2020 Sorority Recap

in , by Mackenzie Elaine Wasilick, December 12, 2020

Photo from one of my first work trips in 2016.

I began working for Alpha Xi Delta on December 7, 2015. Since the end of the calendar year and my work anniversary coincide so nicely, I typically do an annual recap of the places I've traveled and the events I've participated in (see 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). In fact, this blog mostly started as a way for me to chronicle my experience and remember all of the exciting opportunities I've been afforded over the years. While this year has been mostly void of travel, my fifth 'alphaversary' marks a significant milestone for me and I can't help but reflect on the journey I've had so far.

When I started this job, I was a young graduate still reeling from a frustrating and disappointing end to my career in the North Carolina wedding industry. My entire college agenda was devoted to becoming a wedding planner - I accomplished that and I did it well. But I didn't know where to turn when the company I put so much trust in turned out to be, well, not so trustworthy. I associated so much of my identity with that dream and really struggled to find a new footing when it became clear that I could not continue along that path. 

As much as I loved wedding planning, I recognized that weddings were missing an element of events that I had come to love from sorority recruitment and non-profit fundraising: competition. Three of my top five CliftonStrengths are competition, achiever, and strategy. Of all the fun and glamorous things that weddings are, there's little opportunity to be "the best". I love goal setting, data-driven decision making, as well as strategic marketing and branding. So, when the door closed on weddings, I sent an email to my sorority headquarters inquiring about open opportunities they had related to recruitment. 

This is a good point to briefly explain what it is I actually do. Most of my family and friends know that I work for my sorority, but have very little understanding of what the title 'Membership Growth Resource Coordinator' means - which fair, because I didn't in the beginning either. The majority of my job is focused in developing recruitment-related training resources for our organization. Some of the topics I teach include event planning, persuasive conversations, data analytics, strategic membership selection, how to develop a brand, strategic marketing, and general leadership skills. I also assist in planning the in-person and virtual training initiatives that bring together our members across the country for learning opportunities. I work with a small number of 'new' chapters (those that have been on a campus for five years or less) to oversee their recruitment efforts and help them learn the ropes as they face the unique obstacles of being the 'new kids on on the block'. Between our training events and my work with chapters, I typically travel about half a dozen times a year to college campuses or convention-hubs across our country. 

We often say in sorority world that the reasons you join are not the same reasons you stay. I can say the same for my time so far on staff. When I began my job, I was desperate for stability and to prove myself. Working in hospitality was/is its own beast, but teaching hospitality has different challenges. When I started, my scope of program development and writing/editing was so small - I was an event planner with a few years of sorority experience as a collegian under my belt. Since then, I pursued my Master's in Adult Education, gained a sincere passion for training and development, and obtained immeasurable experience working with collegians, volunteers, and institutions of higher education all across our country. These past five years have allowed me to identify what I am passionate about and explore my long-term professional goals. 

And then 2020 presented its own kind of... challenge? opportunity? Whatever you call it, it rocked our little corner of the world and we are still learning to adapt and thrive amidst the changing landscape. The pandemic impacted higher education immensely, and therefore, sororities too. My bread and butter is in-person, live recruitment. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of eager college students in matching t-shirts line up outside of sorority houses or campus facilities - their excitement to mingle with women they've never met in perfectly-timed five minute increments is often palpable. There's chanting and custom napkins that, yes - they do match the balloons thank you for noticing - and sorority women, in different matching t-shirts, ready to showcase conversation skills they've likely spent their entire membership honing through programs and workshops. It may sound, and even look, a bit frivolous from the outside. But what our young women are learning throughout the recruitment process and throughout their membership experience is incomparable and in my opinion, invaluable. 

Looking back on how we had to pivot this experience to something completely virtual first brings to mind the feelings of stress, panic, and fear for what this could mean for organizations like mine. Like many, we were having to build a plane as we learned how to fly it. Throughout that process, we also have had to face some pretty tough - and long overdue - conversations regarding diversity, social justice, and equity. For centuries, institutions of higher education across the world have served as a host for (mostly) young people to explore new ideas and challenge the world as they knew it. But for a long time, higher education and related opportunities (like sororities) were exclusive to white people. We cannot reflect on our founding and purpose without addressing the reality of our circumstances. This year, more than ever before, we had faced the question: should sororities still exist? I'm here to say you can be both a critic and a supporter. My college sorority experience provided me with countless opportunity to explore my skills, gain new ones, gain experience in areas of interest, lead my peers, and connect with a network of alumnae. I know that almost all of my Sisters would agree with me that more than any other experience, our chapter prepared us for 'the real world'. But we also have significant room to improve. Organizations like ours would 1000% be better off if we brought together a more diverse membership to connect and learn from one another - and I truly believe we are striving to achieve that. We have to face very real barriers in order to do so, but, where better can you improve the system than from within?

I am immensely proud of our staff, volunteers, and collegians for their work this year and know that our efforts are far from over. I cannot wait to see what 2021 holds and I know that we must carry some important lessons from 2020 with us if we are to make it the very best. Here's hoping that year six with Alpha Xi Delta will once again keep me on my toes in the most exciting and positive ways. 

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