In an effort to highlight the professionals who are in charge of Fraternity and Sorority Life at colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to University of Louisville’s Program Coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Life, Hammed Sirleaf, to get his perspective on greek life in 2019 and his thoughts of what the future of fraternities and sororities will look like over the next decade nationally.
Sirleaf is a Spring 2013 initiate of the Lambda Psi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. at College of Charleston and has worked in the field of advising Fraternity and Sorority Life for one year.
We interviewed him about his campus, his position and his thoughts on future of fraternities and sororities on college campuses nationally over the next 50 years.
Read the full interview below.
What does your job as a Fraternity and Sorority Life Professional entail?
I feel like my role entails a lot. On the surface, I am responsible for advising students that are members of fraternities and sororities. But it’s so much more than that. I serve as a professional advocate for the fraternal movement on my campus. I get to sit with campus officials and talk about the needs of our students and go to bat for them when needed. I serve as their liaison and help those who are non-affiliated or that are interested and their families understand the nuances of fraternity and sorority life.
I get to push for them to be seen, heard, and recognized. I also get to educate. Daily, I am educating students on issues in risk management, equity and inclusion, and how to just be good people. I also get to push my students to think outside the box and helping them develop into the leaders that their community needs them to be. We have a lot of tough conversations about race, privilege, and how we can make our fraternity/sorority community better. It’s definitely not an office job for sure.
Why did you decide to go into a job as an advisor of fraternity sorority life?
I wanted to pursue this career because I had a distinct undergraduate fraternity experience. I was tasked with essentially “reactivating” my chapter with my 7 other line brothers, a unique opportunity that your average student wouldn’t have. There were a lot of challenges and triumphs that came with that. After attending some leadership conferences on my undergraduate campus and for my fraternity, I learned about the field of Student Affairs and that I could become a Fraternity/Sorority advisor. I love the fraternity/sorority experience and it has given me so much. But, my primary reason is to help those who join after me have better experiences than I did.
Also, when I did my research, there aren’t a lot of African-American and NPHC Affiliated Fraternity/Sorority advisors and I want to change that. I want my students who are African American (and other races/ethnicities outside of the majority) to see someone that looks like them and who they can trust to be their biggest cheerleader, who can hold them accountable, and who can ensure that they will have the best experience possible.
Why do you think NPHC and Multicultural fraternities and sororities are important on your campus?
Although we are in a time where “diversity” is a hot topic, and historically white fraternities and sororities now allow those from marginalized communities join, I still find importance and a power in NPHC/Multicultural organizations. On a campus like the University of Louisville, with a Predominantly White Campus that has been designated as a top campus for serving African American Students, NPHC has a responsibility to serve those same students through quality programming, and top level advocacy and support. They give a space in our fraternity and sorority community for those who are looking for a different fraternity/sorority experience, and to see themselves in unique leadership roles that most likely would not be accessible otherwise.
With the prevalence of stories about sexual, assault, hazing and substance abuse, why do you think NPHC and MGC greek life should continue to be supported by colleges and universities?
I’ll take a different approach to answering this question.
I think we as campus professionals who are tasked to work with a unique population such as Fraternity and Sorority Life, we have an opportunity to overhaul the toxic parts of fraternity/sorority culture. We have the ability to educate students on healthy behaviors, how to still have fun and be safe, and how to treat others fairly. It’s saddening to scroll down my news feed and see what non-affiliated people think of our organizations. And if we want these illustrious organizations to have staying power, we have to be proactive now. And that takes having major campus officials (such as University Presidents, Vice Presidents/Chancellors/Provosts of Student Affairs, Dean of Students) who understand and that help advocate for education instead of fraternity/sorority wide suspension.
That takes having dedicated Fraternity and Sorority Life Staff to ensure that the community is moving in a positive direction. And that takes dedicated student leadership (within chapters and fraternity/sorority councils) to not be afraid to speak up and use their voice when they see or hear something wrong. If we all can work together, the culture can change.
NPHC and other Culturally Based Fraternal Organizations have a lot to give to our university communities. Anyone who takes the time to talk to a student affiliated with one of these organizations can tell you that. You can see the research. But what is really important is taking an approach from all sides to ensure that not only these organizations thrive, but fraternity and sorority life as a whole.
Looking at the future from a campus administrative perspective, where do you see greek life 10 years from now?
I could see Fraternity/Sorority Life being more inclusive of all identities, with newer generations rising in leadership and understanding the nuances of equity and inclusion.
But I honestly hope to still see it thriving. That’s the optimist in me. I want to see the partners I stated in the previous question still working together. I hope to see students being able to hold each other accountable and work with one another, despite being members of different organizations. I hope to see all organizations being equally represented and equally marketed to their campus community, whatever that looks like. If these things aren’t happening, we’re not going to see fraternity and sorority life 10 years from now, if I’m being honest.
How do you see individuals who join NPHC/MGC orgs benefit personally from going greek?
I can see them grow as leaders and as people. I’ve advised two neos (new members) who were/are NPHC Presidents and to see them develop as the weeks go by is always a beautiful thing to see. I can see them having more pride in who they are. I see skills that they never knew existed grow and develop. These things occur when you’re a part of these organizations. I think the huge marketing tool is usually networking and connections, but how these organizations develop you as a person entering society is priceless. When done right, fraternity and sorority can make us better if we allow it to happen.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think undergraduate chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2019?
As someone who came into college at the beginning of the social media age, I’ve seen how it has transformed fraternity and sorority. Those attending college can now see organizations step, stroll, and hop whenever they want to. Because the fun parts of fraternity and sorority are constantly in your face and on your timeline, you don’t see the hard work these organizations put in on the daily. You don’t see them serving the communities they’re a part of. And sometimes, perception is reality. If you or your chapter is going to be on social media, you have to represent yourself well. Nobody is saying to be this one-sided and boring person, but you have to make sure that you balance the fun of your organization with showing the other sides that most wouldn’t normally see. Also, make sure that your chapter profiles share that story, instead of just posting flyers.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important?
I think there is an importance of highlighting culturally based fraternities and sororities, and Watch The Yard does a great job of that. Also, Watch The Yard has taken a precedent in changing the scope and narrative of our organizations. Just think of it, people now stroll to edited music because the WTY staff asked them not to stroll to unedited music. I know that Watch The Yard can be a huge advocate for our organizations because of the role that they have in our community.
What are some initiatives you see the greeks on your campus doing that make you proud?
As of a couple weeks ago, our NPHC will have a memorial plaza added to a new construction project that will be completed by August 2019. It will provide space for them to perform or have events, and have brick monuments dedicated to all nine organizations on our campus. They have worked hard in advocating for themselves and working with the Office of Student Involvement, our Student Government Association, and our office of the Dean of Students/Vice Provost of Student Affairs. I’m excited to see this come into fruition!
What is your favorite thing about your job?
There are many things that I love about my job. I love being able to see students develop into the leaders and people that I know that they can be, and seeing this process happen over time. I love that I can make a difference in their college experience. I love that I can make spaces and opportunities for black and brown students to be unapologetically be who they are on a Predominantly White Campus. But most importantly, I love that my students find my office to be their safe haven and hangout spot (although most don’t leave until I do haha)
What is it about the NPHC and MGC greek community at your college/university that makes it unique/special?
The interesting thing about the University of Louisville is that our NPHC is historic, with most of the local chapters either having a single letter designation (Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, Xi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta), or being chartered in the earlier years of their organization’s existence. Also, a lot of these organizations were the first of their kind to be established in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. So, that shows you that NPHC is embedded into the DNA and history of the University of Louisville and the state.
We at Watch The Yard would like to thank Hammed Sirleaf for taking time to speak on these important issues.
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