by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
If we want healthy and engaged members in our chapters, we need potential new members (PNMs) who are encouraged to find the organization that hosts an experience which best aligns with their personal values. One of the most important things we can do in our communities is to allow PNMs to make their own choices about where to join, and encourage critical thought about the joining process.
Some places are pretty good at knowing and understanding that the fraternity and sorority experience can be awesome in any chapter. However, a lot of fraternity and sorority communities don’t quite grasp this idea. Reputation, stereotypes, and even recruiting strength play into older members sharing with PNMs (sometimes of the opposite gender) where the “best places” to join are.
How the influence of the community can cause an upset in the potential new member’s selection process is despicable. By participating in perpetuating rumors of “tiered systems”, we tell recruits where they fit and who to join and who not to join before they ever enter a recruitment party. Instead of respecting them by saying things like: ”what are you looking for?”, we say “you look like a…”
My own joining story involves suggestion from a fraternity man, and while I’m so grateful for Alpha Sigma Tau – nobody asked me if that was right for me. Instead, they took one look and said “here is where you fit.”
Here’s the catch… I became a sorority woman in 1998!!! Almost 20 years ago, and we are still pulling the same crummy moves today.
Here is a conversation I actually heard on a plane this year while traveling to work with the very Panhellenic community in question. These girls were obviously flying to school; one a sophomore, and the other a freshman.
Sophomore: Are you headed to BLANK university?
Freshman: Oh my gosh, yes! Do you go there?
SO: I do…are you rushing a sorority?
SO: Are you nervous?
FR: I don’t know… I guess a little.
SO: Are there any certain houses you like?
FR: I mean, AAA. They are the top house from what I hear, but I want to keep an open mind.
SO: Yeah, they are a top house, and so is BBB and ZZZ. As long as you don’t join MMM you’re good to go.
FR: Thanks for the info!
The sophomore proceeded to sit with her headphones on for the rest of the flight. She did not engage in conversation with the PNM (maybe because of “rules of silence” she’s supposed to uphold before recruitment starts). There were no other tips about move-in, navigating campus, or what to expect in her first year. The only advice she offered was which sorority NOT to join, to a woman she barely knew.
If we want healthy communities, we need to get off Greek Rank and end back door, below the belt conversations. We need to allow men and women decide for themselves where they fit best. When values align, the treasure of this experience comes to life. We all want everyone to have the best experience for themselves, just like we would want to find that for ourselves.
Consider asking PNMs good questions like, “what do you want out of this experience?”, “what do you hope you won’t have to deal with?”, or, ”Tell me about why you chose to go through recruitment.” Consider saying community-focused encouraging words like, “all chapters here are great and provide fantastic experiences”, “we want you to find the organization that is the best fit”, or “all our groups have something great to offer.”
Be the person who gets out of the lists and tiers, and into the heads and hearts of these young souls. They are the future of our fraternal family at large. Nobody remembers who was homecoming queen or won Greek Week or had the coolest car in college. They remember the love they give and take. We as fraternities and sororities are in the relationship business, and when we take that away by using lame stuff based on popularity and reputations, it dilutes the community we all work hard to build.
by Dr. Colleen Coffey-Melchiorre
Traveling with #BabyJune so far been an absolute blast. I enjoy some aspects of travel, mostly the making of new friends. I try hard to practice my craft on planes – being friendly, being a host, and loving others in whatever space they are in (even if they are taking up too much of it). I like to observe people in airports and on planes a lot, and I’ve noticed that in airports, people are nervous and hurried.
They are often confused by the lingo and the rules and regulations, and people get really angry about lines and delays. As a general rule, in airports people eat crappy food and get crappy service and may even have to stop to get a nine-dollar bottle of water that they will be forced to consume on the floor, or crammed next to a stranger like a sardine. This part of travel reminds me of sorority recruitment: letters and rules we don’t understand, being herded like cattle from one party to the next, only to sit in a crowded place to attempt conversation.
So, I understand why people can get a little cranky when traveling. That’s why traveling with my baby daughter this summer has been so eye-opening. Babies remind us of a gentler time, maybe when we were parents or aunts and uncles or sitters. After all, the one thing we all have in common is that we were all babies at one time or another. Babies are therapy and they make us slow down. They are so helpless that we can’t help but offer up compassion. How have people reacted to #BabyJune on a plane, airports, hotels, rental cars, and Uber rides? So far, quite beautifully actually.
I have always witnessed the beauty of the human condition through my children. People hold the door for me, try desperately to figure out my stroller, offer to hold her, help me charge my phone, throw trash away for me, smile and laugh when she does too, and lean in when she’s unhappy. Strangers turn into friends and want to know her and know me. When a baby is around, curiosity and generosity come naturally. I think this is because parents can’t help but espouse authenticity and vulnerability, especially during travel.
Curiosity, generosity, authenticity, and vulnerability are the pillars of Social Excellence. Social Excellence is what I see all around me when traveling with a baby, and it’s caused me to wonder why the same is not true in another, more conventional circumstance. Why don’t we show compassion to others as we do a child? We look at our watches and hem and haw when an elderly person takes far too long through a security line, but what about a mother with baby? We offer to help, we carry things, and we carry her through it.
We are not conditioned to talk to strangers at all, but a baby on-board a plane elicits smiles and coos and questions. Without a baby involved, we wouldn’t dare literally crawl over the lap of an overweight person to help them buckle a seatbelt, throw trash away for a busy stranger, or make intentional eye contact with someone else to smile warmly and laugh a little together. But, maybe we should.
When you stop and think about the road you are traveling, whether on foot around the corner or sailing half-way around the world, consider how you choose to beautify the situation. Being generous and curious has its rewards. The human contact you receive in return is a gift that’s like nothing else you’ll ever feel.
Cool people care.
It’s that simple, and you don’t need an “in” like a baby, a commonality, or a shared desire. You just need to show up being willing to choose Social Excellence. You also don’t need an excuse to be authentically and vulnerably you. I have the great fortune of being forced into authentic and vulnerable existence because of many circumstances in my life, but those aside I’d choose to show up this way anyway because it feels good to just be me. I don’t care what people think – I care about how they feel.
This month, thousands of students will walk onto a college campus to start a new year, and I hope that they feel welcomed and loved. I hope they choose to be hosted and do the hosting. I hope they choose to be social and be excellent. As my travels take me to so many sorority chapters and communities, I feel blessed to be on the journey along with my daughter – and I look forward to continuing to practice my craft of Social Excellence wherever my travels take me this Fall!