The Sorority E-mail: A Primer on Coaching, Socialization and Community Building

Building Community - Cheering for your Team!  Photo:  Sam Howzit

Building Community – Cheering for your Team! Photo: Sam Howzit

A couple of weeks ago a now infamous profane email rant from a sorority girl to her sisters went viral on the Internet.

The e-mail is full of insights into leadership, governance, socializing, coaching, and crisis management that we’ll delve into below.  There’s a follow-up post to this describing her approach to socializing and community building and analyzing anonymity and privacy through that lens.

Where to start?  I’d suggest reading the e-mail a few times.  Try to see the world through the president’s eyes before reading my deconstruction below.

I wasn’t part of Greek life in college but I have held several leadership positions that required cajoling college students to show up at extracurricular activities.  It’s frustrating and my efforts have generally been unsuccessful.  I can feel her pain even though I’m not Greek.

I read the e-mail as a coach’s pregame rant.

She’s coaching “social skills,” her troops have a game tonight, and she doesn’t think they are quite ready to play – “so far.”  She seems to have put a lot of work into organizing and policing the week’s events and wants tonight’s “dry” mixer with the matchup fraternity to be a success.

She’s getting her players ready to perform at their best.  Love – Bobby Knight style.  No different from a music director, platoon captain or coach of a sports team.  These girls may see her as a leader because she’s helping them develop interpersonal skills that we all need.  She’s willing to call them out for bad behavior and pleads for them to:

1.  Show no disrespectful behavior to the people with whom they plan to socialize.  Don’t get caught up trying to impress someone with social plans so much that you make others feel rejected.

2.  Make sacrifices and bind together as a fun-loving group that everyone finds desirable.  Show up with the right attitude, ready to have fun.

3.  Support the team you’re on and cheer for it.  People want to be part of a cohesive group.

4.  Promote sober co-ed socializing.

5.  Act in ways that make people like you.  See 1, 2,  and 3 above.

No matter how you read it, she wants her troops to succeed and emphasizes what that means – everyone showing up at tonight’s event with their game faces on and ready to play.  She cares about them and understands that the reputation of the group depends on how they project themselves externally.

She is comfortable communicating with them in crude terms because she trusts them and feels it’s the best approach for venting her frustrations and anxieties while eliciting what she considers appropriate social behavior.  In the dark ages, my college friends and I found profane rants enjoyable.  I have no doubts that hers was well within the boundaries of acceptable behavior internal to the sorority.  She’s betting those not yet fully committed to the mixer will respond to the rant by showing up with their game faces.  She’s probably right – her troops will not disappoint.  She’ll get results that most others, including myself, cannot.

When the sorority sisters socialize successfully at the “dry” mixer, they’ll gain respect for themselves, not lose it.

She closes the e-mail by noting that some people might consider it offensive.  She clearly expects that nobody in her chapter will take it that way or identify with the “awkward” behaviors described.

She trusts them so much that she’s blind to the risks of sending the e-mail.

Then Judas tosses her under the bus, sending the e-mail to an internet site and she’s forced to resign.  It’s not clear if Judas is a sister or someone outside the sorority that a naïve sister trusted with the forwarded e-mail.

It’s also not clear whether the sister’s saw the love in the e-mail that the author may have intended.  Many outside the chapter see it as abusive.  I don’t think you can make the call unless you are in the chapter and are intimately familiar with their behavioral standards and norms.

The next time you enjoy a nice concert, watch a team-based sporting event or read about military actions realize what it takes to get people to work together for a common goal.  For many, it means having a coach in your face willing to point out mistakes, develop grueling practice routines and ask for more effort – passionately.  It’s hard to lead and motivate.  People respond in different ways.  Lots respond positively to the “tough love” shown in this e-mail.

Looking back, I needed a “social skills” coach willing to confront me every time I engaged in destructive interpersonal behaviors.  Is there any better way to learn and grow?  I stayed away from the fraternities and rarely encountered anyone who confronted me about my destructive social behaviors.

This e-mail prompted my first serious reevaluation of my decision not to participate in Greek life in over 30 years.  I never realized what the Greeks might have to offer.

I’m still puzzled about why they punted the chapter president and disavowed the e-mail in a public statement instead of providing some context and owning it.  In the statement, they contend that the “email should not be depicted in any way as standard or routine or tied to any official sorority voice.”  This just doesn’t pass the snicker test.  Seems like it will be difficult to convince potential recruits that the sorority will support them when they screw up.  Somebody at the national headquarters needs to reflect on the sister’s point about the importance of knowing what team you’re on and supporting it – even when they exhibit a bit of poor sportsmanship.

If I had written the e-mail, I hope I wouldn’t feel ashamed of it.  She doesn’t appear to call out identifiable individuals for “awkward” behavior.  Everybody knows that college kids can be profane.  By my reading, she seems to be caring rather than abusing.  I would give her the benefit of the doubt until I got the truth from the chapter sisters who should have been responsible for punting in the unlikely event that it was necessary.

In terms of crisis management and public relations, governance mechanisms failed not only this chapter but also the entire fraternity.  An opportunity to explain Greek system values to outsiders was lost and a public relations disaster for the sorority ensued.  Fear triumphed over love. I hope that the game isn’t over.  Maybe cooler heads will see reality and love will prevail in the end.

Edit 4 May 2013 10:50 EDT:  Some references to the sorority girl acting as chapter president have been removed.  It’s not clear to me what leadership roles she played within the chapter.

Edit 21 May 2013 14:35 EDT:  Picture changed from Wisconsin fans to Ohio State fans.

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2 Responses to The Sorority E-mail: A Primer on Coaching, Socialization and Community Building

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