What I wish my FSA Knew: Perspective from a Former Collegiate Leader

by Rachel Lacy

More likely than not, a fraternity/sorority advisor (FSA) is a figment of a collegian’s imagination—that is, until they reach a position of leadership or are facing accountability. Having a history of collegiate leadership,  I know the value of FSAs, but also the many moments where I wish they could have read my mind or truly understood how I was showing up as a collegiate leader.

So, FSA friend, here is what your student leaders wish you knew, but might not be telling you.

#1 – Students are showing up with more identities—both visible and invisible—than just “chapter or council leader.”, many that you might know about and many that you do not.

These identities make student leaders who they are, but they also reinforce the perceived need to be everything to everyone, and that is exhausting. What does help, though, is when you see them. When you intentionally try to build a relationship during meetings by knowing their interests and friends or remember to ask how their exam went that week. It shows you care enough to remember and proves you see them for more than just their title. This allows for greater trust, confidence, and authenticity within their leadership.

#2 – Students are human and (hopefully) trying their best.

You likely do see students leaders this way, but they need to be reminded of it …constantly. When leaders are in front of the chapter or council, it can be isolating because they are trying to wear every hat and be the perfect leader. Not having to do this in front of you will allow students to be more open, honest, and introspective—and actually create the change they so often talk about.

There is a necessary vitality to being seen as human, especially by you, because you can remind students it is okay to fail, to make mistakes, and to take ownership for their actions whether positive or negative. Alternatively, you can challenge students and help them to see through the lens of doubt they inevitably operate through sometimes.

Students probably will not tell you this,even if they are aware of it, but they are constantly comparing themselves to their peers: other chapter leaders, council leaders, or that random leader from another organization the entire university seems to know. Your encouragement, redirection, and challenge, when necessary, help students to see through the lenses, like imposter syndrome, that can block their vision. By seeing through them effectively they can capitalize on their individual strengths and accomplish their goals.

#3 – You are an advisor, not an officer.

Fraternity and sorority advisor…it is in the name. The FSA and student relationship can tend to struggle with maintaining the boundaries of their designated roles.  Before going any further, let me make it abundantly clear that your role exists for a reason. Students need your wisdom, guidance, and advice in so many areas. That said, they need to be permitted to make decisions for themselves, even if it results in a setback or failure or differs from what you thought was best. This is how students learn it is okay to fail, how to grow, and to make better decisions in the future. If FSAs are consistently whiteknuckling or trying to puppeteer their student leaders’ decisions, whether they know it or not, they are severely limiting the potential of the individual and breaking the trust of the student. Advice and guidance, especially when asked for, is a necessary element of the FSA role that requires intentionality and detachment. Additionally, students can tell when your college yearbook is not closed and you are trying to live out your “glory days” through your students. Detachment from students’ decisions and a strong work-life balance can prevent living like you are still in college and creates opportunity for student growth. It is a necessary and conscious distinction: you are an advisor, not an officer.

#4 – When students dream, they dream big.

Student leaders want their impact to be lasting and as big as their dreams are, but they often do not see that change takes time and an officer’s term is only a portion of the time that change demands. Student leaders wish you knew their attempt to make their big dreams happen can manifest in taking on more than they can handle and allowing fraternity/sorority to become their life, not just a part of their collegiate experience. This manifests in the ways student leaders tend to micromanage and their inability to delegate to other officers effectively. Students are navigating so much that staying realistic can be challenging. As FSAs, it is crucial to prioritize redirecting, staying aligned with set goals and seeing both the big and small pictures. Additional ways to gently redirect are to build students’ leadership skills in pertinent areas so their goals are consistently in front of them or task them with following up on specific projects that align with the goals they have set for themselves.

The FSA-student relationship is vital and sometimes polarizing—leading to incredibly strong, trusting relationships or distant, hypervigilant, and unproductive interactions. How you show up and interact with students can be the deciding factor. What students are not telling you is they are so often fighting to be in the space, and be respected, that they have little ability to step back and ask for their needs to be met. It is not malicious or personal, only twenty-somethings trying to figure it all out for themselves. By integrating these tips and tricks with your expertise and experience, there is continued hope and value within the FSA-student relationship. The FSA role continues to be one of the most powerful, vital, and impactful roles within higher education. You know it; the collegians know it; and it is time to truly work together to be change makers at your institution and beyond.


About the author:

Rachel Lacy is a native Hoosier and proud alumna of Alpha Chi Omega. During the undergraduate experience at the University of Iowa, Rachel served as her chapter’s vice president of risk management and president, as well as panhellenic president. Her first professional role was as a traveling chapter consultant for Alpha Chi Omega headquarters where her love for higher education and caffeine addiction only grew. Rachel currently serves as an assistant director of fraternity and sorority life at Indiana University where she advises the Interfraternity Council.

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