Thursday, April 26, 2012

Redefining Excellence

What does it mean to be "Excellent"? Last week as I sat in a community-wide meeting (designed to discuss feedback on See Action, Take Action yet diverted to the conversation about the IFC and Panhellenic President's thoughts on the Zero Tolerance Policy), I considered this very question. Such passion and conviction was in that meeting - from multiple perspectives. Once again I found myself back at the core of excellence... The drive to be there. I received the piece below from one of our Graduate Assistants in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center, Taylor Shramo. The primary focus of Taylor's job this year has been investing in one of our fraternities as an advisor. Pouring in resources, energy, vision, support - all with a desired outcome of Excellence. Enjoy a perspective from a first year law student and alumnus of USD. Cheers!

I would like to start this by saying that I speak from the fraternity point of view, considering that is all I have really had first-hand experience with…

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being very good of its kind or eminently good.”  I spent most of my undergraduate fraternity experience striving for excellence, both from myself and for my organization.  Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But after an evening witnessing the Beta Toast for the first time as an alumnus, something clicked.

Who we are is not defined by what we do.  And when I look back on the achievements of my fraternity, I know that we were excellent not because of the awards and achievements, but because of who we were.  We didn’t strive to do all those community service hours for a requirement, we didn’t achieve the highest GPA for the last 6 out of 7 semesters for recognition.  Hell, we didn’t even act the way we did to win the Dean’s Trophy.  The most we ever did directly towards winning an award was filling out the application.  But this conversation on excellence isn’t about bragging about my fraternity’s accomplishments.

I mention my experiences in fraternity life because it seems like so many organizations and individuals are lost in the Greek community today.  Although “social” in nature, what is a fraternity (or sorority)?  It is a collective of individuals with similar outlooks and aspirations who gather around common fundamentals with a desire to gain brotherhood (or sisterhood), better themselves intellectually and as people, and to gain a unique social experience to augment their collegiate lives.  That is what a Greek organization is all about.  So when you ask someone, what does it mean for a fraternity to be excellent, to be the best?  Sadly the answer (at least at USD) revolves tightly around who throws the best social events and formal.  Who are the people you want to party with? Who has the hottest members?  It is no longer, who are the best individuals, and in regards to the fraternities, who are the most gentlemanly?

Call me old fashioned, but I could care less about the guy who can beer bong 4 beers in under 6 seconds; I am much more concerned with the individual who acts as a gentlemen and strives to achieve the best in himself and those around him. So when squabbles arise over where formal is going to be this semester or whether or not it is going to get canceled because of a zero-tolerance policy, it saddens me to see that the majority of Greek Life only cares about how hard they can rage and how much they can get away with.  Committing 75% of our total budget to social events is how things should be, right? I have no authority to say that group is wrong, but it makes me question.  When a high majority of your money is going to social events and you have more guys in a committee to plan your formal versus how many there are to educate your pledges, or recruit, or take care of finances, what are the priorities?

What kind of motivation is it to join a Greek organization just to drink, party, and go to social events?  That seems like a lot of wasted money considering you can do all those things as an unaffiliated member. I mean the last time I checked, going to Vegas wasn’t limited only to fraternity formals.  On top of that, if you are unaffiliated, you don’t have to worry about the pesky “administration” ruining all your fun with their alleged overbearing and stringent requirements.

I ask all these questions in an effort to better understand why.  People become so up in arms about trivial components of their lifestyles when they should be more concerned with why they make the decisions they make.  Why do we strive to better ourselves?  Why do we desire the bonds associated with these organizations?  Why do we care so much about partying?  What about being in Greek life is really important to me? Why did I join? I believe that when we think about these questions, we might find an answer to the question, “what does it mean to be excellent?”

“Excellence” is a subjective idea.  What may be considered a level of excellence will vary in both subject and degree.  One chapter’s idea of excellence may be raising the most money for their philanthropy, to some holding the best social events, or to others having the best brotherhood (sisterhood).  But at the end of the day, excellence is a combination of all of these.  To be excellent, to be the best, is a culmination of all the different facets of collegiate and Greek life.  This is what was eye opening, it was something I preached and strived for but looking at it now from the outside has illuminated this concept.

Now, in a time when tensions are raised and the bar has been set high, we turn towards finding a way through it.  Aside from really looking into who we are as individuals, members of Greek organizations, and members of a whole Greek community, the answer to finishing out this semester strong and successful comes down to this, how can we exhibit ourselves in a manner worthy of being called, “excellent?”  By holding ourselves and others to a level of excellence, we will continue to push on and grow as strong individuals, organizations, and a community.  

Because at the end of the day, it’s us and those around us that make the difference.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Values Congruence

I heard the most amazing story last week. A student that I have worked with was down at the beach. (That really narrows down who it could be, right? Haha!) She was walking with her friends and she saw a woman who was by herself and struggling. She'd had too much to drink, didn't know her address and had been separated from her friends. The woman was face down on the sidewalk - and about 10 people had just walked by or walked around her. This student stopped and helped. Even when her friends moved on, she stayed. Even when she had to call 911, she waited. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

This life is a test. What do we believe in? Are we willing to act? Are we willing to not be bystanders? All of the work, time, resources that have been put into See Action, Take Action/The Dan Plan are dedicated this this exact line of thought. How do we not sit by and just watch things that we should address? This is a life-long challenge. The need to intervene does not go away after your four years at USD.

Over the course of the next few weeks, our students will be making some decisions about the programming direction and future of our community. We will be grappling with the real question of, "How do we get others to engage in personal responsibility?" We have some work to do... But, we also have some successes we can measure. In the evaluation of SATA, we asked the question, "Why is values congruence important?" Please review these answers for some really insightful comments. Well, and some simply ridiculous ones, too! (You're welcome!)

Why is values congruence important?

  • "If we do not know what we believe in, then we cannot act accordingly. Our values determine the actions we will make. They help us know how we want to be seen by the public and our peers."
  • "Values congruences relates to leadership, the type of person you are, and how others see you. It is important for your values and actions to be congruent in order to be authentic and lead by example."
  • "IDK what this is. sorry. We all need the same values to uphold the same level of standards?"
  • "It unites us all and it makes everything we say carry so much more weight."
  • "You live by what you think is important, therefore not only thinking good, but also doing good."

We keep fighting the good fight because of people like one in my opening story. Sometimes, it does make a difference.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A USD 4 Everyone

So, we made the news some up on the hill this week. USD's PRIDE organization held the first drag show in school history. There was much discussion, debate, discourse, support, and protest for this event... But, that's a different post for a different week. From this event, a movement called AUSD4Everyone emerged.

Stop and think about this for a moment... AUSD4Everyone. Everyone? What does this mean for us in Greek Life? Over the past semester, I have written about the need for a sense of connection, a sense of belonging, the need to recognize the privilege and power we have to create a community that is a place for everyone. This movement is about far more than a drag show. It is about being people that can love and accept each other - even when we disagree. It is about living out true brotherhood and sisterhood. The kind of relationships that say, "Come as you are... No pretense needed."

I believe this sentiment. I work hard to live this sentiment. I encourage others to be open to others. So why is it sometimes so easy to live a life that is more AUSD4EveryoneLikeMe? I was on Twitter the other day and saw several postings from a person in one of the trends I follow. When I clicked on the information profile, here is what came up as their bio: "USD is my life, I may be a bitch but thats only because I can be."

Several things immediately came to mind that I wanted to direct message this person... "Hi, you are not a nice person." or "Hello, you are toxic. Please stop." or "Greetings, USD does not need your kind of attitude." I know, I know... AUSD4Everyone, right? Right! Not just people who think like me, act like me, believe like me. The differences are what makes us beautiful. The differences are what make us stronger. I don't like that this person puts a message out there that she basically doesn't care how she treats people/is perceived. But, that's her place to live that way. I don't have to be her friend, and I don't have to agree. But, if I truly believe in AUSD4Everyone, don't I have to let her be? She may not like that I am a Christian that believes in caring for others as a primary value. USD, our place that we call home, is not just for those that think like us. It is a place of learning, a place of discourse, a place of growth. When we disagree, it does not always mean that one is right and the other is wrong. Stop. Consider that one further... When we disagree, it does not always mean that one is right and the other is wrong.

So, while you may or may not agree with the decisions made around USD's drag show, can we all agree that USD, our community, should be a place for everyone?

It is what I work for. Every single day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Business Casual 101

Many years ago, we had a program at USD entitled: "Does Your Momma Know You're Wearing That?" It was all about what we communicate to the world by how we dress. Last semester I was sitting in a meeting and two students began an exchange about how they were in SLP Dining on a Monday and they thought the train to Las Vegas was leaving. Ooops. This week I have invited a guest author to share some insights from an undergraduate perspective on Business Casual for 2012. While the source can remain anonymous, the sentiments are shared by many. Enjoy!

“What is Business Casual?”
It seems that the answer to this question depends on the person you are talking to. I admit, this question is a difficult one to answer, I mean, there isn’t even a clear definition of “Business Casual” in the infamous Vanderbilt book of etiquette. But, regardless of that, there are a few things that just don’t fly in the realm of this attire.

If we break it down, we know that business attire is composed of slacks, blazers, suit combinations, blouses, etc. We know casual attire to be something that is dressed down and usually comfortable for daily activity. Putting these two together, I am envisioning what we would consider formal business-wear, just a step down. But as I look around the University Center on Monday nights (when most sorority chapters have chapter meeting), I see most women dressing far from this standard.

First, let’s talk about what I call the “San Diego Business Casual.” Many tend to think that a sundress with a cardigan thrown over is somehow transformed into business casual-wear. At the end of the day, however, I don’t think your place of employment would consider this acceptable for the office.

A second combination of what women think is appropriate business casual attire is what I call “Vegas Business Casual.” What I mean by this is tiny dresses with blazers over them, or tight skirts with tights or flats. BREAKING NEWS – something you would wear in Vegas is NEVER appropriate business-wear, even if you try. I’m not sure why women even wear some of this stuff to chapter meeting anyway; you are #1 – sitting (all sorts of body parts can pop out), and #2 - in a room full of women (who are you trying to impress?). I just don’t quite understand why most women think some of these clothing choices are appropriate, basically ever.

A third and final definition of business casual that I see often is what I call, “Lazy Business Casual,” and I admit, I have fallen into this category on a few occasions. For me, this usually happens when I have a long day at school and I rush to meeting after class and I just don’t feel like changing into business attire. What’s the best solution then? Just wear something to school that can cheat the system – it looks business, but it is really just casual. The best examples of this: black jeans, jeggings, fashion forward skirts and dresses, etc. At the end of the day, these clothing choices just aren’t business casual, and we know it, however they are convenient.

Finally a note on shoes: The new trend in heels and pumps is the large platform, and as fun as these shoes are, some of them don’t make the cut when it comes to business casual. If you would wear them out to the club or to a chapter formal – they probably aren’t meant for chapter meeting. Furthermore, most of us know not to commit this business casual crime, but I just have to say it, sandals are a no-no, even if they have a heel strap.

It seems that business casual attire is pretty limited in terms of one’s wardrobe, but this doesn’t mean you must go out and buy all of J. Crew in order to create business casual possibilities. You may need to purchase a high-wasted, business-type skirt, or a pair of slacks, but many of the clothes in your closet can be business casual, as long as you put them together appropriately. On that note, consider any of the appropriate purchases you make to be “wardrobe enhancers.” Especially as you come closer to the real world, these items of clothing will be forever useful for interviews, jobs, and presentations. The requirement of business casual at chapter meeting truly does prepare you for life beyond college.

What to wear (in no particular combination):

What not to wear (as cute as some of these are):