Friday, March 16, 2007

Pledging While Black -- The Value of Institutional Memory

Institutional memory is one of those things that's easy to lose. Replace a few executives, or key personnel, and, before you know it, the current crop of managers has no idea what their organization did or didn’t do in the past.

This means that their organization – whether it’s a major corporation, a small business, a church, a school, a college, or a sorority – is vulnerable to repeating a mistake it made once before.

I’m not here to debate the merits of history lessons – I’m all for them – but I am suggesting that if there is little or no institutional memory, then there is a higher likelihood that the organization will make a mistake that could have easily been avoided – had the managers only known the past.

More years ago than I care to count, I was student at DePauw University, a humble liberal arts school located in central Indiana, that has recently found itself the focus of The New York Times, CNN and a few other media outlets, especially in the Hoosier state.

I was a reporter for the school’s student newspaper, The DePauw, when Delta Zeta, also the focus of the media lately, decided to discriminate against an African American woman who attempted to pledge the sorority.

A few members of the sorority approached University officials, saying the student was not allowed to pledge because she was black.

Heavens to Betsy!!!! If only this girl hadn’t been PWBing everything would have been okay. I mean the nerve of some people – Pledging While Black. It’s almost as a bad as Driving While Black through a wealthy, discriminating white community!

A fellow reporter and I covered the sorority and the University’s actions against Delta Zeta. As I recall, the University asked Delta Zeta to accept the student. I can’t remember if she joined the group or not.

In the latest news, Delta Zeta’s headquarters, located in Ohio, forced out what they determined were all of the ugly girls in the DePauw chapter, saying, as a cover, that they weren’t doing all they could to make their chapter successful.

What it really came down to, according to all of the news reports, was that Delta Zeta headquarters, last Fall, decided it wanted to improve its looks at DePauw. So if you were carrying a few extra pounds or didn’t possess the kind of looks that turned a guy’s head, then you were history.

Once again, some of the girls from Delta Zeta, especially those that were forced out, approached the University, telling them they had no where to live and how they had been discriminated against because of their looks.

Had someone at Delta Zeta gone through the files, or had the organization even possessed some kind of institutional memory, there’s a good chance this wouldn’t have happened. Or, perhaps, it would have gone down differently.

That’s something that will be debated long into the future – among those who care.

What is known is that DePauw possesses a long memory. The University’s president, Bob Bottoms, has been around the campus a long time, even before I was a student there. So he knew DePauw had to respond, especially because it was the focus of some of the country’s top media outlets.

To his credit, Bottoms shut down the Delta Zeta chapter at DePauw. That’s the advantage of institutional memory. Bottoms had seen this before and he’d had enough.

Too bad no one at Delta Zeta headquarters possessed the same knowledge.

Ten or twenty years from now, Delta Zeta will likely re-open on DePauw’s campus. When they do, the sorority’s top officers will likely make sure they get their fair share of the best-looking girls they can find.

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