After my last blog post, I received a lot of feedback—some in the comments section of the blog, some directly to me via email or Facebook. The one thing that struck me was that some people don’t realize how crucial it is that BGLOs have effective and visionary leadership if they are to survive, thrive, and remain relevant.
Three correspondences, in response to my last blog, stand out to me. One was from a professor, a researcher, and national expert on HBCUs. I had asked this person in an exchange, for the HBCUs that have died out, whether anyone had done research on the main contributing factors. This expert said that the research had been done and that two factors emerged: (1) poor leadership and (2) financial management. This highlighted, for me, that black institutions must get the right people in positions of leadership if they are to have any hope at longevity.
Another person had this to say:
As of right now, my university does not have a major Black fraternity and has a rapidly dwindling Black sorority population. Alpha Phi Alpha and my fraternity … used to have a very strong relationship, but unfortunately I have not heard about them since their last three members graduated. Zeta Phi Beta, our only Black sorority to my knowledge besides a fledgling chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, is down to its last few members as well.
I suppose my inquiry/specific interest in this topic has to do with this recent decline in BGLO’s. Is there a general/national reason for this decline, or is it tied to lower rates of Black enrollment (and therefore a lower “critical mass” that BGLO’s need to form) in higher education in general? I don’t have specific numbers, but I know that [at my university] the Black population has recently been plummeting, and even those who come to the school are generally not joining any fraternities – Black, Multicultural or IFC.
Their perspective underscored, for me, the reality—even if anecdotal—that BGLOs are dying organizations, certainly at the collegiate level. Even more, nobody seems to know what to do to save them.
A third person, a research collaborator of mine who is a member of another BGLO and a member of their organization’s leadership, had the following concerns: This person spoke of the lack of visionary and transformative leadership in their organization and, in talking with other BGLO members, the lack of such leadership across the board and for a protracted period of time. This person echoed my concern that BGLOs rely on a deeply problematic leadership model.
First, you must move lockstep up a chain of command from chapter president, to head of an area within a state, to head of a state, to head of an area comprising multiple states/or some similar national position (which usually puts you on the organization’s supreme governing body), maybe vice president, and then onto the national presidency.
Second, often in working one’s way up the chain of command, one is never given leadership training. Even where one is, the training is focused on low-level management, protocol, policies, practices, procedures, and the like. As such, one becomes steeped in a leadership style that is woefully lacking in vision, a deep appreciation for the challenges the organization(s) face(s), practical and novel solutions to those problems, the opportunities upon which the organization(s) could capitalize, and an ability to be truly transformative. Dare I say that such qualities are actually looked down upon within BGLOs.
Third, ultimately you end up with a crop of leaders who may look good, speak well, know the practices, policies, and procedures of their organization, and are capable of executing their own signature program(s). However, they cannot move the needle. They’re completely inept when it comes to tackling the fundamental issues that BGLOs face.
I cut BGLO leaders no slack. Their members elect them with the hope that they will guide their, respective, organizations in the right direction—that they will solve (to the extent that they can be solved) the issues of hazing, reclamation, retention, leadership cultivation, college chapter success, community engagement, and the like. But too often, once in “power,” the leaders throw up their hands and say: “This is all I can do. I don’t know how to address hazing. I don’t know how to address reclamation. I can’t figure out how to get members more engaged in the community….” But those are all EXCUSES. Ultimately, the leaders fall back on a concept of power that I call “negro celebrity.” What I mean by this is that the leaders have their entourage of members. Members stand when they walk into a room. They receive lots of deference from members. And they are well-known, and usually beloved by a few thousand, mostly, black men or women. But they rarely have the power to truly change their organization for the better—to move the needle—and almost never have any real power and influence outside of their organization—chiefly in improving the lives of black folks. And, sadly, I think most of them are content with that.
Even more, the members do a horrible job of either demanding more of their leaders or selecting them. Elections within BGLOs are more akin to popularity contests than they are serious competitions for who should lead the organizations in tackling major issues. In fact, I suspect that candidates for high office rarely get asked hard questions on the campaign trail, and when they do, they evade, obfuscate, speechify, and the like. From my vantage-point, as a researcher on BGLOs and one who is deeply interested in their longevity and impact, I believe the following are the kind of questions every candidate for high office should have to answer in detail to even be seriously considered as a candidate:
- What is your strategic plan?
- Would your administration simply seek to tinker at the margins of issues or be transformative? If you say “transformative,” what in your platform indicates that? What about your leadership style or history of leadership in or outside the fraternity/sorority suggests that?
- Do you believe that it would be your job to keep the proverbial ship afloat if elected or to ensure the fraternity/sorority’s longevity and impact well-beyond your years in office? If the latter, what is your concrete plan for doing so?
- What are your most visionary ideas? What is the substance—foundation for why they are issues to be tackled and how, systematically, you will address them—behind them?
- What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in a national leadership position in the fraternity/sorority, and what did you learn from it?
- Do you believe members should support you because they are from your chapter, area, district, or region/province…or because you are the best candidate? “Best” connotes a comparison. How would you distinguish yourself from the other candidates?
- How would you define the different components of the fraternity/sorority aims, motto, ideals, etc…
- As a lawyer, I think it is legal malpractice for a lawyer to represent a client and not have read the law relevant to the client’s situation? Similarly, I believe that it is leadership malpractice in BGLOs to be wholly unfamiliar with the research/scholarship on BGLOs. Much of this work frames the history, culture, contemporary issues, and solutions to the challenges that face BGLOs. Similarly, there is a cognitive bias called the Dunning–Kruger effect, wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to an inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Are you current on this scholarship, or have you delegated to members of your team the responsibility of digesting much of this work, or are you wholly unfamiliar with it and comfortable with that unfamiliarity?
- Would your administration be guided by best practices and research, to the extent that it’s available on any given BGLO-related issues, or would your decision-making be guided by experience, hunches, and seeing what sticks when you throw a set of solutions at the wall?
- I am a firm believer that the solutions to all of BGLOs’ challenges exist already. Maybe some member has it, but they’ve never been asked or if they have offered it in the past, it has been ignored. On the other hand, maybe some member of another BGLO has already studied the issue. How would you fully maximize the fraternity/sorority’s own organizational, intellectual capital to address its issues and those of our communities? How would you go about, if at all, drawing on ideas even from outside any BGLO to problem-solve?
- Would your campaign be willing to post to your website or email to members fleshed-out details of your platform—i.e., a detailed approach to how you will get each platform point accomplished if elected?
- How do you conceptualize the word “transparency?” Will your administration have annual, independent audits? How accessible will the results be to members, generally?
- How will you grow the organization’s assets?
Thoughts on Instruments, Offices, and Structure
- Do you think the fraternity/sorority’s organizational structure is fitting for the 21st Century? If so, why? If not, why and how would you change it?
- What is your vision for the fraternity/sorority’s publications, media, and social media outlets?
- Would you be willing to strengthen the Education Foundation and have most of the fraternity/sorority’s programs, partnerships, and training run through it even thought that might mean that the national president loses some of the power that (s)he has typically wielded within the fraternity/sorority?
- Do you believe the General Counsel should be hand-picked by the national president? If so, why? If not, why and what other method of picking a GC do you think is better?
- Do you think having a sole lawyer handle the fraternity/sorority’s legal issues is the best model or do think it should have multiple lawyers with varying specialties to meet the fraternity/sorority’s various legal needs, reporting to the GC? If so, why? If not, why?
- What is your vision for each committee during your administration?
- Do you believe that the National Pan-Hellenic Council is a valuable entity? If so, why?
- Would you consider having the fraternity/sorority leave the NPHC? If so, why? If not, why?
- In what ways does it needs to be modernized and/or strengthened? What would you do in your position as national president to make it more effective?
- Do you believe the fraternity/sorority can address its challenges in isolation from the other NPHC organizations? To the extent that you don’t, do you believe that collegiate BGLO members should challenge each other to be their best and call-out unethical and unlawful conduct that plagues the organizations collectively? To the extent that you do, think about this: in the past five year or so, Alpha, AKA, Zeta, and Sigma have all had embezzlement issues with regard to their national leadership. In total, across those four groups, there were a total of eight court cases. If a co-Council of President member was accused of embezzling money (and in the face of mounting evidence) from their organization, would you do what many expect our adolescent members to do when they see wrong—call your co-leader(s) on the carpet?
- In what ways will you have the fraternity/sorority engage with the North-American Interfraternity Conference or national PanHellenic Conference to better utilize their resources and network?
- How do you define “brotherhood/sisterhood”?
- What would your administration do to build a stronger brotherhood/sisterhood?
- Research suggests that one significant fissure within black fraternities (less so sororities) is around sexual orientation. Some heterosexual brothers are bothered by the fact that some gay brothers use the fraternity as a place to seek out partners—either among aspirants or other brothers. The concern is that the conduct is either predatory or, at the very least, quasi-incestuous. Some gay brothers rightly believe that they are disrespected and ostracized because of the general climate of homophobia among some heterosexual brothers. Would you tackle this issue during your administration? If so, how?
- What gender identity language will organizations use to define membership eligibility (ex. must be cis-gendered, trans* ineligible, etc.)?
- Chapters at public colleges and universities adhere to non-discriminatory policies. What measures are the organizations taking to minimize the chances of identity-based (ex. sexual orientation, religion) discriminatory practices in the membership selection process?
College Members and Chapters
- What are your thoughts on having paid field staff to help strengthen college chapters?
- What are your thoughts on having formal alumni associations as a support mechanism for college chapters?
- What are your thoughts on raising membership dues and having a portion of those dues, at least those of alumni members initiated into alumni chapters, set aside in accounts for their respective chapters—the money to be used to pay collegiate chapter dues, insurance fees, convention registration, etc…
- What will your administration do to work more closely with college campuses to better aid collegiate chapters?
- How will your administration aid college chapters in improving their GPAs?
- How would you utilize, if at all, brothers who work in student affairs to aid in the development of college brothers and college chapters?
- What ethical considerations are given to collegiate initiation costs within the context of rising student loan debt and rising costs for higher education? Do you struggle with charging collegiate applicants $1000+ for initiation fees because of (1) rising academic costs, (2) rising student loan debt, (3) Low SES/class access to fraternal orgs due to cost barriers?
- What do you think is wrong with MIP ? How would you fix it (please provide details)?
- Do you believe getting rid of college chapters would be an effective strategy for reducing the fraternity/sorority’s liability? If so, why? If not, why?
- In your estimation, what are the root causes of hazing within the fraternity/sorority? How would your administration address them?
- In my estimation and what research suggests is that BGLO leadership and alumni may (1) undermine their moral authority in confronting college members about hazing and (2) aid in creating an organizational culture where law/rule violation is accepted, people in power don’t seek to stop the behavior, and whistle-blowers are demonized/sanctioned. You saw this in each of the BGLO embezzlement cases, especially where the embezzler was the national president. Additionally, within the past couple of years, a gentleman was sent to federal prison after being tried in federal court (and later appealing the matter to a federal appellate court) for running a prostitution ring (where sex trafficking was implicated, and I believe an underage girl was involved) at one fraternity’s conventions. Do you believe that it is hypocritical to try and get college members to be ethical, law-abiding members when leadership has, in the past, been slow to do the same with alumni members around a range of issues? Would your administration tackle these issues? If so, how?
- One of the challenges in litigating hazing cases is that insurance carriers largely dictate to organizations what lawyer they will have or panel of lawyers they may choose from. Unfortunately, these lawyers may often know little about BGLOs and the most effective strategies for litigating case son their behalf. Would your administration develop a litigation strategy that is effective for the fraternity? If so, how would you create it and what would it look like?
- One way that hazing has been attempted to be addressed is by sanctions of various forms. Do you believe these sanctions are effective? If so, what supports your contention? If not, what new approaches would you use?
- For member re-education is in place for members who transition from suspension to active membership? If no measure is in place to re-educate/re-orient the members, explain why none exists.
- I am not a believer in recruiting members in the traditional sense of the word. However, what will you do to attract the best and brightest individuals to the fraternity/sorority on college campuses and from the broader community?
- As you know, the fraternity/sorority hemorrhages members at a rate that is unsustainable in the long-term. What is your strategy for retaining active members and reclaiming inactive members?
- Research suggests that one reason why people renounce their membership in BGLOs is because they come to believe that said membership conflicts with their Christian faith. How will you tackle this issue?
- White Greek-letter organizations are looking at the demographics of college students over the next fifty years in thinking about how to grow their organizations. Do you think it is important for the fraternity/sorority to be mindful of these demographics and to seek to attract a diverse (race, religion, etc…) membership, while remaining largely black? If not, why not? If so, how would you do this?
- What measures are in place or proposed to increase retention from collegiate to alumnae/alumni membership transition? What efforts do organizations take to maintain members who do not graduate? Would a member who did not graduate from college know how s/he could still be engaged as an active member?
- If elected, would your administration speak out on issues of discrimination beyond African Americans—e.g., human rights, women’s rights, gay rights?
- What are the major public policy and racial justice issues you think need to be addressed? How would your administration tackle them? Would you maintain our partnerships with the NAACP, NAACP-LDF, Lawyer’s Committee…and would you develop other strategic alliances with other Civil Rights organizations?
- What would your administration do to get a substantial number of members more engaged in mentoring?
- One study looked at the racial attitudes of BGLO members and found that about 30% had subconscious anti-black biases, 40% for undergraduates. The authors speculated that such attitudes may undermine any real commitments of these members to being engaged in uplifting their communities. If this is true, what would your administration do to change this dynamic?
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that if you want to run some of the most powerful (or at least have the potential for power) organizations in America, and certainly black America, having clear and detailed answers to the questions above isn’t too much to ask.