If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out the new post by @BrianFLeDuc on his blog (http://brianfleduc.com/2011/03/28/being-seen/#). This is a topic that he and I have been chatting about a lot recently. As a department, we are exploring the idea of vulnerability, trying to see how it fits into our jobs and how it affects our team dynamic. So I guess it’s my turn to open my heart and talk about my lessons…
I like to call this the best thing I never knew I always wanted, and it is the reason I am in student affairs.
I am in a fraternity. As I was going through my new member process, I was given several tasks and events that we had to complete. When I was going through them, I couldn’t put words to what was happening to me, and wasn’t until later that I realized what it was; hazing. I put up with it because I believed in what the fraternity stood for and I wanted to be a member. I still consider my Greek experience one of my most valuable leadership positions I had as an undergrad and advising a chapter in Graduate School gave me my first taste of advising in the trenches.
I was elected President of my fraternity very young. I was elected the first semester of my sophomore year and took office the next semester. My first semester as president, we took our largest new member class, one that nearly doubled the size of our chapter. I was riding high. The Greek Advisor for my school and I were on great terms. We had gotten to know each other by working on Greek Week the previous semester, and I considered her a great ally and mentor. I had a good relationship with the administration, they appreciated what I was doing with the chapter and our image to other organizations. They also helped me get through a personal tragedy in the previous semester, but that is another post.
Our normal new member process continued, and I sat by and watched it and sometimes participated. One day, my Greek Advisor called me in to her office and informed me we were being investigated for hazing. I kept a straight face, but in the back of my head, all I could think was, I am going to jail forever (not likely, but you couldn’t tell me that). So I did what any leader of integrity does in a situation when you are faced with a moral temptation. I called a meeting with everyone in the chapter, and I told them a simple thing…
Lie to the investigators, lie to your friends, lie to yourselves, lie to save the chapter, lie to save me. So we did, we came up with a story of what “really” happened, and everyone stuck to the story. Some people bought it, most people didn’t, but most importantly, I didn’t buy it. So that night, I stared at the ceiling, not sleeping, with the same idea running through my head; “How can I call myself a leader with integrity, if I can’t be honest with the people that just want to help me”. This went on for about a week. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, I went into my advisors office, closed the door, sat on the couch, broke down, and with tears in my eyes, told her that we did it, but to have mercy on us and not take our chapter away, help me fix it. And she did, and in that moment, I knew I wanted to have that effect on students in the same way she affected me.
So for the rest of my time as president, we worked together. We came up with a new plan of how to teach the same lessons and use the idea of rites of passage, but without putting anyone in danger. She never asked about our secrets, and I never told. I was finally able to live a life of integrity, and felt like I left a legacy on the chapter. Some brothers hated me, others respected me, alumni would be a mix of “you killed our chapter” to “we have been trying to do this for a long time, thank you for accomplishing it”. At the end of the day, I had to shave my own face in the mirror, and I finally could after coming clean.
This is a story that not many people know, but an important one for me. It not only gave me my future career and passion, it made me explore the idea of integrity for the first time, and truly live it, instead of just saying I did. The inner-monologue of thinking I was going to jail, to a full revealing of my deep thoughts and fears, all because my advisor let me be vulnerable, which is a lesson I will never forget.
Wow, that felt pretty good to write. I hope you enjoyed reading. Thank you if you made it this far.