By Scott Irlbacher – Director of Special Programs and Student Community Standards at Robert Morris University
This past year was quite a year for Greek Life. In case you somehow missed it – the national news media finally noticed the fraternity/sorority experience. Fortunately, most of the coverage was fair and facts and figures used were largely accurate. Unfortunately, most of the articles were using fraternities and sororities to criticize – well, um – fraternities and sororities.
Our world has been rattled and although cliché, 2015 must usher in an era of the ‘new normal’ in Greek Life. Nationally-recognized speaker T.J. Sullivan is well known for his keynote, “Confronting the Idiot in Your Chapter.” But what do you do about the idiot chapter in your community? No longer can idiot chapters on your campus be ignored. If you value the fraternity experience, you can no longer sit back and wait for that chapter’s headquarters or your campus to suspend them or close them. If you have an idiot chapter on your campus that needs addressed – this article is for you.
Step One – Identify the idiot chapters.
This is actually the easiest step of the process. You know who the idiot chapter is on your campus. There might be multiple idiot chapters or a dozen, but we know who they are. The idiot chapters are called such because they use idiot logic and make idiot decisions. They get their ideas from movies. They dream of getting recognized by TFM. They only care about the things that will make them seem bad ass. These are the chapters that make headlines for all the wrong reasons and cause many of the claims that drive up your chapter’s liability insurance premium. Sometimes these chapters can be identified by their desire to project the fraternity stereotype in class or at events.
Step Two – Lead the conversation.
You are Greek – you must be a leader. As a student, you know things about your campus and the Greek community that even the most liked and connected professor or administrator would ever know. There are things that go on outside the student center, after professors and administrators have gone home for the night, or off campus. Campus administrators such as me sometimes hear rumors but until there is a police report or serious incident there is little we can do. In my career I’ve noticed that a well-timed concern voiced by a student can have a more immediate impact than if it were shared by me. I’ve also been shocked by what I didn’t know but was considered common knowledge by students.
Step Three – Build a coalition.
Surely you can’t be the only one with a concern about a particular chapter. Speak with others in chapters on your campus as well as unaffiliated students and if possible, share your concern with your respective council. Ask your campus Greek advisor to mention your concern to his/her supervisor and others at the university who should know of your concern. National fraternity or sorority chapters at their most basic form are franchises of the larger organization – just like your local McDonalds or Taco Bell. Just as if we wanted to fix the town’s favorite burger joint, the headquarters must be involved. If the problem chapter is a local, additional help may need to include those at your campus with an existing relationship with that chapter’s alumni.
Step Four – Speak up.
You thought you already spoke up, right? Yes and no. You aired your concern or grievance before – now is the time to take that concern to the source. We’re going to confront the idiot chapter on your campus. If the coming confrontation makes you anxious, this is when to partner with your strong coalition of concerned students and staff. The conversation with the problem chapter(s) can be facilitated through the appropriate council or in the offices of your campus Greek advisor. The conversation should be diplomatic and fraternal – you are sharing your concern for the chapter’s actions, not attacking the individual chapter members. Underscore your desire for your campus to be known for a positive fraternity experience but unsafe and unethical decisions threaten that reputation. Be sure to ask the representatives from that chapter if they have questions about the concerns shared. Offer yourself or your chapter as a future partner in correcting the pattern of poor decisions. Always leave the conversation on a positive note – shake hands and offer to follow up.
If you’re like me, you’ve had enough. We simply can’t wait for someone else to do the job. We had a saying in my chapter – sometimes if you want to make sure something gets done, you have to do it yourself. I firmly believe that if we made it our business to improve Greek Life at our campus, there will be fewer idiot chapters making headlines and degrading the good works by the rest of us. But my fellow campus Greek advisors can’t do it alone – we need your help to confront these chapters before it’s too late.
Scott Irlbacher is Director of Special Programs and Student Community Standards at Robert Morris University. His bachelor’s degree in secondary education and master’s degree in counseling and student affairs practice are from Edinboro University. Scott is a Life Loyal member and national volunteer of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity. Naturally he loves music but is also a follower of Division II college football. Scott lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife AnneMarie, daughters Ellie and Nora, and dog Riley.