Removing the Barrier: Fraternity and Faculty
This article is written by Reginald E. Rogers, Jr., Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology
Frater Rogers was recently awarded the 2017 Henry C. McBay Outstanding Teacher Award by the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers or NOBCChE. He also serves TKE as a volunteer and Chapter Advisor.
If you have an idea for an article, or would like to share your knowledge with TKE Nation, please reach out to us at TKEOGC@TKE.org. We would love to learn more!
Removing the Barrier between the Fraternity and Faculty Members on Campus.
Why is it so difficult to break down the barrier with faculty to discuss what it means to be in a fraternity? There are many reasons. Too many to name here. At a recent Province Forum in Western New York, I had the opportunity to pose this very question to a group of Fraters. What I heard did not surprise me. When asked about perceptions they feel faculty have about fraternities, two main themes emerged:
- Faculty members believe fraternities are party organizations.
- Faculty members do not see fraternities as relevant, believing they are often more of a hinderance to the educational process.
Other responses I received included the perception that there is too large of an age gap for faculty to want to engage students in such organizations. While all of these responses are fair and valid, I think we need to take a step back to understand that the barrier currently set up between students and faculty is far more complex than we perceive.
As a faculty member, myself, I can understand the challenges with trying to engage fraternities. Being over 16 years removed from my undergraduate career (yes, I am dating myself), life has taken several twists and turns such that I cannot be as engaged as the undergraduates would hope. That does not mean I don’t have an interest.
I am currently the Chapter Advisor for Xi Upsilon here at Rochester Institute of Technology, and I would not be in this position had the collegiate members not approached me. In person. It was not a conversation via email. It was a face-to-face conversation where we could get to know one another and find common ground. This is part of the issue I see as a perpetual reoccurrence year after year. The inability to have genuine interactions with faculty members lead to many of the stereotypes we hear about fraternities. Reasons are many but can include not knowing how to have the conversation with a faculty member or simply not asking to meet with the faculty member. Is there anything that can be done to stymie this issue?
One of the first things collegiate members can do is stop always using email as the go-to communication tool. Yes, email is fast and simple, but it is impersonal. You can’t genuinely express that you want to talk about the Fraternity with a faculty member through email. Also, keep in mind most faculty members get 100+ emails a day. So that email you send may never be read because it gets lost in the pile. Going to a faculty member’s office hours is one way of opening a dialogue. Most faculty members want you to come to office hours so they can get to know you better. Once you visit a couple of times, you should feel comfortable talking a little bit about life outside of the class. These are the moments when you can capture the attention of a faculty member. Saying that you are part of Tau Kappa Epsilon and explaining who we are as a Fraternity may pique the interest of a faculty member. That can lead to more conversations to help remove some of the pre-conceived notions they had prior to the interaction. Wearing letters automatically draws their attention. Don’t let it leave an unwarranted impression by not talking about why you joined Tau Kappa Epsilon.
These are the moments when you can capture the attention of a faculty member.
Another thing collegiate members can do is actually invite faculty members to a social hour. Show them who we are as a Fraternity. Invite does not mean sending them an email. Again, personal interactions go much farther than impersonal emails. Establish a rapport with your faculty member that is both positive and fruitful. Then, hand them a personal invitation to come to a social event. This will mean a lot to the faculty member, and they will most likely rearrange their calendar to make the event.
However, handing the invitation is not the end all be all. All of you need to show up to the event to demonstrate you genuinely meant what you said. The worst thing we can do as a Fraternity is host an event and not show up. This leaves a negative impression that may never be rectified. Therefore, carefully think about how an event you intend to host will accomplish the goal, by creating positive visibility between the faculty member and the Fraternity. Remember, it only takes one positive interaction to make a lasting impression that spreads across campus.
Barriers between faculty and the Fraternity are ones that need not exist. If we take the time to understand how to interact with faculty, then we can promote the Fraternity in the best possible light. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can flip a switch and make these types of interactions work instantaneously. It takes time and effort on all of our parts. Faculty members form perceptions based on what they see or read on campus. Talking to them face-to-face can help remove pre-conceived notions and lead to positive interactions. Let’s take the step towards tearing down such barriers, as they hinder growth instead of promoting it.