Recently I attended the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisor’s (AFA) Annual Meeting in Nashville. This was my second time attending the conference and it was great to learn about different ideas and issues impacting the fraternity and sorority community while also being able to catch up with friends.
One of the educational sessions I attended asked what are the the topics we focus on in fraternity and sorority life? What are the questions or issues we should be focusing on instead?
Last year I was advising a group of fraternity and sorority students restarting an honorary organization on campus when I asked if they were aware of story about Panhellenic sorority recruitment at University of Alabama. Not a single student knew of the event that has made international news.
One of the topics I do not think rarely gets attention in fraternity and sorority life, and somewhat the larger arena of student affairs, is the expectation to develop citizens with national and global awareness. There is engagement on major national events, campuses held demonstrations about Ferguson. When elections happen, campuses buzz with political participation. It does not seem that this engagement permeates to smaller level of news however.
Often it’s easy to rest on the idea of promoting community service and philanthropy when asking students to give back to their community, how often do we expect civic engagement? How often do we ask our students to hold dialogue on issues of national or global precedence?
In my four years in a fraternity, we never once held a formalized dialogue on issues impacting our community, either local or national. My chapter excelled at community service and philanthropy and we even received recognition for our civic engagement because it’s easy to simplify civic engagement to those two components. This isn’t meant to discredit my fraternity chapter or alma mater, and there was more we could have done to civically engage.
In fact the only reason I knew of news headlines around the country in college was because I studied journalism—I was required to stay current with the news. This expectation was important and profound in my awareness of issues happening outside of the bubble of fraternity and sorority life, outside of the bubble of college. It is so easy to forget the world exists outside of class and campus.
Which is why it is important to engage students on relevant issues that are happening outside of their campus. Weselyan University in Connecticut ordered all fraternal organizations to be co-ed this past fall. This decision has potential precedence for handling behavioral and conduct issues with fraternal organizations at other colleges and universities. How many undergraduate fraternity and sorority students do you think know of this situation? It is important to hold an expectation for students to be aware of issues that may impact them.
This isn’t to say there are not students who are aware or campuses that are not having conversation on current events in fraternity and sorority life, but there is more that can be done to ask our students to know relevant stories. These current events highlight issues happening across the nation in fraternities and sororities and cement the importance of developing values-based organizations to maintain relevance on college campuses. Fraternity and sorority life isn’t limited to one campus, so conversations on community shouldn’t just be about one campus either. By expecting awareness and asking students what they know is happening outside of their campus, it could help students to become more informed citizens. Platforms can be developed to discuss issues that impact fraternities and sororities, college students, everyone.