Reflections on a Chapter Closing: An Opinion Piece from General Counsel, Lynn Chipperfield
I’ve recently had the unfortunate duty to visit one of our host institutions to announce the suspension of undergraduate operations at one of our Zetas. Any time this happens it’s a sign of failure, both of the undergraduate members and of the alumni, but often of the university and of the General Fraternity as well. No chapter fails on its own. There are no winners.
In reflecting on this recent experience, I have some observations to share that are applicable not just to that chapter but to many of our other chapters as well.
Culture is passed down. Men don’t show up to college looking for an opportunity to haze or to call men “pledges” or to serially misbehave. When a chapter has a decades-long history of disciplinary issues, it’s clear that these are learned behaviors passed down through generations of alumni. The culture of a chapter is developed over time. It’s sometimes regarded as a Zeta’s greatest point of pride, but it’s often the Zeta’s most dangerous liability, and it’s always the hardest thing to change. The undergraduate chapter can’t do it alone – it’s up to our alumni to set the tone. But be mindful that that tone is often what caused the problems in the first place.
A house is not a chapter. Too many times the operations of a Zeta center around a physical structure – the house. The house becomes a proxy for the brotherhood, and the desire to maintain the house and to fill the beds becomes a liability rather than an asset. It’s a fact that some of our strongest chapters don’t have a house. They have nothing to fall back on other than brotherhood itself. When I’m told that a chapter won’t succeed on a particular campus without a house, I wonder if the members fully appreciate what they’re telling me about their bond with their brothers or their ability to attract men of quality seeking a larger fraternal experience.
We’re an international Fraternity. No one is ever initiated into a Zeta. He’s initiated by a Zeta into the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. Too many of our Zetas are insular in nature – scarcely regarding anyone as a brother who has been initiated by another Zeta, and deeply suspicious of anyone from the “outside.” Those who have attended General Assemblies, Leadership Seminars, or High Alpha Summits know the benefits of the new friendships and the sharing of ideas that those events offer. If you operate your Zeta as an island, you’re missing out on much this Fraternity has to offer.
The General Fraternity isn’t the problem. The Indianapolis office can go by many names: the General Fraternity, the International Headquarters, the Office of Administration. If you’re still referring to it as “Nationals,” you’re demonstrating an ill-disguised contempt – both for the International Headquarters and for our Canadian brothers. The men and women who work for the General Fraternity work long hours for little other than their sense of duty to the Fraternity. They gain no gratification from disciplining chapters, and the Grand High Zeta gains nothing from suspending chapter operations. Use the resources of the General Fraternity as part of your solution – don’t blame it for your problems.
This is the 21st Century. If you still have to remind your alumni that a reference to Associate Members means “the pledges,” your Zeta is stuck in a bygone era. We haven’t had pledges since 1972. If you’re still hazing, you’re not only treating your future brothers like children and threatening their health and safety, but you’re violating the laws of the Fraternity and probably those of your state and your university as well. The Greek world is stuck in a downward public relations spiral, largely of its own making. For Lambda Chi Alpha to succeed, we must differentiate ourselves from the rest of the industry and demonstrate that we’re a values-based organization that takes leadership and character development seriously. We have to treat our men like men.
It’s not about forgiveness, it’s about accountability. It’s difficult to come up with excuses for bad behavior without sounding whiney and defensive. But that’s what we often hear from both the undergrads and the alums when a chapter gets off the rails. On the other hand, there’s something character-enhancing and even cathartic in confessing your faults, pledging sincerely to mend your ways, and accepting the consequences of bad choices. I often hear, “The kids made some mistakes.” But these aren’t kids, and these aren’t mistakes. These are bad choices made by young adults who should know better. We’ve all taken an oath to hold ourselves accountable. Don’t make excuses – fix the problem.
A chapter suspension is only a bump in the road. A chapter only represents the undergraduate operations of a Zeta. The Zeta continues in the form of its alumni members. This is why we never suspend a Zeta, we never revoke a charter, and we never reassign a Zeta designation. It’s always the intention to re-establish undergraduate operations at a Zeta at the appropriate time and when conditions favor a successful effort. It’s left to our alumni keep the flame of the brotherhood burning so the right climate exists when the time comes – usually after the passage of several years – for a re-colonization effort on that campus. The day after the suspension of chapter operations is a good time to start developing that climate.
Winston Churchill said, ” Success is never final. Failure is never fatal.” Our rituals teach us the lesson of hope and that death is followed by rebirth. The suspension of chapter operations can be viewed as the death of the Zeta or it can be viewed as an opportunity for rebirth – for renewed commitment to the ideals for which the Fraternity stands, which its ritual teaches, and which its emblems keep constantly before our eyes.
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