We have a communication problem


During my more than twenty five years of working with college students, I have seen a lot of change. In recent years I have spent a great deal of time with students, specifically, sorority women. When you spend time in their environments and not just speaking to them from a stage, you learn more than possibly you ever wanted to know.

When a campus I worked on years ago asked students what the number one problem on campus was, the students said parking. In a follow up meeting with the university president, she asked if the university had a parking problem or a “convenient” parking problem? I thought to myself, she is correct. The students want to park in front of the building where they are going to class.

Recently, all I hear from the sorority women is “we have a communication problem.” My response usually is a litany of all the means of communication they have today. I then tell them back in the day we had to go to our homes or residence halls to listen to a message on an answering machine, go to a bulletin board in the student union where we could leave a note for our sisters, or set up a time to meet. Once I share those stories, they then say, we have a face-to-face, conversation communication problem; ah, now we are getting somewhere.

Today’s sorority women are so caught up in what others outside of their sorority think of them. They do not focus on how they see one another. It is very difficult for them to have a meaningful conversation if they are challenged or if someone disagrees with them. Some of that is their age, but some of that is also their ability to compromise and negotiate and to realize that everything is not going to go their way. If we are really going to help this generation of college women learn to be strong women, we need to work on their level of care for one another.

Here are a few things to think about as we work with and mentor this generation of sorority women:

1. Operations or Relationships?

As organizations, are we more concerned with operations of our chapters or the development of individual members? It is important to teach our leaders that it is not their job to just tell the chapter members what they need to do. Teaching the leadership of our chapters how to lead is still, in my opinion, an important part of who we are as organizations. Their role was never supposed to be only about filling out reports and doing the business of a sorority. Part of being a leader was about helping our sisters to learn and grow. In my opinion, this is still an important part of our mission.

Questions to consider:

a. Are chapter meetings only about giving out a list of what the member has to do or is it a place for discussion, debate, and mutual respect?
b. Is everything we teach driven by points and fines? Is there ever an explanation and discussion as to a level of responsibility as part of your membership and participation?
c. Are we preparing our leaders to facilitate discussions or just to give a report on the work they have done and what the members must do?

2. Level of Care

I was on a consulting visit for a campus and we met with the Dean of Students. We asked her what had changed in her 10+ years of working on her campus. Her response was “specifically with sorority women, the level of care has changed.” She went on to share that we have taught our women how to remove issues from an environment, but what happens past that is not important to them. It is still a role of “sisters” to care for one another.

Questions to consider:

a. Are we teaching our members that taking care of one another in certain situations if their well being is at stake is still their role as sisters?
b. We are teaching them how to confront and hold one another outside of judicial, standards, or discipline boards?
c. Are we establishing mentoring opportunities in order for a level of care and responsibility are being taught

I am deeply invested in our younger sisters and want to do my part to help with their development. As alumnae we need to engage and give back to those women whom we have made promises to many years ago. We are the best resource for today’s sorority women. Working together we can teach this generation valuable skills to help make our world a better place for years to come. Maybe if we all did a better job at communication we would have the kind of sorority experience that I believe our founders hoped for.

Credit // Author: Dr. Mari Ann Callais

Dr. Mari Ann Callais shares her 20 years of higher ed experience with unique programs for Fraternity and Sorority Life. Learn more about her empowering keynotes at campuspeak.com/callais.