Elizabeth Warner, Pace University
Defined as an “understanding and appreciation of human differences; cultural competency, and social responsibility,” humanitarianism is one of the seven key learning domains outlined in Learning Reconsidered (American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 2004, p. 18). Humanitarianism is focused on social justice and multiculturalism (American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 2004).
There are myriad ways to see humanitarianism manifest itself in fraternity/sorority members. Within a chapter, the diversity of membership, as well as programming, provide an indicator of the opportunity for development within this dimension (American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 2004).
Individuals, as well as organizations, exhibit an appreciation for and desire to learn about the human experience through their involvement with various campus offices, organizations, or events, such as the Women’s Center; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI) Center; religiously and culturally based organizations; or events such as Take Back the Night and Black History Month to name a few examples. A core value of fraternities and sororities is service to others, which aligns well with the domain of humanitarianism. Service-learning opportunities and engaging with philanthropic/not-for-profit organizations foster an appreciation of different backgrounds and contributing to the improvement of the human condition.
There are many different ways to create opportunities for students to explore this domain. Identity group programming is one strategy. One example of this strategic is Safe Zone training, which educates members about how to create a friendly environment for students of all sexual orientations. This program can bring together members and allies of the LGTBQI community to share experiences, discuss positive methods of support, and create a visible network of acceptance. Intergroup dialogue (IGD), which creates a space for individuals with different identities to discuss culturally defined issues, is an increasingly popular activity in working with identity groups. Using IGD within a fraternity/sorority chapter/community could “foster learning that integrates consciousness-raising, relationship building across cultural and power differences, and strengthening individual and collective capacity to promote social justice” (Zúñiga, Nagda, Chelser, & Cytron-Walker, 2005, p. i). Promoting self-reflection and exploration activities supports humanitarianism as an important learning experience.
It is equally important to assess humanitarianism. Quantitative data about student experiences is one option. Statistics about fraternity/sorority members who study abroad; hold membership in service, cultural, religious, and/or social identity organizations; and/or plan programs for the chapter/community centering on multiculturalism or service help identify strong and weak areas. In Assessment Tools for Daily Practice, Jahansouz and Miranda Smalls (2007) recommend collecting this information through chapter updates or accreditation program submissions. The resource also supports the use of focus groups as for a means for gathering qualitative data by using probing questions and recording the discussion that follows (Jahansouz & Miranda Smalls, 2007).
Learning Reconsidered (2004) emphasizes the importance of professional congruency when exploring humanitarianism. Fraternity/sorority professionals should become well versed in student development theories related to social justice, identity development, and interpersonal communication. Improving one’s own cultural competencies to better facilitate student development is an ongoing learning process that challenges every advisor to respect human differences.
Zúñiga, X., Nagda, B., Chelser, M., & Cytron-Walker, A. (2005). Intergroup dialogues in higher education: Meaningful learning about social justice.
ASHE-ERIC Report Series. Amherst, MA: Jossey-Bass.