Choosing Accountability Over Closure

This semester, Lambda Chi Alpha saw something that has only happened a handful of times: a chapter closed itself because they simply did not want to go on as members of the fraternity.

The men at Virginia Tech (Sigma-Lambda) faced an uphill battle after being found responsible for a number of hazing-related incidents surrounding their fall associate member program.

After a thorough investigation and conduct hearings, the 100-man chapter faced true accountability for their actions. Instead of accepting responsibility and working hard to make a positive change, the entire chapter chose the easy way out: hand in their charter, and close the chapter.

It is the idea of “accountability” that we choose to focus on throughout this article. Virginia Tech is by no means the first to face adversity, and they certainly will not be the last. However, the difference comes in the acceptance of accountability.

We talked with two different Lambda Chi members, one from the University of Florida, the other from the University of South Carolina, to discuss what accountability means to them.

Both men, though from different backgrounds and ways of life, share a similar experience of bringing a chapter back from the brink and what it means to be a lifetime brother in the face of adversity.

Arie Hariton, University of Florida (Epsilon-Mu)

From the day he stepped onto campus, Hariton knew he wanted to make the most of his college experience. So he became the definition of the word “involved”, doing everything from throwing himself into student government to joining Lambda Chi Alpha.

His involvement with the fraternity soon blossomed when, in only his third semester of college, he was named High Alpha. The president before him had resigned after the chapter was placed on limited operations.  Following a membership review for alcohol violations, it was time for Hariton to step up to the plate.

Arie Hariton was only a sophomore when he accepted the role of High Alpha.

Hariton remembers how his role quickly changed from being the peace keeper to the rule enforcer. Though he was young, Hariton knew that to save his chapter, he had to be the catalyst for change.

“He [Hariton] understood that his and the chapter’s actions deserved to be held accountable and used this opportunity as a learning moment to help spur the chapter forward, while also growing as an individual leader,” said Erik Silvola, former ELC who participated in the Florida chapter’s membership review.

Hariton recalls how, early in the slow rebuilding process, some members were not pleased with his decisions, but to revive the chapter, the foot had to come down.

“Ultimately, I still give a lot of credit to my executive team, my Zeta, and a lot of credit to my High Pi, but I think it comes from that, where I knew whatever happened, I was going to be held accountable for it,” said Hariton.  “I had a responsibility in my brothers to not make short-term decisions that could have very bad long-term consequences.”

And so the chapter, which had previously maintained a strong membership, was faced with the challenge of rising from the ashes. The process began with a positive mindset.

As time passed, brothers realized it was now or never for them to save their brotherhood.  Quickly, the mindset changed from one of despair to one of hope: members began focusing on their strengths, including fundraising 28,000 dollars for their school’s dance marathon.  They saw a shift in brothers’ involvement in different organizations on campus, as well.

It was a time of growth and change, following a situation that could have been the end, but not on Hariton’s watch.

“All of the time we had put in going through the associate member process, all of the effort we had put in by being brothers would be gone,” affirmed Hariton.  “The chapter probably wouldn’t have been chartered for another four years; you kind of have to value the time you put into an organization, you have to value the relationships you have built with people.”

Jim Tothill, University of South Carolina (Epsilon-Psi)

Tothill decided to get involved once again with his chapter because he was afraid the chapter would disappear altogether. In 2011, the chapter, much like Hariton’s, was going through a major membership review and the numbers had dropped from 81 members to 14 associate members and four active brothers.

Following a membership review, the rebuilding process began.

Tothill began helping the South Carolina chapter on the Alumni Control Board (ACB)  during its long process of becoming active on the campus once again, but was asked to extend his role by becoming High Pi.

As High Pi, Tothill remembers what he told his few members when he began: they were going to learn the ropes together and forge ahead in the name of Lambda Chi Alpha.

So, Tothill retrieved the coat of arms from the house, laid it on the table and told the members if you are truly in this and willing to rise to the top again, sign your name on this coat of arms.  All members did, and from there it has been a steady incline.

Tothill has been able to lead his men through a better recruiting process: focusing on men from the honors college who would live the values of the organization.  Tothill also turned the chapter’s focus to building a better relationship with the administration and the school.

Epsilon-Psi was the recipient of the 2016 Phoenix Award. Tothill pictured in center.

Since the review,  Epsilon-Psi has produced a Duke Flad award winner, earned several scholastic achievements, and most recently won the 2016 Phoenix Award for “establishing a firm foundation and adherence to the majority of the Fraternity’s principles…which enabled it to move away from the brink of self-destruction”.

In short, he wanted his chapter to fight for what they had.

“From my standpoint, when you take it [the charter] from a small group that no one thinks is going to survive, it becomes an ‘us against the world’ mentality,” said Tothill.  “The university doesn’t think you are going to make it…but to say I have faith in you, I’ve got passion in you, I respect you, I think you can do it.”

Membership has grown rapidly the last few years.

For struggling chapters, whether with numbers or other issues, Tothill gives this advice: find a strong advisor, and concentrate on doing things the right way, escaping from the toxic “old culture”. After all, the point of joining Lambda Chi is to uphold an oath taken and the values put forth.

“Our Seven Core Values will last them the rest of their lives, in any situation, good or bad, because you are going to run into those situations and you will make mistakes when you get older,” stated Tothill.  “You will have parts of your life that will be very difficult, and if you use these values, they will always fill in; that ties you into a lifetime of brotherhood…you’ll have that to fall back on.”

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Look around you.  What do you see? Not only the brothers you have made a promise to, but a fraternity to teach you how to become a better man.  You do not just represent just  yourself anymore, but the ideals and lessons of an organization which will help you throughout the rest of your life.

Because after all,  your involvement in Lambda Chi Alpha is not just for your college years, but for a lifetime.