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Fall 2021(!) Fraternity/Sorority Pros and Volunteers Navigating Another Challenging Semester

Dear Everyone Who Cares About Fraternities and Sororities,

If you’re like me, you’re feeling a weird combination of exhausted and excited. Hopeful and fearful. I’m just happy to have “made it through last year” on one hand, and as I look toward the coming semester I’m already flinching and twitching at what might be coming our way.

It’s not news that we’re about to see one of the most unpredictable fall terms ever. Consider these factors:

  1. A wide range (still) of hybrid, in-person, and virtual experiences at colleges and universities across the continent (and a lot of controversy).
  2. New variants of COVID that threaten unvaccinated populations (as of today, approximately 51% of 18-24 year-olds have been vaccinated).
  3. A group of second-year students with a high need for social interaction and student engagement opportunities. In other words, “2 Freshman Classes” showing up with a high demand for fraternity/sorority life.
  4. Current student leaders who are in positions of significant responsibility in their chapters, but have had a year with nominal leadership development opportunities and who have literally never organized in-person sorority/fraternitiy events or activities.
  5. New and returning students who are craving all the “fun” and “social” experiences they missed out on over the last 18 months and who are likely to engage in high risk behaviors.
  6. A group of incoming students who have come of age during a time of intense social change and who will have a very low tolerance for archaic, exclusive, inequitable organizations that (unless we work very hard to change it) can be seen as obtuse symbols of historic and systemic oppression.
  7. Students (and professionals/volunteers) being 18+ months into social isolation and lacking practice and preparation for effective human connection (everyone got more awkward).
  8. Heavy turnover this past year among campus-based and HQ-based professionals resulting in a brain-drain that will impact our systems, processes, and operations.

I could go on. But the combination of just those 8 factors above are enough to make me shudder. This feels like one of the riskiest semesters in a long time. This feels like one of the most high stakes semesters in a long time. This feels like a time to really prioritize the most important work (and not be distracted by work that doesn’t matter).

So, if you’re a campus-based or HQ-based pro, a volunteer advisor, or an umbrella group leader (or even a student leader)… What should you prioritize going into this semester? 

Here’s my (our) recommendation.

Prioritize Uplifting Student Leaders: Many professionals and volunteers did a great job of leaning into the human aspect of our job last year. Don’t stop. See these students as HEROES! These leaders raised their hand in the middle of a global pandemic and volunteered to do this work. Give them grace and love.

Prioritize The Pre-Member Experience: People learn more about what it means to be a fraternity/sorority member before they join than at any other time. Start blasting your marketing channels with “Here’s what a sorority/fraternity member actually is,” teach chapter leaders about the importance of healthy & inclusive membership selection, think about the messages every event, activity, and interaction is sending to pre-members. We will win or lose this upcoming school year (as a fraternity/sorority industry) by the way we bring people into our chapters (and by who we allow in). Those new members will define what we are for the next several years. Let’s help chapters find mature, inclusive, healthy new members who can handle the responsibility of membership.

Prioritize Digital Inclusion: Recruitment and Pre-intake happens digitally now. “Hybrid recruitment” is not a thing. We do things online and in-person now. Forever. Chapters have to be able to manage and track their relationships. Everyone has to be able to do smart digital marketing and inbound leads generation. FaceTime, Zoom, DMs, Texts, Discord… these are all standard now. None of that is novel anymore. And these sentences will be outdated in a couple of months because of new tech. This is just how we live life, so it’s definitely how we have to recruit. Oh, and students will (probably forever) have a blended sorority/fraternity experience. No longer is the entirety of Greek Life happening in houses, student unions or apartments. We exist in the cloud now too, so we have to plan for it and include the students who prefer it.

Prioritize Simplicity: Do not overcomplicate things this semester. It might be tempting to regulate and control (because everything has felt so irregular and out of control). Don’t. Just mostly stay out of the way. Rules, regulations, sanctions, and policies will suck the hope out of these student’s hearts so fast. Trust them. Believe in them and show it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Create opportunities for human connection, help everyone be clear about “what is the actual point of fraternity/sorority,” and then just be helpful.

Prioritize Advisors: Volunteer advisors are probably feeling really lost right now. In the aftermath of trying to keep their own life on track during the last year or so, they’ve probably lost a little ground in their work supporting chapters. Send them this and this today as a little gift to get started. But also try to connect with them (and connect them together) as humans. They are big time heroes through all of this too.

Prioritize Industry Relationships: We have to reconnect as an industry of professionals and volunteers. We have to befriend each other again. We have to see each other as humans (not abstractions). It’s been a long time since we gathered (in-person) at an AFA, AFLV, SGLA, NGLA, CGLC, PFA, FEA, NPC, NIC, GROWTH SUMMIT or other industry conference/meeting. We’ve lost a lot as an industry without those hallway conversations. Our field always has high turnover, but this year has been even worse. And leading up to the pandemic the divide between HQs and Campuses was at its worst (by far) in the last several decades. One of the things that makes fraternity/sorority able to persist in a modern world is our network of real people who collaborate and support each other. We’ll have to do some work to rebuild that network this year.

Stay Healthy! And Stay Phired Up!

-Matt Mattson, President