by Vince Fabra
I have recently been challenged by my own realizations about fraternities and sororities. It’s like when you’re dating someone that you think is great, but then you’re starting to see this other side and you don’t know which to believe. “Am I dating a terrible person?!”
It all started for me with that Alpha Chi Omega “Selfie Situation” at the Arizona Diamondbacks game. Surely, if you’re reading this blog, that story popped up on your news feed or was on your radar in some capacity. Members of Alpha Chi Omega were taking selfies at an Arizona Diamondbacks game, and the announcers made jokes at their expense for ignoring the baseball game and appearing to be obsessed with the picture-taking.
There were far worse things that happened in fraternity/sorority world this year, but there was something about the response to this weird “Selfie Situation” that has really gotten to me.
I feel like fraternities and sororities have become “box checkers.” It seems like our members are often found saying, “Let’s check off service and philanthropy so we can go back to self-serving.”
Here’s what I mean. Back to that Diamondbacks baseball game.
Following this bizarrely popularized incident of picture taking and announcer blabbing, there was a battle of “P.R. Moves” that got under my skin. What upset me was the insincere apology from the Diamondbacks and the just as insincere pivot from Alpha Chi Omega. The Diamondbacks, as a result of backlash from the viral video, issued a public apology to the sorority. They offered the sorority tickets to a future Diamondbacks game (Hey geniuses, this whole thing started because they were bored at your baseball game!).
What the sorority did next was nothing more than a counter-P.R. Move (and a prime example of box checking). Under the guise of sisterhood and service, they took the opportunity to pivot, forego the free tickets, and instead encourage the Diamondbacks to throw some free tickets to the local shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not a monster. I am not upset by sorority women raising awareness about domestic violence. Give the tickets away! That’s great! Thoughtful, even. What I AM upset about is this act being confused with generosity, service, or altruism. THIS WAS PUBLIC RELATIONS! THIS WAS DAMAGE CONTROL! Or at least it seemed that way to me. It seemed like battling P.R. machines trying to out “cool” the opposing side.
In a society where “Scandal,” “How To Get Away With Murder,” and “House of Cards” get great ratings by glorifying the “spin machine,” it’s no wonder we’re all so quick to celebrate a great P.R. pivot. Every person in my news feed that shared that article of Alpha Chi’s P.R. move, said something to the effect of “This is what sorority is really about.” Or “Proud of those girls” etc. People will fall for any story where fraternities and sororities look good, because they so badly want to believe the narrative that our organizations actually make a difference. AND it can be argued that our groups do make a difference, but I am starting to fear that the only reason our groups are inclined to make a difference is to “check the service box”.
Fraternities and sororities are full of these “moves”. We are box-checkers. “Let’s check off service and philanthropy so we can go back to self-serving.”
Lately as I’ve been in a “funk” about fraternity/sorority life, I have struggled to find real examples of genuine service in the fraternal movement. We perform service and focus on others so that we can “tip the scales” back to the argument that says we are good and relevant. OR our service is motivated by competition; the desire to be the “best” “first” “biggest” “raise the most money” “most community service hours”.
“Am I dating a terrible person?” I don’t know. I’m not ready to break up yet. I just want to make sure this thing I’ve spent so much of my career and life on is what it claims to be.
How can we – as professionals, as volunteers, as alumni, as the adults – inspire genuine generosity and authentic altruism in our organizations?
At Phired Up, we believe the key to improving the fraternal movement is recruitment and membership growth; finding the people that are coming to fraternities and sororities with a motivation to serve others. If we fill our rosters with more people who actually wanted to do something good, not just get the ribbon that shows they did something good…
Of course I still have some faith in our groups. But we can’t just check the box. We can’t just spin whatever lazy crap we do on an every day basis to look like something special. We have to actually do something special.
This isn’t about those Alpha Chi women. They were just watching a baseball game and taking some pictures. This also isn’t about you if you celebrated their response to the D-Backs – it was creative. This is about the box checking. This is about the people we NEED in our groups who do good naturally, and don’t need a P.R. agent to fluff their story.