Since my first day of graduate school I have been truly excited and invigorated by working with student organizations and, particularly, student leaders. Over the past six years I have had the fortune to work with wonderfully dynamic student organizations and leaders, ranging from traditional student organizations (academic student organizations, multicultural student organizations, etc.) to unique and fun organizations (humans vs. zombies, the lumberjack club, and more.) However, no group has been as rewarding for me to work with as my current student organization, a local sorority (or as they are known on my campus, an eating house). As a white, male, student affairs professional, these remarkable women have helped me to grow in my awareness of my identity and taught me how to further my voice.
While not being a member of a Greek lettered organization myself, I developed great respect for the values-driven movement from working with truly wonderful and motivational friends and colleagues. These different women had membership in NPHC & NPC organizations, and particularly sorority advisors advocating for members to live their organizations’ values. These women challenged any presumptions I had developed earlier in my life about sororities, as my only exposure before had been what was portrayed in Hollywood, which as we know Hollywood does not do justice to the sorority movement. I saw the power that this approach had on multiple communities that had a strong connection to a campus’ ethos. As a male who has spent his entire life growing up in an environment around strong women and I strive to be an advocate for feminism. At the end of my second year as a professional, I had such an opportunity and when I approached our campus’ Greek advisor about ways to get involved and I was excitedly pointed toward serving as an advisor to one of the eating houses.
When I started my role as an advisor, the organization had been through a revolutionary few months. As a local organization, they have a great deal of autonomy in decision making and are regularly exploring what their place is on campus as both its members and the campus grow and change. One example comes from the eating house being approached by male members of the community who initiated a conversation about changing the organization from a women’s organization to a mixed-gender one. Simultaneously, in the light of many national conversations around sexual violence, the women were actively working to find ways to support their members who had been the victims of violence. With all of this change happening, I knew that I had to evolve my advisory approach.
I found that in order to engage the members of the house as honestly and effectively as possible, I had to be very proactive in addressing my identity and privilege. This proactive approach helped me to develop a rapport with the women, but more importantly to do something that I should have already been doing in any of my advising experiences in order to be as effective as possible to support this organization: addressing my privileges and framework that I brought into this role. In my initial conversations with the women, I opened many of my conversations by acknowledging my privileges outright. I realized that despite my pro-feminist view point as a person and as a professional, I needed to acknowledge that my masculinity and my view as a staff member brought with it a very different framework than the women of the house. I acknowledged my spheres of power and influence as a white male and as an administrator. I asked how I could serve the organization as an advisor and leverage my privileges in order to be a better advocate for the organization. The students appeared taken aback by this and voiced their appreciation for my transparency. The women discussed that one of the greatest challenges they were experiencing was not only trying to find their voice, but having their voice be affirmed.
Combining this approach with strengths-based coaching allows me to engage the women more effectively than I have been able to do with other organizations. While I am still very new to advising Greek organizations, my work with this organization has taught me a lot about the need for effective and intentional advising with all student organizations. It is important that as student affairs professionals we are checking our privileges and sphere of influence when working in advisory capacities in order to make more meaningful educational and developmental climates.
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!