Leadership Highlight: Will Schouten the President of Phi Beta Sigma’s Theta Tau Sigma Chapter in Northern Virginia
In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.’s Theta Tau Sigma Chapter in Northern Virginia (Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria) and did an interview with Wilfred “Will” Schouten, Jr. the president of the chapter.
The position of president of a Black fraternity chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Schouten, who is a Workforce Analyst in HR at DC Water and Sewer, has been president of his chapter for two years.
We interviewed Schouten, who is a Spring 2002 Rho Tau Chapter initiate at George Mason University and talked to him about his position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in the digital age.
Read the full interview below.
What does it mean to be a chapter president to you?
A Chapter President is someone who serves as the chief elected officer that presides at meetings of the general membership and of the Executive Board. They are also charged with providing leadership and making sound judgment while navigating the various challenges that may exist both inside and outside of a chapter and the organization. These challenges may include drawing out the best performance from all officers and committees while keeping up the engagement and participation of the general membership.
What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the surrounding community?
One of the tenets of the platform I ran on in pursuing this elected position is to leverage all available technologies to organize and deliver our service to communities in the most efficient manner. Theta Tau Sigma has been using our social media presence to recruit and advocate for the community and serve as a resource hub of information. For example, we, along with our neighboring Sorors of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. (Omicron Theta Zeta – Fairfax County and Nu Xi Zeta – Alexandria, VA) staged a weekly media campaign to share information on voter’s rights and supporting education leading up to the 2020 election.
Another example is where we bring awareness to the injustices and disparities that are occurring within the Black and Brown communities we serve that exist while being in the same area known for being some of the wealthiest localities in the country. Even access to technology is still an issue in 2021 where going through the existing pandemic changed the delivery of education to a 100% virtual environment. We were concerned that all students, no matter their socioeconomic status, can continue to excel and achieve academic success.
What made you want to pledge Phi Beta Sigma?
My pursuit to join the great Brotherhood of Sigma began on the local chapter level at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. While the university is known for being one of the fastest growing diverse schools in the nation, it wasn’t always so easy to navigate the challenges at attending such a large school as a minority. It was while participating in support groups such Black Peer Counseling and finding mentors within University Life and other academic sources, that I discovered individuals who also were brothers of Sigma. They were so humble in their effort to look out for a Black brother coming from the small community of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and never boasted about their membership and the organization. It’s a gift and a curse of our humility in our service to the community that we can easily be overlooked, however it was enough to plant the seed to do my research and solidify my decision to pursue membership. Even looking back at my upbringing in my hometown, I later discovered that some of the most influential members of my community were Sigmas and Zetas. Lastly, one certain Zeta (thanks Clair) also had an “epiphany” that I was going to be a Sigma before I even knew much about the organization.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
Theta Tau Sigma sits in a unique location in Northern Virginia where Brothers reside in neighborhoods of various backgrounds. It is this same area that we believe contributed to changing the direction of the Commonwealth of Virginia to a “Blue State” that helped to elect the 1st Black US President, Barack Obama. Our membership also has a range of professionals in various industries and education levels as well as a significant portion of military personnel, being that Northern Virginia is also one of the transient military communities in the DC Metropolitan area. Lastly, we have quite a spread of representation from different generations and cultures, especially from the young professionals moving to the area that are seeking affiliations with groups of professionals that uplift communities through service.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think alumni chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2021?
Social media is a real thing! Believe it, it’s not going anywhere. It’s extremely powerful. (Hint: 2016 election, etc.) Thanks to our social media team (Brothers Sirleaf, Jones and Collins), the chapter’s social media presence has grown significantly and can attribute to the attention that the chapter now receives. It is the easiest thing to maintain but the key thing is you must keep it active and engaging to increase your followers and shares. Also, don’t be afraid of the virtual/video communication atmosphere that the pandemic has thrust into. Currently, it is the safest way you can keep in contact with members that is even more personal than just a voice call.
Lastly, eCommerce is considerably safe today and the days of writing checks and visits to banks are the days of the past. I’m not advising to trade in all your traditional brick and mortar bank accounts for cryptocurrency and online only banks. Chapters should seriously consider adding mobile payment services and other electronic funds transfer services if you want to keep members pleased with the ease of payment and convenience.
How is your chapter adapting to navigate the pandemic?
My chapter has been adapting very well, surprisingly! Prior to the start of the pandemic, we were already transitioning from using a former antiquated technology to using workshare resources such Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) that give us the ability to communicate information consistently and store documents that can be shared easily. Zoom is also a gift from heaven! I’m an Android user (save it Apple stans) and still appreciate face-to-face communication and Zoom allowed us to continue to collaborate and enjoy fun game nights and interesting informal roundtable discussions. While we can’t wait for the pandemic to end and return to some normalcy, we have pivoted our approach to supporting communities and keeping the Brotherhood engaged.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means quite a few things to me, but I think I can narrow them down to 3 main qualities. First, a leader must know how to attract and promote others around them. They have a way of supporting others and developing them to be more productive and effective. Second, leadership means you know how to put the right people in the right place at the right time. One of my “tactics” I utilized when engaging with a brother that I am recruiting to join the chapter (new or reactivating) is that I find out what they are passionate about. Those areas are where a Brother will excel naturally because they don’t see the work as work but efforts they can be proud of and enjoy supporting. Lastly, leadership must include trust and respect for those you work with. You’ll soon be standing on an island by yourself if you don’t master this skill well. Even for the most control freaks such as myself, I had to learn to trust my brothers (at least on the first shot) in order to develop a productive team. I find it encouraging to provide feedback and constructive criticism afterwards rather than being strict and rigid in a dictator-style leadership. Respect is sometimes the hardest challenge to balance, especially with the diverse generational opinions of my chapter. However, once members see that you consider the opinions of others and yet make the best/fair decisions that are in the best interest of the chapter, the respect will come eventually. I am also a certified Change Management Practitioner and readily refer to the ADKAR model to drive successful change.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch The Yard is an amazing online news media that promotes information about the Black college experience. I grew up on sitcoms such as The Cosby Show and A Different World that heavily influenced my interest in seeking membership in the Divine 9. With the absence of such influential entertainment, I feel that Watch The Yard fills that gap by providing current events and news about both the college experience and being a member of the NPHC organization. This platform is viewed by Greeks and non-Greeks alike as we all play a part in the community experience of college life. I also love that the coverage is not exclusive to HBCUs where a brother can still feel like I belong while having attended a PWI. Platforms such as this are needed to support the continuation of the legacy of Black Greekdom and our contributions to society such as Madame Vice President Kamala Harris.
What does brotherhood mean to you?
Brotherhood is a state of being in close kinship to support others like brothers regardless of the situation. My seven line brothers of the “8th Ward – BluPrint” and all of the other countless brothers in my fraternity gives me a sense of pride and confidence that I can pursue anything with this incredible support network. When I call someone a brother, it is from a place where I can confidently say I’ll be there for them and I can expect the same in return, that friends and acquaintances may not be able to commit to. Through the good and the bad, we will always hold each other accountable, uplift one another and love each other unconditionally.
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
While also serving as a Collegiate Advisor, I have heavily introduced the value of our networks to our collegiate brothers while in school and as they transition to the professional world. The chapter’s advisory council have 3 areas of focus of development: academic, personal/professional and fraternal/leadership. We also believe that the more experiences a Brother has outside of his own chapter, such as attending state/regional conferences and Conclaves, greatly affects his interest to transfer and be active in an alumni chapter. Knowing that fact, we try to provide and support their attendance directly, as well as encouraging participation in other areas that can provide opportunities to attend such as representing the state/region in competitions like the oratorical/debate team. Lastly, we are in the development stages with a formalized mentorship program that will assign each new collegiate brother with at least one alumni member that they will engage with through graduation and beyond. Of course we also support with free meals for good grades and community service because we were all once “hungry and surviving” college students at one point.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Wilfred “Will” Schouten, Jr. for his work as the President of the Theta Tau Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma.