June 25, 2020
Miami University (OH)
When I began my first professional role, my knowledge of Fraternities and Sororities was limited to what I had seen in movies and on TV. My undergraduate institution did not have Greek Life, my graduate experience focused mainly on Student Activities by way of the programming board, and my close family and friends had not participated in recruitment. To get the saying out of the way early in this post, Fraternity and Sorority Life was all Greek to me.
If you fast forward five years, you would see that I served as an office liaison to chapter presidents, facilitated a Panhellenic preference round, presented at Fraternity leadership summits, and even became an alumna initiate of a sorority in 2018 - all while working on the Student Activities "side of the house". If you check my byline you will see that I have worked at Miami University for the past six years, which is known as the "Mother of Fraternities." Part of what drew me to this institution as a Student Activities professional, a StrengthsFinder "achiever", and an Enneagram type three, was the feeling that there was a new functional area that I could dip my toes into - a skillset I could gain by being exposed to the secret life of a Sorority and Fraternity professional.
Some of those experiences came to be because we were short staffed, and I have yet to find an office that isn't doing the work of many with few. A majority of those experiences came to be because I put myself out there as a curious new professional. I was overwhelmed by my first Bid Day, and had never seen 600 men show up to any event quite like a recruitment kick-off. Over time, I began to be comfortable with the language, could intelligently answer most questions, and--my favorite part--got to work with new student leaders.
Looking back on those experiences, I realize that I already had the skills necessary to be successful in those environments. All I really needed was the support from my supervisor to explore my interests. For whatever reason, I think we don't see the value of the skills we acquire in Student Activities as being good enough to support our students as members of the Fraternity and Sorority community. This is not said to diminish the skillset of our Fraternity and Sorority colleagues, but to provide acknowledgement of the foundation of skills we have fostered as Student Activities professionals that can be transferred into other functional areas.
I have often joked that I am the funnel cakes and inflatables person when I introduce myself to people outside Higher Education, and have threatened to start a blog called "What I did with my master's today" after dealing with some agitated llamas at an outdoor petting zoo. What I don't do enough as a Student Activities professional is reflect on the skillsets I have built from my unique experiences that should allow me to comfortably navigate different functional areas.
For a fun exercise, and as a result of writing this blog post, I put the NACA Competencies and the AFA Competencies up against each other to see where they overlapped. As you can probably tell from the tone of this post, there were many common competencies between the two functional areas. At the very core of our job responsibilities, you will find a focus on student learning and student safety. As professionals, we value a culture of collaboration and relationship building, as well as learning from our differences. We have a duty to provide well-executed programs and events that carry out the mission, vision and purpose of our work. We work to anticipate and mitigate risk and navigate policies within systems of authority.
For those of you that feel trapped or are itching to use your skills in a new functional area, spend some time taking inventory of the areas in which you excel as a professional and the areas in which you are hoping to grow. At the end of the day, that is what the competencies are there to do. They challenge us to exercise continual growth and development as professionals. I know I excel in large-scale event planning, community building and risk management. When I was able to bring those skills into the Fraternity and Sorority functional area, I was able to contribute new ideas and perspective to their brotherhood and sisterhood events, their recruitment events, and how they built community among the councils. Two years after working in my role with the programming board, we had monthly meetings between our Panhellenic President, Interfraternity President, National Panhellenic President and our Programming Board President. The level of collaboration we practiced as a staff began being reflected in the important work our student leaders were doing.
Whether we are managing mass amounts of glitter in the university ballroom or wrangling farm animals at an annual picnic, we are here to serve, challenge and educate our students all while growing as professionals.
Tiffany Harrison is an Associate Director in the Student Activities and Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Miami University (OH). She has been a NACA regional volunteer for the past 6 years in both the Central and Mid America regions.