Working with Jane: Advisor Apprecation Month

by Megan McGowen

Megan is seen in the front right with the other 1995 ELCs.

I first met Jane when she was Alpha Xi Delta’s National Extension Vice President (NEVP) and I was traveling as an Educational Leadership Consultant (ELC). Alpha Xi Delta was preparing for colonization at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where I was assigned as the colony consultant. Fortunately for me, Jane was not only the NEVP but she lived only 30 minutes away from UCF. From colonization through installation of the chapter, Jane was always right there when I needed her. She even invited me over for dinner with her family on a regular basis and let me “borrow” her washer and dryer. Whether we were at Jane’s house or training the new local advisory board, Jane always led by example and was easily able to work with the Greek Community, volunteers, officers and chapter members.  Jane taught me that being an advisor was not always easy or predictable, but that the rewards would far outweigh the difficulties. She reminded me that you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many women, if you just take the time to do so.

When I entered graduate school, I became the Chapter Advisor at Auburn University. Again, Jane was there if I needed anything. She took numerous phone calls throughout the years, both positive and negative, and was always there to encourage me and to provide constructive advice when needed. She has always reminded me that the reward for advising was watching members grow and prosper throughout their collegiate and alumnae years. Jane was right.

I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of collegiate women as an advisor and volunteer.  Sometimes I had to be the disciplinarian and other times a shoulder to lean on. Chapter members have studied for finals at my house and “borrowed” my laundry facilities. I have received countless late night phone calls, graduation announcements and wedding invitations. It is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Jane Sutton took the time to mentor me and wasn’t afraid to let me know when I was off course and for that I am truly grateful.

As Advisor Appreciation Month comes to a close, I encourage each of you to contact a special advisor or mentor and let them know that they made a difference in your life. Jane Sutton made a difference in my life, and I sincerely hope I have done the same for others.

Advisor Appreciation Month

In April, we celebrate Advisor Appreciation Month.  It is a time for us to recognize all who guide, support and advise our collegiate chapters and members as well as the fraternity and sorority community.

My first experience with a chapter advisor occurred when I was in graduate school at the University of Tennessee. I wanted to stay connected to Alpha Xi Delta, so I joined the alumnae association in Knoxville and asked if I could help in any way with our chapter at UT. I was introduced to Harriett Hitchcock Holtman. Mrs. Holtman was instrumental in establishing the UT chapter in 1958 and had served as chapter advisor since its installation. What I experienced was a woman who was respected and revered by the chapter members, and I could see why ... she cared about every one of the members. She was a mentor, counselor, motivator and educator – ensuring that the chapter realized its potential and that every member had a significant sisterhood experience.

My life has not only been impacted by chapter advisors and advisory boards, but also by the fraternity/sorority advisors who guide our undergraduate chapters through leadership decisions, mentoring and advising. These advisors spend countless hours sharing their insight and lending support to our chapters.

One of the tenants of all of our organizations is leadership. Leadership is a learned value and during this month, let's take time to thank all our advisors who provide an ever present leadership example to our chapters and leadership boards. We would not be the women and organizations we are today without the dedication of these amazing advisors.

The Right to Choose by Association

While the institution of sorority can frequently come under scrutiny, there is a Constitutional right that we hold dear to the core of our very being. The most debated and often legally challenged issue is the right to freedom of association.

Courts continually tackle the concept and attempt to interpret the right as it pertains to the nation's education institutions - construing the differences between private and public college applications, religious beliefs, and the right as it applies to sororities and fraternities.

A unanimous decision in January by the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the "right to freedom of association is a right enjoyed by religious and secular groups alike."

NPC's governing documents, known as our Unanimous Agreements, hold the same.

NPC member groups exist as women-only private social organizations and the legal reasoning was adopted in Unanimous Agreement X in November 2011. Congress recognized in Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972 that fraternities and sororities were exempt from the prohibition against gender discrimination and could therefore maintain their single sex membership policies.

This is not a right that we take lightly.

Most recently in the news we've followed the actions of Vanderbilt University, a private school that has been going very public in discussing an all-comers policy.

According to Timothy M. Burke, general counsel for the NPC, VU is requiring that for a student group to be recognized and receive university benefits that come with "recognition" privileges, the student group must admit anyone who wants to join and anyone should be eligible to run for a leadership position - even if they don't adhere, accept or follow the same beliefs.

Though Vanderbilt has exempted our organizations from the all-comers policy as a private school, it is pushing forward with the discussion as are other private schools under the blanket of intellectual freedoms.

Other legal observers and religious leaders are already finding flaws with the logic.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt, told The Tennessean newspaper that "such a policy promotes discrimination in the name of nondiscrimination."

Sororities are watching the news and ready to monitor what's at stake for us on the nation's campuses. As Burke pointed out in his paper delivered to Stetson Law School's National Conference on Law and Higher Education: "The right to associate with others of like beliefs should be recognized and supported across the political and social spectrum of college campuses."

That's true of the most controversial and ardent of advocacy groups that vie for recognition on a college campus where many of us first found our public voices as young women.

You will find many of our fraternal groups engaged and present in their policy discussions and resolutions as well - from the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors to the North-American Interfraternity Conference.

NPC's stance, adopted and agreed upon by all 26 of our member sororities, is clearly spelled out in Unanimous Agreement X. The issue is important for us to monitor and to speak up about as campuses review and adopt policies that may be out of sync with current legal opinions and case law.