By Luke Benfield
In a lot of cases, the Fraternity/Sorority Advisor (FSA) on campus is an entry level position with a vast array of responsibilities, and is the only professional position that works directly with Greeks on campus. Since this is an entry level position, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s fairly quick turnaround in these positions. Chapters can experience new people coming in and changing plans, policies, interpretations, and priorities more often than they would prefer. Personally, I had four different Greek Advisors in the span of three years as an undergraduate, so I know the feeling. New FSAs will have new plans, new perspectives, and new approaches to solving issues and generating ideas. As Chapter leaders, it’s important to build a positive, working relationship with the new FSA.
Over the past five years in the Fraternity/Sorority profession, I’ve found that Greek students enjoy new, flashy, and trendy, but can be extremely hesitant, if not resistant, to actual change. You’ve spent countless hours working with one administrator, building that professional relationship, that trust, getting a feel for their general attitudes and opinions. Now, they’ve transitioned out of their role and there’s someone else in their desk chair; someone with new ideas and a completely different personality. Maybe they’re going to be the fun Greek Advisor, maybe they’ll be the hard-liner, maybe they’ll be more of the philosopher and orator, or maybe they’ll be a combination of all the above. The bottom line is that you won’t know until you begin building a working relationship with them. So the question is: How is a Chapter supposed to build rapport with these administrators, learn their expectations, etc. when every year, you seem to start right back at the drawing board? I’d like to share three things that I believe will help you build rapport with new FSA staff members.
Understand the FSA as a Professional
When a new hire joins your community, that FSA may have just graduated from a master’s program, and sometimes they come into their position with a few years of professional experience. Either way, they are still new to the campus environment and the MOST important thing to realize is that they are not your old Greek Advisor. Conversations cannot begin with phrases like ‘Well Luke always let us do this’ or ‘Luke never asked us to turn this in’, etc. The new FSA is a different professional with a fresh set of eyes. Trust in the fact that their new ideas, procedures, and directions are all based in the fact that they want all Chapters to succeed and prosper under their watch. They will want to get to know you as a Greek, as a student, and as a person.
This can be a challenge since many FSA’s walk a very fine line between the advisor and the disciplinarian. Very often in that role, they not only have that advising relationship, but they also are responsible for organizational conduct. They receive the 3am phone calls from campus police and the Vice President’s office the next morning. Around the office, students may tiptoe around words and phrases, almost as if the FSA has an alarm button under their desk that sends an instant red flag at ‘nationals.’ I would argue that if you are following policies and your actions as a chapter align with your values, then there is no reason to tiptoe. The point is, you won’t be able to build that relationship with a new administrator if you are not authentically you. Realize that they did not take the job to get anyone in trouble, but at the same time, they will hold you accountable, so don’t try to slip one past the new professional.
Be willing to hear the word NO
Yes, I said it, and it’s completely possible that during the transition period, you may hear the word no. We have to understand that this is someone who is starting a new job and it takes more than a week or two to learn about the campus culture, policies, etc. They have to make priorities. While they may not actually use those dreaded two letters, they may ask for more time to think, suggest other options, etc.
Nine times out of ten, a student affairs professional is not going to say no, just to say it, or not because they don’t have time to explain fully. Rather, I tend to believe that the vast majority of advisors are going to make an honest effort to “Get you to a YES” (to quote one of my former supervisors). That ‘Yes’ may not look like the yes you wanted, but it is a yes nonetheless. Be flexible during this transition stage and realize the new staff member may not have an answer for you right now or it may not be a priority compared to other looming issues. This doesn’t mean they don’t care. Just ask them when it would be appropriate to follow up or when they will be able to have a decision for you. This flexibility can go a long way when building rapport.
Find out how your new FSA prefers to communicate. Are they a phone person? If so, put their office number in your phone. Are they more of an email person? Then make sure you start checking your student email once a day, particularly if you’re the Chapter President. Take advantage of opportunities to introduce members to the new staff member. If you have meals at your Chapter house, invite them over for a dinner and make them feel welcomed. Invite them to speak or do a program at a Chapter or new member meeting. Remember, people decide to work in Student Affairs because of the interactions with students, not because they enjoy roster updates and grade reports. Ask them to help with or attend something outside of their office.
If you begin with these three things, I would venture to say that you’re on your way to building rapport with your new Greek official on campus. At the end of the day, they are there to advise, advocate, and support the Greek community, not to swoop in and close Chapters. If they didn’t believe in the vast potential and positive impact of the fraternity/sorority experience, they wouldn’t be in that role in the first place. Give them the opportunity to lead you and you may be pleasantly surprised where you end up.