I spent last summer on Lake LBJ in Marble Falls, Texas, working at a camp where I had spent many previous summers: Camp Champions. Tucked away in the hill country of central Texas, Camp Champions has a long history of hiring great role models, as well as a rich tradition of integrating values into everyday activities. Each May, camps come alive with traditions, rituals, and spirit, and it wasn’t until this past summer that I realized how similar camp is to my outside-of-camp career.
Contrary to my love for camping, my real-world career is working in higher education as a fraternity/sorority life professional. On the bottom end of what I do for a living, I have the daunting task of addressing hazing incidents, drug use, binge drinking, hospital transports, unhealthy group think, and entitlement among eighteen to twenty-three year olds. Oh, and guess what? These individuals have fraternity brothers and sorority sisters who are working at your camps.
No need to sigh or gasp — the hazers and binge drinkers have more than likely taken an internship elsewhere and prefer to drink on the lake rather than teach ski on the lake. Brown, et al. (2005) assert that while some research focuses on the negative aspects of fraternity/sorority membership, others indicate that members of fraternities and sororities exhibit greater student involvement and confidence in their leadership skills as a result of their fraternity/sorority experience. Needless to say, you get the ones who care. You get the fraternity men and sorority women who are willing to give up their summer and make a difference in a child’s life. You are the lucky ones.
The fraternity I joined ensured growth as a scholar, leader, athlete, and gentleman. We called this expectation SLAG. Similar to SLAG, there are fraternities that commit to “building better men,” sororities that seek to “do good,” and groups that secure excellence in every capacity of human growth and development. Camps are just the same. We want each camper to grow into a champion, in whatever form that means for them.
Likewise at Camp Champions, we challenge campers to demonstrate four Rs: respect, responsibility, reasonable risks, and reaching out. They are best represented when campers take on activities such as climbing a rock wall, jumping off the high-dive, making new friends, and dressing up for a dance.
I first realized I wanted to write this piece while in the dining hall at Camp Champions last summer. One of the counselors was wearing a shirt that read, “Rush Alpha Tau Omega,” and I looked down, only to find his twelve-year-old camper wearing a similar, yet oversized, shirt with the same words.
I looked at the camper and stated, “Well, sir, I missed the memo that you pledged ATO.”
He replied with a short and quick, “I’m his fraternity brother,” pointing at his counselor.
Now this seems simple — the old “they will do what we do” framework. But it’s more than that. Later that day, I saw the same camper and two of his friends at the swim bay laughing with and running around with one of their bunkmates who had been socially struggling in the camp environment. This was the point where I realized those boys didn’t want to be ATOs because of a cool shirt or “idea of a fraternity”; rather, it was because of the influence Harrison, their counselor, had on them.
Harrison’s campers identified his values and were aiming to be like him while exemplifying those values in their actions (inclusion, respect, etc.). As Sutton and Terrell (1997) highlight, fraternity leaders often interact more consistently and honestly with one another, as they are motivated toward influencing a collective and common good. Furthermore, sorority leaders share similar goals and values while working with others, and connect to the larger community through their activities. Jansen Kraemer (2011) asserts, “Values-based leadership may not be a cure for everything that ails us, but it’s definitely a good place to start.”
Whether or not you have the next superstar fraternity brother or sorority sister at your camp, capitalizing on your counselors and staff members who are affiliated in a fraternity/sorority provides a positive investment in the future of your campers. This is a commitment to campers, counselors, and staff members, as well as a unique opportunity to connect and integrate values into the camping and mentoring model.
Brown, T.L., Parks, G.S., & Phillips, C.M. (2005). African American fraternities and sororities: The legacy and the vision. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky.
Glazebrook, O. A. (2012). The creed of alpha tau omega. Retrieved from www.ato.org/AlphaTauOmega/atohistory/atocreed.aspx.
Jansen Kraemer, H. M. (2011, April 26). The only true leadership is values-based leadership. Retrieved from www.forbes.com/2011/04/26/values-based-leadership.html.
Sutton, E. M., and Terrell, M. C. (1997). Identifying and developing leadership opportunities for African American men. New Directions for Student Services, 80, 55-64.
Michael A. Goodman is the senior assistant director for fraternity and sorority life in student life and learning at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Michael can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the 2013 July/August Camping Magazine