In slightly more than a week , I take over as Vice-President of Membership Development in the Interfraternity Council here at Northwestern. It’s quite the mouthful, but what it simply means is that together with facilitating philanthropy and encouraging academic excellence, I oversee the general education of the IFC community on the values that we all share. A lot of these are intuitive : brotherhood, respect and service. But I have also been given an opportunity to do something new – I have been given an opportunity to allow the Greek Community to deal with the issues that allegedly only it is plagued with.
I use the word allegedly not because I deny the community has issues to confront. Instead I believe a lot of the issues we face in the Greek community are also shared in varying degrees by others on campus – whether it be in other student organizations or simply informal groups of friends. The focus comes on Greek communities because of the structurally reinforced and popularised exclusivity that is both essential to its identity and yet ideologically divisive. I quote an article I read before (apologies for not knowing which), which stated that the heavy focus on Greek life at Northwestern is like shining a spotlight in a dark room. Issues such as Mental Health, Diversity + Inclusion and Sexual Conduct rear their heads in all parts of campus, including but not exclusive to Greek life. Having established that , I am now able to continue in stating that my burden now is to ensure the Greek community addresses its problems, not simply thinking it is endemic to itself, but in seeing itself as a potential role model for the rest of campus to addressing issues on campus.
There’s a lot of initiatives I’m looking forward to roll out in my office, and I’m excited to work on these with my IFC Exec, Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, PHA and partners on campus. But this isn’t about initiatives; this is about an ideological shift that must happen. For Greek life to become relevant and up to date, it must improve structures that exist and even redefine certain aspects of itself. These are scary words because they suggest discomfort and unfamiliarity , but they are helpful, and more importantly, necessary for the future of Greek life.
Now these are simply ideas – ideas to be debated and improved on. These are but my views alone , not yet presented to anyone else and so must be taken as such. The purpose of this post is to invite discussion and possibly spread these ideas as seeds for others.
One of the most important shifts in our community is towards self-moderation. Currently, the majority of moderation that happens exists in the form of third-party initiated efforts. Although organizations like MARS, MENtal Health and SHAPE are formed with a large proportion of Greek members, the product delivered is always in the form of trainings and workshops to chapters. The work they do is fantastic and an important first step in providing awareness, knowledge and resources to members, but they ultimately fall short of allowing members to own these problems themselves and provide community-initiated solutions. What must support their efforts is a facilitation of continuous discussions between various members of the community (i.e. inter-chapter firesides and roundtables) and implementation of community-wide agreed solutions. This builds ownership of issues by first identifying solidarity across organizations and subsequently a shared responsibility that is emotionally felt. It’s a pedagogical concept that self-motivation drives actions further than external motivation. Just as Northwestern sees itself rife with problems that are inherent to a private university system and yet aspires to internally improve without giving itself up entirely, so must the Greek system see itself as a microcosm of that and strive for self-moderation.
The second big shift I see in being Greek is in embracing interfraternal spirit. The existing structure perpetuates individual excellence at the expense of a community wide ambition for growth. Peripherals such as Yik Yak reinforce stereotypes that are fully capable of being broken, and instead force Greeks into a rat race of maintaining/climbing ranks that distract them from actually achieving collective good. There’s something to be said for healthy competition that pushes each organization to do its best, but the level it is at in this campus prevents organic collaboration between organizations. In other campuses, fraternities support each other at their events in large numbers, and push forward the idea of ‘Greek success’. Perhaps it’s the inherently ambitious nature of a Northwestern student that translates to the excessive competition on campus, but there can be effort to promote more of a ‘Let’s do that together’ attitude instead of a ‘I can’t be seen working with you’ reaction. The recent Drop the Puck on Cancer is a great example of collaboration that should continue and improve on itself. Being Greek is about building lasting bonds, not obsessing over ephemeral concepts such as rankings.
I’ve always been an advocate of community solutions. The people have the ability to improve their own state of lives – all that’s necessary is some simple facilitation and prompting. The Greek community is a community I’ve come to love for the values it embodies – loyalty and fraternity and many more. But as I serve, I must face the realities of our community and identify how we can grow.
Redefining what being Greek means on this campus is due time. I’m sure with the characters on IFC and the commitment of the chapters, we’ll keep Greek life strong and influential for many years to come. There’s something coming.