Posted: September 28, 2015, at 2:05 p.m.
by Sally Immel.
The increase in the number of college students choosing to “go Greek” has caused sorority and fraternity leadership to assemble a set of rules and regulations to ensure that each chapter is managed efficiently. With the increasing size and media attention, how are Greek organizations today handling crisis management in the unfortunate event of a tragedy?
Currently, there are 123 fraternities and sororities that have established 12,000 chapters across 800 campuses with 750,000 undergrads and 9 million total members. This increase in membership has caused many chapters to manage their organizations more like corporations that must run like a well-oiled machine in order to be successful. Various protocols are set in place to preserve traditions in chapter meetings, initiation services, recruitment voting, etc.
Greek life has been a part of college campuses for more than 200 years, and most Greek-affiliated alums will tell you that joining a fraternity or sorority was the best decision of their college career. College graduation rates are 20 percent higher among Greeks than non-Greeks, and 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives were a part of Greek life. The Greek system is the largest network of volunteers in the United States, with members donating over $7 million and 850,000 hours of volunteer services each year. As members of a Greek organization, actives are given the opportunity to develop skills in networking, leadership, problem solving, social interaction and many other areas that will help them to be successful young professionals upon graduation.
Most of the positive aspects of Greek life are overridden with increased media headlines associated with hazing scandals, sexual assault crimes, racial issues and parties that promote underage binge drinking. At least one hazing-induced death per year has been reported across college campuses for the past 40 years. This statistic leaves a cause for concern and an increase in necessity for risk management.
The risk management plan of each organization has progressively become one of the most important protocols to safeguard against tragedy striking. Even with a foolproof risk management plan, mishaps are bound to happen, and that is when a crisis management plan is crucial for the organization’s survival.
Michelle Bower from Dittoe Public Relations for the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) said that the NPC has an official crisis management strategy in place that details internal and external contacts, sample messaging, legal steps if necessary and more.
Within the crisis plan, the NPC has brainstormed and identified various possible scenarios that could arise and how they would handle each of them. There are designated executive board members who handle specific topics and who are prepped and ready. They have created sample Q&As to prepare for media interviews and public response, along with prepared social media posts and other forms of communication.
“We can never anticipate all of the details of a potential crisis, so there is room for adjustment as each individual situation arises, but many of the basic first steps are outlined,” Bower said.
The NPC provided a crisis management plan template to all of its 26 member organizations in 2012 and encourages them to use it. Most of the individual member groups also have their own crisis management plan in place that relates specifically to their organization and headquarters.
At times, it is necessary for individual universities to intervene in the crisis management plan of fraternities and sororities. The University of Alabama’s spokesperson for Greek life, Chris Bryant said that the primary goals of the University include: ensuring people have the information needed to protect themselves and make good decisions; and to provide accurate, timely information to key stakeholders using the most impactful methods available. The University also wants to minimize opportunities for negative public relations.”
The national headquarters of each organization leads alumnae currently serving on the advisory board. The advisory board then guides the active members holding chapter council positions, who relay important announcements to the active members of the chapter.
“The safety of our members is of great importance and should be regarded as the most crucial responsibility of a sorority’s officers. Being a part of an organization like ours entails following guidelines and representing yourself in a way that reflects our chapter positively and keeps each member from endangering themselves,” said Margaret Schatzman, president of the University of Alabama chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Schatzman’s role in the crisis management plan for Kappa Kappa Gamma is to make sure that each chapter member knows the importance of chapter safety and their responsibility to the national fraternity in upholding a positive presence on campus. As a member of chapter council, Schatzman’s duty is to serve as a role model to all active members.
With increasing chapter size and media attention on the negative aspects of an organization’s reputation, an effective crisis management plan is crucial to the success of an individual chapter. The Greek system seems to have a very strong crisis management plan to get their name out of the dark; and it’s almost no surprise that 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives were a part of Greek life.