Social Media & The Greek System
This past week another sorority lost their national charter and was shut down, at least in part due to some very inappropriate social media sharing. This is only one in a string of fraternities and sororities who have been disciplined for their behavior, raising significant questions about the future of the Greek system on college campuses.
I was in a sorority in college and have fond memories of my experience in the Greek system. My daughters are at different universities and are both members of sororities and, so far, have had positive experiences as a result of their involvement. The Greek system at its best creates leaders, teaches the value of community, and fosters lifelong friendships. So, it saddens me that not only I, but both my daughters recognize that Greek life at many universities (and perhaps at all schools) seems to be living on borrowed time.
Social media and the Internet have exposed the nasty underside of the Greek system. While previous generations of parents might have been able to maintain ignorant bliss about what went on inside the doors of some fraternity and sorority houses, those activities now regularly make national news. As an adult who graduated before the smartphone era, I am glad I didn’t have to worry about a camera phone always being at the ready to document everything I did when I was in college. Since the current generation of college parents (happily) didn’t have that experience, we often struggle to help our kids navigate the treacherous voyage of coming of age on-camera and online. So this news has made me think about what kids need to understand when it comes to the digital world in which they live.
Yes, I used the word “kids” to describe college students. As I mentioned, I am the parent of two of those kids and while they are over eighteen and legal adults, in many ways they aren’t really adults. They still don’t really understand how their actions in college might lead to very real consequences that can drastically affect their future (although I hope they are learning). I am not saying that college students shouldn’t be held responsible for their behavior or that we, as a society, shouldn’t raise the bar when it comes to what we expect of them, but we need to do a much better job helping this generation face the challenges of the digital world. At the same time, when we help them improve their choices, we can also improve the Greek system of which many are a part.
This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive assessment of the Greek system, but rather to address the digital portion of their challenges. If the Greek System is to be saved then it must, as a start:
- Spell out explicitly what is expected of members both in terms of offline and online behavior and be swift and consistent when it comes to dealing with those who break the rules or don’t wear their letters well. Just a few “bad eggs” in a house can lead the university or the national chapter to believe that the rest of the members aren’t worth supporting. It’s incumbent upon the fraternity or sorority community to hold each other accountable.
- Enforce Zero Tolerance for any discriminatory practice, hazing, illegal activity, or the defamation of any group. Given that fraternities and sororities must assume that whatever happens in their houses will end up online, they have a significant interest in preventing negative behaviors. Poor choices by members won’t stay hidden in this day and age, as the way too many examples online from many schools demonstrate.
- Educate members to understand the importance of thinking before they post, and the implications of posting. While most adults recognize that college kids drink (even those who are underage), the fact that many in the Greek system essentially shove it in the face of authority figures and actively promote events that support illegal activity (even though it might not seem like it on your campus, it is illegal for anyone under 21 to drink) shows ridiculously poor judgment. While the best choice is to avoid illegal behavior, it certainly makes zero sense to promote such behavior on social media.
- Insist that members take their online profiles and personas seriously. What you are posting online today may become part of your permanent record. Even if you realize the morning after that you shouldn’t have posted something and delete it (as you should), you are still at risk of someone having seen, shared, or saved that post. The moment you hit enter/post/send, you give up control of your digital data (text, photo or video) and when you lose control of your digital persona, you place yourself at significant risk. Graduates face a reality that over 90% of employers check social media profiles before make hiring decisions. While some employers may be understanding about some poor choices made in college, others will not.
The Greek system has a tremendous amount of work to do to prove it can police itself and its individual members well enough to survive the digital age. As a former member of the very system I’m talking about, and the creator of an online digital tool designed to help students with this very issue, I’m still hoping it’s not too late to educate and help!