North American Interfraternity Conference Standard

It’s Time for a Real Change!

Bobbi Larsen
Bobbi Larsen
Education Consultant

We could be at a watershed moment in the interfraternal world. Medical Good Samaritan policies, bans on hard alcohol, partnerships between fraternal organizations and parents who have lost sons to hazing — is real change coming? Or, is this just noise resulting from the recent tragedies on a number of campuses we’ve all read about? Our hope is YES there’s change coming, but change requires much more than just affirmative votes and policy revisions. These groups haven’t just raised their hand at the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) to ban hard liquor, they raised their hand to begin a culture change process within their respective organization.

Let’s look at one of these opportunities…

From the NIC press release: In an important, decisive action to enhance health and safety in fraternity communities, the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) recently adopted a Standard prohibiting hard alcohol from fraternity chapter facilities and events. At its Aug. 27 Annual Meeting in a near unanimous vote of its 66 inter/national fraternities, the Conference determined that each organization will implement the new Standard by Sept. 1, 2019, across their more than 6,100 chapters on 800 campuses.

Could this really work? Will it make a difference? This is a HUGE collective effort from NIC member groups — many of whom are Holmes Murphy clients — to create change. How can we help inspire and guide change to make the members of our fraternal communities safer? It might be helpful to look at ways to create effective change in organizations.

Theory 1: Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model

One of the most well-known theories of change is Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model. Lewin recommends splitting the change process into three stages:

  • Unfreeze: Looking at the way things are currently done to prepare constituents for the change.
  • Make changes: Implement changes and help constituents adapt to them.
  • Refreeze: Make sure the changes stick and old habits don’t resurface.

Unfreezing this policy requires a recognition of why it isn’t working. According to the NIC, nearly all hazing and over-consumption deaths in the past two years have involved students consuming high-percentage alcoholic beverages. Additionally, more than 90 percent of students living in fraternity houses are under 21. Inter/national fraternities and local interfraternity councils alike are grappling with how to make the fraternal experience safer. Addressing the presence of high-percentage alcoholic beverages in facilities and at events might be one way to unfreeze the required change, provided you can get feedback and commitment from those involved.

Each inter/national fraternity is charged with implementing this policy within its chapters, but there are many other constituents and components who will need to be involved as this change is made. University professionals who work with these organizations, women’s fraternal organizations who have restrictive policies of their own, other groups who do not fall under the guidelines of the NIC — Lewin’s theory requiring communication, support, and education can limit difficulties in the transition and address problems as soon as they arise.

Refreezing could be the most challenging part of this change. How effective it’s been should be reviewed regularly, and rewards should be given to those who consistently uphold the change. If the unfreezing has been successful, constituents will feel invested in the new outcomes, and this will become the new normal.

Lewin’s model is a good one to follow if the change is a drastic one. It also requires such a strong look at the status quo that anything less than a massive change might not be worthwhile. In this instance, it is key to bring all those involved on board and to provide the necessary support and education to make sure the change is successfully implemented. With the transient nature of a college population, implementing this new policy solely using Lewin’s model might not be completely effective.

Theory 2: John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

John Kotter’s theory focuses less on the change itself, and more on the people behind it.  It works by:

  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • Building a core coalition
  • Forming a strategic vision
  • Getting everyone on board
  • Removing barriers and reducing friction
  • Generating short-term wins
  • Sustaining acceleration
  • Setting the changes in stone

Given the news we’ve seen coming out of the fraternal community, the urgency is there. Inter/national organizations will have a year to fully implement this ban on hard alcohol and should give careful thought as to how to build a coalition to carry out the rest of these steps. Thinking strategically about this change and the way to build consensus within an organization can help mitigate the challenges of Kotter’s top-down theory of change.

Theory 3: Nudge Theory

Incorporating aspects of the Nudge theory could allow the change to be framed in a way to get more buy-in from the constituents on the ground. Nudge theory holds that nudging change along can be more effective than trying to enforce it from the top down.

The basic principles that need to be followed when nudging changes are:

  • Clearly define your changes. Prohibiting hard alcohol from fraternity facilities and events.
  • Consider changes from constituents’ point of view. What will this mean at the chapter facility?  How will it affect our events? Are there other fraternal activities that will be affected?
  • Use evidence to show the best option. Nearly all hazing and over-consumption deaths in the past two years have involved students consuming high-percentage alcoholic beverages.
  • Present the change as a choice. How else can we make the fraternal experience safer while continuing to exist on college/university campuses?
  • Listen to feedback. What is the best way to get buy-in for this change?
  • Limit obstacles. Each fraternal organization has the ability and responsibility to implement the policy, but how is it carried out on the ground?
  • Keep momentum up with short-term wins. Share success stories.

Each NIC inter/national fraternity must implement this ban on hard alcohol by September 1, 2019. With other health and safety initiatives, the interfraternal community has a real chance to see stronger prevention and safety efforts and programs. Implementing these improvements will take strategic planning, strength of purpose, and follow through. Ensuring these changes are implemented with careful deliberation, perhaps by following one or more theories of change, may result in a safer fraternal experience for everyone.

I’d love to talk with you about this. If you have questions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out!

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