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Setting Standards

Updates from Lexington

James Ehrmann (Iowa)

North Central Division Commander

Program Director of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life at the University of Minnesota

There was a time at the Beta Mu (Iowa) Chapter when meals in the house left something to be desired. As an exasperated form of protest at a chapter meeting, an active brother grabbed a handful of cold pasta still sitting out and flung it against the wall. It stuck and perhaps a point was made. In the weeks that followed, more food items were flung at the wall during each chapter meeting and this continued until it became an expected part of each weekly chapter gathering: Philanthropy Chairman’s Report à Scholarship Chairman’s Report à Food against the wall.

Setting a standard may seem like a complicated endeavor but it’s actually quite simple. Unlike goal setting, strategic planning, or other processes that require the input and debate of many people, setting a standard can oftentimes require, literally, nothing. In the face of a specific action, doing absolutely nothing to challenge it normalizes it. You endorse what you tolerate. When no one challenged overcooked spaghetti splattering against the wall, a standard was set. That behavior was appropriate.

Food fights certainly aren’t equivalent to hazing but there’s an important foundational lesson applicable to both.

Standards can also be set by acting in opposition to something that is happening and, thereby, not tolerating the behavior. Our founders likely would have found the process of opening chapter and slinging food against the wall before it was closed to be reprehensible. They would not have tolerated it. And that’s far from rhetoric because we know that they refused to tolerate hazing and mistreatment as first-year students at the Virginia Military Institute.

That was the standard that they set, and it was a standard that led to the founding of a fraternal organization that has persisted for 150 years. The standard was predicated on the core values of Love, Honor and Truth and they would not settle for anything less. The culture at VMI, in which first-year cadets were treated as second-class citizens, set a standard beneath that of which our founders thought to be appropriate and so they acted.

But each action does not need to be one that creates a new fraternity. It can be as simple as asking, “Why are we doing this?” As easy as expressing concern to a brother about an activity. Calling for help if your brothers aren’t listening. What Love is there in asking Candidates to run errands? What Honor is there in games that belittle a group of men? What Truth exists when hazing persists in the Legion of Honor?

So, we asked why we were throwing food. We shared our dismay at this childish behavior with one another. We held those accountable who continued. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s likely because it isn’t right - it isn’t our standard.

Our great Fraternity’s values set the standard. It is a standard that has persisted for generations - believe in a life of love; walk in the way of honor; serve in the light of truth. We have an obligation to uphold that legacy. Nothing Less. Anything less than this standard betrays the foundation of our Fraternity.

The Delta

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
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