The North-American Interfraternity Conference is a trade association for more than 75 international and national men’s fraternities, and offers a variety of leadership programs for students who want to engage in values-based leadership development experiences. UIFI, or the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute, has consistently offered a transformational five-day experience to men and women in fraternities and sororities. Sessions are held throughout the Summer, and involve an intentional curriculum rooted in making our rituals and values actionable and real to the members of our organizations. This Summer, Tri Sigma women, because of the support of the Tri Sigma Foundation, have attended UIFI. You will be pleased to discover that the impacts of this experience support the larger commitments of our organization. We’re happy to share the powerful thoughts of Meghan Jongsma, Epsilon Eta – East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.
You. Act. Now. The central theme of this year’s UIFI. When I arrived at the Alpha Omicron Pi house at Indiana University with the rest of the participants on Day 1, we saw the catchphrase plastered on the covers of our workbooks, and scrawled out across the walls on large sheets of paper. The meaning of this vague phrase was the last thing on my mind. All I could think about was how beautiful this mansion was, and how desperately I wished we could have a Greek Row on my campus back in Pennsylvania. Hallways lined with chapter composites, chandeliers hanging from every ceiling, a personal chef…my own small Greek community suddenly felt inadequate by comparison- like I was a toddler dressing up in mommy’s high heels.
However, over the next five days, I realized none of that matters. All 70 of us had come from different walks of life- different organizations, different states, holding different positions within our chapters- but we all came with the same goal in mind. We all wanted to get back to the ritual. Our ritual is what separates us from any other club. Our ritual is what separates sisterhood from friendship. Our ritual is why we’re here. And yet, for many chapters, ritual is not a top priority. T-shirts, formals, and Greek Week are what matter most in modern Greek life. They are what we use to recruit and what we use to build sisterhood. We have forgotten our purpose. We have forgotten the path those eight women set out for us 114 years ago.
So how do we get back on that path? How do I help my chapter get their “Sigma sparkle” back? You. Act. Now. The time has come to stop sitting around, wishing things were different, and actually stand up and make a change. The time is now. It’s time for a revolution. This urgency was never clearer than on the second night of the Institute. All the participants and facilitators were placed into two groups and told we were going to have a debate and everyone on both teams must formulate their own two-minute argument based on their own personal experiences. Ten of us were chosen to be the judges, and told they were to be non-biased and listen honestly to the arguments. Then, our topic was announced. “Do fraternities and sororities contribute to the success and development of today’s college students?”
After being told that I was on the con side, I panicked over the task set before me. Formulate an argument based on my own experiences for why Greek life is bad? I can’t do that, I love Greek life. My experiences have been positive. I wrote a short blurb about my chapter’s recent scholastic troubles and awaited my turn to speak, already feeling sure that I was on the losing side. The members of the pro side spoke about philanthropy, networking, leadership, and camaraderie. The con side countered with stories of hazing, sexual assault, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and death. A comment from one of the facilitators on my team sealed our team’s victory, and has also not left my mind since. “How many happy anecdotes about sisterhood does it take to buy back a human life?” he asked. As the words left his mouth, I could feel shame fill the room. We were all thinking the same thing. He’s right. The con side ended up winning the debate, but I went to bed that night feeling far from a winner. If we, a room full of Greek leaders and professionals, came to the decision that Greek life is harmful, what is stopping colleges and universities across the country from doing the same? I came to the startling conclusion that the end of sororities and fraternities as we know it is likely in our very near future.
Coming off that heart-breaking low, I was jolted into a high the next morning. It was time for “Into the Streets,” our community service adventure. I was teamed up with seven other participants and sent to the Hinkle-Garton Farmstead, a historical restoration site in Bloomington, Indiana. There, we met the very gracious, appreciative staff who showed us some of the basics of gardening, a very foreign concept to a Jersey girl like myself. They promised to send us updates on the strawberries we planted, and made us promise to return to taste the fruits of our labor. After the intensity of the night before, Into the Streets refocused our energy and gave me back a sense of optimism. Service is what we do. Service is what we need to start focusing on. Service is the path our founders set for us. Service is what will set us back on track.
The rest of the Institute built on that momentum. We were taught leadership skills that I will bring back to my chapter. True leaders create other leaders. It doesn’t matter what your position is, or what title you hold. If you are inspiring new sisters to be the best Sigmas they can be, that is the hallmark of a real leader. That is the legacy we should all be striving for if we want to have a chapter to return to in 10 years.
We also learned about values. One by one, we all stood up and stated our organization’s creed or motto. Some were long, some were short, some were in another language, but there was a common theme throughout every organization- values. No matter the letters, any Greek organization strives to bring out the best in its members. This brings me back to living the ritual. Ritual leads to values, and values lead to character, and a woman of character will always bring out the best in themselves and others. When was the last time you read our ritual? Really listened to the words? They tell you all you need to know about what it means to be a Tri Sigma, and a woman of character.
Those five days in Indiana were the most enlightening days of my life. I will forever be grateful, honored, and humbled by the experience. Never have I been surrounded by so many people with so much passion and wisdom. Any doubt, any frustration, any uncertainty about my chapter suddenly vanished from my mind, and I became overwhelmed with pride and love for not only Tri Sigma, but all of my Greek brothers and sisters across the world. I can honestly say I have never been more proud to wear these three letters across my chest, and never more committed to what they stand for. The experience would not have been the same without the amazing participants and facilitators I shared it with. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Mary Kate Lobough, our very own Assistant Director of Chapter Services. I had corresponded with her through email several times before, but to meet her in person was a real treat. It was comforting to realize that National Headquarters staff are not the enemy; they do not exist to try and get us in trouble or shut us down. They truly want to help and want nothing else but to see each and every chapter succeed. My experience also would not have been the same without my small group facilitators. We spent several hours a day in our small groups, discussing, brainstorming, and exploring our issues. Matt Deeg, Phi Kappa Psi, is the Greek Life Coordinator at University of North Florida, transitioning to Hanover College in August. Teena Johnson Reasoner, Alpha Sigma Tau, is the Greek Life Coordinator at Southeast Missouri State University. Together, Matt and Teena challenged us to think outside of the box and helped guide us to some of our biggest breakthroughs. Lastly, I am thankful to have met some fellow Sigma sisters from across the country. Jessica McAplin, Alpha Zeta, and Hannah Wisinsky, Psi, both hail from the South, where Greek life is much different than it is by me in the North. I was surprised to find that we all seemed to suffer from similar problems and had similar frustrations, despite our distance. We are all a part of a larger Greek community, bigger than just our chapter or our campus. Across the country, we are all in it together. We are all fighting the same fight. The only way to win this fight is to act as a team, and act now.