Penn State Greeks’ green shoots

I shared my perspective on Penn State’s fraternities and sororities last month, and it seemed to be well received by many both inside and outside of the Greek life community.

Administrators at Penn State continue to tighten what’s likely a noose around the necks of fraternities and sororities, however, even while the university’s official Office for Greek Life continues to lack any leadership that could serve as liaison between administration and students. In other words, full-time students are being asked to come up with what amounts to a revolution in the cultures of their fraternities and sororities without any vision or direction from Penn State administrators who seem transparently concerned only with the question of legal and reputational liability. But a smaller, less chaotic system of fraternities and sororities might be exactly what’s needed at this time in Penn State’s history.

Two “green shoots” amidst all of this.

First, the “Greek Support” program that fraternity students are trying to launch:

Now more than ever Penn State’s Interfraternity Council is seeking to foster a better relationship with the State College community. The IFC announced it will begin a new platform to work on this relationship: Greek Support.

Basically, anyone in State College who needs some extra man power for a project can request Greek Support for help from fraternity members. The program is not for profit and it’s open to requests from anyone — small businesses, individuals, or other organizations.

If Penn State administrators have any vision for fraternities and sororities, this would be the sort of program to latch onto and promote very aggressively as a unifying force for good through the campus and town communities.

Second, this open letter from Interfraternity leadership to Penn State officials:

We are committed to enacting significant measures to increase safety and enhance accountability throughout our community. We cannot do this alone and need the support of the Penn State family we love so much.

To President Barron: We want to work with you to address critical issues through measures we know are necessary. We are ready to change, but transformation cannot happen without partnership and a willingness to listen to and work with one another. Instead of talking through open letters in the media — it’s disappointing we have to communicate in this manner—meet with us, work with us, and collaborate with us. We are your students, too.

We also need consistent support from the University with a fraternity/sorority life staff focused on the needs of one of the largest Greek communities in the country. We appreciate the support of the current staff, but it is extremely concerning our community has been without a full-time Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life for almost two years. We have one of the least supported communities, not only in the Big 10, but the entire country.

Further, much of what has been tried in the past has been focused on top-down, university-mandated policy or programs. After promising to engage us in critical change conversations, yet again, administrators passed down more edicts without student input. We may have fallen short in the past, but for cultural change to occur, students must be at the core of those efforts through meaningful partnership.

We Are a community of 8,000 students, and inside that community lies the solution. Because we have again been cut out of the process, it will be even harder to create ownership for change.

To the Fraternity/Sorority Community: We need to make real change, and each member must share responsibility in that. We need to work together across chapters and councils and begin to have the difficult dialogue to address the issues of alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual misconduct that plague Penn State. We must take responsibility for our community and can no longer make excuses for bad behavior. …

To Penn State Alumni: We need your help and mentorship. Thank you to those who have supported us and continue to invest in the Penn State fraternity experience. Much has changed over the past decades, but we continue to need active alumni to serve as advisors, coaches and mentors. …

These strike me as genuine and heartfelt words from young Penn Staters desperate for a human (rather than bureaucratic) relationship with their peers and other community members.

Why not take them at their word, and collaborate on a grand vision for Penn State fraternity and sorority life with real deliverables, deadlines, and consequences for failure (including the shuttering of the system), hire the appropriate staff, and then get to work?

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