The following is the transcript.
I’m pleased to be able to address this group of brothers, Elders and friends here at our 168th Convention in Las Vegas at this Phi Alpha’s Luncheon.
There is a well-known expression: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. In Zeta Psi, we actually have a parallel expression, as supported by some of the symbolism of our noble order: What happens in the Circle stays in the Circle. And, that is fine ….to a point.
The environment around us has changed, significantly, since we were founded in 1847. It has changed significantly since I was an Active 30 years ago. And that societal change is forcing us to change as well, or Darwin’s theory of evolution might just apply to us.
As members of Zeta Psi we can comprehend and process concepts such as brotherhood, leadership development, and networking. Non-Greeks, at the same time, see us as privileged, cliquish, and party animals. Are we right? Are they? In essence, we are both are, because we are just looking at the same elements from different perspectives.
How can we get non-Greeks to see the positives of who we are and what we do?
There are three barriers that are standing in the way for us to accomplish this: hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct.
We pride ourselves on the strength of our brotherhood. Non-Zetes claim that we are tight because we haze our new members. Hazing was not part of the principles that our Founders introduced in our Ritual, and it plays no role in our activities now. Yet some people think it is a good idea that will make our Circle stronger. Instances of hazing in sports teams make the press so easily today, and the public is quick to condemn. The public likes sports, yet they condemn these actions. Imagine their response when a fraternity is caught doing the same thing, and a fraternity is not liked as much as a sports team. We introduced the Honor Campaign three years ago to make sure that Zetes have the resources to conduct a positive pledge education program, and that the public is aware that we are not like they think we are.
We like to think that our parties are fun, and that we provide a good social outlet on our campuses. Non-Zetes claim that we are encouraging binge drinking and underage drinking. Now, I’ll begin by saying that alcohol is not a bad thing. I have been known to enjoy a drink or two myself, even with some of you last night. But as an organization we do little to change the reputation that we have earned on our campuses. Neighbours complain about noise and mess, campus administration worries about binge drinking. And most incidents of personal injury and sexual misconduct involve alcohol. We discussed the role of hard alcohol earlier today during the Grand Chapter Forum, and we will be discussing it more in the future, because we have to understand that we jeopardize our own existence when we selfishly decide that personal gratification outweighs the reputation of the whole. We are not saying that drinking is bad; we are advocating to drink responsibly, legally, and to have each other’s backs when you see that someone is out of control. For the survival of our organization, we have to recognize that this will be a topic that needs to be addressed by all of us.
We like to think that we are the “Big Men on Campus”, and that the girls love us because of this. And, often they do … because we are. But the Non-Zetes see us as a sexist organization, full of misogynists, who take advantage of (I had initially used a much harsher word here, but decided to soften it) our female guests when they are at a disadvantage because we got them drunk. Society has developed zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. Public entertainers, professional athletes, politicians, even the doctor in the clinic down your street have all ended up in the media recently because of allegations of sexual misconduct. And those are all people who are generally liked and respected by the public (ok, maybe not the politicians). Use the words sexual assault in the same sentence as fraternity and the public will be even quicker to condemn us as guilty. Society is steering everyone towards what it means to have consent, and we just have to ensure that we understand – and practice – what that means before having fun on a Friday night.
Does all this sound like Doom and Gloom? Possibly, but remember, I started out by saying that we are looking at ‘fraternity’ from a different perspective than society around us. We have to keep looking at it from our perspective, but we have to prove to society that ours is the right perspective.
How can we do this? A couple of weeks ago former Phi Alpha Lauck Walton posed the question on LinkedIn about what are the issues facing Zeta Psi. Jon Ernesto (point to him) used a phrase in his reply that encapsulates in four words what our response should be: Creating a positive legacy.
We need to be seen as contributors on campus and in society. We need to have our neighbours like us because we respect them. We need to have the campus administrators appreciate the things we do to make student life more engaged and positive. We need to have our parents feel proud, not embarrassed, when they find out that their son joined Zeta Psi. Whether it is through philanthropic initiatives, leadership in student government, neighbourhood cleanups, or providing a respectful environment for female students, our actions can have a positive impact. Or, they can have a negative impact. The more positive things we do the more goodwill we will have in the bank for the time that an unfortunate incident occurs on your campus, because we will have created a positive legacy. And remember, such an incident might not even involve Zeta Psi, but all Greek organizations will be lumped together unless we can differentiate ourselves.
This message is not about “don’t have fun”, but it is about having the right type of fun and about being seen as contributors on your campus!
We’re giving you the tools in the LTIs during this Convention to accomplish some of these positive things. The challenge is for you to go back to your Chapters, to share the ideas with your Brothers, and to be strong enough to stand up if you see something that is playing into the hands of the public’s negative perspective of fraternity.
So, network this week with your Brothers. Socialize at night with your Brothers. Be proud, because we are an elite organization. But take the tools back with you to be leaders on your campus so that people will see you as leaders and not just as “frat boys”. In this instance, what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas.
Always in Tau Kappa Phi,
Barth Gillan, Phi Alpha CXXXV