Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nurturing our Sisterhood into the Future



I’m writing this as we have just elected a new President of the United States of America. There are very polarized feelings of great fear and great hope across the country as this was a very close election. Our Founders’ in 1912 were not afforded the rights women have today, including the right to vote. And while many are concerned today about women’s rights given the recent turn of events of the election, we as a sorority should continue to stand for the rights of women by honoring our past sisters, supporting the present collegians and alumnae, and nurturing the future of our organization.

The world we live in today is vastly different from the world our Founders’ experienced in 1912. I don’t think they could have imagined the technological advances we have made or the issues we are facing as a society. Yet the values they felt were important enough to base their fledgling organization on, are still important and relevant to us today. Justice, friendship, and truth still resonate with our members, both new collegians and more seasoned alumnae. 

We’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings at the University of Michigan. Much of our growth has occurred quite recently in our history. That success over the years is due, in part, to the efforts of women who remained involved for many years. Part is due to women who volunteer for the first time right out of college or perhaps after a gap of 10 or even 20 years with no involvement. Past Grand Councils have focused on growing our chapter base, developing a support system for those chapters, increasing alumnae involvement, professionalizing our National Office staff and generally bringing us up to speed with the rest of the NPC community. This is the “sandbox” we play in, if you will. We must continue to strive to be competitive with other NPC groups or we will cease to exist.  In many ways a national sorority is like a business. We are competing for the women on our collegiate campuses, mainly with other NPC groups but also with other organizations in general. If we don’t have something of value to offer these women, they will choose to spend their time elsewhere. 

I believe we do have something of value to offer women of all ages and I know you all believe that too or you wouldn’t read this blog, volunteer your time for Theta Phi Alpha, donate to the Foundation or keep in touch with other sisters. It’s been said that managing your problems can only make you good, whereas building your opportunities is the only way to become great. Yes, we have some problems—every organization does. But, we want to focus on building our opportunities. Because of the efforts of our faithful members throughout the years, Theta Phi Alpha is in a very good place with an exciting future. Grand Council will be meeting for an extended time in January to celebrate past accomplishments and determine how to capitalize on our opportunities to strategically plan for the best interests of the Fraternity. We are all excited and looking forward to this time together to dream and plan for the future that we have already begun preparing.

We are all challenged to live our creed in our daily lives and committing to meaningful opportunities that align with our values. I invite you in the comments below to celebrate your chapter, your association, or a sister for creating a valuable Theta Phi Alpha experience for which you are grateful. We should share our successes and pat ourselves on the back. In the midst of so much negativity in the world, let’s celebrate our values, support our network of sisters, and share the positive connections we bring to the world!

Yitbos,


Susan Lee
National President

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Moment from the Executive Director


This month's guest blogger is Shane McGoey, Ph.D., Executive Director of Theta Phi Alpha. This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of The Compass.

For those who attended this summer's National Convention, you know there was a wealth of information shared to help better Theta Phi Alpha nationally, as well as improve chapter operations. One of the many presentations Convention attendees participated in was regarding a new Member Development Program, presented by Karyn Nishimura Sneath.

In Karyn's presentation, she presented a relational leadership model authored by Drs. Komives, Lucas, and McMahon (Exploring Leadership for College Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Jossey-Bass, 1998), all of whom are graduate professors who teach and conduct research on issues pertaining to student affairs and leadership. The model utilizes an acronym, I-PEEP, which stands for Inclusiveness, Purposeful, Ethical, Empowering, and Process. As leaders on your campus and in your chapters, you may have heard your Fraternity/Sorority Advisor or other administrators talk about this model.

As I listened to Karyn's presentation, I began to wonder if any of our chapters were aware of this model, how we could ensure that each felt comfortable with the model, and what each delegate thought of utilizing the model in the new Member Development Program. Below, I pose some rhetorical questions for you to consider. Use the questions to see where you are utilizing the relational model.

Inclusiveness. As leaders on your campuses and in your chapters, it falls upon each of you to ensure that the Theta Phi Alpha experience is inclusive. This helps your chapter by using the talents and skills of each individual to benefit the greater good – in this case, your chapter. This includes both internal and external stakeholders and utilizing each to help your chapter grow and develop.

Think about how you presently achieve this in your chapter. Can you think of ways to improve? How often does the chapter have frank discussions about this? In what ways can you see the chapter being more inclusive?

Purposeful. We all think that we are purposeful when we are able to "check something off" our to-do list. In this particular area, however, being purposeful means something more. It's up to each of you to think about whether your goals are strategically aligned in a way that fosters improvement in your chapter in incremental, sustainable steps. Often times, our goals may seem to be at odds with other goals. Taking the time to critically examine things will help bring goals in alignment with each other.

In your chapter or executive board meetings, do you take time to think how one decision could impact future decisions? Do you consider things pertaining to your chapter in the moment as things occur or do you take time for thoughtful consideration about how decisions will benefit the chapter membership in the future? Maybe even after you have graduated?

Ethical. Sometimes individuals make mistakes. As an organization, Theta Phi Alpha espouses certain values that each member is to uphold. Ensuring that members are ethical in their behavior, understanding the difference between right and wrong, and appreciating the notion of being accountable for a greater good is what each chapter is expected to do when educating its members.

Members who behave badly or do something that is antithetical to the values of Theta Phi Alpha should be educated and mentored by members through modeling good behavior and communication that does not leave room for any doubt pertaining to what is expected of each member. Only in severe cases should it be necessary to suspend or remove a member.

In what ways does your chapter hold members accountable? How do you ensure that a member, who may not be living up to the values, is able to change their behavior to align with the membership's expectations?

Empowering. People learn by doing. Empowering others is one of the values that all fraternal organizations strongly believe. Theta Phi Alpha is no different. Empowerment should be a keystone of your chapter's membership development program. Empowering others leads to maturity, increased responsibility, and improved sustainability of your chapter.

How do you empower each member to become involved to offer their talent and skills for the greater good of Theta Phi Alpha on your campus? Nationally?

Process. Leadership is a process. It is a journey that continues over time, throughout your life. Establishing processes ensures the legacy of your chapter. It facilitates the understanding of expectations of membership and sets clear what you believe to be right and wrong.

Do you revisit your processes regularly to see if they continue to work properly or do you use the excuse, “We've always done it this way. . .?” Once you have achieved success, do you relax and rest on your laurels or do you take time to recognize your achievement and then look at what ways you can still improve?

I pose the above questions to facilitate a discussion occurring in each chapter. I hope you take the time this year to have discussions and look at your membership development program differently as you educate your members. The new member education program will be a great resource for you and your chapter when it is completely developed. But with all things, it will need to be constantly improved upon to remain relevant to future members. Your input will help us achieve that!

Best,

Shane

Monday, September 26, 2016

Changing Times, Changing Terminology: From ‘Colony’ to ‘Emerging Chapter’

It’s out with the old (i.e., “colony”) and in with the new (i.e., “emerging chapter”) for Theta Phi Alpha and our extension efforts! So be sure to update your Theta Phi Alpha vocabulary as follows:

Colonization Weekend ---> Opening Weekend
Colony/Colonies ---> Emerging Chapter/s
Colony Program ---> Emerging Chapter Program
Colony Member ---> New Member

The reason for this change was twofold:

The revised terminology more accurately reflects the process through which a fully installed Theta Phi Alpha chapter is established. What was formerly the “colony program” has been restructured to better prepare individual new members and the collective group for chapter operations, with an increased programmatic emphasis on new member education, Theta Phi Alpha Ritual, and committee-structured chapter operations training. 

Similarly, chapter installation will now mark the start of an extended period of supported educational programming to better transition and orient our newest chapters to the operations, policies, and programs of Theta Phi Alpha. Thus the women that join Theta Phi Alpha as part of our extension efforts are, in essence, part of an “emerging chapter” working toward independent chapter functioning within 3-5 years after Theta Phi Alpha is established on a campus. 

In many contexts, the term “colony” may seem harmless (e.g., a colony of ants; or “a group of individuals or things with common characteristics or interests situated in close association,” as in one of many definitions provided by Merriam-Webster). Nonetheless, we recognize that for many, the terms “colony” and “colonizationcannot be separated from the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples. That understanding informed the change in terminology as well.

As we continue to grow Theta Phi Alpha throughout the nation, we hope you appreciate the changes – both in the terminology and programmatic content – to our Emerging Chapter Program!

Want to continue the conversation?  Contact your Grand Council – we’d love to hear from you!

Note: Official adoption of this new terminology will take place after the February 2017 mail vote.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Happy 104th birthday, Theta Phi Alpha!


Theta Phi Alpha was founded on this very day 104 years ago by 10 remarkable women at the University of Michigan. Our Founders were certainly progressive, modern women. Very few women attended college in 1912. Female students weren’t even allowed to enter the student union!  In the United States, women weren’t allowed to vote or to own property. Yet these 10 women not only attended college, graduated and had careers but also felt it was very important to create an organization where they could meet and support each other. Our Founders saw the value of relationships with other women not only during the collegiate years, but for life. They could have just founded a club for college women, but they didn’t.  The college years are simply a foundation for a lifetime as an alumna. 

I think our Founders would be very proud of us today and how we have grown and spread across the country, opening our membership to all women yet remaining true to our core values. I’m sure they never dreamed what the world would be like 104 years later with all the technology we have available. I do think they would be shocked and dismayed at the social and political climate of the country; yet I also think they would be impressed by our members today. Theta Phi Alpha sisters in 2016 are still dedicated to advancing educational, social and philanthropic interests, encouraging spiritual development and adherence to the highest moral standards and promoting lifelong bonds of friendship just as they were in 1912. The world has changed dramatically, but these ideals are timeless.

Change is inevitable, but with it comes opportunity. Technology makes it possible for us to connect with sisters around the world instantly. It also helps us provide support and eventually training for our alumnae volunteers and our collegiate members through our website. Multiple avenues of communication are available to us now. We don’t have to wait days or weeks for a letter to arrive. This is an exciting time for Theta Phi Alpha, we are growing and improving in so many ways. Keep watching for updates through email and check the website for news. Let the compass be our guide as we stay true to the values in our ritual written over 100 years ago. 

Yours in the bonds of sisterhood,

Susan Lee
National President

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Susan Lee Shares her First Blog Post as National President

Coming home from Convention, sisters are filled with excitement and renewed commitment to the Fraternity. You can see it all over social media with lots of posts, interactions and new friend requests. Sisters are filling out the volunteer interest form on the website and Grand Council members are busy learning their new roles, filling their teams with returning and new volunteers and getting ready for our first meeting at the end of August. Collegians are winding down summer jobs, heading back to campus and preparing for fall recruitment. September is a time of new beginnings. It’s a good time to get involved.

Many sisters have asked me to publish my campaign speech I gave at Convention when I ran for National President. As I began preparing for this new role in transition calls with Laura Foley and Shane McGoey, as well as many other sisters back in January, I thought about our biggest needs as a Fraternity. As the months wore on and Convention got closer, I began to focus on three key areas. Here is my speech:
My name is Susan Lee and I was initiated into Sigma Chapter in 1981. Theta Phi Alpha has made me who I am today and this is why I am running for National President. 
As a Fraternity we have come a long way from what our 10 Founders started over 100 years ago. As president, I intend to continue to foster that growth while focusing on three key areas: Connections, Communication and Clarity.  
Connections are our number one priority. We are a member-based, volunteer organization, and connections with sisters is why we are all here. Sisterhood is our most important asset. Without it, we are nothing.  
Our communication to members needs to be clear, correct and consistent. Using a variety of methods from social media, to the good old fashioned phone call or letter will reach sisters of all ages. Our new website will be very helpful in keeping many sisters informed. 
Clarity—by this I mean clarity of purpose and direction as well as clarity of roles, responsibilities and duties for volunteers and National Office staff. The Grand Council has always set the direction of the Fraternity and this will continue to be our role. As we transition to having more staff available to take on the day-to-day tasks of managing a continuously growing organization, defining and clarifying those roles is more important than ever. This growth is necessary and beneficial for Theta Phi Alpha - we must continue to move forward. 
We are a diverse group of women with a large variety of life experiences and backgrounds. We won’t always agree with each other, but by treating each other with respect and love there is no end to what we can accomplish. I can’t promise that I know everything I need to know or that I have all the answers. I’m not afraid to ask questions or learn new things. The most important asset I have is all of you, my sisters. I can’t do this alone-my success is your success, our success. I can promise that I will do my best, lead where it may, cost what it may.
The speeches were given in reverse order, so I was last. As I listened to all the other candidates giving their speeches, I was pleased to see that we were all thinking along the same lines and have the same goals for this biennium. One of the most common themes was more communication and more transparency. We will continue to work on this area and you can help us with that. Go to the website and make sure your contact info is correct. Read these blogs and like our Theta Phi Alpha social media pages. Read your email, visit the website and look for any new information. Participate in surveys and stay connected with other sisters. Each of those actions will keep you connected and informed. If you want to know something, reach out to a sister or to National Office. Member engagement is essential to our success and I’m looking forward to connecting with you soon!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

July News & Notes

As I reflect over the biennium and I prepare for the State of the Fraternity, I am reminded of all the changes that have occurred. Changes can be difficult, but they can also be good. When change occurs it means something familiar is exchanged for something new and unfamiliar. But not moving forward is sometimes just not an option.

I have had some changes in my life this biennium as well. Saying goodbye forever to my mother was hard, but it is the circle of life and we must go on. My daughter getting married means a change too. The little girl has grown up. Yes, I will always be her mother, but it will be different. We have feelings of sadness and joy as we add a new member to our family. Change had to happen to make room for this new addition.

I find it interesting and comforting that with all these changes there is something constant. It is Ritual. The ritual of a memorial service, the ritual of a wedding. Some rituals are few and far between, some are daily, but these rituals are there to help us weather change.

This week Theta Phis will be attending the ritual of Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. This ritual occurs every two years and concludes with the ritual of Installation of the new leadership. I hope the ritual does its magic once again, bringing comfort to the change that a new biennium brings.

It has been an honor to serve my sisters these last eight years. I am a better person for serving. My sisters and my #FriendsAcrossBadges have taught me so much. 

Thank you, I could not have done it without you by my side.


#ThetaPhiConv16

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Transgender Membership, Title IX, and Single-Sex Organizations


This month's guest blogger is Nikki Conroy, National Vice President-Extension.

Transgender issues, Title IX, and single-sex organizations are generating significant national, state, and campus-wide conversations, and they all impact us as sorority women.  Here’s an introductory snapshot to these issues for members that want to learn more, with key terms hyperlinked to additional educational resources, as well as our position on honoring the lifelong membership of all Theta Phi Alphas.

What is Title IX?
In short, Title IX was passed in 1972 and prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance, and now prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and/or gender expression.  Some social groups, including fraternities and sororities, are exempt from this legislation with regard to membership practices, and Title IX is primarily applicable to the regulation of educational institutions.

Why should we care about Title IX?
Our members are protected from discrimination based on their sex, gender identity, and gender expression under Title IX, including sexual harassment and sexual violence, and timely action by the institution should rights be violated.  (To learn more about your rights and violence prevention resources, visit our Educational Resource page.)The rights of transgender students are also protected under Title IX, and the concept of transgender membership has muddied the waters for what the inclusion of transgender members means for social fraternities’ and sororities’ to remain single-sex organizations.  Some feared that inclusion would jeopardize the single-sex status, while others (e.g., Delta Gamma), explicitly invited transgender women to membership.

What does transgender membership mean for single-sex organizations?
Fraternal Law Partners say the decision to admit transgender members is at the discretion of individual organizations, although they acknowledge that constitutionally, discrimination against transgender members may cause trouble.  They’ve offered guidelines on clarifying policies and identified the risks of trans inclusion and exclusion and the risks of doing nothing. 

What does this mean for us?
The federal government recently confirmed that the admission of transgender students to membership does not jeopardize the single-sex status of social organizations exempt from Title IX.  Nonetheless, the decision to do so (or not) remains at the discretion of individual organizations.

In line with suggestions from Fraternal Law Partners, Theta Phi Alpha reaffirms that all initiated women, collegians and alumnae, are afforded lifelong membership regardless of transitions in gender identity thereafter. 

As conversations about transgender membership continue, let us remember that promoting inclusion is not entirely new territory for Theta Phi Alpha.  What was once an organization for Catholic women is now an organization open to all women.  Our current membership includes women with a broad range of gender expression as well as a broad range of sexual orientations.  We are already challenging the idea that there is only one way to be a “woman” in a women’s organization.

Theta Phi Alpha should be proud of its longstanding history of justice to each fellow man and providing opportunities for a diverse group of women to come together over a shared commitment to advancing women’s personal, academic, social, and professional development.  To continue dialogue on how to best meet the needs of women today while preserving the values inherent to Theta Phi Alpha, we encourage you to reach out to the Grand Council, write to National Office, or simply engage in casual conversation with members in your area.