This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.
I need ideas on our pledge process. I need ideas on how to make pledges do something that has an underlying meaning behind it.
Sure. When I was an active we got in trouble for hazing. Not to dig too much into that situation, but in the aftermath we had to create a highly productive pledge program from scratch that placated our members as to the difficulty, still delivered the training needed, and did not involve hazing. It ended up being a national award winning program. I’ll share some of what we did, I hope it helps.
I’m going to talk to you about three elements: guided character development; active practice; and dry pledgeship.
First, guided character development.
Our pledge pin is three stars with a crescent over it. We tell new members it means scholarship, fellowship, and character with the overarching guidance of the actives above them. Our ritual spells out some other principles and explains what they mean. We just came up with synonyms. We decided to go with integrity, brotherhood, being a gentleman.
Pledgeship was 8 weeks. The first week was devoted to pledge class elections and getting all the logistics taken care of. The last week was devoted to major projects. The six weeks in the middle had one of those six values assigned to each week. We did an hour long session on the topic as part of their weekly pledge class meeting, and reinforced it constantly throughout the week in the lessons they were learning from the chapter.
We’re based on Christian principles, so we also brought in Campus Crusade for Christ (wish we had access to Greek InterVarsity) to do a weekly bible study focused on the value of the week. Actives participated in those as well. It wasn’t anything that would be offensive to a non-Christian, but it did discuss the biblical basis of the principle in question and what it should mean in your modern life.
Second, we did something we called active practice.
We made a list of committee chairs and junior officer positions. That included philanthropy, fundraising, social, historian, chaplain, recruitment, etc.
We appointed one new member to the pledge class version of that position. They’d attend the committee meetings and coordinate pledge class support of that active officer. They’d also be assigned to one of those middle six weeks of pledgeship to do a major project. Philanthropy obviously they were as a group planning and executing a major philanthropy event for the whole chapter. I just this week heard that the Phi Delt pledge class back at my school is organizing a pledge class flag football tournament – something like that. Chaplain was assigned to big brother week for obvious reasons. Social they planned and executed a date party with full risk mgmt, budget, etc. The active officer mentors them through the process and keeps them from doing anything too stupid. They as a group learn how to do most of the positions in the chapter. We tried to align the values training I mentioned above with the officer role/project for each week in a somewhat logical pattern.
Rather than sitting in their first fraternity meeting as an initiate the next semester and not having any idea how the chapter works, now they have some direct hands-on experience with the majority of what we do. Maybe somewhere in there they find the niche they really like. Worst case you get some fresh ideas and accomplish some work that makes the chapter look good without a whole lot of effort by actives.
Finally, we instituted a dry pledgeship.
Like probably everyone, we use our pledges as designated drivers, but we took that to the next level. We basically told them they were on-call 24/7 as designated drivers. If they drank at all they were directly endangering our lives, and that doesn’t fly. We didn’t actually call them 24/7 for that duty. The pledge trainer would make up a schedule of who was expected to be on duty each Thurs-Sat night or when something was happening on an off night.
When guys were going to the bars, everyone would meet up to pre-drink at the house, a few pledges would be on duty there to drive them all down and then wait at the house to come pick them up again at closing time or when they were called. They would be in a quiet room studying or if they didn’t have anything to work on they could hang out in the chapter room playing pool or whatever – just so they weren’t drinking. That gave them a chance to enjoy the actual house as something that belonged to them without actives being around to remind them it doesn’t yet.
We made them these one-color front/back shirts with our letters on the front and “Designated Driver” on the back. They’d wear those when on DD duty or at parties. It’s great PR by the way, and goes over great with cops if they do get pulled over. You’d be amazed the bars that will let an underage DD in wearing that shirt while following us around, and the numbers they got from girls looking like both the responsible friend and the downtrodden pledge. Great move & super cheap to do. I think our T-Shirt guy may have actually just given us those for free the first time.
Couple other things we did were: we made them set up (so they know how to access University resources) and attend a leadership workshop with the student org development folks in the student affairs dept; and, we made them do a similar session on career placement, resume writing, etc from which they had to produce a resume with a cover letter like they were applying to be in our fraternity – I think that was probably week 2. We ended up expanding that career development thing into a program for seniors where they’d attend quarterly regional alumni events and be hooked up with an alumni mentor in the field they’re trying to get into.
Oh yeah, we did one other thing too – that will be the featured article tomorrow.
– This answer was written by Dennis Nall, an alumni brother from Alpha Tau Omega and contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!