Archive for the ‘BGLOs’ Category

You Asked for BGLO Hazing Solutions: Here Are Some on the Fly

Monday, April 7th, 2014

One of the lingering critiques of my research on BGLOs is that I don’t provide solutions to the problems they face. This usually comes from those who don’t read my research but rather my blog posts, tweets, and Facebook commentary. Even still, assume I’m a physician, and a patient came to me for a check-up. I tell them that they are likely to die prematurely, because they’re morbidly obese from lack of exercise and excessive daily caloric intake. Some such patients would ask: “What should I do to stop being morbidly obese?” My answer: “Diet and exercise”; the answer is built into the diagnosis I give. But some patients want more. They ask: “What kind of diet should I use?” “What’s the best work-out regimen?” “What if I lack will-power?” Maybe I should answer these questions, or maybe the patient also needs a nutritionist, personal trainer, and psycho-therapist. With that said, let me give some concrete advice on how BGLOs could and should address hazing, in no particular order save the first one:

Each BGLO needs to come to grips with what it’s or wants to be—its organizational identity. Each needs to do some soul-searching. Dr. Stefan Bradley and I edited an entire book on this topic with regard to Alpha Phi Alpha, which has implications for the other members of the NPHC. Everything these BGLOs do should revolve around their organizational identity. This includes, and is especially the case for, how they identify, recruit (tacitly or explicitly), train, initiate, and retrain members. Honestly, membership is the most important issue within BGLOs; without them the work of the organization cannot get done.

The critical question within BGLOs is really about leadership. And I don’t mean the kind that can investigate hazing allegations, host a good conference/convention, give a good speech, whoop like a Baptist preacher, recite “If” and “Invictus”, provide great hospitality suites at gatherings…but who can transform these organizations. Leadership, especially at the national level have to provide a clear roadmap and vision to addressing hazing by all reasonable means; and membership have to elect that leadership into position. To date, BGLOs have not had that. The proof is in the pudding. That’s not to say that the current and past leaders are incompetent; they just haven’t solved the problem, and I doubt they gave their best efforts. This is a chicken and egg problem: when will such individuals offer themselves’ up for service, and can members recognize them for the value they bring and elect them? I don’t know; I’m not confident on these points.

From my observation, BGLOs are organizations of “no.” They are conservative, and when new ideas and modes of thinking come to the fore, membership and leadership resist them. With regard to hazing within BGLOs, the old approaches clearly have not worked. Therefore, a new type of leadership has to be receptive to and able to find ways to cut through organizational politics, and the like, in order to implement new and novel ideas around solving the BGLO hazing problem.

The best place to start with bringing in members who exemplify any of these organizations’ ideals is mentoring; I mean from K-12. Being big brothers or big sisters is likely to create the best possible pipeline to membership, because then boys and girls get exposure to these organizations and their ideals early. Once these kids hit college, much of the training about what it takes to be a BGLO member could and should already be done.

Litigation-wise, BGLOs are at a disadvantage. Litigation is largely run by insurance carriers who give the insured a panel of lawyers in the state where litigation is pending. The inured-BGLO then picks from among these lawyers, most of whom probably know little about BGLOs. These organizations, under such circumstances, should request that local counsel associate with some other, outside of panel, attorney who is a BGLO member or firm with a BGLO member on the litigation team. That isn’t to say that BGLO members will have the ideal body of knowledge to litigate the case effectively, but some knowledge is better than none. These organizations should always use expert witnesses if they can. The narrative about BGLO hazing is easily articulated in a language that would make a jury sympathetic to a plaintiff. The only real balance that can come is if there is an expert to better contextualize the issue. Depending on the law in the jurisdiction, the facts of the case, and depending on whether a BGLO litigating a case hires a competent expert, they should consider not settling in order to build more favorable case law to their assertions. Also, BGLOs lack any real perspective on the legal strategies used against them, the law across jurisdictions, the strength and weakness in claims, etc… This is because they don’t analyze prior litigation in any systematic way. As such, they should confer—the 9 of them—about what cases they have had over the past several decades. They should gather all case names from their insurers and all case files from the relevant courts and then create an analysis of these cases in the aggregate. Yes, this will cost some money but less money than hazing settlements and deductibles.

Also, in the context of litigation, when BGLOs are sued, they have to pay their insurer a deductible—e.g., a $25,000. How do these organizations recoup that money? They don’t, but they should sue the members who caused the litigation in order to recoup the deductible. Also, if a BGLO settles a case or loses it and has to pay damages, they should sue the members whose conduct resulted in the verdict and damages. That could help send a clear message to violators.

Leadership within BGLOs need a better understanding of hazing issues and law. They should regularly attend the handful of conferences on the topic. Also, there is a growing and robust body of literature available on the topic; folks need to start reading.

Leadership have to be held to a high standard in BGLOs. Their behavior should be a model for rank-and-file members. In recent years, at least half of BGLOs have had embezzlement issues involving their national leadership. It’s unreasonable to expect a 19-22 year-old to obey the law when a 40, 50, 60 year-old man or woman won’t. Leadership have to be held accountable. If they steal; they have to be removed from office and the organization, and possibly prosecuted; this is especially so if the same would be done to undergrads. It gives leadership a higher moral ground when going after college chapter hazing; it’s also an attack on an organizational culture that flouts organizational rule sand the law of the land.

Two important data points: One is that a good predictor of whether or not BGLO members will haze is the extent to which they are actually aware of the consequences of hazing. These organizations believe that they are making the case, but they’re not. Think about this: if I tell you once a year, “smoking causes cancer and can kill you,” would you stop smoking, especially if you’re addicted to nicotine? If, on a weekly basis, I say the same thing to you but show you images of people who died from lung cancer and what nicotine did to their lungs, and I constantly bombard you with data about the harms of smoking, would you stop or at least try to stop? Better question: which approach is likely to cause smoking cessation, the former or the latter? The problem is that BGLOs lack a command of the facts and therefore a command of the narrative. They don’t chronicle the major hazing incidents that result in personal harm and litigation. As such, they have little to talk about other than abstracts about what hazing is doing. What’s problematic is that this information is not hard to come by. These organizations can get much of it via the means mentioned above. They can also search legal and news databases. This could be expensive; if only these organizations had members on college campuses who could gather such information for free from university library databases (yes, I’m being snarky). Once they have compiled the information, they could disseminate the information to aspirants, incorporate it into risk management training, etc… The other point is that hazing is most violent in black fraternities. Part of this likely has to do with how manhood and masculinity are defined among black men, including black fraternity members. Part of this also shades into the third rail of black fraternity life—homosexual membership. These organizations’ ability to grapple with and discuss this issue is a must; but it will take leadership at every level to tackle it.

The ironic thing about BGLOs is that given the nature of alumni membership, these organizations have considerable intellectual capital to solve their own problems. I personally know experts in a variety of disciplines who are active BGLO members who have pieces to the puzzle for solving the problem of hazing. These members go to chapter meeting, sell tickets to their chapters’ annual balls, do service projects, but they don’t offer up solutions to major issues their respective organizations face, because their organizations are not interested. And I don’t mean that leadership should say, basically, come help if you want. Leaders have to urge, nudge, beg if needed, these people to lend their insights. Heck, if need be, pay them. For instance, most of the experts I know are professors, but they probably cannot put ample time toward drafting a white paper on hazing, especially if they are pre-tenured, but they might be able to do so if they had a research assistant or two or three. These organizations should invest in such.

Black Greek-letter organizations need alternative revenue streams. This is largely so that they can halt Intake when needed to make adjustments and not worry about the financial hit they will take. This is so because most of these organizations live and die on Intake fees. The problem is that as 501(c)(7) organizations, they must rely substantially on membership dues/fees. And with the high attrition of members once they graduate from college—ie., the lack of financially active members—these organizations are in a bind. They should consult with an organizational behavior (“OB”) expert about what it takes to get organizational members to be committed to their, respective, organization.

These organizations need an alternative process that members can buy into and that helps gather and prepare the kind of members they need. To reduce liability, they could have a protracted on-line course, at the beginning of the process. Part of what should be taught is the history and culture of BGLOs, generally, and the history of the specific BGLO they’re joining. Aspiring members should also be taught about the contemporary issues BGLOs face, especially a robust education on hazing. They should have to earn some minimal score to advance to the next stage or to various iterations of the tests. Some, maybe many, aspirants will not be motivated to read and do the best they can. As such, incentivize the learning. Give them a certain rebate for not simply getting the minimum score but for getting much better scores. So, if a 90 out of a score of 100 is needed to pass, a 91-95 gets them a rebate of $50. A score of better than 95 gets them a rebate of $100. Once they finish the series of exam, they are basically knowledgeable about BGLOs. Then the bonding activities and additional activities can take place over the next several weeks and even after Intake.

These are my quick thoughts, the ones I could get down in 45 minutes before I leave the office. There is more to come in forthcoming scholarly journal articles and books.

THE END OF BGLOS

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

For many years now, at least as long as I have been a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha—17 years—I have heard that “we are one lawsuit away from being out of business.” I am sure other BGLO members have heard the same thing. I always took it as hyperbole; and over the years, maybe it was such or at least a scare tactic. Having been a researcher on BGLOs for the past 14 years and a law professor who has studied BGLOs for the past 3 years, I would bank on the fact that within 25 years the Divine Nine will be the Great Eight, Stellar Seven or Six…maybe the Fabulous Five or Four. Honestly, at the rate that BGLOs are going, I can only foresee two having any longevity. Given their sizes, financial resources, and frequency of hazing litigation, my prediction is that the organizations will fall by the wayside in the following order: Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi/Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho, Iota Phi Theta, Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha/Delta Sigma Theta.

 

The typical narrative about how BGLOs will meet their demise is typically one that consists of errant undergrads hazing and getting their organization sued out of existence. That is, from where I sit, part of the narrative, but not the whole or even the bulk of the story. Here are the factors that I think will do-in BGLOs:

 

First: To call someone “paper” or a “skater” is taboo, but the reality is that the current generation of college students is more entitled and less inclined to sacrifice for achievement than prior generations, on average. And that fact will only become amplified with time. I think a person who loses his or her sight, has to get skin grafts on their posterior, or has their kidney ruptured may have strong grounds to sue for hazing-related injuries. Such victims in the past would have been less-likely to sue, because they would have accepted such injuries as part of the hazards that went along with pledging a BGLO. Even more, this new generation may be more inclined to sue for even milder harms or real/perceived slights. Indeed, we live in an increasingly litigious society.

 

Second: In a study my colleagues and I conducted on over 1,300 BGLO members, we found that BGLO hazing has become more violent at least since the 1950s. More violence likely means more injuries, and more injuries likely mean more lawsuits against BGLOs. In another study, my colleagues and I found that BGLOs have more violent hazing than white fraternities and sororities. Black fraternities are the most violent. Part of this likely has to do with constrained notions of masculinity among black men, including black fraternity members. And given that black fraternities likely will not have any meaningful dialogue about masculinity and black fraternalism, they will not likely sort these issues out, especially as they relate to hazing. As such, hazing will remain particularly violent within these groups.

 

Third: The only thing that truly stands between BGLOs and plaintiffs in hazing lawsuits is the insurance industry. Unfortunately, there are few insurers of college fraternities and sororities. With the steady flow of hazing litigation involving BGLOs, it is not inconceivable that at some point it becomes unprofitable for any insurer to cover any particular BGLO. For example, let’s say BGLO A pays a $500,000 premium each year to Insurer A, but over the course of three years, Insurer A pays out $1,000,000 a year in hazing settlements involving BGLO A. It would likely make sense for that insurer to drop BGLO from coverage. BGLO A must then move on to Insurer B. With a limited number of such insurers out there, once Insurer B begins to lose money, BGLO A will then have to move on to Insurer C and so on until there is no insurer to cover BGLO A. A possible option is for an insurer to raise the premium, which would trickle down to each chapter in BGLO A. Higher insurance fees, especially for smaller chapters, would kill many BGLO A chapters, especially collegiate chapters. It is doubtful that any campus would let a fraternity or sorority chapter operate on its campus without insurance. As for the national organization of BGLO A, with no insurer, its only option would be to insure itself. And given the financial resources of each BGLO (consider the net assets or fund balances from 2011 and 2010 for each NPHC organization: Alpha Phi Alpha ($6,809,028/$7,258,956); Alpha Kappa Alpha ($24,384,894/$23,654,672); Kappa Alpha Psi ($5,817,499/$5,148,046); Omega Psi Phi ($2,624,479/$2,575,365); Delta Sigma Theta ($19,188,109/$19,555,631); Phi Beta Sigma ($1,835,670/$1,766,064); Zeta Phi Beta ($1,008,703/$1,091,217); Sigma Gamma Rho ($2,559,860/$1,817,088); and Iota Phi Theta ($300,857/$308,047)), it would take few law suits to reduce most BGLOs to bankruptcy. As an additional point, as a recent case between Admiralty Insurance and Kappa Alpha Psi shows, insurers will not insure, or seek to not insure, the hazing activities of BGLO members. Such an outcome would further expose BGLOs’ direct resources to judgment.

 

Another critical point: whenever a BGLO is sued, let us say in North Carolina just as an example, the BGLO’s General Counsel does not swoop into North Carolina to litigate the case. Rather, the insurance company gives the BGLO a panel of lawyers in the area to choose from—one who will represent the BGLO. I suspect that most of these lawyers are competent, but few are likely to be black, BGLO members, or experienced in litigating hazing cases dealing with BGLOs. Even more, most of them are not likely to affiliate with such a lawyer or hire an expert witness or trial consultant to aid them in navigating the unique terrain of BGLO hazing issues. As such, the parents of a young man or woman allegedly killed by hazing, or one with a severe injury, is a sympathetic plaintiff to a potential jury, and because of that the BGLO-defendant and their local attorney are somewhat outgunned.

 

Fourth: BGLOs have too many blind spots when it comes to hazing. Most of the organizations do not pay attention to the legal trends. Most of them do not pay attention to broader bodies of knowledge that could aid them in addressing the issue proactively or once litigation arises. They do not mine the data they already have on past litigations and likely do not share such information across organizations. As such, they fail to capture the big picture either in strategies that plaintiffs’ counsels have used against BGLOs, the ebb and flow of the law in the area, types of evidence that has been or not been useful in litigation, best practices, arguments that expert witnesses and trial consultants have made.

 

Fifth: Similar to number four, BGLOs are information/data adverse. This includes bodies of knowledge that are available outside of the respective organization files. I have attended the Fraternal Law Conference two years in a row. Most BGLOs are not represented there. Arguably, there has been more research on BGLO hazing conducted in the past five years than on any other type of organization. However, I would bet that most BGLO members and leaders have never looked at this research to see how it may aid them in addressing this issue within their own ranks. Part of this has to do with organizational politics. For example, given the petty intra-organizational rivalries between the groups, do you think Kappa Alpha Psi leadership would consult with a Phi Beta Sigma researcher on BGLO hazing? I doubt it, because they won’t consult with a Kappa, like Dr. Ricky Jones, who has researched the issue. What about vice-versa? Nope! Phi Beta Sigma has never even consulted with the only Sigma, Dr. Matthew Hughey, who currently studies the issue—ironic given that they have a national, anti-hazing initiative. These organizations do not solicit feedback, certainly not on a regular basis, from non-BGLO hazing experts or even BGLO members who are hazing experts, even within their own ranks. The ironic thing about BGLOs is that, for the most part, they have tremendous intellectual capital, given the nature of alumni membership within these groups, but the vast majority of this intellectual capital goes untapped. So, BGLOs remain in an information vacuum due to their own actions or inactions.

 

Sixth: In one study my colleagues and I conducted, we found that a determinant of hazing was the extent to which BGLO members were truly aware of sanctions associated with hazing. Arguably, most do not know how bad the problem is or how high the stakes truly are. Leadership within BGLOs seem to believe that their current efforts are the best possible, and they are not. Telling BGLO members that hazing will destroy BGLOs is very different from laying out the case systematically and regularly. But that all turns on having sufficient information—e.g., aggregating the major hazing incidents across BGLOs, resultant injuries, lawsuits, settlement/judgment figures, criminal convictions—to make such a case. But, as I have said, BGLOs do not keep such records, and to date they have not invested in gathering and consolidating such information. I suspect that given their indifference to information consolidated and analyzed by outside sources, even those efforts would be snubbed. With all that said, BGLO members are woefully under-informed about hazing, its nature, and the challenges it raises. And these very members are expected to either create and reform the Membership Intake Process within their own organizations or vote on its form and application.

 

Seventh: Black Greek-letter organizations have also lost their luster. We now live in an age in which many college students do not feel the need to join any fraternity or sorority. Some choose to join something other than a BGLO. It is problematic that BGLOs have built no real pipeline to membership by seeing mentoring K-12 African Americans as not simply good for the community but also necessary for the future viability of these organizations. At this rate, a decade or two from now, the pickings will be remarkably slim for college students who are interested in BGLO membership and possessed of the requisite qualities and characteristics that will sustain BGLOs. Even more, BGLOs have not thought through an optimal MIP that will commit members to their respective BGLO in real and tangible—financially and physically active—ways. As such, while BGLOs are likely to see fewer and fewer aspiring members or ones with poorer credentials than decades before, they are also likely to witness a greater hemorrhaging of active members. And for organizations with an economic model that depends largely on initiation fees and membership dues, their best hope will be to lower the bar to membership. This will fundamentally alter the nature of these organizations, not guarantee long-term membership commitment, and continue to leave them vulnerable to limited coffers and increasing hazing allegations, among other things.

 

In the end, I am hopeful about the longevity of BGLOs but not optimistic. Their demise will be blamed on 19-23 year-olds, but how responsible can you expect “kids” to be, even those who espouse high ideals? The end of BGLOs will ultimately have resulted from the failure of the adults, especially those in leadership, from doing, not simply something(s) about hazing, but all that needed to be done. Within BGLOs, there is not the will to be transformative. These are inherently conservative organizations where new modes of thinking are strenuously resisted, organizational politics prevails, and provincialism rules the day. Only time will tell; but time is not on their side.

Rethinking BGLO Reclamation, Retention, and “Recruitment”

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

It was more than 15 years ago when I reached out to an attorney—Mr. Tarver—who worked for Federal Bureau of Prisons’ main office in Washington, D.C. I had met him while I worked there as an intern in the BOP’s Office of Research. This time around, I had a request; I needed another sponsor for my membership application to Alpha Phi Alpha. I had chosen two personal ones already—my brother-in-law and my eldest sister’s best friend from college, who was like a big brother to me. Mr. Tarver would serve, I hoped, as a professional reference. When I asked, he agreed, but he required that I always remain financially and physically active in Alpha in order to receive the reference. In his words, Alpha needed bodies; it needed men to do the work of the Fraternity. I told Mr., now Brother, Tarver that I would do just that. In the many years that have passed since that time, I have kept that promise, becoming a Life Member, consistently remaining active in alumni chapters as I have moved from this to that state. I now serve as a national committee chair and regional committee co-chair for the Fraternity.

 

While I have remained active in Alpha, many brothers have not; and this is a persistent issue across black Greek-letter organizations (“BGLOs”). Not only does membership inactivity impact BGLOs’ with regard to hands to complete the labor, but it also effects BGLOs’ bottom-line. Many, if not all, of these organizations are 501(C)(7)—tax-exempt—organizations under the Internal Revenue Code, and as such, the vast majority of their operating funds must come from membership. This results from membership dues and/or initiation fees. Consequently, the fewer financially-active members these organizations have, the more individuals they must initiate, and this could create some quality-control issues for BGLOs. In thinking about dollars and cents, consider the net assets or fund balances from 2011 and 2010 for each of the 9, major BGLOs [all publicly accessible]: Alpha Phi Alpha ($6,809,028/$7,258,956); Alpha Kappa Alpha ($24,384,894/$23,654,672); Kappa Alpha Psi ($5,817,499/$5,148,046); Omega Psi Phi ($2,624,479/$2,575,365); Delta Sigma Theta ($19,188,109/$19,555,631); Phi Beta Sigma ($1,835,670/$1,766,064); Zeta Phi Beta ($1,008,703/$1,091,217); Sigma Gamma Rho ($2,559,860/$1,817,088); and Iota Phi Theta ($300,857/$308,047). For most of these organizations, these end-of-the-year balances are relatively small.

 

One of the great challenges with regard to reclamation—i.e., getting members to reactivate, financially—within BGLOs is that leadership view the issue from their beliefs, unhinged from data, and in isolation from broader issues within the organizations. For example, there is a considerable body of scholarly literature on why members commit or fail to commit to organizations. Organizational behavior (“OB”) scholars tend to do this type of research. A couple of months ago, when I surveyed about 20-30 BGLO members who are OB professors and asked them if their organization leadership had ever solicited their expert advice, to a person the answer was “no.” Not only do BGLOs fail to capitalize on the extant research on organizational commitment, they also fail to utilize their own intellectual capital—the expertise and ideas of organization members—that could address a problem like reclamation.

 

Moreover, BGLOs’ approach to reclamation is too-often one of insisting that inactive members reactivate with little regard for why they are inactive in the first place. Part of the reason why surveying inactive members is often ignored as a first step is because BGLOs don’t want the critiques. They don’t want to hear about what’s wrong with the organizations, because they don’t want to address deeply-imbedded issues within BGLOs. For example, say individuals are inactive because of the poor academic performance of undergrad chapters, which undermines the ideal of scholarship on which BGLOs stand. BGLOs would then have to raise academic standards or institute some program and allocate resources to aggressively assist undergrads to academically achieve. Say individuals are inactive because of issues surrounding non-heterosexual (especially within fraternities) members. BGLOs would then have to discuss, analyze, and try to resolve matters which they don’t want to entertain at this point. Say individuals are inactive because they view BGLOs as anti-Christian. BGLOs would then have to discuss and maybe come to terms with the actual role that faith and religion should play within their respective organizations. Say individuals are inactive because they view their fraternity or sorority as not meaningfully committed to community service, philanthropy, civic activism, and shaping public policy. As such, they spend their time engaged with organizations like 100 Black Men, The Links, The Junior League, and the NAACP. BGLOs would then have to become more meaningfully engaged in these areas. And say individuals are inactive because of the rash of court cases involving embezzlement of organization funds on the part of BGLO national leaders. BGLOs would have to become more transparent and better stewards of members’ hard-earned dues. These examples don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the long and ineffective chapter meetings, petty-politics, conventions of limited value, and the like. It is easier to say that a member has not lived up to his or her oath than it is to figure out why members are inactive and seek to fix those things.

 

Moreover, reclamation ignores a crucial issues; that is retention. I suspect that about 70% of BGLO members, within 5 years of initiation, are no longer, financially active. Spending time getting 5, 10, 15% of inactive members to reactivate fails to address why the other 30% may not remain active and why those who reactivate may not stay for long. People have finite resources with regard to time, money, energy, and the like. While BGLOs may think that members should invest no matter what in their organization of initiation, giving those members a reason to stay engaged is a better bet.

 

Even more, a  central issue is who and how members are brought into BGLOs. I am not a fan of aggressively recruiting members, at least to my Fraternity. But I will say that the ultimate recruitment tool, I think, is mentoring African American youth, inculcating them with the values we say we extol as BGLO members, getting them into college, and helping them fund their educations. Moreover, we must be engaged in addressing the structural inequalities that hold them back as well as the laws and policies that do the same. For example, this past year two cases went before the US Supreme Court that impact the black community in monumental ways—one on the Voting Rights Act and one on affirmative action. There is no excuse why no BGLO wrote an amicus brief in these cases. That aside, once these young men and women make it to college with the skills to succeed, what are the chances that they will want to join our organizations and continue the legacy of lifting as they climb?

 

Finally, BGLOs seem to largely ignore the fact that the juncture at which they could most likely ensure organizational commitment is during MIP. The selection and initiation process should be designed to enhance the likelihood of (1) getting high-quality members who (2) will remain financially and physically active in their respective organization for life. Unfortunately, I think we are light years from such an approach.

My Agenda and BGLOs

Monday, March 25th, 2013

This past weekend I attended my Fraternity’s—Alpha Phi Alpha—Southern Regional Convention. I attended in part because I am a Life Member, financially active in a chapter in the Southern Region (i.e., North Carolina). I also attended because I am the National Chair of the Fraternity’s Commission on Racial Justice. Saturday afternoon, a brother asked me an important question—one that I think many people wonder: what is my agenda with regard to BGLOs. The brother indicated that he did not mean anything by the question; he was not assuming what my motives are, but he was curious and suggested that others seem to be curious as well. So, let me remove the mystery.

 

There is an assumption that my writings these past eight years have been profit-driven. To be clear, the royalties I earned from all of my BGLO books last year was just shy of $850.00. Yes, you read that correctly—eight hundred and fifty dollars. I never set out to be a researcher and writer to get wealthy off of my writings. If I did, I would not publish with academic/scholarly/university presses. I would be publishing with Simon & Shuster or some other large, trade press. The truth is that publishing scholarly works is not a money-making enterprise for a whole range of reasons. Even more, while step-shows and T-shirts may be a good investment for someone who wants to profit off of BGLOs, producing scholarship is not.

 

The other assumption is that I am gunning for some office in my Fraternity. I have never run for an office in Alpha. The highest office I’ve held has been as an alumni chapter Vice President. And I have always been recruited to the offices I have held. I am not chomping at the bit to be any officer in Alpha. I do not need a position to bolster my resume/CV. I think my professional accomplishments to date speak for themselves. This does not mean that running for some local, state (district), regional, or national office is out of the cards in the future. But I am focused on my career and enjoying my life, now.

 

The reason I write about BGLOs is because I find the topic interesting, and I get paid as a law professor to write about things that interest me. In a sense, it is that simple. But even more, I see great value in BGLOs, and I hope to play a role in helping them, generally, and Alpha, specifically, reach their potential. I believe the way to do that is to have a well-reasoned approach to analyzing their history, culture, and contemporary issues. Even more, it is to develop solutions to their problems that are either empirically based, theoretically grounded, or consistent with best-practices.

 

As an academic, it is my job to analyze and critique. I am not a BGLO cheerleader. I am objective and fact-driven. As a critical race theorist, I believe in the scholar activist model. I do the research on BGLOs, but I am also engaged in practical ways with my own Fraternity. As a believer that BGLOs should be the best they can possibly be, I am impatient and intolerant of leaders at any level who are incompetent, crooked, and lacking in transparency. I am particularly intolerant of leaders who bully rank-and-file members. I believe that if BGLO members want their organizations to be what the founders’ envisioned, those members must fight for those types of organizations either against leaders who do not want the same (e.g., leaders who see the organization as their piggy bank or stepping stone to something, personally greater) or on the side of leaders pursuing that quest.

 

I am not seeking to be the next Belford Lawson, or Charles Wesley, or Walter Kimbrough, or anyone else. I tip my hat to other great Alpha men and other BGLO members. But I am neither in a competition nor exhibiting an effort to replicate what has already been done. I simply want to be the best me—the best lawyer and social scientist—who contributed something tangible to making BGLOs better. In doing so, I am more than willing to take the path less-traveled or blaze my own trail, to challenge authority or upend it.

Making BGLOs Better

Monday, December 31st, 2012

In early December (2012), I attended the Association of Fraternity Advisors Annual Meeting. While there, I attended a session hosted by the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). Ultimately, I wrote a blog post about that session, in which I was quite critical and suggested the end of NPHC. In response, I received a considerable number of supportive emails.

However, some were not so supportive. In one email, the author, after asking to be removed from my email list, noted:

If I may be candid with you … I think you need to learn when to pull back. It seems that your only goal is to hyper-complain and overly-critique the ills of Black-Greekdom and provide no substantive solutions. I see nothing wrong with you building your publication vita, but at the expense of denigrating Black Greeks? How does that help anyone but you? If I am wrong, I will stand corrected.

Additionally, I recently had a Greek Life Student Affairs Professional who attended the AFA conference and sat in on a panel that you were on. He … asked me if I knew you. I said I knew of your work … He then went on to report his “being turned off by your behavior on that panel.” His words were, “this guy doesn’t know when to quit.” I only nodded my head and suggested that you are quite passionate about Black Greeks. (internally I couldn’t help but agree with the brother, which is why I don’t want to receive any more emails from you)

My pushback to the email was simple. In my AFA session, much of my talk was about the grand ideals of BGLOs. In discussing the challenges facing BGLOs, my co-presenter and I recommended a range of solutions to those issues. In my work, more generally, I will admit that my collaborators and I are not writing how-to manuals for fixing BGLOs. We are producing scholarship, but that doesn’t mean that there are not solutions to be found in the work we do.

For some BGLO members, any critique of BGLOs is too much of a critique. And for BGLO members who aren’t reading the growing scholarship on BGLOs, and as such are not privy to the solutions that flow from that work, it seems like I (and my collaborators) are not presenting any solutions. Ironically, my frequent collaborator, Dr. Matthew Hughey, and I have been talking about writing a book loosely entitled Making BGLOs Better, where we would lay-out solutions to a range of issues confronting BGLOs. My fraternity brother, Dameon Proctor, once asked me who would read the book. I told him I thought few people would. His suggestion was to blog, tweet, or Facebook post the solutions. People have short attention spans, I suppose. So, what follows are some ideas:

In order to make clear to Greek Affairs Advisors the history, structure, and guidelines of NPHC, NPHC should mail information packets directly to Greek Affairs Advisors on campuses with NPHC organizations. To identify those campuses, individuals, and mailing addresses, NPHC can get the directory of such individuals and mailing labels for them from the National Interfraternity Conference. The cost will be less than $150.00.

To help Greek Affairs Advisors better grapple with the issues confronting them on their respective campuses vis-à-vis BGLOs, NPHC should develop a web-based chat-room. The chat-room should be moderated by BGLO members with graduate (and relevant professional) education in areas relevant to advising college student organizations, especially BGLOs. These moderators role should be to guide and aid Greek Affairs Advisors in better advising BGLO college chapter.

BGLOs should establish committees, probably comprised of members who work in education, to monitor college chapters that are in trouble academically (and maybe in other ways, e.g., low numbers). Those chapters that fall below a certain standard should be audited to determine what best-practices can be employed to bring those chapters up to standard.

To better ascertain the academic standing of BGLO college chapters, BGLOs need to be better about collecting data. While college chapters may be negligent in turning such information in to their national headquarters, BGLOs can quite easily get this information off of the websites of university Greek Affairs offices. If not available on the websites, I suspect that many universities keep such data which can be obtained by requesting such information.

As a general principle, BGLOs need to end their anxieties over or indifference to scholarship on BGLOs. The truth of the matter is that, contrary to popular thinking, folks producing scholarship on BGLOs are not in it for the money. If that weren’t the case, they/we would be publishing with Simon Shuster and not in academic journals or with scholarly book publishers. Even if such scholarship was simply for profit, a better question is whether the scholarship has some value to the organizations. I suggest that a better educated member about the history, culture, and contemporary issues facing BGLOs may be better informed and thus better poised to help the BGLOs best actualize their ideals.

Research suggests that while BGLO members may exhibit explicit race-consciousness, it also suggests that they—especially younger members—have automatic, subconscious pro-white/anti-black biases. These biases may impact BGLO members’ academic achievement, development and sustaining of fictive-kinship ties, and commitment to BGLOs, racial uplift activities. One way to alter such biases is via a reasonable education on issues of race. Accordingly, BGLOs might think to incorporate more black history into the Membership Intake Processes.

To get the best ideas on the table for moving BGLOs forward, BGLO leaders (including NPHC leaders) need to stop conferring only with individuals who they like or know well or are friends with. They should begin to seek the advice and counsel of those who are possessed of expertise in areas that are relevant to BGLOs’ growth. For example, the two primary leaders of NPHC are members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. They should reach out to Dr. Matthew Hughey—sociologist, leading scholar on BGLOs, and Phi beta Sigma member—to see what insights he has on how to move BGLOs forward. Other organizations might simply reach out to members with backgrounds in a range of disciplines—e.g., organizational behavior—to see what guidance they might provide.

Finally, with regard to the issue of hazing, one way to change behavior is to change people’s beliefs about the issue in question. One way to change BGLO members’ beliefs about the utility of hazing is to help them better understand the problematic history and trajectory of the phenomena. And that won’t happen with passing references to this or that hazing incident. And it won’t happen by telling college members that hazing has zero benefits, because a host of social scientific theories and new empirical research shatter that myth. However, BGLOs need to develop a detailed accounting of hazing incidents—dating back at least a few decades—and recount those incidents in detail during MIP, MIP training, and during sessions at regional and national conventions. The occasional, pass-through shaming and finger-wagging hasn’t and won’t cut it. Something much more robust is needed. But this will necessitate a thorough review of court opinion and other documents as well as news accounts.

It’s Time to Disband NPHC!

Friday, December 7th, 2012

During the week of November 26, 2012, I had the privilege to attend and present at the Association of Fraternity Advisors’ Annual Meeting. It was a valuable experience, and I really learned a lot. On Friday, December 1st, I sat-in on the presentation entitled “Taking the Mystery Out of Advising NPHC Councils” by Jennifer Jones (President, NPHC) and Jimmy Hammock (President, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.; Chair, Council of Presidents, NPHC).

Throughout the hour and fifteen minute presentation my mind continued to wander to two points. First, given all the questions that the student affairs professionals are asking and not getting answered, clearly the mystery remains. Second, in a similar vein as Dr. Walter Kimbrough’s analysis in an article in 2005, “Should Black Fraternities and Sororities Abolish Undergraduate Chapters?” and a similarly consistent argument made by Dr. Ricky Jones—both experts on NPHC organizations—maybe it’s time to disband NPHC. Scratch that. It is time!

Let me state upfront that I had never met Jimmy Hammock prior to the AFA Meeting. He attended my session, and in our passing I found him to be warm, engaging, and fraternal. Also, as a lawyer and someone who writes about how NPHC groups intersect with the law, my research has suggested to me that Mr. Hammock has a tremendous moral compass. As such, I think he is probably a more-than-able leader for Phi Beta Sigma and NPHC. As to Ms. Jones, I don’t believe I’ve ever met her. I state these things to make clear that the critiques that follow are not attacks on Mr. Hammock and Ms. Jones, personally. I just think that NPHC has some glaring weaknesses that don’t seem to be getting remedied.

Back to the AFA presentation! What struck me is that while Mr. Hammock and Ms. Jones were supposed to be taking the myth out of NPHC council advising, I don’t think that any myths were adequately addressed. People wanted to know how to handle an array of issues, but no broad solutions were put forth. It was as if, in this organization that has been around as an umbrella organization for, once 8 and, now 9 black Greek-letter organizations since 1930, nobody in NPHC leadership seems to have critically thought about the myriad issues confronting the organizations and devised solutions to those problems. The best that could be offered in this session was to offer to put out fires on the campuses specific to those student affairs advisors asking the questions. Even then, the offered problem-solving was only for the organizations of the presenters. It was shocking that no broad-based solutions were offered.

At one point, an audience member asked what the councils’ $150.00 dues go toward—what return on their investment the  councils receive. The answer was simple: they get what they get—to be members of NPHC. But they don’t get that; they’re required to have it. It’s foisted upon them. It’s like union membership, but union members at least get benefits from membership. We quickly moved on from this topic in the session, but something dawned on me. The question hadn’t really been answered. So I posed it again and noted that the NPC (umbrella group for “white” sororities) and NIC (umbrella group for “white” fraternities—though most NPHC fraternities also belong) offer numerous benefits to their member organizations and constituent councils. In fact, you can go to those organizations’ websites and find detailed information. What about NPHC? The response I received was that NPHC councils receive the same benefits and services as NPC and NIC councils … but not the same because NPHC doesn’t have the same financial resources as those other umbrella organizations. In short, NPHC councils receive the same but not the same. Make sense? And why this difference, sort of? NPHC doesn’t have the same financial resources. All I was thinking was “excuses … bridges and monuments.” Fine, NPHC doesn’t have the same ample financial resources, so it can’t provide ample resources to its councils. But what does it provide? I never got an answer to my question. I think it’s because there was no answer to be had.

Here are the facts. NPHC organizations have challenges that they need to face. College chapters and members are struggling. Hazing is killing young people. There are questions about our relevance. But instead of going about solving these problems, NPHC is, sorry to say it, stuck on stupid. There is no meaningful programming that occurs at NPHC conventions—from what I’ve  experienced and what I’ve been told. There is little to be learned by attendees to take back and make their respective organizations better. As such, there is no reason for members of NPHC organizations to attend NPHC’s national convention.

NPHC leadership, from what I understand, has either been hostile or indifferent toward thoughtful commentary, analysis, and research on it and its constituent organizations. They are provincial in their problem-solving. As one expert on NPHC organizations told me when I first started doing research on these groups, for them to acknowledge valuable insights about NPHC, you have to have a personal relationship with those in its hierarchy. This suggests that if there are NPHC organization members who have insights about how to effectively address small and failing councils, meaningfully reduce hazing, and advance the broader mission of the organizations, NPHC isn’t interested in the solutions.

At the close of my AFA Meeting session, I believe it was one of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.’s Provincial Polemarchs pulled me to the side. He noted that we have so much work to do in ending hazing among NPHC organizations. My response? NPHC isn’t serious about solving the problem. If they were, they would have an all hands all ideas on deck approach. They don’t. And you see this across the board on issues. They are busy worried about who’s researching, writing, and speaking on college campuses about NPHC instead of harnessing the vast talents of these organizations to solve their own problems and the problems of our communities.

And they want a $150.00 council assessment. Child, please!

Reducing Hazing within BGLOs: A Few Simple Solutions

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Be the Democratic Institutions We Say We Are– BGLOs purport to be democratic institutions, that being that each member has some say in the major issues facing the organizations.  Much of this is done via representative voting—electing delegates that will represent them at conventions/conferences that range from local to national/international.  But given that members feel so passionately about who actually gets to become their brother or sister, and the mechanism by which this happens (not to mention the stakes that the organizations face in this realm), BGLOs should let as many members who want to weigh in on the issue have a say as to what they would want in a process. At least, that way, members will feel that their voices have been heard.

Communicate to Members What Can and Cannot Be Done (AND WHY!)– It is not enough to give BGLO members a voice.  Give them understanding.  BGLOs should categorize the suggestions that they get from their members’ vis-à-vis what should be included in a process, and where certain suggestions are rejected, BGLOs must explain why.  For example, if some members recommend “light” paddling of prospective members on a daily basis, an ineffective response is “We just can’t do that.”  A better response is “Forty-four states have hazing statutes and these statutes outlaws ‘hazing.’ In all 44 of those states, hazing has been construed as physical abuse.  Many of these statutes give paddling as an example of physical abuse.  And state trial courts in several states have clearly stated that paddling is defined as hazing.  Those found to have engaged in such hazing have been faced with criminal and civil sanctions.  In some instances, their fraternity/sorority and/or host university has been subject to civil liability.”  Such an answer is likely to suggest that members’ suggestions were at least taken into consideration.

Provide Field Staff Where Possible– White fraternities and sororities often have field staff that travel the country, advising their chapters.  This is a great idea for organizations that can afford it.  I can only assume that there are 2 BGLOs that could do this.  For the other BGLO, I’d suggest drawing upon a team of members who are student affairs personnel to serve as remote/virtual advisors. Let’s use my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, as an example.  I know of around 20-30 Alphas who work in student affairs.  Say 15 of them served as virtual advisors. Each could pick a group of specific issues that would be their specialty.  If a Greek Affairs advisor had an issue with a chapter of Alpha and needed help resolving it, they could email the Alpha virtual advisors.  The request could then be assigned to the brother who has a specialty in that area, and within 24 hours, he would respond with his recommendations.  Proactively, Alpha could periodically—say once a month—run a report on problem chapters (e.g., those who have failed to submit required paperwork to the organization, those with poor chapter g.p.a.s, those where brothers are not graduating in a timely fashion).  The remote advisors would then seek to ascertain what the purported issues are and work with the chapters to resolve the issue or issues. Chapters with a past of hazing sanctions could also remain on constant monitoring by these advisors.

Raise G.P.A. Requirement for Membership (and Make Chapters Maintain This G.P.A. to Stay in Good Standing– Each BGLO contends that “scholarship” constitutes part of their organizational identity, but most if not all of them have a g.p.a. requirement of somewhere between 2.5 and 2.7 for membership.  These requirements are low.  I know that many BGLO members will balk at this, contending that BGLOs are not honor societies, but the reality is that part of our roots are literary societies—the hotbeds of debate, public speaking, broad reading, and intellectualism on college campuses for nearly 150 years. Moreover, we might presume that individuals with better g.p.a.s have something more at stake during their college experience than those with poor g.p.a.s.  And while juvenile behavior is fairly normal, those adolescents with more at stake are less inclined to engage in anti-social behavior than those who have less at stake (see HERE).

Require Documented Community Service Hours for Membership (and Make Chapters Maintain a Requisite Number of Community Service Hours to Remain Active)– It stands to reason that for individuals who frequently engage in prosocial behavior because it is an integral part of their identity, those individuals will be less inclined to engage in antisocial behavior like hazing.  This oversimplifies why hazing takes place, as there are profound sociological and social psychological dynamics at play with respect to hazing.  But I have to believe that there is something qualitative different between the person who does community service in passing only because their organization requires it versus the person who does it in abundance because he or she believes it is the right thing to do or because the gain some joy from it.  As such, should identify members who have a concrete, prosocial disposition or who are at least inclined to demonstrate their willingness to be prosocial in order to become members.  Moreover, BGLOs should keep their members moving toward prosocial behavior as a way to both do good and to undermine antisocial conduct.

Give Prospective Members a Robust Education on BGLOs– One important thing that BGLOs should want from their members, especially college members and prospective college members, is for them to be better decision-makers–especially in regard to issues around hazing.  Research shows that increased knowledge and experience lead to critical thinking and better decision-making (see HERE). Since prospective members are not likely to gain more experience with respect to BGLOs because they are not yet members, the most that BGLOs can expect from this population is increased knowledge.  This increased knowledge has to be on BGLOs—what they are, what they do, and the challenges they face.  My personal experience tells me that few people do a robust amount of research on BGLOs before they seek membership, and once they are already members there is little to no incentive to increase their knowledge on these groups. For most members proficiency comes largely, if not solely, from just being a BGLO member. What I suggest is that BGLOs not simply recommend readings to prospective members, but actually teach them.  For a number of reasons, which I will blog about at a later date, I think that if universities offer a course on BGLOs, it would be the best approach.  That, however, does not seem like a likely possibility in the short run. As such, I think NPHC should develop a web-based course on BGLOs.  Prospective members, particularly prospective college members, would need to take the class and pass with at least a “B” to be eligible to apply for membership to any BGLO.  The course would focus on BGLO history, culture, general contemporary issues, and issues around hazing/pledging/MIP.  There would be required reading, online discussions, and weekly quizzes. The course would be during the summer when prospective members are less likely to be harassed by current BGLO members.  At the end of the summer, BGLOs would be given the list of individuals eligible for membership—prospective members who are knowledgeable about BGLOs, potential problem-solvers once they become members, and better decision-makers as members and as aspirants.

I make these recommendations in toto, not as an offering of mere choices. And I make them not to the exclusion of other remedies. As a final not, I know that one major response to proposals to end hazing is that “we will never end hazing.”  That is true, but the point is not that we cannot but to what degree can we do a better job than we are now.

So You Want to Stop Hazing?: An Open Letter to NPHC and the “Divine Nine”

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Dear NPHC Leadership and Divine Nine Leaders:

On Tuesday, September 14, 2010, at around 6:00 p.m., I emailed the National Executive Directors of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.  I did not email the National Executive Directors of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., or Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., because I could not locate their email addresses on their, respective, national websites.  And experience has taught me that when the phones at the headquarters of the various Divine Nine organizations are answered—which is not all the time—requests for Executive Directors’ email addresses are not met (and probably for good reason).  As such, I have typed this blog entry in the hopes that my initial message reaches you.

The email I sent asked if you would like to partner in an effort to find the best strategies for ending hazing within our organizations.  But before I reiterate my proposal, let me take a step back and ask you a few questions:  Do you want to stop hazing within black Greek-letter organizations (“BGLOs”)?  Do you think that MIP has been the most effective strategy in ending hazing? I know. I’ve heard the argument, “If undergrads just obey the rules, then we would not have this problem.” But that’s like saying, “If people stopped robbing, and raping, and money laundering … we wouldn’t have any crime.”  Such a statement is true, but it’s also naively simplistic and fails to consider the multitude of reasons why people commit crime, which also precludes an ability to figure out how to stop crime.  Lastly, are you open to the possibility that a whole range of disciplines, and experts within those disciplines, might be able to help BGLOs solve this problem?  If you don’t see hazing within BGLOs as a major issue, don’t read on.  If you think MIP has largely solved the problem of hazing within BGLOs, don’t read on.  And if you think that some narrow range of experts or concepts can solve the problem, please stop here.

For those of you who are left, my observation is that hazing is a major problem for BGLOs, with no end in sight.  Further, MIP has not resolved the issue of hazing.  As such, I believe that BGLOs have to radically rethink how they bring in new members.  I was critiqued for this thinking, once, because it seemed as though I was solely focused on having a process, while BGLOs have more pressing issues—i.e., identity issues.  I, however, don’t think about process apart from organizational identity—in that each BGLO must be firmly rooted in the most noble of their, respective, founding identities and then identify, select, and train members to be in accordance with those identities.  It is the process where all of this takes place or should take place.  And neither the old pledge process nor the current Membership Intake Process meet this standard.  Furthermore, BGLOs reliance on what they believe, hope, and wish will work has failed to comport with broader bodies of knowledge out there.

So BGLOs might simply rely on theories and scholarship from student affairs, but such reliance is short-sighted, as student affairs likely provides only some answers and solutions to the problem at hand.  But if BGLOs look to criminology, for example, they would gain a better understanding of how personality and belief structures drive antisocial behaviors, like hazing.  They would gain greater insight into how punishment and sanctions may best be implemented to reduce hazing.  If BGLOs looked to organizational behavior, they might become more sympathetic to the fact that within organizations, individuals can engage in prosocial deviant behavior when they believe that their behavior remains faithful to organizational ideals at the expense of everyday organizational rules. Such insight might be beneficial in determining how to better structure a process, or even the crafting of a process, such that more members believe that it enables, rather than undermines, organizational ideals.  Organizational behavior research might also shed light on such things as team building, membership selection, membership retention, and contemplating broader organizational identity.  Sociology might show how broader societal factors promote hazing within BGLOs.  Medicine and clinical psychology could demonstrate the physical and psychological consequences of hazing. Communications might illuminate how BGLOs should go about educating their members more effectively on the perils of hazing and why a new course is needed.  Work in social and cognitive psychology could be used to better understand how to facilitate bonds between individuals, what types of belief structures and thought processes underlie hazing, and how, as research actually demonstrates, severity of initiation predicts liking for an organization.  And a more comprehensive analysis, rather than the seemingly piecemeal approach currently used, of the legal issues pertaining to hazing might make BGLOs think more systematically about the does and don’ts of any process they implement. 

In a sense, my colleagues—Drs. Tamara Brown (Delta) and Clarenda Phillips—and I have been doing this as we approach BGLOs and their issues more generally.  So are my colleague—Dr. Matthew Hughey (Sigma)—and I, currently. In essence, we have been strong believers, and practitioners, in the idea that BGLOs deserve an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary analysis, and such an analysis should not be mere Ivory Tower musings, but rather geared directly or indirectly toward addressing the problems that BGLOs face. With this in mind, our proposal is to turn this effort on one problem—hazing.  But even more, as the examples I enumerated above should suggest, our thinking is about more how to stop hazing.  It’s also about identifying, selecting, and training individuals in a manner that is consistent with our ideals—i.e., personal excellence, meaningful and life-long brotherhood/sisterhood, systematic engagement in an uplift agenda, and life-long involvement in our organizations.

With that said, Dr. Hughey and I plan to edit a multidisciplinary book, which would outline the theories and data on how to stop hazing while also selecting and training members in a way that meshes with our ideals and identity.  Employing the best practices, we will propose a process that meets these myriad ends.  It’s our hope that NPHC and each of the Divine Nine organizations will engage in a meaningful collaboration with us.  I look forward to your response.

Message to “Greek” Advisors: A Little Bit of Knowledge (about BGLOs) is a Dangerous Thing

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

This past Labor Day weekend I had the challenge of making some relevant and penetrating remarks to the Black Greek-letter organization (“BGLO”) community and interested students at Prairie View A & M University.  Yes, I mean that Prairie View, the same place where a Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity aspirant—Donnie Wade—was allegedly killed as a result of hazing activities just last year.  It was the first time that I had been asked to speak at a university that was, itself, under so much scrutiny.  My message was simple: BGLOs were founded with a certain organizational identity in mind; they have remained faithful to that identity in some ways, but largely, they have drifted.  As such, it is up to the members and aspiring members to be what the founders intended them to be so that they can make BGLOs what BGLOs were intended to be. 

The symposium was, a kind of, one-two punch.  I went first.  Philander Smith President and BGLO expert, Dr. Walter Kimbrough, went second.  I framed what BGLOs should be, in a global sense.  Dr. Kimbrough dealt squarely with the issue of hazing.  Interestingly, at one point in his talk, Dr. Kimbrough underscored why it is difficult to make any true headway with regard to solving the hazing issue within BGLOs.  He noted, and quite appropriately, that many BGLO members see themselves as a BGLO expert.  Consequently, those with the most minimal of knowledge about BGLOs may present major issues for the organizations.  It is a classic example of the cognitive bias, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where an individual’s incompetence robs them of the ability to be introspective enough to realize when they reach erroneous conclusions and make poor decisions.  In the BGLO context, for example, you see it where members use the “tradition” excuse for hazing.  It goes something like this: “The reason I hit John in the chest with a 2×4 is because it is fraternity tradition.”  An even cursory reading of fraternity history undercuts this argument, but these individuals don’t seek-out BGLO-related knowledge when they already believe they have cornered the market on it.  A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing!

But just as I opened my Prairie View speech, that I am indeed critical of BGLO undergrads, I believe that  there is also enough blame to go around.  And one group that deserves its fair share of critique are Student Affairs and Greek Life personnel who are charged with advising BGLO collegiates.  Anecdotally, while I have met a number of Greek Affairs advisors who are knowledgeable about BGLOs, I have also met more than my fair share that are not (but believe that they are).  Forthcoming research on Greek Affairs advisors’ cultural competence about BGLOs underscores my concern. 

A rebuttal to this is that on many campuses with National Pan-Hellenic Council (“NPHC”) chapters, many Greek Affairs offices hire NPHC-affiliated graduate or professional students to work the collegiate BGLOs.  This is problematic, however, for a host of reasons.  For one, often-times BGLO members lack a robust understanding of their own groups, especially sufficient enough to advise collegiate BGLO chapters.  As such, many Greek Affairs offices create a situation analogous to a physician having a limited knowledge of its patient’s symptoms and possible remedies, so the physician looks to its nurse in the hopes that the nurse will address the issue.  If this is the case, a new paradigm is needed.

Undergraduate BGLO members and chapters, to the extent that they fail to live up to organizational ideals, are handicapped in part because of their own actions.  But those who are reportedly responsible for their success—chapter alum, local alumni chapters, fraternity/sorority leadership, NPHC—have also failed them.  And this failure extends to Greek Affairs advisors.  I will not lie, I enjoy being invited to college campuses and speaking to BGLO undergraduates, but the truth of the matter is that BGLO lectures do little to educate Greek Affairs advisors and likely have no long-term beneficial impact on a campus.  What seems to enhance Greek advisors’ cultural competence about BGLOs is  reading the most recent scholarship on these groups.  Accordingly, if Greek Affairs advisors hope to live up to name “student affairs professionals,” they should do what professionals in other disciplines, like medicine or law, must do—remain current with the research and best practices in their area.  To do otherwise is tantamount to malpractice or ineffective assistance in the advising context. 

So what is a solution?  My recommendation is that the same way that various entities ensure that physicians and attorneys, for example, remain current with bodies of knowledge in their respective fields and render the best possible service to their patients/clients, Greek Affairs needs a similar body with a similar objective.  The two most likely candidates are NASPA and the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors.  Either of these bodies, I suggest, should take it upon itself to set standards for Greek advising and routinely educate and train advisors about diverse “Greek” populations.  Without such an effort, BGLO undergraduates and chapters will continue their steady demise, with the fallout being felt by their broader national organizations, communities they serve, and host institutions.