There are a number of member development practices that you may see in other fraternities on your campus. While many of these activities are well-intentioned, they can encourage hazing and lead to harmful behaviors that will damage your chapter.
From the earliest days of SigEp, our Founders knew that our Fraternity would be different. Your chapter should be attracting men who are not afraid to stand out from other fraternities and who aren’t satisfied with “business as usual.”
The Balanced Man Program is an important part of our unique framework. It is important to strike a balance in your BMP challenges—you must challenge your members to grow while steering far away from endangering their psychological or physical health.
This article provides seven ways that you can avoid the pitfalls of some potentially harmful member development practices and harness them to grow your BMP to foster camaraderie, leadership and positive values in your members.
1. Rethink your new member interviews.
Intent: Integrate new members into your chapter socially; build relationships among brothers.
Common pitfalls: This can provide an opportunity for older members to abuse power and haze new members by requiring a signature or approval or forcing them to commit superficial and unnecessary facts to memory (see #2). For larger chapters, this also takes a huge amount of time and can lead to conversations that are merely surface level.
– Throughout the term that new members join, hold a series of events that provide opportunities for both fun and interaction, focused specifically on getting older members to know new members (brotherhood bowling, Monday Night Football watch parties, poker night, etc.).
– Create joint challenge meetings and activities involving different challenges that allow participants to interact with more brothers outside of their current challenge.
– Set clear expectations for what interactions between new and older members should be. Include getting to know the new members on a personal level.
2. Help new members learn, not regurgitate.
Intent: Teach new members important information about their Fraternity and campus that will help them be successful and contribute to their chapter and community.
Common pitfalls: New members are often required to learn large amounts of information in a short period of time. This turns into elementary school-like memorization that focuses heavily on repetition and useless testing. It emphasizes surface-level content that is seldom retained. Poor performance can cause frustration and distress – and at the end of the day, rote memorization diminishes understanding of key concepts.
– You and your chapter brothers are students at an institution of higher education. Foster interactive learning, using techniques that are embraced by college-level educators everywhere. Break the challenge participants up into multiple groups and assign them a certain topic to research. Allow them to present to the rest of the Sigma Challenge members or the entire chapter on the information they learned. Give groups different topics throughout the semester and allow them to dive into the history of SigEp and your campus on their own. Split up the workload throughout the term. This will ensure your new members actually retain the information.
– Give a Greek community tour. Have challenge coordinators lead a walking tour around your campus. You can also coordinate to have an executive member from each other chapter come give a brief presentation about their organization.
3. Build a holistic Sound Body curriculum.
Intent: Help new members understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle by balancing exercise and nourishment.
Common pitfalls: The sound body ideal does not mean that new members are forced to do extensive physical activities that aren’t safe and don’t promote a healthy lifestyle. Unhealthy habits, especially when they’re reinforced by a new member’s chapter brothers, can last a lifetime.
– Provide new members with a variety of opportunities to build a sound body including intramurals or pickup games, matching with a workout partner, etc.
– Host an event with a community nutritionist/physical trainer to provide guidance and activities to promote healthy exercise and nutrition.
– Attend a certified exercise class as a group at your school or community gym.
4. Dress for success, not to differentiate.
Intent: Promote respect for various people and events by dressing formally; teach wardrobe etiquette that is important life knowledge.
Common pitfalls: Dress expectations aren’t carried over to the older members, which is illogical in a single-tiered membership system.
– Host a seminar on dressing for success, led by a knowledgeable brother or alumnus. Provide both the “why” and the “how” to dressing professionally.
– Recognize that if a meeting is important enough for new members to be dressed formally, older members should too. Ensure that the same responsibility and expectations are placed on all brothers.
5. Treat all members equally—allow all brothers to wear the Fraternity’s letters.
Intent: Ensure members are “always wearing their letters,” acting in accordance with the principles we all share.
Common pitfalls: There can be a perceived difference between new and old members that promotes tiered membership and hazing. When new members are denied certain privileges of brotherhood, such as wearing the Fraternity’s letters, it directly conflicts with the philosophy of the BMP and doesn’t promote the value of living out our fraternal values at all times.
– Ensure that all new members take part in a Ritual study immediately following the completion of the Sigma Rite of Passage.
– At an early Sigma Challenge meeting, discuss the importance of acting in accordance with our fraternal values and ensure that all new members are aware of and commit to expectations of membership.
– Continually provide education on the meaning and importance of our Greek letters for all brothers throughout their time in the chapter. Stress the fact that they are “always wearing their letters” and should behave accordingly.
6. Don’t assign your new members only to risk management duty.
Intent: New members gain exposure to all areas of the chapter leadership’s responsibilities, including but not limited to risk management within a chapter and how to navigate tough conversations.
Common pitfalls: Chapters can assign new members exclusively to risk management teams. This directly pits younger members against older ones in an environment that can already be prone to high levels of risk. Often, new members don’t have the training or experience to handle situations that may escalate out of control, which creates a higher amount of risk for all present. It also does not give new members exposure to other areas of the chapter’s operations.
– Find avenues to train new members outside of exclusively serving on risk management duty. Bring in risk management experts to speak and hold discussions on why we follow risk management policies.
– Have members of the Sigma Challenge work with the programming committee to plan a function, complete with an in-depth risk management strategy. This gives them leadership experience and ownership of an event rather than a limited perspective.
7. Effectively schedule and plan community service events.
Intent: Allow new members to work together and plan an event, practice project management skills and provide service to the community.
Common pitfalls: Planning these events can be procrastinated, leading to few good opportunities for service learning events. This can sometimes result in new members being required to clean the chapter’s or other members’ yards or houses. This becomes servitude, isolated from other brothers under the guise of service.
– Set tangible deadlines for when to have initial contact with service organizations. Discuss in advance some potential times for the entire group of brothers to work together and provide options for different organizations to collaborate with. –
– Work with your local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency or college/university center for community engagement to develop an event for brothers to participate in.
In addition to these suggestions, ensure that you work with your chapter to assess the “why” behind all of your activities. If you can’t clearly define the value of an activity and aren’t confident in knowing that an activity is not hazing, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Find another way to accomplish good outcomes without putting yourself, your brothers or your chapter at risk.
For more ideas on development activities, reach out your regional director and check out the Balanced Man Program Implementation page, where you can find challenge databases with hundreds of activities that may be effective for your chapter.