Sorority & Fraternity Life: Family Influence

I once had a friend, who is a police officer, joke that I must have made someone mad to have the responsibility of working with both parents and Greeks at Ohio State.  Though I had never really given that much thought, from an outside perspective, I can respect that opinion.  As we all know, many of our colleagues on campus have a skeptical view of family involvement in higher education.  When you couple that with the perception about sorority and fraternity communities and the reality of the major risk management issues these organizations have faced, I can understand the sentiment.  As you can guess from my story, I have the relatively unique position of working with both parent and family engagement and our sorority and fraternity community at Ohio State.  Though many family relations offices are in Student Affairs, I have not met many professionals who also directly work with student activities, especially sorority and fraternity life.  Though my role does have unique challenges (if your role doesn’t let me know if you’re hiring) it also offers unique opportunities to strategically engage families.

Over the past 10 years, over a dozen students have died due to alleged involvement with hazing and/or alcohol related fraternity or sorority activities.  Numerous campuses have suspended the activities of their SFL communities or placed the communities on pause while examining dangerous activities or risk management violations.  National / International organizations and campus base professionals continue to partner with students on training and educational programming to reduce risk and provide a membership experience that is both safe and beneficial.  Though much education has been provided to students and alumni/ae and advisors over the years, recently campuses have begun adding family outreach as a component to SFL success.  In the past at Ohio State, we had provided an information flyer or video for families regarding the SFL experience as a means to answer questions about the joining process.  We wanted to be sure families knew the nuts and bolts of joining, the costs, and the expectations of membership.  We offered panel discussions at Parent and Family Weekend by our SFL staff and student leaders answering family questions.  We also offered chapter house tours for those students who wished to explore the live-in component of the membership experience.  Though these sessions continue to be critical to families understanding the membership experience for fraternities and sororities, we’re also looking at how parent and family relations and sorority and fraternity life can better partner on more meaningful impact to the health of the community.

We know from the research that students and families communicate several times per week if not dozens of times per day.  Whether that is via social media, text message or even phone calls (yes the phone app still works), families are very engaged in their students’ experiences.  The magic question for our office is how can we harness these student and family connections to better the student experience?  Can we influence student behavior by sharing information for families?  Several years back, Ohio State did some research with families to determine through what means families gathered information from Ohio State and if families used this information to encourage their students to take action on something.  Would they encourage their student to attend a career fair or assure their student applied for a specific opportunity because they had read our newsletter or saw a Facebook post?  We then surveyed students to see if they actually took action on something their families had suggested they attend or do.  From this data, we were able to determine that we could impact student action through educating families on resources.  What we have not studied, however, is if we can impact a community, like sorority and fraternity life, by educating families on what their students experience SHOULD be.

Last year, in partnership with our Greek life staff, we began exploring these pieces through use of Facebook live.  We conducted three Facebook live sessions, two on the joining processes for our different governing councils and one on how students could make the most of their sorority and fraternity experience.  Though we didn’t have many families join us live for each session, many families watched the sessions later as they remained on Facebook as videos.  The goal on our end is to take the information straight to the families so they can have informed conversations with their students about SFL while also reinforcing messaging about the risk and safety policies of the community.  These sessions were a good initial step in our efforts to better engage families in the success of SFL.  

As we prepare for this year, we’re aiming to create a more robust communication plan for our SFL families.  First, like many campuses, we’re partnering with colleagues to share information about unrecognized organizations.  We’ve suspended several of our fraternities for violations of our Code of Student Conduct only to see those groups continuing to operate.  It’s important to share this messaging with families so they understand which groups are recognized and meeting university requirements and which have lost recognition and for what reason.  We’re also looking to expand our Facebook Live outreach.  Sessions on understanding risk management policies and liability, understanding expectations of organizations, costs, membership joining, the role of advisors, resources for students, etc. are all being planned / discussed.  Some of these sessions will be for all families while others will target the families of current fraternity and sorority members.

We’re also looking into developing an assessment of our efforts.  What is the baseline knowledge of the families of our SFL students?  Are we able to move the needle on their knowledge base and thus have them impact student behavior within the community?  These partnerships are looking beyond just communicating information to families but rather if we are able to utilize these familial relationships to change the outcomes of our SFL community.  Stay tuned!

Share this post:

Comments on "Sorority & Fraternity Life: Family Influence"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment