A lot of you, our campus partners, have asked for “the NIC’s position on system-wide actions” since several communities have recently resorted to various forms of blanket actions.
First and foremost–we agree student safety must be our top priority. We also agree we need to hold students accountable for not meeting our shared expectations.
As we talk about advancing communities, I think it’s important for everyone to understand the fundamental assumptions that guided the development of the NIC’s Vision for Fraternity Communities:
- There is no silver bullet: If there was one solution to fix negative aspects of campus cultures, it would have been done by now. Complex problems require multiple strategies working in coordination over a sustained period to foster dramatic change.
- Collaboration fosters commitment: A top-down strategy of issuing a bunch of new policies without buy-in isn’t going to move the needle. Engaging stakeholders in solutions that impact their lives fosters the commitment required for authentic change.
- Global strategy, local tactics: Each campus requires customized solutions that align with the industry’s direction and its unique environment.
- One block at a time: Campus cultural change will not happen overnight. Each campus needs an intentional, phased approach that moves its local culture in a positive direction.
So, here is why the NIC opposes blanket community actions:
- It disincentivizes following the rules and taking care of each other, since responsible students are treated just like their peers causing problems.
- It undermines efforts for students to self-report problems since doing so will negatively affect a broad group of students not related to the misconduct.
- It advances the narrative among students and alumni that “the school is out to get rid of fraternities.” We know that’s not true, but it is hard to counter it when the community’s activities are shut down over the actions of a few.
- It erodes trust between campus partners and students, alumni and inter/national organizations, because these actions come off as unilateral, lacking basic principles of due process.
- Too much energy is wasted dealing with the predictable media over-reaction, trying to figure out who did what, and rebuilding strained relationships among those unfairly and negatively impacted by system-wide action.
- We need to focus on proactively building healthy communities where students effectively govern themselves, establishing and practicing leadership prior to a crisis. Educational and compliance requirements often put in place during a blanket action should be consistently applied well before any incident.
I also understand the reality that doing nothing when a tragedy has occurred or a pattern of problems has emerged isn’t a good option either. The NIC will continue to work with interfraternal partners and the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) in the coming months to finalize industry guidelines for all parties should collective response be necessary.
With that in mind, here are some recommended steps for a campus should community-wide action need to be taken:
- If an incident happens, engage the Council leadership immediately to help them understand the gravity of the situation. Challenge them to take ownership, so they feel empowered–not forced–to make change. The rest of the community will respond better to change led by its elected peers.
- Engage the fraternity’s HQ and alumni right away. Yes, they may not be on the same page with you immediately, but trust me, collaborating with them from the start is worth the investment in the long-run. And if the HQ doesn’t call you back, let us know, as responsiveness is an NIC Standard adopted as a part of NIC 2.0.
- Call the NIC team. We are uniquely positioned to garner support from inter/national organization partners in your time of need. Our members are invested in your community’s health and want to do as much as they can to support it.
- If these steps don’t work, keep any blanket action imposed by the administration to a very limited time, and focus on resetting and/or clarifying expectations with student and alumni leaders. This should be done within a 10-day period to minimize unintended negative consequences outlined above. If students continue to not meet expectations following this period, hold them accountable and share the outcome in a public manner to further deter bad behavior. Better yet, involve students in the accountability process so they take ownership in the community’s standards!
I know that often blanket actions are being demanded by senior-level administrators even though you might be advocating for another solution. Here are some suggestions on how to handle this dynamic:
- Engage them in the proactive development of the community before the incident happens. They will be far more likely to trust your judgement and believe that student and alumni leaders are truly invested in moving the community forward.
- Establish response protocols before the incident. Make sure everyone up and down the chain of command understands how these stressful situations will be handled should something happen. Run practice drills with your staff, student and alumni leaders, so they are prepared should a crisis happen.
- If the first two don’t work, ask for them to speak with one of our team members. We will advocate for you by providing context for how other campus partners have handled similar situations by empowering, not disenfranchising, student and alumni leaders.
We remain committed to supporting your community. Your students are our members, and we all want to provide them a healthy, safe and positive fraternal experience. We know advancing communities takes strong partnerships, and we stand ready to assist you.
Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.
Judson A. Horras
NIC President and CEO
North-American Interfraternity Conference, Inc.