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.