Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hugging The Cactus: Where Forgiveness Begins

I recently saw this video clip and was moved by it in a significant way.  Robert Downey Jr received an America Cinematheque Award and made a plea.  It is only 2 minutes long, so take a moment and click here to watch the video:
Robert Downey Jr on behalf of Mel Gibson

Is this how you approach life? When things go wrong, do you take responsibility? Have you "embraced that part of your soul that is ugly"? I have found that when I do, I am more at peace.  Perhaps not in the immediate, but in the long term.

More often than I would like, it is a challenge to say those 3 little words...  "I was wrong." I know this is difficult for me to say, but also shocking to others to hear. I have engaged in conversations with students where I have muttered, stated, and confessed that oh so difficult message. What have I been met with? Shock, mostly. It is so contrary to the way we live. Expressing perfection, never waivering on being right...  This is the American way.  Right? In most interactions with students, I have the authority and power. Why would I chose to lower myself by admitting I was wrong?  Well, maybe because it was the right thing to do...

I once had a meeting with a chapter president who shared with me his experience of being told by his chapter that his attitude was off. Members had told him that he had been rude and ill tempered in running a specific meeting.  They told him that he had been impatient and mean spirited. I was expecting his next sentence to be one of indignation - one crying out, "They don't appreciate me."  Instead, he told me, "They were right.  I was a total %*@$. I remember that meeting and I did everything they accused me of doing." In that moment, he demonstrated to me that he was a man of humility.  And, for him, that self-awareness and the ability to recognize that he was wrong allowed him to grow.  Or, as Robert Downey, Jr. said it, "...Life would take on new meaning."

Over the last month, the men of Delta Tau Delta have visited our sorority meetings to acknowledge the mistakes they've made in the past and apologize.  Honestly, to work to reconcile with the community. Members are in different places in accepting that apology - and that is fine. But, I can't help but be proud of them for trying. This is a real-time example of where forgiveness begins. They have "hugged the cactus", or are trying. This is the beginning of forgiveness and healing.  This is where our community shows our mettle. This is where we model for those that don't live the values of fraternity and sorority life what it means to work through challenge and come out strong.

Nicely done.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Being Gay and Greek - Part 1

In college, I had a friend come out to me.  He had shared that he was gay with his fraternity the week before and wanted me to know. We were walking across the parking lot next to Zura Hall when he told me.  It was a regular evening, probably following some student leadership meeting.  What I remember most was how he ended his prepared statement.  It ended with, "So... " It instantly hit me that he was asking if we were still going to be friends. I hugged him, thanked him for sharing with me, and assured him that we were still going to be best pals.

A few years ago I received an email from an alumnus just catching up. In the midst of it, he shared about his partner and how he had found a real sense of who he was. He was kind enough to let me ask...  "Was sexual orientation something that you were questioning during your time at USD?" His response gave me a lot to think about.  He shared that he had chosen to keep busy (4.0, president of his chapter, IFC Exec officer) rather than think about who he was and who he wanted to be. He also shared that having someone really ask how he was doing may have helped him to start thinking about his identity earlier.

More than a decade ago, one of our students wrote a chapter in the book, Out On Fraternity Row. In his chapter, he shares, "Many of the events that happen are geared for straight couples, thus it would seem out of place at something like a date dash to have two guys there together.  Why does that have to be?"

So, I find us at a place of discussion and conversation. We have a need in our community for us to tell members that they're OK just as they are - not with some mask that they wear. This is true in many facets of our experience, but especially for sexual orientation/identity. So, how do we create that reality?  How do we make ours an environment where women and men are respected, welcomed and embraced?

It is this, and yet it is so much more. Do our sisters and brothers know that we've got their back?  That we would stop anyone who tried to hurt them - either physically or emotionally? Do they feel comfortable bringing their partner to a social event? As I have informally surveyed people, the response has been a confident, "yes".  The confused face comes when I then ask, "Well, do they actually bring them?" Then, the realization hits.  "No, they don't."


I invite you to engage in this conversation: with me (; via comments below; with each other.

...To Be Continued...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

IFC & Panhellenic Elections: Leading the Fraternity and Sorority Community

Believe it or not, it's time for IFC and Panhellenic elections.  The time when our organizations select the very best to lead our governing Councils.  It's hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since I decided to run.  The first time, it was on a whim.  I was the Vice President, Finance for my sorority.  I put my application in to serve as the Panhellenic Association Treasurer.  I won (I was told) because my sorority used a computer program to track their finances. The second time was a little more intentional.  I was elected President.  I was leading the largest student organization on campus.  And, there I was at 20 years old...  Ready to take it on. Serving as a Panhellenic Executive Board officer was life changing for me.  I worked with chapter leadership. The best of the best. Unlike the positions I held in my chapter, our focus was on the bigger picture. I mean, sure, we spent time talking about embroidered shirts vs silk screen and we had a rotating award called "Primate of the Week" where the winner received a xerox of a monkey from a book someone had purchased.  But, all in all - we were looking out for 1500+ women and making our experience stronger.

Thank the Maker for Facebook...  Over the past 2 weeks, I reached out to alumni/alumnae that have served as IFC & Panhellenic Exec here at USD to find out WHY THEY DID IT and WHAT THEY GOT FROM IT.  The responses were mixed between men and women, as well as from a variety of years.  Here's what they said:
  • I initially applied for the leadership experience and admittedly because my chapter really wanted someone to be on it to represent us. I re-applied my junior year because I had learned so much about myself and the community my first year, I knew the second year would be just as great. ...I wanted to make changes that would benefit the whole sorority community as well as the campus community.
  • I learned the importance of looking at the bigger picture of things. Choosing a t-shirt color and an event theme seemed like such a big deal, when in reality, the privilege to wear my organization's letters and the opportunity to build sisterhood were much more important. 
  • I learned that being Greek is more important than being Kappa. To any non-Greek, the letters don't differentiate who is a part of which organization, but rather they just group us all together. What I do in my everyday life, how I treat others, and how I behave in public places do not just reflect poorly on my Greek organization, but every Greek organization. 
  • I also learned the importance of asking "why" in talking to others. Arbitrary rules are kind of annoying and can be frustrating- but if I explained why the rule was created, I found that it was often easier to get support in following them. 
  • I gained a lot of Panhellenic sisterhood, ...a support system that I needed sometimes more than I realized, and a lot more confidence- Panhellenic gave me a voice that I'm not sure I would have ever found on my own.  
  • ... I saw a bigger picture, that my chapter wouldn't be present on our campus if it wasn't for the greater organization that oversaw it, Panhellenic. And if I served on Panhellenic, I would be continuing the ability for other woman to connect to USD and other liked-minded women who strive for similar ideals as myself. 
  • Panhellenic offers you a unique opportunity to serve with men and women from all chapters, and for me, sisterhood wasn't only with my only direct sisters, but with every woman who wore Greek letters. 
  • It excited me to work with the leaders of every chapter, as opposed to the duds or checked out... We're only as strong as our weakest link, so what better chance to build the Greek community than from the inside on PHC or IFC. 
  • I joined Panhellenic because I believed very strongly in the five core values of the USD Greek community, especially the notion of social justice and selfless service.  I realized that if I wanted Greek Life to be better then I had to take an active role within the community and try to create positive, sustainable change. I gained lifelong friends and created connections with so many amazing women and men around campus because of my position as Panhellenic President. I grew so much as a leader and learned the importance of not only believing, but living and voicing your values.  
  • I think it's a certain caliber of men and women who join PHC and IFC. ...They're willing to give more of themselves, and without knowing if they'll be rewarded - which they are, INFINITELY so, through helping others! 
  • I gained more experience in twelve months in this leadership role than I did sitting inside any collegiate classroom. Panhellenic prepared me for the "real world" where I was immediately able to conduct meetings, plan events, negotiate and compromise. You cannot learn what Panhellenic teaches you from a textbook. 
  • The two best decisions I ever made at USD were to study abroad and to join Panhellenic. Not only did I get to become a leader that everyone recognized, but I also saw myself transform into someone I was proud of. 
  • Skills I developed through PHC are things I'm able to use now in my post-grad years; managing large groups of people (helloooo 600 women during Recruitment!), budgeting finances and keeping to deadlines, to name a few.
  • For me, I knew that I loved the brotherhood which came from being a part of my chapter in USD's Greek Life, and that was truly what made me want that for everyone. We all found our place within the community, but I wanted more: I wanted to get the word out to all the prospective new members that Greek Life is and can be for everyone, not just for the stereotypical "frat boy". 
  • Holding officer positions in both my chapter and in Exec made me realize that I didn't have to try and make my chapter the best; Seeing we each are the best in our own ways afforded me the opportunity to openly realize that, appreciate my fellow brothers and sisters in Greek Life, and to expose as many people as possible to the amazing opportunities which we as a community can offer. 
  • Hanging out with people I had grown so close to from every different chapter made me feel a part of something bigger than just the 90 active members of LXA. I was able to expand upon my leadership potential, become further entrenched in USD itself, and truly find out what it is to be a servant leader
  • (I am)... a more self-aware and better person in my professional career.  (I was told) (we) live in a glass house.  (Meaning)...we've all been there-you're not alone in this...and people who look at you and up to you know that they can strive for better.
  • Joining IFC was an opportunity to learn more about Greek life, to challenge myself as a leader, and to collaborate with and learn from other chapters and their organizations. As an executive officer, it was a unique opportunity to see and experience Greek life differently. I found that the Greek councils create, foster and inspire community …and have fun while doing so!
  • It certainly broadened my outlook on the Greek community, and made me realize we all joined our separate organizations for the same reason. It allowed me to see the Greek community as one cohesive unit. Some of my favorite memories were creating special bonds with such a motivated, strong, smart group of folks from each group – it was like the “All-Star” team, and I like to think we all learned something from one another.
  • Before I applied to PH Exec. I was a member of a wonderful Greek Organization - but not truly a member of the Greek Community. PH allowed me to interact with other chapters on a deeper level and become familiar with all of their foundations - from their charities to their overall missions.
  • I realized how powerful the Greek Community can be when it acts together for a cause. Working with St. Jude Children's Hospital was an extra bonus as it was the experience of a lifetime to actually fly out to Memphis and see what all of our hard work was helping to achieve.
  • Some of my fondest memories from undergrad were at leadership retreats and ropes courses for sigma rho chis... etc. When I look back, I was a member of AXO, but just as much, I was a member of the USD Greek Community. 
  • I learned to build relationships across different groups, which is a skill that I still use today in my career.
  • Greek gov't not only allowed Greeks... to share ideas between each chapter, but gave "us" (the Greeks) a chance to have an active voice on campus! 
  • I have always been extremely involved and sought out leadership opportunities. I originally decided to apply for an executive position on Panhellenic, because my own sorority emphasized the importance of each chapter being represented on the council, and I wanted to be that woman for mine. While I originally joined out of love for my chapter, what I learned was respect for the entire Greek community. 
  • During my time on Panhellenic, I became best friends with women from other chapters and also call them my sisters.
Applications are available online.  Panhellenic Exec Application and IFC Exec Information

Consider it.  What can you give?  What can you gain?  The community needs you - maybe even more than you know.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being an Innovator

As I sat down at my MacBook on Wednesday night to finish the edits to my post for this week about running for IFC and Panhellenic Executive Board positions, I opened Facebook and saw that my entire newsfeed was posts about the loss of Steve Jobs.  Today the world lost a man that was a powerful symbol of creativity and innovation. For this generation (today's University students), Steve Jobs work has influenced and shaped our world through his passion and his vision for change, perhaps more than any other.

I want to be an innovator.  I want to be a person that views the world, sees a way to make it better, and seeks out ways to make that change a reality.  It is with complete confidence that I state that I will never be "famous" to anyone but my mom, but how can I be a person that sees opportunity in every moment? How can I be a person that does great work? I saw this quotation and knew I had to share it:

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do."
~Steve Jobs

I am satisfied. My work is to provide opportunities for young men and women to learn and grow. It is great work. I love what I do - and it gets better each and every year.  The opportunity for me to make a difference is right before me.  Just like it is right before you. Who will you be?  What will you do?

I wonder what would happen if we all lived this was true?  Instead of complaining that "the administration" was changing all of the things you liked, what if you brought a new idea to the community? What if, in the absence of the leadership you hope for and desire, you stepped up and changed the way we do business? What if... you risked it all and were truly great?