Well we have to say something, you know how people are these days…
If this is your organization’s thought after an injustice or atrocity occurs towards a marginalized group, just FULL STOP.
Well, what will people say if we don’t say anything?
Will people lose interest in our organization?
Will people be mad at us?
Will we lose money?
Will we get canceled?
WHY DOES OUR MIND IMMEDIATELY GO TO HOW OUR STANCE WILL AFFECT US INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON HOW OUR ACTIONS COULD SUPPORT THOSE IMPACTED?
Too often, especially since the summer of 2020, organizations feel the urgent need to do one of these two things:
Immediately post a statement that isn’t clearly any sort of stance or action, solely in an attempt to appease their membership.
Not post a statement at all, and defend that by saying they do not get involved in “political” issues.
Both of these present their own issues and challenge us to think about where our priorities lie as fraternal organizations. Is your focus on the perception others will have of you for what you say or do not say? Is your focus purely financial; will you lose membership fees and dues if you take a stance against police brutality? For reproductive justice? For trans lives?
My advice, if you are not going to take a stance against the injustices that are occurring in this nation and across the globe; don’t write a statement.
We do not need your empty words.
We do not need you to feel bad for us.
We do not need you to pretend to advocate, portraying a false sense of care.
We do not need it. We need change.
Now, if your organization or council wants to lean into advocacy and activism, challenge the status quo, take a stance AND take action to truly support your membership, then a statement can be a great supplement to the work that you are doing. Here’s some advice on making your statement truly impactful.
LEAD WITH SINCERITY.
It all begins with being vulnerable and not trying to say what you think people want to hear. Share the raw emotions of the executive board. Share the sentiments flowing throughout the chapter. Are you angry? Say it. Are you disappointed? Write it down. It may seem assumed, but there is power in numbers sharing frustrations, anger, and sadness around injustices that have occurred. That collective expression of discontentment can sometimes be a catalyst in collective action being taken. One thing I’ve learned is that change does not often happen because of a “change of heart”. Change often comes from pressure. Pressure starts with authenticity and vulnerability from us. Realness is what we are all looking for in those moments of distress.
TAKE A STANCE.
Many frustrations around statements come when chapters and councils, for lack of better words, say a whole lot of nothing. If you are making a statement after the murder of yet another Black life, do not vaguely allude to generalities like “any life lost is terrible.” Unequivocally stand against police brutality and anti-blackness, and outline actions for how you will support your Black members and strategically challenge the system of racism as it shows up within your organization.
Don’t know how systems of racism or oppression show up in your organization? Be transparent and say that in your statement. There is power in recognizing what you do not know and being intentional about establishing ways to learn. You can provide educational opportunities around equity and inclusion issues, and analyze your organizational policies and culture to assess for inequitable practices. You can hire social justice educators and consultants to curate strategic plans for your organization or council to create accountability in shifting the culture. If you don’t know, take steps to learn.
All in all, be bold and vocal. Let people know where your organization stands on these issues. Don’t know where your organization stands? It’s time to figure that out. Some organizations are very explicit on their stance on “controversial” topics, how can you encourage yours to do the same?
ACTION STEPS + ACCOUNTABILITY.
A statement without action is often useless and performative. Attach petitions that folks can sign. Find local organizations to which members can donate. Attach multiple educational resources that provide more information about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Create action plans for reviewing internal policies and culture for equity and inclusion issues. Releasing a statement should not just be checking a box. It is an opportunity to challenge your organization or council to look inward and reckon with your own complicity of systems of oppression.
Many organizations have been on the front lines of many social justice movements around civil rights, racial justice, and reproductive justice, especially culturally based organizations. They have been “doing the work” as folks like to call it. In this, many times there is an assumption that culturally-based fraternal organizations (CBFOs) should be the only ones focused on racial justice, or that women’s sororities should be the ones focused on women’s rights and reproductive justice. The assumptions and expectations that the folks who hold the identities affected should be the only ones doing the work is extremely problematic yet seems to be the primary belief of our organizations. This was clear as recently as June 2022 when we saw many members of women’s organizations loudly advocating for reproductive justice, yet with many members of men’s fraternities the silence was loud.
I want to challenge us all to look internally at our fraternities + sororities and identify ways that consistently and increasingly contribute to creating truly equitable spaces for all. It starts with identifying where our organizations are falling short and making a commitment to challenging the systems in which we are uniquely positioned to apply pressure.
To headquarters staff: How are our organizations being complicit to systems of oppression that are harming the folks we call brothers, sisters, and siblings?
To campus-based professionals: How are you leveraging your power and empowering students to use their voices to challenge systems of oppression, whether that be injustices that make national news OR unjust situations that occur on your campuses every single day?
And, to the students: You have so much power to create change. You may not even realize it. How will you challenge the oppressive systems that permeate your chapter? What steps will you take to make a difference?
Do not simply resort to posting a statement because that is what you believe you have to do. Post that statement because you want to truly challenge the systems that cause us to feel so much hurt and frustration consistently. Post that statement because your organization is ready to reckon with its history of racism or sexism or all of the above. Post that statement because you want to lean into that collective anger and empower others to also apply pressure for change.
The question honestly is not about if you are or aren’t posting a statement.
It’s about what you intend to do after you click send.