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Highlight: Tenea Lowery, The University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Assistant Director for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life

In an effort to highlight the professionals who are in charge of Fraternity and Sorority Life at colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Assistant Director for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, Tenea Lowery, to get her perspective on greek life in 2019 and her thoughts of what the future of fraternities and sororities will look like over the next decade nationally.

Lowery is a Spring 1999 initiate of the “Devastating” Rho Delta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. at the University of North Texas and has worked in the field of advising Fraternity and Sorority Life for 12 years.

We interviewed her about her campus, her position and her thoughts on future of fraternities and sororities on college campuses nationally over the next 50 years.

Read the full interview below.

What does your job as a Fraternity and Sorority Life Professional entail?

In my role I have the opportunity to advise National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council organizations.

Why did you decide to go into a job as an advisor of fraternity sorority life?

I chose this role because it gave me the opportunity to give back what was given to me; leadership, culture, and connections. By joining a sorority, it gave me the opportunity to enhance who I was. While in college, I had the chance to be involved in many organizations and/or engagements that allowed me to develop my personal and professional skill sets.

In addition, by joining a NPHC organization, it challenged me, “to be the change I (you) wanted to see in the world”, i.e. developing mentoring programs, making cross council/campus/community connections, and/or developing meaningful programs that impacted change in my community. As a result of these meaningful touch points in my life, I wanted to be able to work in capacities that afforded me the ability to give back to students these same opportunities that provided a sense of identity, mattering, and belonging.

Why do you think NPHC and Multicultural fraternities and sororities are important on your campus?

I think having cultural based fraternal organizations on my campus are important because they help students form a sense of identity, mattering, and belonging. Particularly at predominately white institutions-PWI’s, it’s my belief that they further enhance a sense of community and a celebration of one’s culture .

With the prevalence of stories about sexual, assault, hazing and substance abuse, why do you think NPHC and MGC greek life should continue to be supported by colleges and universities?

I think fraternal organizations should continue to be supported by colleges and universities because they provide additional opportunities to challenge and educate students about the accountability to do the right thing. In the heightened climate that some organizations/communities are facing around Title IX issues, directly and even indirectly, calls for the intentional engagement of student leaders and their respective organizations to recognize how their actions, or lack thereof, could lead to the demise of their existence.

As a result, it is imperative that on all levels (chapter, university, state, regional, and headquarter) officials work together to form practices that have greater impact, not just intent. Furthermore, to truly impact change and challenge traditional risks and other adverse behaviors, it is imperative that we engage both student leaders and their advisors.

It benefits campuses stay connected to not only cultural based fraternal organizations but, all fraternal organizations. In addition, it is equally important that organizations stay connected to institutions. This is true because students will continue to form communities on college campuses with or without the recognition of fraternal organizations of the university. As a result, by having these organizations supported by and connected to a college campuses, it provides the opportunity to foster education and accountability.

Looking at the future from a campus administrative perspective, where do you see greek life 10 years from now?

From a campus administrative perspective, our current heightened climate challenges all fraternal organizations to take a closer look at the role their organizations play in the development and accountability of their members. With the evolution of our members, the various intersections of identities, and lived experiences they bring, it calls for our organizations to provide resources that holistically support members.

Hence, when asked where do I see sorority and fraternity life 10 years from now, it is hard to say. It is my hope that our organizations are still here, not just surviving but, thriving. However, when we are looking at our NPHC and MGC organizations specifically, we do not have the sustainability to maintain high risk behaviors that jeopardize the longevity of our communities. I believe the survivability of geek life 10 years from now will at least be enhanced if we engage all members in the progressive steps needed to ensure that our rich history from the past can matriculate into the future.

For example, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. motto, “Building a Tradition, Not Resisting Upon One” is a philosophical approach for all organizations to assess. The idea of “they come to us” or “we don’t recruit” is no longer a practical ideology. Hence, it is essential that organizations be able to provide potential interests, and/or the larger society, with what their return on investment both is and can be. More specifically, the question how becomes, “how can our culturally-based organizations positively impact and influence both the individual and the greater community as a whole?”

What is something undergrads need to do to ensure that undergraduate greek life on college campuses will survive and be around 50 years from now?

To ensure that undergraduate sorority and fraternity life on college campuses will survive and be around 50 years from now, something our undergraduates need to do is actually live the positive values of our organizations. Added to that, our alumni need to understand that the “days of old” (i.e. hazing, promiscuous activity, misogyny, etc.) are no longer. With the continuation of hazing that plagues the existence of our organizations, it is imperative that we understand hazing will prevent not only undergraduate chapters but, graduate chapters as well from seeing the next five years, let alone 50.

Coupled with emerging issues such as sexual assault, mental health concerns, and overall challenges to our viability on campuses and within the community, our organizations, both individually and collectively, must pause to seriously consider the current behaviors that will lead to our dissolution. Furthermore, fraternal stakeholders should advocate for state legislators to enhance the penalty for participating in hazing. Making the cost analysis harsher for those who violate the law in all states.

If we fail to meet the necessary changes within our organizations, we could find ourselves in undesirable situations similar to what happened with an Asian interest fraternity in Pennsylvania; being appointed a state representative on how to operate their organization as a result of a hazing death. To lose an organization’s autonomy as a whole is something no organization wants to face.

How do you see individuals who join NPHC/MGC orgs benefit personally from going greek?

Those who join cultural based fraternal organizations-CBFO benefit in a variety of different ways. From the traditional lens, fraternal organizations provide a sense of connection to the principals of brother/sisterhood, networking, scholarship, and service/philanthropy. However, one thing that separates CBFO’s from other fraternal organizations is “culture”. According to Harbor Institute’s President Rasheed Ali Cromwell JD., when exploring the CBFO DNA Model, the identity, engagement, and celebration of ones racial/ethnic culture is one of the major principals that separate CBFO.

As a result, the benefits of finding sense of belonging, identity and culture further advance the mission and efforts to benefit individuals potential fraternal experience.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think undergraduate chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2019?

Brand identity is essential to the progression and effective online representation of our undergraduate organizations in 2019. It is crucial that undergraduate chapters across all organizations understanding the difference between positive brand identity and negative brand identity. In order to effectively meet our members and those who are connected to us where they are, it is vital that we use our digital platforms to “Tell the Story”.

There are many great things that our organizations are doing in the community;  mentoring programs, hosting educational programs about financial literacy, educating on the misuse of drugs and alcohol, and celebrating cultures. Unfortunately, the negative narratives that put a blemish on our organizations is what is going viral.

Hence, it will be important that our undergraduates create space on their social media outlets to highlight their organizations’ positive aspects such as leadership involvement of their members, academic achievements, their chapter alumni connections, community engagements, and avenues to attacking negative stereotypes. Furthermore, it is important to connect with their campus professional staff to use assessment to elevate their stories of success to upper administrators, state, regional, and headquarter officials.

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important?

Watch The Yard is important because you all provide a platform to do what I call, “Tell the Story”. Often times there are not many digital outlets for cultural based fraternal organizations to be celebrated and share their lived experiences. Through the various outlets you all use on social media, individuals who are members and those who are not members, are able to see the state of where are communities are and where they are going.

What are some initiatives you see the greeks on your campus doing that make you proud?

There are several initiatives that I see my NPHC and MGC organizations engaging in that make me proud. For example, within MGC, my ladies of Sigma Sigma Rho Sorority, Inc. Eta Chapter have hosted programs that elevate the awareness about their national organization’s philanthropic support of domestic violence awareness. Also, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. Gamma Gamma Chapter collaborated with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Kappa Chi Chapter and Latin American Student Organization to host “Latin Night” in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

In addition, NPHC chapters such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Mu Zeta Chapter hosted “Police and Popsicles” to foster better relationships and understanding with campus police. The men of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Mu Rho Chapter co-sponsored “Title IX Red Table Talk” with our Health and Education Wellness Center.

Positive outreach efforts such as these, in conjunction with development of many of the chapters that I work with, make what I do a meaningful and enriched experience.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Being able to connect with students to support their goals and admirations to want to see change within themselves and the respective communities they are in.

What is it about the NPHC and MGC greek community at your college/university that makes it unique/special?

In my opinion, one of the things that makes the UTK NPHC and MGC communities unique/special is substantial growth within NPHC and MGC communities. When I arrived at UTK at the end of the spring term 2014, both councils were in transitional phases; three MGC chapters and six NPHC chapters.

Within the five year span that I have been here, we have had  chapters successfully transition to gain recognition with MGC-Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity, Inc. Alpha Delta Chapter-Spring 2015 and reactivation of another-Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. Gamma Gamma Chapter-Spring 2018.

Subsequently, NPHC has seen the most substantial growth.  In the beginning of 2015, NPHC ended the academic term with 39 members in the council. Over a five year period, they are ending the spring 2019 term with 181 members!

Much of NPHC’s success has been as a result of better recruitment tactics, healthier community relationships, and the reactivation of two sororities; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Mu Beta Chapter – Spring 2015 and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Mu Zeta Chapter – Spring 2018.

Growth is an important factor to recognize because it connects to the sustainability of our chapters and retention of our members to be able to make a meaningful impact on future Vols to come.

We at Watch The Yard would like to thank Tenea Lowery for taking time to speak on these important issues.

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