By Mark Pleiss
To say that this year has been a wild ride compared to previous years is like comparing the differences between riding a wooden roller coaster to launching into space. This year has been shaky, jarring, uncertain, tense, and at times overwhelming. Sometimes it just feels like the world has gone mad. Since February, the twists and turns, such as changing campus and community policies, recommendations for masks, quarantines, and daily life has been turned upside down. Let us not forget the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.
I doubt many people will look back and call these very happy times as this year has highlighted the separations between ourselves and our fellow humans instead of our commonalities. The marquee events of our semester that bring us together have largely been placed on hold or fundamentally changed, such as homecoming, graduations, philanthropy events, mixers, Founders Day, province retreats, and our leadership conferences. I never thought I would attend a friend’s graduation wedding via Zoom, but it was a great excuse to wear a tie and bathrobe to a wedding.
For me personally, the events that generally recharge my passion for Phi Delt as a volunteer, create space for self-care, reconnect me with brothers that have become some of my closest friends, and my opportunity to interact with our remarkable undergrads at conferences and retreats, have unfortunately been substituted by Zoom meeting, emails, and the occasional phone call. For many of us, this has been a tough time and an adjustment for which none of us were prepared. It has not been fun for me, and I imagine many of you are experiencing similar feelings towards the current state of things. However, as I learned from my time as a wrestler and offensive lineman, sometimes we just have to embrace the suck and find the opportunities that these challenges present us.
Despite many of us feeling down, cheated, or just less enthusiastic, there are ways to learn, grow, and connect with the foundation of our fraternal experience; connecting with others. I am fortunate enough to have several close friends in the Province President Corps that I speak to often. We often discuss our chapters, our concerns for when “normal” will come back, and how current events impact our undergrads’ experience within our provinces. We share successes, challenges, and the occasional venting session as good old alumni will do. I cannot emphasize enough that those of us who volunteer for this brotherhood feel immense pride in what you do in your chapters, on your campuses, and in your communities. I know this is a little tangential, but I don’t think we share that fact enough with all of you.
There are brothers who I see at our educational conferences, and that routine has been largely disrupted. It feels like decades since I last saw them, was able to sit, catch up on our lives, and discuss the current state of the Fraternity, and our hopes for the future. Quite honestly, I have taken many of these relationships and opportunities to see these brothers for granted over the last nine years as a volunteer.
So what does COVID-19 present as an opportunity?
Right now, how we fundamentally build and maintain relationships and our connections to others has been blasted into pieces. Some of the ways that we are most comfortable interacting, such as social gatherings, face-to-face contacts, and events are largely limited or unavailable. But, we do not need to let the distance between us define how we live our life in The Bond. The opportunity now is to experiment with the ways that we connect with others, including our brothers, alumni, Phikieas, and potential new members. Our connection with others at this time serves several purposes, the most important of which is that it is okay to connect with one another, even if it isn’t perfect, and it’s an opportunity to reconnect and re-engage brothers we may have not spoken to in years. If we did fraternity right, the time between these contacts don’t matter as much because the strength of the connections are so powerful, resilient, and ever impactful to our own mental health and the health of others.
The ways we have communicated and kept in touch have changed, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less in quality, even if it feels a little different. I have been on several Zoom hangouts with brothers since April, and it has been refreshing to reconnect with some that I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. We have hosted hangouts to just check in with one another, planned for a bachelor party and wedding, and even held our own homecoming of sorts. Where normally would text once in a while, we now call each other to chat more often. The connections we have been reinvigorating has been helpful to all of us keeping our spirits bright during these tough times. I am lucky enough to have one chapter brother that calls me nearly every Sunday, and we chat about what meat he is grilling or smoking that day, how everyone else is doing, and try to coordinate when we will see one another next. I cannot emphasize enough that the time invested during undergrad with our brothers pays dividends for the rest of our lives. During some of the worst parts of stay-at-home orders, quarantines, increasing spikes in Covid-19 cases, having the outlet to connect with my brothers has kept me in a better place.
Our connections to others is a major part of what it is to be human, and is a core component of our Fraternity. So our opportunity now is to leverage technology and continue to invest in our fraternal experiences. Use this time to try new ways of connecting with brothers, alumni, Phikeias, and potential new members. Some of your advisors and province presidents may have ideas on how to keep connected with your members, but others may not know how to advise you on how to stay connected due to lack of familiarity, and both are okay as we can’t be masters of everything. As a chapter, hold meetings that include those that are off campus this semester. Continue to find ways to bring even small groups together, such as around a fire pit, a weekly dinner, or even just meeting between classes on campus. Create traditions that the chapter may adopt for years to come that add to our value proposition. Breakaway from practices that are antiquated, don’t move the chapter forward, or leave us behind because we are resistant to challenge the process during these uncertain times. Engage new groups of potential new members, recruit through friend groups, and take multiple new member classes in a semester that are smaller, but fully engaged in not only the Phikeia process, but then remain invested in being active and engaged brothers. Recruit quality members that want to be the change in your chapter because holding onto “how things have always been done.”
If your chapter has struggled to put out an alumni newsletter, try it now with fresh eyes and new ideas. I believe I speak for most alumni when I say that we care much less about you winning intramural championships, but more on how you and the chapter is doing, what you are learning throughout this difficult and uncertain time, and how we can help as alumni. Use the resources available to engage alumni that you haven’t for a long time. Have a meeting with the Phikeias and have an alumni join via video and speak with the new class. Tell the alumni of some of the struggles and how you have tried to address them during Covid-19, as maybe some of us have ways to support or ideas of how to address what is going on in the chapter. Use the fund-raising tools provided by GHQ to help pay for new member dues or help brothers that were unable to pay their dues because of not having a summer job. We want you to become the greatest version of yourself, support you through the process, and assist where we can.
During these trying times, investing and engaging in our brotherhood could not be more important for our own growth and the betterment of our chapters. By trying new ways of connecting with one another, we can provide support for one another, create new ways of engaging undergrad and alumni members, and pave the way for how our chapters operate in the future. As we try new ways of connecting, please know that it will never be perfect from the start, your ideas may need to be retooled or redone, and it is the process that is more important than the final product. Engage in behaviors and activities that create the positive change that makes the human experience so awesome, fulfilling, and ever changing. We are all human, and brothers, and we each are perfectly imperfect, but it is what we do despite the challenges of this year and next that will truly define our character, our growth, and our connections with others. If nothing else during the trying times, reach out and connect with others, because you never know how just a simple phone call, text, email, snapchat, or any other form of communication could make someone’s day.