To Rush Or Not To Rush? Some Advice for Recruitment Participants

This is the time of year where students on my campus are participating in fraternity and sorority recruitment and receiving bids, or failing to receive bids, from Greek organizations on campus. Although I did not participate in this process as a student, I have observed the process on my own campus for the past 9 years, and seen it on other campuses for a decade longer than that. Each year I see both the joy and emotional turmoil that the process creates in students, both those being recruited and those doing the recruiting. There are things that I observe each year and after repeated conversations with hundreds of students about Greek recruitment, I offer these hopefully helpful and humble bits of advice for students involved.

  1. Always remember that you may not get the bid you want and that you may not get a bid at all. The process is exclusive, just like applying for colleges and scholarships. Exclusivity, in and of itself, is not wrong, but it can be painful. Manage your expectations. If getting ZERO bids is the most frightening thing you can imagine, then you probably have too much skin in the game. Don’t stake your entire college experience on getting a bid!
  2. Be yourself. Don’t suck up and don’t answer questions the way you think someone wants you to answer them. Be honest, truthful, confident, and friendly. Never compromise who you are in what you say or what you do. No bid is worth that. You do not want to be part of an organization that doesn’t want you for who YOU are. Represent yourself, your family, and your faith consistently and fairly and then don’t worry about the consequences. You can always live with the consequences of doing right in God’s eyes. In the end, His opinion matters more than anyone’s.
  3. Realize that formal recruitment activities are a kind of game. People have a tendency to say what they think you want to hear, and people have a tendency to hear what they want to hear. Don’t mistake small talk for hard-and-fast promises. In the crunch time of decision-making, people change their minds, make irrational decisions, and sometimes flat-out make mistakes. Don’t let what you hear in conversation build up your hopes or expectations. Let the process play out in its own time.
  4. You are not the sum total of your bids. If you get multiple bids or get none, you are no better and no worse a person than you were before you started the process. Your identity as a person need not be altered by whether or not the organization of your choice chooses you.
  5. Nobody can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission. Greek organizations make choices on the basis of criteria that are not usually public. Sometimes those criteria are objective (GPA, legacy connections, your interest and participation in the process) and sometimes they are subjective (your appearance, your personality, your social connections). Organizations have to decide who fits and who doesn’t, and fit can be a subjective thing in any organization. You are who you are, be confident in that, and don’t let recruitment shake your confidence.
  6. Decide now that you won’t let recruitment change you in negative ways. Some get rejected and get bitter, and that clouds their perception of people, organizations, and universities for years to come. Some get accepted and immediately change their social connections, rearranging friendships, social engagements, or campus ministries to fit a new set of perceived expectations from their affiliation. Both responses are silly, immature, and honestly un-Christlike.
  7. If you are offended in the process, forgive! People are human and will make mistakes. Sometimes organizations collectively make mistakes, and this includes not only Greek organizations but also campus ministries. As a campus minister, I’ve had to apologize for harm done by organizations that I lead. Greek organizations will make mistakes and those mistakes will sometimes hurt people. If you are one of those people, talk to someone, reach out, and help leaders improve the process. If you are a Samford student, you can email to register your concerns. But know that if you refuse to forgive, the bitterness that builds in you ultimately harms you the most.
  8. If you get the exact bid you want and everything goes your way, congratulations! Now use your affiliation to do good. Be a loyal member, be humble, give to your philanthropy, support your organization, use your influence to make things better, and live your letters. Avoid petty rivalries, refuse to participate in unwise behaviors, and do not conform to the stereotypes that would reshape your fundamental identity. Represent Christ well to those in your organization and outside of it. Make the most of every opportunity the privilege brings you.

In conclusion, remember that Greek membership is only one of many opportunities to get involved on campus.  If you receive a bid, your affiliation with a Greek organization should add dimension to your campus experience but not be the only thing that defines it. If you fail to receive a bid or choose not to participate, there are still innumerable ways to enjoy your campus experience so that you should never feel left out or excluded from all that college has to offer. Greek or non-Greek, so much of college is what you make of it.


Meeting with Students: Four Kinds of Conversations

Recently, one of our interns asked me how I provide pastoral care for students. This week I had two separate discussions with faculty members who asked about the kinds of meetings that I have with students. With these conversations in mind, I’ve tried to think more carefully about the kinds of interactions I have with students and what strategies and outcomes may be appropriate for each. Generally speaking, here are four types of conversations I regularly have with students and my strategies and goals for each:

1. Crisis Intervention. Regularly I am in conversation with a student who has suffered a significant loss, experienced a major tragedy, or is faced with the prospect of a crisis (perceived or real). Typically such a student is overwhelmed, has no experience with major trauma, and may be immobilized by the shock of the situation. In these cases, the ministry of presence is important, a listening ear invaluable, and only a few carefully selected words appropriate. Somethings students barely remember these meetings or feel embarrassed that they broke down in my office. Follow-up after the initial meeting is almost always necessary to be sure students are getting the support they need and to reassure them that their feelings are natural and my support unwavering. Instances where a student is a danger to self or others, immediate intervention in mandatory and in these instances alone, pastoral confidentiality is suspended to protect lives.

2. Pastoral Care. Often students not yet in crisis begin to feel significant levels of stress, grief, pain, confusion, depression or anxiety that begins to interfere with their ability to function, to grow spiritually, or to enjoy a reasonably level of happiness and enjoyment in life. Such students are often genuinely seeking advice, some action steps they can take to improve their life situation. Of course sometimes students just want some attention, someone to listen, and to know someone cares. In these cases, I try to determine what the student wants and needs and whether the student’s condition is episodic or chronic (some psychological training helps here). Sometimes a single meeting that concludes with me praying for a student is all that is needed. Often I sense that students need longer term assistance from a counselor and I make referrals. I help students frame the issues they face biblically and theologically, and hopefully set them up for some success in counseling when that is needed.

3. Theological counsel. Sometimes students just have questions about life and faith. What does the Bible say about a particular topic? What should I believe about a particular theological, social or political issue? What is God’s will for my life? How do I handle this complex relationship or family situation? Through the years, this has been the most common type of conversation that I have with students. Here I find that students genuinely want answers. I usually resist the urge to give them my answers, but instead try to give them resources so that they can read, think, pray, study, contemplate, and make decisions on their own. I obviously have strongly held convictions about matters of faith and I will advocate for those, but only to the degree that I am not acting manipulatively, recognizing that I am in a power relationship with most students so coercion would be easy.

4. Supervision and Mentoring. We have approximately 30 student workers in our office so personnel supervision is an ongoing responsibility. I have to correct, encourage, compliment, and sometimes fire student employees. Business training is helpful here since people are not necessarily born with managerial skills, but a general rule of thumb is practice open and honest communication and give timely feedback. For some students, I serve in more of a mentor role, either because they ask or because the nature of their work with my office requires it. I generally try to keep the number of students I mentor to 2-3 at most. This takes more time, more insight, more regular meetings, and a long-term investment that will likely include all types of conversations, including crisis intervention, pastoral care, and theological counsel. These relationships also tends to yield the most student growth over time. And these are students who tend to stay in touch after graduation.

Of course, some conversations are hybrids and involve multiple strategies and hopeful outcomes. Some yield remarkable fruit and benefit students in transformative ways. But of course, some go nowhere and seem to accomplish nothing, and that can be frustrating. I try to remember that my job is to plant seeds. Seeds take a long time to grow and their growth may take place haltingly, beneath the surface, and only in season, imperceptible to superficial observation. Such is campus ministry. Such is the Kingdom of God.

Campus Ministry

Visiting Campus: Some Advice for Parents of Freshmen

After move-in day, you head home and hopefully get 2-3 weeks of separation from your student before he or she comes home or you go back to visit. These weeks are crucial for students to make connections and establish habits that will sustain them in the months that follow. A premature visit can disrupt that process, but a well-timed visit to campus a few weeks into the semester can help both parents and students reconnect as a family, catch up on each other’s lives, and evaluate how the college experience is affecting all involved. So if you haven’t seen your student for a few weeks and you’re planning a visit for Parents Weekend, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Talk to your student briefly before the visit to discuss in advance what time you’ll spend together, what functions you’ll attend together or separately, where you’ll sit for the football game, where you might go to church on Sunday, and other such plans. Communication in advance will help you all manage your expectations for the weekend. Except in dire circumstances, never pop in for a visit unannounced.
  2. Don’t expect to spend every waking hour with your student when you visit campus. Your son or daughter now has a life that doesn’t often include you. Friends, studies, rituals, habits, organizations, and responsibilities now occupy his or her time. Those things don’t cease just because you’re visiting. On our first visit to campus to see my son, he dropped by our tailgate for a few minutes, crammed his stomach full of food, and then returned to game-day festivities with his friends after about 30 minutes. We saw him later in the day, and some the next, but he went right on with his life, which showed me that he’d adjusted well to college.
  3. Avoid the temptation to read too much into your student’s response to seeing you. Some students may be tearful and others rather placid. Their emotional reaction to your visit may be more a factor of how much sleep they’ve gotten than their excitement or aversion to seeing you. And here’s a hint: your student is probably ALWAYS sleep deprived, so take their reactions with a grain of salt.
  4. Look around at your student’s life. Take a mental snap-shot of what you see. What are your student’s friends like? Is the car running well and in decent shape? Is his/her room functionally organized? Of course it is reasonable to begin to form some preliminary evaluations, but keep your observations to yourself for now. Parent’s Weekend should probably be a time for celebration more than correction.
  5. Pick your battles. As you see your student’s life on campus, you will inevitably find some things you are pleased with and some things that bother you. Don’t micromanage, but you should express concern where it is warranted. When my wife first visited our son’s dorm room, she was appalled by the smell. I was more concerned with my son’s sleep habits. Although different things felt important to each of us, we had to be careful that we didn’t nit-pick. As you talk with your student about college life, try to focus on the things that really matter.
  6. Ask the right questions. We parents tend to ask our students general questions like, “How’s the semester going?” or “Are you doing well in your math class?” Such questions tend to elicit monosyllabic responses. Instead, ask specific questions that are easier to answer and yield more information, such as “What is your favorite thing about campus?” or “Who is your favorite professor and why?” or “What is the most difficult part of being a college student?” I have a talkative child and two quiet children and these questions have tended to work better for them all at any age.
  7. Relax and have fun. Go into the weekend with a light-hearted attitude expecting to have fun. You may be worried or anxious about how your student is adjusting and that is normal. Express confidence in how they are doing, be encouraging, take them to eat at their favorite restaurant, and maybe give them a little extra spending money. This is a weekend for things that lighten the mood and lift the spirits. A bit of preparation and forethought can help it be so.
Campus Ministry