volunteer in different capacities with our own or fellow organizations. We need to give each other more grace and be as transparent as possible with communication. The world is already a hard enough place to be without the added barriers we put to being on “this side” or ‘that side.” Pick up the phone and start the conversation early and not just when it is all about to hit the fan. I have been able to work with campus partners before we head to campus for an expansion project and it has been extremely beneficial, our campus partners go above and beyond fulfilling our request to provide a new fraternity experience on campus and we are very grateful. What has been the most helpful is remembering that if we say we are going to center students in our work, then we must do this early on.

Closing Argument/Thesis: A common theme derived from these three perspectives is to cultivate relationships among all stakeholders of the fraternity and sorority community. While it may seem simple to most, fostering relationships and communication is a process that takes time. Relationships should never be one-off conversations, or only happen when things have gone wrong. It is far too common that stakeholders do not prioritize or forget to prioritize these relationships. Adding to this problem is the turnover of staff members at the headquarters and campus level, and the lack of communication with advisors.

There are several recommendations the authors feel could help alleviate some of these issues. First, a standing meeting should be scheduled for advisors, campus-based professionals, and headquarters staff a minimum once a semester to make sure all parties are on the same page. Second, anytime there is a turnover in personnel all parties should be informed, as well records should be updated regularly on websites. Finally, each stakeholder should extend grace to each other and go into conversations in good faith and full support of the students in mind. These small changes can go a long way in building a more unified message. We leave you with this question; what are you doing to foster relationships between your counterparts in the fraternity and sorority community?

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