by Matt Mattson
The fraternity/sorority movement struggles with a serious reputation problem. This is no surprise to any of our members. We know it. We feel it. Personally.
Our reputation problem negatively impacts our organizations' ability to grow (attract decent human beings). It negatively impacts our ability to raise funds (for our organizations and for our philanthropic endeavors). It negatively impacts our relationships with administration and the community. And perhaps most importantly, the reputation problems of fraternities and sororities negatively impact the personal reputations of members. Our collective reputation negatively impacts our personal reputations. When our members wear letters to some classes, professors look at them sideways. When our members exhibit their membership publicly, they're often judged, stereotyped, and ridiculed.
This truth hurts.
You (if you're a fraternity or sorority member of any chapter, any council, on any campus, undergrad or alumni) are seen as the same as the worst of our problems. You are a hazer. You are a sexual assaulter. You are a part of the bizarre and screwed up relationship our organizations historically have with race. You killed someone because of dangerous consumption and hazing behaviors.
Now, if you're about to click the x in the top right corner of this post out of disgust... give me one moment. Because I'm with you. I had to take a step away from my keyboard after writing that. I'm a proud fraternity man from a healthy, safe, and unbelievably positive chapter experience who knows that my experience is similar to 90% of our members across North America. We aren't our worst demons... but we're seen that way. Our Greek reputation problems become our personal reputation problems in ways that are almost too much to bear.
So, who is in charge of fixing our reputation problems? This question has haunted me for a while. Because I'm not sure anyone has decided to be in charge. What about in your chapter? Who is in charge of your image? Your social media chair? Your recruitment chair for like 2 weeks a year? Your president (while they're in charge of everything else too)? What about in your council or community? The IFC VP of Communications? The NPHC Vice President of External Relations? Really? Because when I talk to them across the country they do not see themselves in that role. In fact, we have research to prove that they not only don't accept that mantle, but they have zero training, funding, or support to achieve it even if they did.
We have to take marketing and public relations much more seriously.
We have to elevate, train, and prepare our leaders to be able to manage their/our collective reputation.
And, I'm not talking about putting lipstick on a pig. This isn't about covering up our ugly spots. I don't want us to "spin" our reputation problems. I want us to FIX our reputation by fixing our organizations. But I'm no longer convinced that one's the chicken and the other's the egg. Our negative reputation has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We seem like drunkards so we attract drunkards who do drunkardly things which reinforces our drunkard reputation. And round and round we go.
I am calling for an uprising against our reputation. If you're an involved Greek leader, it's time to put your effort into changing our collective bad reputation -- your bad reputation. You have to choose to take on the responsibility of REPUTATION CZAR for your chapter, campus, council, or inter/national organization. Our reputation matters. It matters to us, and it matters to you. To be frank, it matters to me. I'm tired of being seen as the same idiots who... [fill in the blank with the most recent tragic news story involving the worst of our members].