Tuesday, August 2, 2011

UIFI: Learn it. Live it. Teach it. Expect it.

Two weeks ago I got home from what was by far one of the greatest experiences of my collegiate life. In a week I wish I could replay and repeat a million times, I made friends that even now I know will last a lifetime. In our 5 day-long institute, myself and about 80 other students from across the country and cross-councils were brought together to learn some of the most important lessons of our Greek lives.

I'm sure other UIFI graduates can attest to this - after about 8 hours in our chapter house, I felt like I had known my fellow attendees my whole life. It was comforting and empowering to be in an environment where I didn't have to explain what NPC was, or how new members were selected during Recruitment. I didn't have to explain my decision to go Greek or the love and passion I feel for me chapter - we all had it, they understood.

With a solid and common foundation, large and small group discussions quickly became powerful and meaningful. While our letters may have been different, knowing that I was surrounded by men and women who share in and believe in my experience made it easy to open up. With a common thread running through us all - we were free to learn from one another and to make ourselves vulnerable.

This is my amazing chapter! Chapter 1!!

UIFI truly is an institute - all of those in attendance, from collegians to facilitators, are all there learning and growing together. Over the five days there is a combination of small group or chapter meetings, large all-group discussions, workshops, and activities. The timing of each of the discussions is very strategic and it is only on the other side that one can realize when the "ah-ha" moments happened - it's now obvious the that each conversation happen when it did. Each day has a purpose and each workshop or chapter session acted as a foundation for the next.

Each large group discussion would be followed by a chapter meeting - something I saw as truly essential and something that quickly became habit. As the issues grew bigger, the need to decompress, to give and hear feedback became invaluable. Each chapter - a group of about 8 - was lead by two facilitators. My facilitators, Maggie and David, were the perfect guides to our UIFI journey - also leading the way but never quite showing us the exact path to take. From their simple questions grew deep, self-led discussions.

Maggie and David!! The loves of my UIFI life!

Our very first task at UIFI was the UIFI Challenge Course. It was a series of mini-games and trust-building exercises, each one with so much more meaning as the week went on. The game the stuck out the most to me required each member of the team to cross from one side of the "pond" to the other. The "pond" was actually a grid drawn with chalk. In the pond there was an invisible path of Lily-pads the group had to follow..... while explaining it properly here would be almost impossible, I'll tell you this: everything I now know about being a Greek leader, it all comes back to that pond, and to those Lilly pads:
1. You never know why someone made the choice they made until you are in their position. Refrain from judgement of actions until you can understand the perspective.
2. Going through the motions of Greek life can be just as big as a mistake as trying all different directions. What is easy, is not always right.
3. From the outside looking in, things always seem easy and care-free, while from the inside looking out things can get confusing and difficult.
4. Sometimes, no matter how scary or difficult, we have to make a decision. Sometimes the choices that lay ahead of us are what is there rather than what we would like.
5. It is okay to make mis-steps but not okay to make mistakes.

The next few days after that first seemed to go by in a flash - each of us falling into a new routine: kitchen duty, meal times, free time, sing-a-longs and late nights. After two days at Indiana University the Alpha Omicron Pi house seemed like home, and the people who had previously been complete strangers were now members of my Greek family.

As the days went on the challenges became greater - first, we had to develop a sense of our own leadership style and gage the tactics and tools that we found the most valuable. Second, we were challenged to live the example, to Do What You Say You Will Do. To be the change and to act rightly on it. We also learned that excellence in leadership is not a born trait - it is an acquired skill. It must be harnessed and practiced before it can become instinct. This is when the heavy stuff started to come in - what was the reality of our leadership? The reality of our community? Can Greek life be sustained on the path we currently sit? The next morning our panic from the night before was put to good use - our anxiety given an outlet in action! We took to the streets to volunteer in the Bloomington community.

That night - a strong feeling of "now what?" sat on all of our shoulders. We had heard and seen and discussed the challenges and detriments of the Greek community. We were scared and nervous. We had all of this energy and yet we had little idea what to do with it. Then, one of the most powerful and empowering experiences took place. Sitting all together in a large group session, attendees were asked to stand and share their creed. Members of the same chapter from across the country stood together to recite the words of their founders, facilitators and their collegiate counter-parts joined voices, proclaiming the power of their affiliation. I was moved in a way that I can not quite describe. I felt truly blessed and still am so grateful to have witnessed the passion and conviction in which the various creeds were recited.

That was it. After that moment things seemed to click - each chapter member having their own "ah-ha" moments. It wasn't going to be easy to make changes, we all knew that now - it was going to be hard. We were going to have to gather all our courage and all of our strength in order to be the change we wanted to see.

One of the facilitators, Erin, quote Pete Smithhisler, the President and CEO of the NIC - he once said that "To know Pete Smithhisler, is to know Lambda Chi Alpha." To me, this describes the entire sentiment of UIFI, of what Greek Life should be, and what Greeks as individuals should strive for.

To know me, is to know Alpha Delta Pi.
If I were to live my Ritual, maybe not being 100% successful 100% of the time, but to try and live my life so that my actions always had a congruence with my sorority's values...what a life that would be? As my facilitator David said - "it's the endless pursuit of excellence." For us, it is the journey that matters and that makes all the difference.

Yes, I accept that not everyone cares, or agrees. Yes, some members are in it for only four years and not for life. Some say they used to be a member instead of saying that they are. But in front of my chapter and now in front of the world wide web, I made a commitment - to never be one of those people. Yes, I accept that those people are out there but please know: I have learned my Ritual, I am working to live my Ritual, through my actions I hope to teach my Ritual and from my peers I expect them to do the same.

UIFI was amazing, empowering, and an experience I will never forget.

There was a lot of learning:

a lot of dancing:

a little bit of identity crisis (POP THAT GAMMA):

and a whole lot of memories.

Now it's just time to put it all to use!
"I am ready to act if I can find brave men and women to help me." ~ Carter G. Woodson, Omega Psi Phi

<3 Love and Loyally

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