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Fraternity & Sorority Life in 2011

Working in the fraternity and sorority system has numerous rewards, such as fostering a student's academic achievement, helping in their personal growth, and guiding them in their career path, but it can also come with challenges, such as drinking and hazing on campus. Our guest this month, Monica Miranda Smalls, the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at the University of Rochester, addresses some of the key topics on campus today and tips on enhancing your career in Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. Also discussed in our HigherEd Careers Interview are initiatives taking place in fraternity/sorority life through the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.

After reading, we invite you to continue the discussion in our LinkedIn group or follow HigherEd Careers on Twitter.

Andrew Hibel, HigherEdJobs: Mrs. Smalls, you are the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at the University of Rochester. What interested you in this role and what are some of your major responsibilities related to Fraternity/Sorority Affairs?

Monica Miranda Smalls, University of Rochester: I became interested in Student Affairs when I was a junior in college and serving as the President of Fuerza Latina, the Latino student organization on campus. My interest in working directly in fraternity/sorority affairs grew as a result of my own affiliation with a sorority, Omega Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and my first professional position as a Student Activities Associate at the University at Albany, SUNY, where my favorite part of the job was fraternity/sorority advising. I soon began looking for positions where 100% of the job was to advise fraternities and sororities, and that was what brought me to the University of Rochester. Besides advising fraternities and sororities, major responsibilities include creating, communicating, and implementing the strategic vision and future direction of fraternity/sorority life consistent with the college educational mission and values, while managing and leading the Fraternity and Sorority Affairs unit within the Office of the Dean of Students. I oversee the award-winning Expectations for Excellence Accreditation process and supervise a phenomenal staff that provides programs advancing the personal and professional growth and development of fraternity and sorority members. Another major aspect of my position is the oversight of over $1 million in fraternity operating and capital accounts related to operation and management of five fraternity-operated residential facilities working closely with Residential Life Facilities staff. Other areas of attention include Parent Relations, Alumni Relations and Development.

Hibel: In addition to the role mentioned above, you serve as the President of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA). What is the mission of this association and benefits of joining this organization? And, why did you choose to accept this responsibility?

Smalls: AFA's mission is to enhance its members' abilities to foster impactful fraternity/sorority experiences. Our vision is to be the catalytic force in aligning the fraternity/sorority experience with the changing dynamics and enduring principles of higher education. There are a variety of benefits of being a member of the association. The main benefit is the great professional development that members gain through educational programs, webinars, regional conferences, the Annual Meeting, and a variety of printed educational resources. I chose to accept the responsibility of president as a way of giving back to an association that not only has played a vital role in my own professional development, but has given me some great colleagues and friends across the country. I have a sincere passion for fraternity and sorority life and am committed to it.

Hibel: As the president, you are charged with implementing the strategic plan of the association. What are some of the key strategic goals, and how do these goals affect the students and staff involved in sororities and fraternities?

Smalls: We have four key strategic areas: Professional Development, Research and Development, Partnerships, and Governance and Infrastructure. Through these goals, the professional development education and training offerings will be expanded, and the association will increase their attention to ensuring that accurate data is gathered and disseminated on the fraternity/sorority experience. Having done some of my own investigation in the area of fraternities and sororities, I have seen how the research primarily highlights the harsh realities of hazing, sexual assault, alcohol and other drugs that, while they are challenges within the fraternity/sorority community, the research significantly neglects addressing the value of fraternities and sororities and how affiliation can positively contribute to retention and social integration of students in college. As we review and potentially increase our partnerships with like-minded organizations, professionals will benefit with additional resources and education which will, in turn, positively impact the students that are served by the professionals on campuses and at the headquarters of international fraternities and sororities daily. Lastly, ensuring that our structures and policies are efficient, effective, inclusive, and aligned with the best of association management practices will be integral in sustaining a strong organization of value to its members, and the area of fraternity and sorority advising and beyond. For more on AFA's Strategic Plan, you can view it at:

Hibel: From a student's perspective, what do you think are some of the major issues, either positive or negative, surrounding fraternity and sorority life?

Smalls: I think a student might say that a major issue is the way in which campuses are "cracking down" on their chapters. In fact, in a recent retreat I conducted with some fraternity leadership, that was one of the first things they referenced. The positive aspect of this is that there are more campuses recognizing the importance of providing more professional support for these groups. The negative aspect of this is, unfortunately that there are still many campuses lacking adequate professional staff to truly advance a community. Some campuses may find students recognizing enhanced support they are getting from the campus through increased staffing, educational programming, and leadership development. Others are feeling the opposite as the economy has significantly impacted a number of student life areas over the last few years.

Hibel: Now looking at the same question above from an administrator's perspective, what are the major changes and/or issues surrounding fraternity/sorority life?

Smalls: Many more campuses and national organizations are reviewing the manner by which they assess their chapters. At the University of Rochester, we created the award-winning Expectations for Excellence Accreditation process, which is modeled after the higher education accreditation processes. It offers students the opportunity to set their goals and submit an annual self-evaluation addressing those goals that is reviewed by a small panel of volunteers, including a staff member, alumni and a student. This program has significantly, and positively, changed the culture of the system at the University of Rochester since it is based on a success-driven model that has prompted increased positive contributions to the campus. This program has also assisted us in clearly identifying those chapters that are not living up to their values, and we have, in the last few years, withdrawn recognition from organizations that have continued to participate in illegal activity, particularly hazing. While some students may feel these programs are just a way the institution attacks the fraternity/sorority community, it has actually positively impacted a number of campuses and national organizations that have implemented similar programs by strengthening chapters and realigning their priorities to their founding principles.

Hibel: According to the Office of Greek Life at Case Western University, "Fraternities and sororities stress academics, rewarding those who excel in the classroom. In the spring of 2010, the All-Greek GPA averaged higher than the all-student GPA."1 This is obviously a compliment to the emphasis on academics at this institution. Do you think this stress on academics in the sororities and fraternities is common at most colleges and universities?

Smalls: I think it is common. In fact, you'll find most campuses and national organizations stress that regularly, as the students would not be members of the organizations without being students first. Scholarship was also one of the major tenets of fraternities and sororities when they were founded, as many were created initially as literary societies. While reading the history of fraternities and sororities, you'll also see references to how some of the sororities worked directly with the faculty to identify the women achieving the highest academic record as a method by which they would create their list of women to invite to membership. High academic achievement is still a very important aspect of successful fraternities and sororities.

Hibel: Personally, I think academics is one of the highlights of my fraternity experience. I know it is not "cool" to offer this opinion. Often, I think it is underestimated as part of the value of the system. How do you think we can do a better job of helping students realize the real benefit here?

Smalls: I have to agree with you on this as I, too, have a personal story of how my sorority helped me to achieve a greater level of academic achievement. When I first wanted to join as a second semester sophomore, I did not have the mandatory 2.3 GPA that was required, so they did not invite me to attend and I was devastated. They did, however, continue to encourage me to keep in touch with them, and they constantly asked me how I was doing in school over the course of that spring semester, encouraging me to do better in order to meet their GPA requirements so I could participate. I only did slightly better, but working with them, I asked them to help me by granting me an exception for the fall of my sophomore year since I was only hundredths of a point away from their requirement, and they granted it. I participated in the new member program in the fall of my sophomore year and increased my GPA from a 2.24 to a 2.86, and every semester after that my GPA was higher than a 3.0! The significant attention the older members paid to my academic achievement and the support I received from them was clearly one of the greatest benefits of my affiliation. When it comes to how we can help students realize the real benefit, I believe one way is by ensuring that the current members recognize the focus their founders placed on academics and how scholarship is part of the initial fabric and founding principles of fraternities and sororities. This way they can then impart that to the new members. I also often say to students that are interested in joining fraternities or sororities that they will be no good to the organization if they fail out of school because they focus too much on the social aspect and not enough on their academics. They will lose out on the benefit of their own experience if they do not take care of school first. Ultimately, they really would not have the benefit of membership without being a college student, so they need to be sure they put school first.

Hibel: A recent journal article focusing on drinking among sorority and fraternity members stated, "Greek members drank significantly more during the college years than students who did not belong to Greek houses."2 What are your thoughts on this conclusion? Do you think alcohol is a problem in sororities and fraternities?

Smalls: Alcohol use and abuse is a problem for a significant portion of the college student population. Some studies do highlight the fact that alcohol use is higher for fraternity members. I think what this means for professionals in this area is that we must continue to provide significant alcohol education and abuse prevention programs for students. Many campuses and fraternities and sororities contract educators from companies like CAMPUSPEAK to provide students with educational programs as well as interactive workshops as they work to address these issues with fraternity/sorority members. Partnership between fraternity and sorority life offices and the campus health education office is also an effective practice to ensure that education is consistent and readily available. I find that when students are equipped with the information they need to make the right decisions, and are expected to make the right decisions, they generally rise to the occasion. While that may seem like an idealistic view, I've been witness to it often and know that it is happening and students are being more and more courageous when given the opportunity to do so.

Hibel: According to a recent article, an author states, "While sororities were created to provide college women with opportunities for personal growth and enrichment," there have been reports that "...they are often criticized for their potential to lead women to focus excessively and unhealthily on their appearances."3 What are your feelings on this statement?

Smalls: I think that women, in general, have been provided with less than positive images of what is beautiful in the media. These issues do not start at the collegiate level, so I believe it is important to start this type of education at a much younger age. Elementary education should ensure healthy options and healthy images are in the lunchroom and around the classrooms. What I have appreciated is the attention of sororities on campuses and nationally to proactively educate not only their membership, but the general campus community, on the harms of eating disorders and other related health issues, because they realize it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Hibel: For many people, the word "hazing" is commonly thought of when they hear about new members "rushing" fraternities and sororities. Many argue that hazing is a positive bonding experience that results in stronger unity, but there have been many unfortunate situations that have happened over the past several years as well. What are your thoughts on hazing? If you believe it is an issue, do you have suggestions on how university personnel should address hazing on their campus?

Smalls: Hazing is one of the most difficult issues out there. AFA has recently created a hazing prevention education workgroup that will review and update our current resources and create new ones, as needed, to ensure that our members are being educated on the effective practices being used to address this issue. The National Hazing Study has assisted many professionals by providing the data that describes why students haze. When we know why they do it, we can work toward getting to the root of the issue through values-based education and conversations. Another great resource is, and we are happy to be a partner with them in the efforts to combat hazing.

Hibel: AFA, along with other higher education associations, combine to make The Placement Exchange partnership (TPE),4 which focuses on connecting candidates and employers. This March 9-13, TPE will be hosting its annual conference in Philadelphia where candidates can meet employers directly for interviews. If you had your interviewer hat on at an event like this, what would you advise candidates, either new to the area of fraternity/sorority affairs or trying to move up in the field, do to prepare for interviews?

Smalls: I actually had my first and second interview for my current position at the NASPA Placement back in 1999, before it was called The Placement Exchange, and I think it is truly a great opportunity and experience for candidates. I would advise candidates to be sure they thoroughly do their research in the field and the institution they are applying for. Review current news and happenings so that employers recognize your true interest in their position and working at that institution. Most importantly, let your natural self shine through in the interview. Be genuine, and those interviewing the candidate will take notice.

Hibel: If a candidate were to ask you your favorite things about working in fraternity and sorority affairs, what would you say?

Smalls: That's an easy question -- the students. My experiences learning from students daily and watching them grow and develop via the leadership opportunities provided by our area and their organization cannot truly be effectively expressed in a few words. I have been inspired by those students that have had the courage to stand up against hazing. I have been impressed by students who come up with new and innovative methods to promote the values of fraternities and sororities through educational programs and their own new member programs. I have also been reminded daily how valuable the experience of working with others from a variety of ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds is providing students with an understanding of others that will suit them well as they venture into a global world upon graduation.

Hibel: Following up from the prior question, what about the major challenges you've encountered while working in this area of student affairs?

Smalls: Whenever you get a group of people together in a room, there is always the propensity for groupthink. It is groupthink that can, often, get them in trouble. There are times when I have had a conversation with an individual student who says that they would have never acted in a particular way but felt pressured to do so because of the group. It is important for groups to ensure the support and space for students to be themselves and make their own decisions. These groups are about brotherhood and sisterhood and should provide support for independent thinking, and gentle confrontation when someone may be making bad decisions. Even 17 years after being in my own sorority, I still value what I have learned, even from my first day as a new member, and how I have become a better person because of what I have learned over the years from so many people informing my understanding of the world. That's what it should be like. Fraternities and sororities are, and should continue to be, positive experiences for members and their surrounding community.

Hibel: Do you have any general comments, advice or "words of wisdom" that haven't been covered for a person considering accepting a position in fraternity and sorority affairs?

Smalls: Never sell yourself short. An undergraduate fraternity and sorority experience provides you with a variety of skills in human and leadership development, which are useful when transitioning into a professional role in the field. Additionally, a warning I would share is to ensure that you have balance in your life when you find that first job. Most people who go into this work are so passionate about it that they could easily spend 60-80 hours a week working, and that is not a healthy option. If an advisor isn't taking care of themselves, I firmly believe they are no good to their students, hence, one should ensure that they are balancing their time and not overworking themselves. An advisor does not have to be at every single meeting or every single program that happens on campus. How do students really learn if their advisor is there every single minute? Allow for students to lead, and then schedule meetings thereafter for them to update you during normal business hours. Attend a meeting here and there, but do not allow this work to consume every aspect of your life. Securing balance early in one's career is important in order to ensure your longevity in the field.