by Matt Mattson
I posted something on Twitter last week that read, “Maybe we should replace the idea of ‘high quality’ new members with ‘low-risk/high-reward’ members. How do you select only the best?”
Of course, I thought this was both obvious and brilliant. I think these things about my Tweets. But it turns out not everyone on Twitter always agrees with me. This time though, I wasn’t getting trolled. Instead, a smart higher education professional engaged me in some thoughtful dialogue. LOVE IT!
Shannon McKechnie (@s_mckechnie) tweeted back at me, “I disagree – Our organizations should welcome all, celebrate diversity of experience and challenge all to grow.” and “We shouldn’t be creating an even deeper culture of exclusivity among collegiate leaders.”
I love conversations that challenge my assumptions and make me think. Even (especially!) when they happen within 140 character statements. Kudos to Shannon for offering a strong opinion. I think her point of view is not only valid and important, but reflected a blind spot in my point of view. I don’t think we necessarily disagree though.
As she and I discussed further via DM, I believe that fraternities and sororities can be both inclusive and selective at the same time. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. That’s not something I teach often though, and Shannon pushed me to consider how to do that better.
Fraternity/sorority members should be both INTENSELY SELECTIVE and INTENTIONALLY INCLUSIVE when selecting members, in my opinion.
By “selective,” I mean they should have clear, written, objective, values-based selection criteria they use to determine eligibility for membership. Some groups have this; most don’t.
By “inclusive,” I mean they should consider the obstacles to membership that might exist (probably exist) for certain groups of students on their campus — consider those of different race, different native language, different ability, different religious and cultural experiences, different sex/gender/sexuality identification, different socioeconomic background, different mental health challenges, and so on.
Once those obstacles are identified, many chapter leaders will be interested in exploring ways to remove those obstacles. Although, many obstacles will likely be complex and difficult.
This is an important area of education for student affairs professionals to explore. I know many are.
Here’s my basic belief: Fraternities and sororities are membership organizations. Membership organizations are made of members. Therefore the quality of your organization is directly correlated to the QUALITY of the members you bring in. I don’t think it’s very easy to make a great organization out of mediocre parts. Prospective members should be evaluated on the choices they’ve made. We have WAY too risky groups of women and men (mostly men) within our Greek fold. Fraternities and sororities should work hard to reduce risk early (prior to pledging or any level of membership). We can evaluate choices (to reduce risk) while still being fully inclusive. Greek Life is not, in my opinion, for everyone. We’ve allowed our chapters to be built from weak bricks for too long. This is the root of our cultural challenges within the fraternal movement.
All this is to say, KUDOS to Shannon. Let’s all continue to engage with each other in conversations that matter about fraternity/sorority life. Turns out, I think Shannon and I at least partially agree on a complex topic (not to speak for her). At the very least, I know that I’ve learned from her civil retort and continued discussion.