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It's Time: Beta Theta Pi Announces New Strategic Plan

A Letter From General Secretary S. Wayne Kay, Virginia Tech  ’73
February 2, 2018

 

This is an important message from General Secretary S. Wayne Kay, Virginia Tech ’73, which is addressed to all Beta alumni, undergraduates, parents, Friends of Beta, and the interfraternal and higher education communities.

 

Brothers and Friends:

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Beta alumni and undergraduates launching the Men of Principle initiative to advance Beta’s position of interfraternal leadership. Hailed across the higher education community as one of Greek life’s most successful cultural change efforts, one need look no further than our Fraternity’s historic performance in leadership programming, GPA, recruitment, volunteerism and accountability to understand the thoughtfulness that has gone in year after year to support our undergraduate chapters and the adult men and women who mentor them. The impact of the Fraternity’s policies and programs undertaken since Men of Principle’s formulation is truly remarkable.

Despite the Fraternity’s achievements on so many fronts, however, Greek life across North America continues to grapple with serious issues that run diametrically counter to the founding principles and values upon which our organizations were founded. From the outside looking in, many argue a common thread in these ongoing campus concerns is the role fraternities and sororities play, notably in the social arena related to drugs and alcohol, as well as in matters of hazing and sexual assault. Most objective minds find it difficult to disagree.

Not surprisingly, as our own Fraternity confronts the heartbreaking and tragic death of Penn State new member Timothy Piazza ’20, fraternities and sororities everywhere find themselves at an important crossroads in both the eyes of their host institution’s boards of regents and the administrations charged with carrying out their directives – not to mention fraternity and sorority alumni and parent bodies who are watching closely for meaningful action. For this Fraternity’s leadership, two questions – among many – certainly rise to the top: “Will Beta deal with the challenges before it?” And, if so, “How?”

As shared in the most recent issue of The Beta Theta Pi magazine, in the two years preceding Tim’s death, the Board of Trustees was engaged in an extensive exercise aimed at developing a long-term plan to guide the Fraternity in the coming decade. Poised to advance a three-pronged strategy focused on Brotherhood, Personal Growth and Home, Tim’s death only underscored the conviction your Trustees feel about the honorable role Beta Theta Pi should play in young men’s lives, not to mention reshaping Greek life as we know it.

Of course, difficult as it has been throughout the emotionally exhausting and painful past 12 months, especially as we recognize the excruciating grief and pain of the Piazza family, the Board of Trustees has remained steadfast in thoughtful evaluation and sincere, open-minded listening. To be sure, consequential decisions must be made for the betterment of the Fraternity, but they must be rooted in objectivity in order to produce the greatest chances for success and sustainability.

Having now concluded a series of feedback-seeking activities focused on garnering the greatest amount of quality data possible, and having listened to an array of suggestions and comments from Beta alumni, undergraduates and parents – including engagement of dozens of Beta house corporation members – the Board of Trustees has adopted the following initial strategies with the primary goal of protecting the health and safety of our members, and advancing Beta’s mission to develop men of principle for a principled life:

    1. Hazing Prevention and New Member Education – By August 15, 2018, Beta will pilot a model new member education program that is available for all chapters. Having reaffirmed the Trustees’ complete and total opposition to hazing in any form, the Fraternity will begin an important march toward all chapters and colonies offering consistent and quality new member education with programs held to the same standard of performance as other important areas of fraternity life, like academics, finances and risk management. A Fraternity task force consisting of undergraduates, alumni and student development experts has been charged with making recommendations to the Board of Trustees, and a number of chapters have already chosen to pilot an early version of the program this spring.
    2. Housing Standards – By August 15, 2020, all Beta homes will be substance-free. Recognizing the coordination that will be required among a multitude of parties and at all levels of the organization, a policy background and two-and-a-half-year transitionary plan has been adopted and can be read here, in addition to a Frequently Asked Questions document that provides rationale for this important decision. Elevated housing standards relative to house directors, fire safety and professional facility oversight and management will also unfold in the coming months and years, as additional analysis concludes and final recommendations are evaluated.
    3. Risk Management Education and Accountability – Effective immediately, the Fraternity has renewed its commitment to ongoing risk management policy education and accountability for all chapters and members. Believing that all brothers must understand and own the Fraternity’s risk management policies – and the “why” behind them – added emphasis will continue to be placed on policy education at Beta leadership programs, as well as in the print and digital media mediums routinely provided to all members and volunteers.
    4. Chapter Cultural Assessment – Beginning in Spring 2018, Beta will launch a chapter cultural assessment initiative aimed at understanding and improving the health of our brotherhood. Through a strategic partnership with a professional assessment firm that specializes in Greek organizations, our brothers and volunteers will have an ability to explore the true nature of their brotherhood. The Fraternity will partner with our brothers to both evaluate the assessment results and use the information to capitalize on chapter strengths and address chapter deficiencies that may not be apparent based on more surface-level indicators.
    5. Volunteer Training and Engagement – Effective immediately, the Fraternity redoubles its efforts to train and engage the alumni, volunteers and Friends of Beta who support our chapters and have been instrumental in the success of the Men of Principle initiative. Continuing Beta’s successful in-person trainings during chapter visits, Leadership Summit and Keystone Regional Leadership Conferences, the Fraternity will enhance volunteer onboarding resources and deploy online trainings where volunteers can self-learn at a time and location that is most convenient. A blended training approach strikes the right balance between building volunteer competency and capacity, with the ultimate goal of fostering the mentor relationships undergraduate Betas both need and deserve.
    6. Interfraternal CollaborationBeta will continue to collaborate with peer organizations that seek meaningful change in fraternity life across North America. A driving force in its 1909 founding, and throughout the rebirth of the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the NIC 2.0 movement, Beta has been at the forefront of interfraternal leadership. As such, Beta believes fraternities have a unique responsibility and duty to raise the standard of student behavior on the campuses they lead – and all fraternities will grow stronger if they commit to higher shared standards. Beta will challenge itself and continue to press NIC-member fraternities to eliminate rhetoric expressing desire for cultural change, and instead back action-oriented strategies that go to the heart of issues undermining the fraternity experience across North America. Beta will adopt a Good Samaritan Policy and also continue to support the NIC’s new Enhanced Health and Safety Standards and important federal legislative efforts like the REACH Act to address hazing on college campuses.

To the last point, Beta’s Board of Trustees believes strongly that we are not an island unto ourselves. As young men learn about Beta’s reputation of interfraternalism early in their membership process, our Fraternity exists in a community that relies on others, and should be counted on when others are in need. To that end, we call on all of our peer fraternities to enact similar measures – specifically as it relates to substance-free housing and new member assimilation – knowing together our organizations have arguably the greatest ability to influence local campus behaviors than virtually any other group on campus. With Farmhouse, Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Phi Epsilon having already stepped forward on this matter, imagine if all 70 other inter/national fraternities took this same substance-free housing step we all know is inevitable and needed.

It’s time.

Further, we also call upon all university and college presidents who oversee Greek communities on their campus: fraternities need a stronger helping hand in dealing with the substance abuse that is plaguing hundreds of thousands of young college men and women. Requiring all of Greek life to restore its original and longstanding tradition of substance-free housing would have one of the greatest and most immediate impacts in addressing this chronic problem campuses continue to battle. While there are of course no silver bullets, no greater medicine exists at this juncture than to address the environmental conditions that are incubating the very issues causing harm to our young students, the chapter houses they occupy and the campuses of which they are a part. University and college presidents have unique authority and leverage to influence significant change in this arena.

No doubt there will be a spectrum of thoughts and opinions on the measures Beta’s Board of Trustees is taking at this pivotal moment in our Fraternity’s history. We have invited and heard a multitude of them, and in a variety of forms and tones. Thankfully so, as it has been our members’ perspectives and the data that addresses their concerns that has reinforced our commitment to objectivity throughout these deliberations. Ultimately, we know that any such measures we take must be grounded in the hard but true realities we face, which is why the Board of Trustees is convinced Beta Theta Pi cannot be tepid on these matters of consequence. The stakes are simply too high. Beta must lead.

In closing, it is important that I express personally how much I believe in our 10,271 undergraduates and the more than 2,000 volunteers who support them on a daily basis. It is because of the character I have observed that I know together we are up for the tasks at hand. As General Secretary John Calvin Hanna, Wooster 1881, so eloquently put it in “A Decade of Fraternity Reconstruction”:

“Our fraternity has been conservative. She has also been progressive. Most of the great reforms and improvements in fraternity matters have originated in Beta Theta Pi. We must realize the difficulties which surround us, and determine to face them with loyalty worthy of the Beta of old days.”

As today marks the one-year anniversary of the actions that led to the death of Tim Piazza, we are reminded of the stark realities that accompany alcohol in chapter houses, and what happens when new member education is twisted into something it was never meant to be. In what will be a long-term commitment to the Men of Principle initiative – with strategic emphasis on Brotherhood, Personal Growth and Home – I ask you personally to understand and empathize with the critical choices your Board of Trustees is facing and, with humility and determination, making for the long-term welfare, viability and existence of our Fraternity.

Certainly, a lot of important work is ahead of us. And, for that, you have a commitment by the Board of Trustees to ongoing collaboration with our undergraduates and volunteers – coupled with what will become a historic allocation of resources, time and attention to see the work through.

I ask you to support us as Beta brothers as we deal with so many challenging matters. Your trust and confidence is needed now more than ever.

Sincerely and in ___kai___,

Wayne Kay, Virginia Tech ’73
General Secretary

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