Reflections of 2017: A New Year, A New Start
On December 4th , 2017, an article from U.S. News and World Report titled, “Is Greek Life Worth Saving?” highlighted events such as Timothy Piazza’s death at Penn State, a hazing ritual that occurred at Louisiana State University, and students who were found unresponsive at Florida State University and Texas State University, the morning after parties occurred. The article also detailed the suspension of events in seven different fraternity/sorority communities in November alone. What the article didn’t cover is the countless other tragedies that occurred in fraternity/sorority communities across the nation that did not receive national attention.
It can be healthy to look introspectively and call into question the work we do and what part are we playing in the national message that others view. The past is not something that can be changed; however, it is certainly something that each of us can learn from. So in this new year, one full of new beginnings, what are the things we should be reflecting on personally in our work? How about collectively from a national lens?
Although I am able to recall many personal highs and lows from working in the field, I must also take into account the national message being shown in a time where the value of our work is questioned daily. I do not personally know the intimate details of the individual circumstances of those highlighted above, and I certainly will not attempt to speak on them. Yet, I think it is important to ask yourself – what could I be doing to prevent such instances from occurring on my campus?
Applying this same question to myself, I wonder, “Am I showing my students that it is okay to be vulnerable?” Maybe this is not the first question on your mind, or maybe it is; however, bear with me here. In a field where we inundate our students with policies, procedures, rules, and regulations that they must follow, or bog them down with structure and routine, have we established a generation of students that don’t know how to be vulnerable?
Vulnerability is the ability to sit in discomfort when you ask for help; the possibility of being exposed to a state of contempt when something is off and brought to the forefront of attention; the feeling of speaking up and stepping out, knowing that emotionally you are left in the open for ridicule, shame, or criticism.
As professionals, we work with a generation of students that prefer to speak via text and avoid confrontation at all cost. How can we blame them for not knowing how to step into a space of vulnerability and speak out against peers during moments of crisis?
Many student affairs professionals are taught the basic fundamentals of groupthink – the concept that the more voices in a room, the less likely action will occur. Apply this to fraternity/sorority communities, and I believe it is exacerbated, as it is often even more difficult to stand up to peers because of the perceived possibility of lost friendships or alienation. Rather than solely focusing on the policies and procedures of crisis prevention (which don’t mishear me on their importance), maybe we should also be teaching our students what it means to be vulnerable. If we can teach students the importance of vulnerability and help them empower their voice, then in instances of crisis, tough decisions may be called with resolve.
As professionals, we are often forced to focus on the policy education rather than emotional implication of standing up to peers. While students might be able to recognize the duality of what a policy is, the challenge of standing up for what is right is often greater. I believe the difference between life and death is not always the knowledge of the policies in place to prevent such instances, but rather the ability to bear the weight of responsibility once a decision is made. What I propose is we not only educate on policy, but we educate on the emotional vulnerability needed to stand up to and for peers.
Don’t allow past tragedies to define us or our community. Instead, let it be how we, as professionals, respond in the aftermath of a crisis be what defines us. Examine what vulnerability means and how we can instill courage in our students to make tough decisions. Let’s collectively, as a community, pick up the pieces from 2017 and learn from past mistakes in an attempt to ensure that we are constantly striving to do and be better as our founding members intended.
Camera, L. (2017, December 4). Is Greek Life Worth Saving. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved January 5, 2018, from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2017-12- 04/is-greek- life-worth- saving