What I Wish You Knew: How being a board member informs my work as a campus-based professional.

by Dr. Cassie Gerhardt

Like many others, I have worked with fraternities and sororities both as a campus-based professional and as an operational volunteer. Engaging with fraternities/sororities as an operational volunteer has been critically important in my growth as a campus-based professional (and vice versa). As a volunteer and campus-based professional, I have long understood that national organizations and colleges/universities have goals and priorities that can sometimes be both complementary and conflicting.

Currently, I am privileged to serve as a member of my organization’s national/governing board. As a national/governing board member, I am in a unique position to understand and appreciate the holistic and complex environments surrounding fraternal organizations. Serving as a national/governing board member informs my work as a campus-based professional in a different way than have previous operational volunteer roles.

I have come to understand that there are many similarities between the goals and challenges of fraternal organizations and of colleges/universities. While the perspective or context may differ, sometimes resulting in inaccurate assumptions or tenuous relationships, understanding our similarities informs my work as both a board member and a campus-based professional.

Everyone Cares

Regardless of the role or position, everyone who works with students and alumni cares about students (and alumni) and about serving our constituents to the best of our abilities. As a campus-based professional, students are my number one priority and I care about their experiences both within and beyond their fraternal organizations. As a board member, I care just as deeply about students and alumni. I care about their experiences, welfare, and safety.

Often care is shown in different ways depending on the individual and the situation. Although a board member may not know a student personally, that does not mean they do not care about that student or their circumstances. It is important to remember that everyone engaged with fraternal organizations as either a volunteer or a professional cares about those they serve – even if they show that care differently than you or I might show it.

Students are Individuals

While students affiliate with fraternal organizations and enroll at colleges/universities, they are individuals responsible for their own choices. Students do not belong to anyone. The decisions that leaders in fraternal organizations or colleges/universities make do not cause students or chapters to make inappropriate choices. Students (or groups of students) make choices … irrespective of their organizational affiliation or institutional enrollment.

When students’ choices are inconsistent with fraternal policies or expectations, national/governing boards – not institutions – hold students or groups/chapters of students accountable to those policies or expectations. When students’ choices are inconsistent with institutional policies or expectations, the institution – not the national/governing boards – hold the students accountable. I sometimes remind campus colleagues of this distinction when they seek to hold the fraternal organization accountable for the choices of individual student(s). It is students as individuals who are responsible for the consequences of their choices, not the national/fraternal organization.

High Expectations

Fraternal organizations have standards and policies for their members/students that are often consistent with the expectations that institutions have for their students. The physical proximity of campus-based professionals to students/chapters may provide greater awareness of concerning behaviors/activities than a national organization might have. Sometimes, this lack of awareness can be regarded as a lack of concern about those behaviors.

As a campus-based professional (and even as an operational volunteer), I was sometimes not aware of the discussions board members had about the choices individual members/chapters make and about how those choices seem inconsistent with the expectations of the national organization. Similarly, fraternal organization board members may be unaware of similar discussions in which campus-based professionals engage.

As a campus-based professional, I trust that national/governing boards respond to situations about which they are aware in a manner that is consistent with their national policies and procedures. National/governing boards do not make decisions that tolerate or pardon the poor decisions of members, even though those decisions may be different from the decisions I need to make as a campus-based professional. Just as care can be shown in different ways, accountability can be applied in different ways.

Complex Enterprises

Fraternal organizations are complex enterprises with multiple priorities, limited resources, and passionate constituents. The complexities facing fraternal organizations are not dissimilar to those facing colleges and universities. Complex organizations have processes and procedures that can result in decision-making and communication timelines slower than many involved would prefer.

National/governing board members are oftentimes volunteers, and due to the complexity of the organization and the board’s commitment to making decisions that are in the best interest of the broader organization, processes involve considerations that take time. Decision-making processes often involve a review of priorities, reallocation of resources, and consultation with various constituents. While national/governing boards make thoughtful decisions that are in the best interest of the organization, the decisions may not always be as quick as some would like and they do not always receive universal support or appreciation from all constituents.

As a national/governing board member, I understand the complexities of fraternal organizations that may not be evident to all campus-based professionals who work with fraternities and sororities. I often remind campus colleagues that similar to fraternal organizations, institutional processes can move at a glacial pace and rarely is the entire campus community in support of all decisions. While complex enterprises can present challenges and frustrations, respect for and patience with the complexities can benefit everyone.

Partnerships Matter

National/governing boards value and appreciate the partnerships they have with colleges/universities. There is a clear understanding that our chapters exist because of the invitation and/or recognition extended by campuses. We work hard to continuously cultivate and respect the relationships recognizing that students and chapters will benefit from the partnerships.

Campus-based professionals may not know the national/governing board members of the organizations represented on their campuses, but they should trust that national/governing board members also have the students’ best interest in mind. Campus-based professionals and national/headquarters staff members have a shared responsibility to develop and cultivate relationships that can strengthen into true partnerships to more effectively serve their students.

Board Service Informs My Work as a Campus-Based Professional

Serving as a national/governing board member provides me with a unique perspective and understanding of a fraternal organization. While I knew service as a national/governing board member would elevate my knowledge and understanding of my organization, I did not realize the extent to which it would inform my work as a campus-based professional. I appreciate fraternal organizations in a new (and better) way because of my service as a national/governing board member and  I hope it makes me a better campus-based professional and partner to other fraternal organizations.

 

About the author

Cassie Gerhardt currently serves as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of North Dakota (UND). In this role, Cassie provides vision and leadership for various student engagement and retention initiatives and directly supervises the Memorial Union, Student Involvement & Parent Programs and TRIO programs. Cassie also advises Student Government and serves as a liaison with the UND Alumni Association & Foundation in support of the division’s development initiatives. Prior to beginning her current position in 2020, Cassie served UND in various professional positions beginning in 2002 as the Coordinator of Greek Life. Cassie began her professional career at Arizona State University as the Sorority Advisor from 1999 – 2002. Cassie graduated from UND in 1996 with Bachelor’s Degrees in Political Science and Secondary Education. In 1999, she earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Student Personnel from Oklahoma State University and in 2008, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Educational Leadership from UND. Cassie is an active volunteer for Alpha Chi Omega and currently serves as a National Vice President and Trustee. She is also actively involved in NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

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