A Look at the 2014 Phi Sigma Pi National Convention

Full disclosure, for those who normally read my blog, assuming I have what you call ‘readers.’ I’m a member of the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity and we recently held our annual National Convention. This post is about that.

Probably not that big of a deal, but I just wanted to clear that up in the event you happened to scroll through posts about films, television shows or comics and randomly came across this.

What do you get when you take an honors fraternity, put them under the same roof as a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and stick them on one of the world’s most convoluted hotel elevators? You get the 2014 Phi Sigma Pi National Convention, based this year in Atlanta, Georgia.

Roundtables

Once again, Brothers from across the country convene in one location to meet or reunite with friends, swap ideas, contacts, explore the city and take part in the fellowship that unites us. However, this year proved to be a larger one than most- not just because of another round of proposed amendments to our National Constitution or electing a new National Council, but the debates over other issues we tackled.  Also, this picture? Not taken by me- taken by Kyle Williams.

To start, below is the new National Council for the next two years:

President: Matt Nicoletta

Senior Vice President: Erik (Duff) Walschburger

Secretary: Natalie Mikkelson

Vice President of Finance: Sarah Cantwell

Vice President of Membership Development: Chris McCoy

Vice President of Chapter Development: Brian Bunton

Vice President of Alumni Development: Ryan Alexander

Vice President of Philanthropy: Patrick Herron

Council

This photo? Also not taken by me…actually, I don’t know who took this photo.  Just needed something that had a photo of the new Council and this was the only one I could find.

With this election marks the departure of outgoing National President Jonah Goodman, Vice President of Philanthropy Development Kyle Williams, and Vice President of Chapter Development David Serafini, all who have served the fraternity well. While I can’t speak for every individual member of the fraternity and won’t attempt to, I think I speak for at least some when saying that these three have served the fraternity well and I hope that this is not the last we see or hear of them in regards to Phi Sigma Pi.

In regards to the updates to the National Constitution, some clarified language, such as Mr. Walschburger’s amendment to Section 5 of Article IV: Membership. Others, such as Mr. Goodman’s proposed amendment to Section 5 of Article XXII: Prohibitions, removed outdated language. If we are to stay current, it does help, after all, to get rid of any unnecessary words that are no longer needed.

Not just limited to Collegiate Chapters, however, there were a number of amendments that also impact Alumni and Alumni Chapters, such as Eastern North Carolina Alumni Chapter’s (ENCAC) proposed amendment to Section 2 of Article X: Alumni Organizations. For those unaware of some of the workings of an Alumni Chapter, unlike a Collegiate Chapter, Alumni Chapters are only required to meet twice a year as opposed to at least once every two weeks. With the passage of the amendment in regards to vacancies on an Alumni Executive Board, they can now filled by the Alumni Chapter or by a temporary appointment within the eligible Membership of the Alumni Chapter until the next election.

Additionally, ENCAC’s proposed amendment to Section 3 of Article XVI: National Finances, eliminated the portion in regard to Alumni Chapter Dues, as Alumni Chapters do not pay dues the same way a Collegiate Chapter would. In particular, there is no set due date and they aren’t collected in person. Like Mr. Goodman’s proposed amendment to Section 5, this eliminates the need of language that isn’t entirely applicable based on the current state of the fraternity.

As has been the case with previous National Conventions, some amendments were passed onto the Sanction Appeals Board, which eventually did pass. These included Mr. Goodman’s proposed amendment to Section 6 of Article XIX: Disciplinary Actions of the National Council, which expanded the number of Brothers on the ‘jury’ that would hear appeal cases. It keeps the ratio of members the same, but just increases the overall number.

Also passed through the Sanction Appeals Board was Mr. Goodman’s amendment to Section 6 of Article XIX, intended to reduce challenges with the current selection process of the Sanction Appeal Board pools and eliminates the need for long selections at Grand Chapter. This way, each Chapter in good standing has equal representation in the SAB pool.

Outside of amendments, we as a fraternity had a lengthy discussion regarding our choice of words and language that, some felt, was not inclusive enough to support gender identity, since some do not associate themselves as male or female, which fall within the purview of co-educational. As such, a committee and outside national experts worked with Council to draft a resolution that wound up on the floor of the Grand Chapter. This resolution would define us “gender inclusive” as opposed to “co-educational.” After a lengthy discussion on how to define some terms, the resolution did eventually pass. While this resolution itself is not binding to individual Chapters and is more just updated language, it does reinforce that we are and always have been a fraternity composed of people of many types, views, backgrounds and interests.

What also proved to be a lengthy debate surrounded our relationship with Teach for America as the fraternity’s national philanthropy. Over time, people have expressed concerns with TFA because of their relationship. In addition, Brothers expressed frustration at communication issues when it came to supporting TFA.

After the creation of a philanthropy focus group, it was decided that Phi Sigma Pi will no longer partner with Teach for America as the national philanthropy after the 2014-2015 school near. For the next year, both National Council and Staff will wind down the partnership with TFA, but local Chapters can expand support for education by supporting Brothers who become teachers or work in local schools or classrooms in any capacity. Followed by this, with the help of a committee, the Vice President of Philanthropy Development will report to the 2015 Grand Chapter with options for a new philanthropy. These options include having a fully realized plan of expanding educational support, a different education based philanthropy to partner with, or another non-education based philanthropy. After this is presented, the Grand Chapter will then vote on the fraternity’s direction for its next national philanthropy.

New Website

National Staff also debuted the new design for the Phi Sigma Pi website, which looks a lot more streamlined and easier to navigate than the previous one.

Gamma Pi Surprise

And Saturday night’s banquet provided another evening of enjoyment as Brothers received awards, some giving us great reaction shots that we’ll always remember for years to come.

Alumni Lunch

From a personal perspective, this National Convention as a whole was just as enjoyable as the previous ones. Though debates can be lengthy and, at times, repetitive, they show that Brothers have spent time considering and thinking about the future of our fraternity instead of just going along with change without a thought. These sessions represent the culmination of the work we all put in throughout the year and bring it all together in the name of Brotherhood. If there’s a good thing I can say about debate, it’s that we have it at all. Sometimes it helps to hear more than one perspective on an issue, and I think many Brothers realize that. Sure, we may spend hours at a time discussing few issues, but I enjoy hearing how passionate Brothers are about their organization to really let that bother me.

Team Eta

We welcomed Team Eta to the table in their first appearances at Grand Chapter and added to our hopefully never-ending collection of Collegiate Chapters.  Also, not my photo, either. Courtesy of Joshua Tippett.

And, as with previous years, Brothers had the opportunities to swap stories, ideas, items at the Chapter Bazaar, recommendations, and overall just have a great time through idea labs, roundtables, Leadership in Action modules, and ice breakers- events that we take back to our home Chapters to better strengthen them. You wish you had more time or could attend as many as possible, but there’s only so much we can make, and even then, you thirst for more once a session ends.

Brothers during lunch

Would it be great if as many Brothers as possible could attend National Convention? Absolutely. I still think there’s always plenty to learn, share and a ton of potential to unlock for not just Collegiate Brothers, but Alumni and higher up on the Purple and Gold Phi Sigma Pi food chain. I think these National Conventions really do bring out the best of our Brotherhood and I always look forward to the next one.

Capital Alumni

It’s sad when we part ways and have to head back to the world of reality, but until then, that’s why we have regional conferences, inter-chapter events, Chapter Talk, contacts and many ways that keep us connected, even when we’re so spread apart. At the end of the day, after the debates, celebrations, early morning runs, Starbucks’ surges, candy blitzes, photo opportunities, ups, downs, and all-arounds of National Convention, we are still an honors fraternity of scholars, leaders and fellows. And when we’ve gone our separate ways, we still have our Brotherhood, and that’s the tie that bounds us as Brothers for Life.

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