Posted February 14, 2012 by Eric Heilmeier 

Building Community

Most of the time, I write about technology and/or social media, but this time I’m going to take a different approach. Recently, I was asked to help serve as a small group facilitator for a conference by national fraternity. The conference was geared toward newer/younger members and talked mostly about what it means to be in our fraternity, how to live our values, and what it means to be a gentleman.

It was nice to catch up with alumni from around the country and talk with some of our national staff. However, the most rewarding experiences came from interaction with the newest members of my fraternity. Our conversations were great and sometimes eye opening for younger members, but what stood out to me the most was when I asked a simple question: "What is greek life?"

Everyone in my group stopped and thought for a few minutes. Some even looked down at the table so they wouldn’t make eye contact, while others started shouting out what they thought was the correct answer. I got a lot of “leadership,” “friends,” and, of course, “social."

I went on to elaborate my question: "What makes greek life special?" Again, I got some blank stares and eye contact avoidance. Finally, someone said “community.” That took me aback and impressed me more than anything. I hadn’t heard a first-year student use that term to describe greek life before. He went on to explain that no matter what your background, your major, or your hometown, your chapter and greek life creates a community.

This made me think that greek life and the student union are very similar, with comparable struggles. How often do we struggle as professionals with student organization office space allocation? How often do we try to find ways to create dialogue between groups? How often have we held or hosted a forum about diversity, acceptance, and so on? How often have we described ourselves as the “living room” of the campus?

We also have some of the same success stories, such as building lasting friendships or creating amazing experiences and memories.

My belief is that at the core, greek life and the student union promote some of the same ideals: building community, promoting loyalty to your institution, helping develop you as a leader and a person.

How can your union and your greek community work together in achieving these goals?

Eric Heilmeier

Eric Heilmeier is the Director, Pierpont Commons & Associate Director, University Unions at University of Michigan–Ann Arbor.


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