Bloomsburg: Microcosm of a larger problem

This piece was originally written in regard to greek life, healthy numbers of members in an organization, housing problems, and a host of other topics at Bloomsburg University.  This piece specifically mentions and refers to Bloomsburg University (because this is the University I know and understand) but I believe the points contained would be valid in many (if not all) college campuses today.

Bloomsburg University Greek enrollment trends

Greek Life at Bloomsburg University just celebrated it's 50th year.  Over that time period, popularity of greek organizations have fluxuated.  In the not too distant past, putting your greek letters on your resume and mentioning greek affilitation at a job interview was considered a positive career choice.  Participation in a greek organization instantly showed a potential employer, leadership, networking potential and the ability to work as part of a team.  Those days are gone.

Today, most grads hesitate to mention their Greek affilitations on their resumes.  It's an activity to be hidden from employers, instead of celebrated.  Membership today denotes roudy behavior, illegal substances and antisocial behaviors.  

When each chapter has "healthy" numbers: the organizations transform in characteristics and functionality. They can afford good housing, programs and events.  They can make rational decisons from a place of stability, vs rash decisons from a place of panic.  

Some organizations at Bloomsburg have what I would characterize as "healthy numbers", but most do not. Bloomsburg has an uncharacteristically large number of greek organizatons (as compared to other PA State Universities) but many don't have healthy membership (see chart).

Charts of greek organization membership as compared to overall enrollment at Bloomsburg University.

Charts of greek organization membership as compared to overall enrollment at Bloomsburg University.

Effects of weak membership

For example: I was recently dismayed to find out that Delta Pi hasn't had a Banquet in a long time. I just figured they were having them, and not showing me the photos (since that's what I tell them to do). But they haven't been able to get it together, due to low numbers and a brotherhood that is, "not exactly rich" (their words).

Delta Pi is presently the most diverse fraternity on campus. That is a wonderful thing, and it also presents new challenges. Some social / some financial.

I believe that Delta Pi (and many other Bloom fraternities) could benefit from a "white paper" new start in regard to new member programs (Pledging). I think it all starts there. There have been discussions for many years about a completely new program for Delta Pi, but the pressure of "tradition" looms large over many members (even though "traditions" of today, look nothing like the "traditions" of my day. Begging the question: if they are completely different, can we really call them "traditions"? But I digress...

"Sign up" vs. Pledge

Recently at Bloomburg, there has been a debate on the mens side in regard to "signing up" to be in a fraternity, vs. "earning your letters".

Some young men feel that not "earning" letters is an insult to your organization. They feel the more open and inclusive programs of some organizations reduce membership in a fraternity to the equivilent of joining the racketball club. Some folks feel like joining a fraternity needs to be more of an ordeal (like joining the scouts, military or police) to show respect and reverance for the organization.

Problem is, (and I think this happens in Delta Pi), when your new member program is challenging, the new members fixate on the new member program: with no idea that fraternity membership (and the responsibilities contained) are JUST BEGINNING - at the end of the new member program. They have no idea that at the end of the program: they aren't done: they just lined-up at the starting line.  It takes the perspective of an Alumni to see this fact.

Challenge is popular, and can be safe

There is merit in both kinds of new member programs. As an Event Organizer, I know rewarding events can be created, that are still safe. Triathlons, marathons, "mud runs" and other forms of amateaur endurance sports have never been more popular.  Humans desire the experience of pushing themselves to exceed their preconceived perceptions of their limitations.  This experience is how humans grow.  We push to a point that we feel we might break...and then we push through.  This is the process that allows growth and achievement.  It's what makes us feel alive.

Participants can be challenged to elevate their game, without putting them in danger. A program can be enlightened: and still contain elements of severe challenge. And when you do create such a program: each person that completes it, is a better person for doing it, at the end of the program.

Creating such a program is not easy, but the benefits outweigh the investment, and to be part of such an experience is sublime and life changing.

Academia avoids challenge

In today's campus climate of "safe spaces" and "triggered reactions" challenges are considered liabilities, and great lenghts have been taken to make sure each student never is asked to leave their comfort zone.  To challenge a student, is to risk an adverse result.  And we know today, adversity is to be avoided at all costs, for fear of an offended parent and an aggressive lawyer.

Higher education dicTated by risk management lawyers is ruining our children.

As a friend of mine says, "As long as humans value their things, more than they value the next generation, we will continue on a path to mediocrity."

Dishonest Code of Conduct 

Plans for open, safe, challenging new member programs for greeks to the University have repeatedly been submitted for consideration. Each version has been immediately rejected as "hazing". Hazing is very broadly defined as:

"requiring new members to do anything, in order to achieve membership into an organization".

So instead of thoughtfully considering the fact that progressive, well constructed, and challenging programs have been PROVEN in countless studies to improve human achievement and produce better human beings - the University simply dismisses such ground breaking programs under the amorphous umbrella of "hazing"...and they go back to having their heads in the sand. This, as they send their own personelle to "team building" programs - which are the exact same concept.

The Greek Life Office of Bloomsburg University reject innovative programs, knowing full well that this simply pushes many of these programs "underground". It all but forces the students to lie to the University, as greek organizations try to honor "traditions" but also submit benign plans to the Greek Life Office each semester. This foundational disconnect builds a basic mistrust between greek organizations and the Greek Life Office from the very first experience. Where to you think that relationship goes from that kind of beginning?

Realistically assess all current programs

Instead, I'd proposet the the Universtiy adopt a policy of REALISM. Understand the present environment (warts and all), and deal with each situation with REAL, thoughtful initiatives. You might not like what you see after a realistic assessment, but to deny reality, does not change reality: It simply means you are unwilling to deal with real life, on life's terms. You can avoid reality, but you can't avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

To simply deny something is happening and then go back to a solution that fits nicely into a checkbox for a report: is not running an organization - it's just mindless administration - at the peril of the school and the students combined. In my opinion, this is presently how Greek Life is run at Bloomsburg University.

Allow challenging but safe new member programs

All the points above have been made, REPEATEDLY to various parts of the University Administration. Greek Alumni have joined all the right groups and been to all the right meetings for 7+ yeas now. We've reached out to all the right people, but still the mindset remains: fuzzy-happy-feel-good solutions and liability management over thoughtful, realistic consideration of complex issues and progressive solutions that result in better graduates.

Such thoughtful, realistic plans have been created and submitted to the University to try to set a higher bar on the mens side of new member program.

  • Plans that would change the "earn vs. given" membership dynamic that presently exists at Bloom.

  • Plans that would teach new members that fraternity membership is JUST BEGINNING at the end of the new member program.

  • Plans that would teach financial solvency to those coming into organizatons who have never been taught financial solvency before.

  • Plans that show that a greek organization is basically a small business, and if done right: the rewards (like banquets) can be within reach.

But those plans and each of those things are roundly rejected - in favor of the present "check-off the box" kind of admin we see in the Greek Life Office...all of which is based in "plausable deniability" and "risk management" as dictated by the University lawyers.

The danger of ignoring danger signs

Is this really how we want to run a place of higher learning? Put risk management above the students and all else? Haven't other Universities recently found themselves in a TON of trouble, for having such closed door, "circle the wagons for stability" cultures on campus? When you know a problems exists, and fail to address the problems in a realistic and timely manner: can you really be suprised when each little problem eventually becomes a GIANT, DANGEROUS SITUATION?

Most risk management experts agree and advise organizations that problems and challenges are inevitable within an organization.  But the number one way to make those challenges mushroom into organization-destroying, viral catastrophes is to ignore to address those small challenges once brought to the attention of administration.

We have seen this scenario play out repeatedly on the national stage with devastating costs; sometimes including human lives.

Is this how we create great men?

I want my Alma Mater to dare to be exceptional. I want my beloved Bloomsburg to buck the trends that are presently holding back so many institutions of higher learning from actually creating outstanding individuals. I want my favorite State School, to be bold, and trendsetting and allow it's greek organizations some leaway in creating innovative programing that helps each become "healthy" so that the entire greek environment can flourish, and achieve all the great things I see in that kind of human potential housed behind that college on the hill, behind Carver Hall.