Monday, July 13, 2015

Rachel Sholder: What I've Learned from Greek Leadership

As a rising senior at Lehigh University and an active member of the Zeta Beta Chapter of Alpha Gamma Delta, I have had my fair share of involvement with Greek Life and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. During my sophomore year, I served as Alpha Gamma Delta’s Vice President of Operations and Accreditation Chair. During my junior year, I served as the Executive Vice President of Member Development (VPMD), partial New Member Educator, and Standards Board Chair. This upcoming school year, I will be serving as my chapter’s representative on the Judicial Board of the Panhellenic Executive Council. I will also be entering my third year as my chapter’s representative as the Sorority Liaison to the Women’s Center. All of these positions together have given me great insight into what it truly means to be a Greek leader and what makes a Greek leader different than a regular club leader.

As a club leader, you have the opportunity to collaborate with incredible students, seek guidance from faculty advisors, and work with the school administration. As President of Key Club in high school and as President of the Peer Health Advisers in college, I have seen and experienced all of these things. However, being a Greek leader is different. While you still have the opportunity to collaborate with incredible students, the people you are working with aren’t just students; they are your sisters, housemates, and best friends. You are going to experience tension with them, and that is completely okay. You can’t go home at night and tell your family about your crazy “co-workers” and wake up the next morning with a fresh start; you have to eat breakfast with your “co-workers”, participate in fun events like Greek Week with your “co-workers,” and maybe even share a room with “co-workers” despite maybe disliking some decisions they make. While you still have the opportunity to seek guidance from advisors, unlike most club advisors who are the main source of support for club members, Greek advisors stand back and let the Greek leaders run the chapter. While you still have the opportunity to work with school administration, this can extend to much deeper levels; my position during my sophomore year in Alpha Gamma Delta allowed me to work with individuals outside of Greek life, enabling me to branch out of the Greek life environment and work with many people in the Office of the Dean of Students.

Respect is not only one of the hardest things to learn as a Greek leader, but also one of the hardest things to learn as a Greek member. As a Greek leader, how are you supposed to be the person who goes out and has fun with your friends, but calls them into a Standards Board meeting if they push things too far? As a Greek member, how are you supposed to listen to general in-house rules that are given to you by your fellow peer and friend? Of course, a general member is allowed to voice her opinions. But, what makes it okay to yell at a Greek leader of your chapter? Because you wouldn’t do that to your boss, a club leader, or faculty advisor. And essentially a Greek leader is all of those combined into one job. What I learned worked best was to separate the two, which also seemed to work best for my friends. I even once had someone knock on my door and say, “I need to talk to you about something related to Alpha Gam, but can you just be Rachel for a minute and not Vice President Rachel?” My door was always open and no matter how much time giving personal advice about school, family, relationships, etc. took away from my other responsibilities, the trust, openness and nonjudgmental environment I created in my bedroom helped to extend that feeling of camaraderie in other aspects of the member development of our chapter as well as earn me more respect from my sisters. It is important to maintain positive, constructive and respectful relationships with people, especially as a Greek leader because you may be many members’ number one source of guidance and support.

Appreciation is a big one. After my sophomore year in Alpha Gam, I felt as if I had dedicated the majority of my free time to my chapter, but that my work was under recognized. I made it my mission in my junior year as Executive Vice President to instill one thing in each and every one of our members: you matter. Being in a chapter with over 100 women, it is easy to feel like your dedication and support to the chapter is unnoticed—even as President—and it is easy to feel like your opinions, your thoughts, and your feelings don’t matter. Well, they do. To recognize dedication of chapter members, each Sunday was Officer Appreciation day; every sister holding a position had one Sunday during the year where her hard work was recognized. Every Sunday, there was also a new Sister of the Week; this award was given to a general member who did something outstanding in the week prior. These two initiatives that I started aren’t meant to stay forever, but meant to start a change of mind. We shouldn’t need a day to appreciate the hard work of our sisters. While the Greek leaders are vital, in reality, you need more worker bees than queen bees. We should realize each and every day that our chapter wouldn’t be operating without everyone’s hard work and dedication.

Bridging relationships across member classes (or pledge classes) is a huge part of appreciation. When I was writing the New Member Plan, I wanted to make sure each of the member classes had an opportunity to bond with our new members. I created one event for the new members to have with PC ’12 (mostly seniors), PC ’13 (mostly juniors) and PC ’15 (mostly sophomores). All of the new members said that by far, these activities were their favorites. Again, the purpose of these events was not only to bond and have fun, but also to start a change of mind. It is okay (and natural) to form cliques and feel slightly separated by member class. But it is not okay to exclude sisters who aren’t in your most direct clique, it is not okay to state generalizations about a member class (ex: if you are mad at a junior sister, be mad at her and not the entire junior class), and it is not okay to assume the newest member class has the majority of responsibilities. We are not four separate sisterhoods separated by class year. We are not twenty separate sisterhoods separated by cliques. We are one sisterhood (or brotherhood).

There’s a side of Greek life that most people don’t see unless they have had the privilege of being a part of it. Being in a leadership role in a Greek chapter is hands-on training for essential life, business and personal skills. Also, being in a position of Greek leadership allows you to instill respect and appreciation, among many other things, in your members—leadership qualities that are harder to learn than time management, commitment, confidence and intuition. It is a valuable experience that you simply cannot get anywhere else.