Over the last 115 years, SigEp has evolved and grown to meet the needs and characteristics of roughly nine generations of American college students. Innovation has been central to the Fraternity’s identity in large part because of a willingness to listen to the youngest generation of members. Frequently, SigEp has led university communities and peer organizations in addressing issues impacting new generations. (One recent example is SigEp’s joint effort with Alpha Delta Pi Sorority to mobilize students in combating campus sexual assaults.) As a result, the Fraternity has been able to ensure that the moral virtues forged by a SigEp experience remain relevant even as social norms and learning styles change. Further, the needs of each generation have often found unique support through the Fraternity’s programs, which have worked to address topics such as diversity and inclusion, alcohol and substance abuse, and self esteem.
The “Generation Z Goes to College” study and other research on this new population of students provide strong insight into how the Fraternity may need to evolve for a new era of undergraduate brothers. From new areas of focus in personal development to changes in the ways in which programming is delivered, many of these generational shifts are already underway. In some areas, there is room for continued growth.
Engage digital natives on their turf
In a “why wait?” online world, Generation Z views easy online access to useful educational resources as a necessity and prefers learning environments that balance individual learning with facilitated group discussion and activity. With SigEp serving so many of the developmental needs of Generation Z undergraduates, it is crucial that the Fraternity’s programming adapts to the population’s learning preferences.
In a model similar to the flipped classroom teaching style popular at universities around the country, SigEp has posted officer guides for chapter leaders and educational resources on topics like member safety to the Fraternity’s website. This means members can access “how-to” materials anytime and learn fundamental concepts on their own. In turn, they are able to walk into mentoring relationships and the Fraternity’s leadership events fully prepared for in-depth, issues-based conversations.
As technology has become a bigger part of students’ everyday lives, SigEp has also employed new platforms to expand the reach of the Fraternity’s educational resources. SigEp’s commitment to producing original, high-quality video content has created more opportunities to provide education on topics like member safety to every member, not just those attending regional and national leadership events.
Many of SigEp’s recent videos have served as springboards to open dialogues on critically important topics such as the relevance of fraternities for today’s college student and sexual assault prevention. While these discussions certainly aren’t new in the context of higher education, SigEp’s use of video platforms has helped to reach and engage a generation that learns online. The “Generation Z Goes to College” study highlighted the population’s strong preference for taking in information through video-based platforms like YouTube, so this should continue to be an important method of education for SigEp.
Enable them to act
Generation Z students are inclined to be problem solvers. They are eager to work with others through strategic thinking and hands-on implementation to address issues. The leadership role that undergraduates played in reforming SigEp’s member development standards at the 2015 Conclave is an outstanding example of both the appetite and skills possessed by Generation Z for solving problems and enacting social change. Leading up to the biennial meeting, chapter leaders assembled a nationwide coalition of undergraduates and lobbied peers to align all SigEp chapters under the Balanced Man Program. In the 1.5 years since, undergraduates have remained key contributors to the development of the BMP mobile application.
Continuing to engage Generation Z in problem solving at all levels of the organization should provide an outlet for students to flex a core strength of their generation. Further, their ideas and spirit of creativity should prove to be an excellent resource as the Fraternity continues to innovate. For those who mentor or work with undergraduates, it may be helpful to look for opportunities to incorporate reverse mentoring in which the mentee provides guidance in an area for their mentor or AVCs, such as utilizing social media or technology. This can create a reciprocal relationship that involves Generation Z in areas where they are likely comfortable and skilled.
Looking beyond Fraternity operations, SigEp also has a great opportunity to serve as an incubator for this community-minded group of students. It will be important for SigEp to identify and promote ways that the Fraternity experience can help students engage with social issues. It is core to their identity, so cultivating this characteristic and providing outlets for engagement should help make the SigEp experience a natural fit. The Fraternity’s national partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a great step in the right direction for a generation eager to do more than log community service hours. Paying attention to the ways in which members engage in this and other service learning projects will continue to be critical in meeting this strong desire and skill set of Generation Z.
In addition to learning online, Generation Z has grown accustomed to communicating and accomplishing everyday tasks online. Undergraduates within the Fraternity have asked for new ways to connect with brothers, track their progress through the Balanced Man Program and share ideas for chapter programming. Their requests were laid out at SigEp’s 2015 Conclave when chapter leaders charged the Fraternity’s staff with developing a mobile application to support their Balanced Man Program experience.
The resulting BMP App is being introduced to chapters throughout the 2016-2017 school year and will be available on Google Play and iTunes. The app will allow chapters to customize and maintain activities associated with the member development challenges that make up the Balanced Man Program. Individual users will be able to connect with other SigEps, share best practices and view each other’s progress through BMP challenges. Meeting Generation Z with a platform that they are comfortable with and providing access to this type of mobile technology is a critical step in helping chapters successfully implement the Balanced Man Program and fully engage with their members.
Focus on life after college
A slew of studies on recent college graduates has shown employers to be dissatisfied with graduates’ job readiness. The perception, and at times the reality, is that students are leaving college without practical job skills. Meanwhile, some students have expressed frustration with their inability to fluently navigate the job market.
Most within Generation Z are simply starting earlier, ensuring their college years are used to build transferable professional skills and experience. More so than previous generations, Generation Z is arriving at college looking for opportunities that will help them identify and transition into jobs after graduation. SigEp’s professional development programming and vast international network of potential alumni mentors makes the Fraternity experience a natural fit for career-focused Generation Z students.
The Balanced Man Program’s emphasis on connecting brothers to career development resources, including those on their campuses, as early as freshman year is appropriate for this population. Other initiatives like SigEp’s Life After College leadership event, the SigEp LinkedIn group, and chapter-level opportunities for exploring careers and developing professional skills should remain core areas of focus for the Fraternity as it works to meet the career-planning needs of Generation Z.
Keep safety a priority
The Internet and 24-hour news cycle have provided Generation Z with an unprecedented window into the world’s issues. Students have grown up watching terrorist attacks, mass shootings and natural disasters unfold on their TVs, computer screens and mobile devices. This access to current events can help people stay informed, but new levels of exposure to these events — tragic and violent in many cases — can create a situation in which young and impressionable minds feel more connected to faraway issues than ever before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Generation Z is concerned about issues of safety and violence.
Because SigEp serves as a social and physical home away from home, it is crucial that the Fraternity focuses on providing a safe environment for members. In considering what this means, Fraternity leaders should look beyond existing risk management policies and engage in proactive education and preparation for safety issues and potential emergencies. The Fraternity’s Member Safety Team initiative is a great example of what this kind of education can look like. Since the program’s launch in 2015, 22 trained facilitators have made 25 presentations to chapters around the country on general risk management strategies and sexual assault prevention. SigEp should also continue to consider ways to use campus and community safety resources to educate chapter members about how to contribute to safe environments and respond should an emergency situation arise.
Another issue SigEp might consider is the potential impact that alcohol-free facilities could have in creating safe and supportive environments for students. Sororities have successfully implemented this practice for years. Now, fraternities, including many of SigEp’s own chapters, are following suit. Conversations about this and other means of creating safe and healthy environments should remain a top priority for SigEp as it considers the living-learning needs of Generation Z.
The road ahead
As Generation Z emerges as the dominant generational population of students in college, the time to understand and prepare to work with these students is now. SigEp has set its sights on becoming the premier student organization. Fulfilling that mission will mean adapting to and serving the needs of this new generation.
SigEp’s success also depends heavily on the collaboration of a diverse group of stakeholders that now spans six generations. Older generations of SigEps will need to think beyond what they’ve always known and be ready to learn about and from Generation Z. But they should not worry too much. The tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, social change-minded and career-focused Generation Z students are adept at both identifying their needs and working collaboratively to fulfill them.