Building Your Advising Network: Cultural Organizations
Liz Osborne, Oklahoma State University
Alex Snowden, University of Arkansas, Fort Smith
Ask those who’ve been in the profession if they were talking about cultural organizations ten years ago and most would probably say no. Now, these organizations are the fastest growing population within the fraternal movement. Well, ten years ago some advisors (like the authors of this article) were in high school and cannot imagine the fraternal world any other way than how it is now—diverse. However, many advisors are leaving graduate school and advising a Multicultural Greek Council with little background or training to do so. The basic principles detailed below are helpful hints for advisors looking to build positive working relationships with the inter/national cultural organizations with which we work.
Recognize that each organization is unique. Among the various cultural bodies in the fraternal movement (e.g., National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, National APIA Panhellenic Association, and National Multicultural Greek Council), each has similarities to the others, but distinct differences exist in the governance of member organizations. Thus, campus-based professionals should approach their work with each organization in a unique manner.
For example, a cultural organization’s address might be a post office box instead of a sprawling mansion in Memphis or a historic building in Indianapolis. Consequently, organization volunteers may connect with students in a different manner. Speak with the members of cultural organizations on your local campus and learn how they connect with their inter/national representatives (It may be via email or cell phone.) and follow their example. It is also important to keep in mind that the volunteers hold full-time jobs on top of running organizations. Therefore, an advisor must make a concerted effort to build rapport and serve as a consultant to the inter/national organization. Students care that their advisors are involved and supportive advocates to their organizations; advisors who build this rapport will see students come to them frequently for advice. Recently chartered culturally-based organizations may feel like outsiders in a community steeped in history and tradition. To them, building a relationship with their advisor can be essential to creating their place at the institution.
Additionally, not all cultural organizations belong to an umbrella group like the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO), for example. Since the inception of culturally based organizations, many have adopted a unique hierarchical structure. Some will choose between joining umbrella organizations like the National Multicultural Greek Council (NMGC) and remaining independent. Some will even have dual membership in multiple umbrella organizations. The key for advisors is not to worry about which umbrella organization an organization joins or what standard rules they follow but to treat them as individual organizations. For more information on organization hierarchy, please check out the resource guides on the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) website.
Be a mentor. Because of the recent growth of culturally-based organizations, some may expand to a campus with little to no alumni support, leaving them on a campus with other organizations that are better supported and structured to handle crisis. Therefore, the campus professional’s effort makes all the difference for these organizations, as he/she may fill multiple roles as the consultant, onsite staff member, advisor, and guide for the chapter. The key to managing these relationships is to be a mentor for these organizations and build the relationship that will break down the perceived barrier between the organization and campus administration. Attend the informational sessions; go to chapter events; and set up regular, meaningful meetings with student leaders. Organizations will feel accepted when they see the campus-based professional make an effort to get to know the members and the chapter. As they start to graduate members and build an alumni network, they will remember how valuable a fraternity/sorority advisor is and will know how to support the local organization in the long term.
Use the resources available to you. Your greatest resource might be a graduate chapter or another chapter of the same organization. Connecting with a cultural organization’s graduate chapter helps in establishing a link with the inter/national organization and in providing needed support for the local chapter. Further, if a chapter is struggling, contacting a regional officer to connect the chapter with another local chapter can help the students at a number of levels. However, to get to that regional officer, you may need to be persistent and follow the aforementioned suggestions.
When advising a new cultural organization on a campus that does not have local alumni or a graduate chapter, networking with an ally that helped get the chapter off the ground is a good first step. This person usually educated the new members and worked with them to receive a charter.
The Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors has a variety of resources available online to assist campus-based professionals in their work with cultural organizations. In the “Knowledge Center” under “Cultural Competence,” there are resources related to cultural awareness training in the form of past Virtual Seminar Series presentations, for example. The site also provides resource guides for working with particular councils, which include information specific to working with certain types of organizations as well as organizational structure and contact information for fraternities and sororities belonging to that particular council or association. Additionally, there are past Perspectives and Essentials articles that might provide valuable guidance to an advisor trying to build his/her advising network with cultural organizations.
Ultimately, each advisor has to make it a point to get to know the cultural organizations on his/her campus in order to provide the best advisory support. Dedication, coupled with the basic steps listed above, can result in the most rewarding of advising experiences.