Ten Mistakes Made by Fraternity/Sorority Professionals in a Crisis
Adam M. McCready, University of New Hampshire
“Crisis management is an ongoing, cyclical, and adaptive process through which a campus seeks to continuously improve its ability to either avoid or manage the impact of a crisis event” (Jablonski, McClellan, & Zdziarski, 2008, p. 7). Yet the very nature of a crisis event forces professionals to make quick decisions with limited information. Mistakes are bound to occur during this process (Lewis, 2006). By working to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a crisis, professionals can limit the impact of an incident on the campus community. The following identifies the top ten mistakes fraternity/sorority professionals often make.
1.) Not Fostering a Caring Campus or Fraternity/Sorority Community
An apathetic campus community is more likely to experience an incident, and less likely to respond or recover once one occurs (Jablonski et al., 2008). By fostering a caring community, professionals can mitigate the aforementioned issues. Bystander behavior education for students, professionals, and staff is an emerging trend on many campuses, and the foundation of this initiative is a duty for campus constituencies to care for each other.
Once a campus or council policy has been violated, the responsible parties need to be held accountable for their actions. There are many innovative disciplinary techniques emerging within student affairs (e.g., restorative justice). Professionals need to consistently reevaluate the effectiveness of sanctions to insure that these efforts are fostering learning, development, and growth of those involved in these incidents (Jablonski et al., 2008).
2.) Not Developing or Maintaining Policies to Reduce Risks
At the most basic level, every professional should work with campus stakeholders to develop policies that aim to mitigate risks (Jablonski et al., 2008; Lewis, 2006). These policies should be reviewed regularly to include the current best practices in the field. However, simply creating a policy is only part of the puzzle. Lewis (2006) stated, “It should be noted that to have any policy that sits in a binder…without adequate implementation and training is not a great idea” (p. 116).
3.) Not Educating Stakeholders about Possible Risks or Risk Reduction Measures
Campus stakeholders, including students, faculty, professionals, and parents, need to be educated about possible risks facing the fraternity/sorority or campus community, and about effective prevention methods (Jablonski et al., 2008). Educational opportunities should occur from the start of new student orientation and be reinforced on a regular basis (Jablonski et al., 2008). Students need to be engaged in the educational process, as peer leadership can be an effective tool to gain support from the student population.
4.) Not Knowing One’s Role in the Crisis Response Protocol
The best practices in crisis management are constantly evolving, particularly in lieu of the tragedies of September 11th and the Virginia Tech shootings. Fraternity/sorority professionals need to understand and clarify their roles in the crisis response protocols of their campuses. Also, in a National Association of Presidential Assistants in Higher Education (NAPAHE) survey, less than one fourth of respondents stated that their campuses had plans to deal with hazing or racial discrimination (June, 2007). Fraternity/sorority professionals have the opportunity to enhance underdeveloped crisis protocols at their respective institutions or organizations.
5.) Not Developing Relationships with Key Stakeholders
Prior to an incident occurring, it is important for fraternity/sorority professionals to develop collaborative relationships with key stakeholders. Professionals should engage student leaders, faculty, and staff members so these individuals clearly understand their roles. Developing relationships with local emergency responders and clarifying expectations with these authorities are also crucial to successfully managing a crisis (Jablonski et al., 2008). Finally, campus-based professionals, inter/national organization professionals, and volunteers must develop collaborative relationships as part of crisis management protocols, supporting one another in the event of a crisis.
6.) Not Understanding How to Manage the Media
Dezenhall and Weber (2007) assert that the key to successful crisis management is to avoid becoming the “villain” as perceived by the public and key constituencies. Fraternity/sorority professionals should identify institutional and divisional spokespersons prior to an incident, and they should also understand their institutional media protocols (Jablonski et al., 2008). Also, professionals should seek training in media relations, and provide similar training opportunities for student leaders.
7.) Not Training for a Crisis
Training allows campus community members, including fraternity/sorority professionals, to clarify their roles and responsibilities during a crisis (Jablonski, McClellan, & Zdziarski, 2008). However, only 57% of respondents of the NAPAHE survey on crisis management plans stated that their plans had been tested (June, 2007). Training can be conducted using various methods (e.g., case studies, simulations), and these initiatives should include students, campus professionals, and faculty members (Jablonski et al., 2008).
8.) Not Responding in a Timely Manner to the Needs of Stakeholders
During a crisis, it is important to promptly respond to the needs of stakeholders (Jablonski et al., 2008). While this may cause anxiety, professionals “must remember that crisis management by its very nature is about making good decisions, not perfect ones” (Lewis, 2006, p. 22). As educators, our primary role is to support the needs of our students and their respective organizations as they work to resolve the crisis impact. It is important to quickly communicate factual information (while being sensitive to the privacy and legal rights of those involved) to those involved in managing the crisis (e.g., police, inter/national organizations).
9.) Not Responding to the Psychological and Emotional Needs of Stakeholders
Professionals must be cognizant to care for the psychological and emotional needs of stakeholders (Jablonski et al., 2008). While it is important to provide counseling resources for students affected by the incident, it is dually important to care for staff and frontline responders. Professionals must also take time to resolve the trauma inflicted upon them during the crisis.
10.) Not Learning from the Incident
Once a crisis subsides, it is important for the engaged constituencies to carefully evaluate the incident and the crisis management plan. Not learning from one’s past successes and errors may be the most unfortunate mistake of all.
Dezenhall, E., & Weber, J. (2007). Damage control: Why everything you know about crisis management is wrong. New York: Portfolio.
Jablonski, M., McClellan, G., & Zdziarski, E. (Eds.). (2008). In search of safer communities: Emerging practices for student affairs in addressing campus violence. Supplement to New Directions for Student Services, 124. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
June, A. (2007, October 19). Crisis-management plans are untested, survey says. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A27.
Lewis, G. W. (2006). Organizational crisis management: The human factor. Boca Raton, FL: Auerbach Publications.