Q&A with Office of Greek Life director Brian Joyce

by Anthony Robles | 5/4/17 2:00am


Walking into the office of Brian Joyce, the recently-appointed director of the Office of Greek Life, one can immediately tell that he hails from Kentucky. A signed University of Kentucky basketball features prominently on his shelf. Now, however, Joyce finds himself quite a way from home, having recently graduated with a Ph.D. in education leadership from Clemson University. Although Joyce has only been on the job for nine months, he believes that the Greek system at the College has made great advancements in facilitating self-governance and leadership, deeming the work tough and challenging, but ultimately fulfilling.

How did your career end up bringing you to Dartmouth?

BJ: I’ve always been passionate about fraternity and sorority life. I’ve been in a couple of different functional areas of student affairs, but the most impactful thing on my own student leadership was joining a fraternity — it’s where I learned about leadership and met some of my best friends today. I’ve always been a strong believer in what fraternities and sororities can do for college students and alums who choose to be engaged. I finished up my Ph.D. at Clemson last summer and so that brought a job search. I was looking all over the place, looking at a number of different positions, but I really wanted to work in Greek life. I found Dartmouth, and I loved it. I loved the students. There was something about the students that I could tell this was going to be a place that challenged me professionally. The work is certainly difficult and challenging, but I really appreciated that the students were open to new ideas, and there was a healthy dose of looking at the system critically and looking at their experience and being open to thinking about it in different ways. And in doing that, they helped me think about what was the most effective and thinking about things critically and so I appreciate that. I feel like every day is a challenge, and I really enjoy that. I think the students were a big piece of what helped make this decision for me in coming here.

How do you apply your scholarship at a school like Dartmouth?

BJ: A lot of my work thus far has been in creating inclusive environments on college campuses. I think when you look at that sort of topic from a broad, big picture, one of the things that we really need to understand about diversity and inclusion work is how students socialize in predominantly, traditionally white environments. I think fraternities and sororities can be a good place to do that work. That’s certainly not the only area or student organization, but I think that’s one area that needs more research. I think Dartmouth is an ideal place to do that kind of work. Our inclusivity is something that is talked about at Dartmouth all the time. There’s work to be done, but again, I appreciate that our students are willing to put in the work and they’re willing to talk about it.

What are some concrete things the Greek system can take to become more inclusive and safe?

BJ: Most Greek organizations have a cost, and a lot of them have a significant cost. Not all, but some of our organizations require dues. Some are very flexible in that you pay what you can contribute. Others are costly. I think figuring out a system that can make Greek life more accessible for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds is important. We’re talking about that currently. It’s a complicated issue, but I think it’s one that we’re committed to continuing to discuss.

Further, research is necessary on who is in our community and who is not, and who has self-selected out of the community before even going through the recruitment process. Our Panhellenic Council did some research on the students going through the recruitment process and their perceptions of it, and we’ve had some panel discussions on ways in which students have felt marginalized or excluded, so I think some of that research is helpful towards us understanding who has access and who feels like they don’t or who has been marginalized in some way. We’ve got to take that to the next step and figure out what mechanisms are there to report bias — what level of education and training and awareness do we need to be able to lead a diverse community. I’ve had conversations with a lot of our student leaders about increasing our trainings and education — from the language that we use, to how to intervene in a situation where you are not comfortable with what someone else has said or done, to how to facilitate a difficult conversation with your peers. I think that’s really important for us.

How do you add to the existing student boards?

BJ: One of the things that I’ve noticed with our governing councils is we don’t have a lot of opportunities for younger leaders to get involved. We don’t really have a pathway to leadership prior to really your junior year. There’s some students who step into leadership roles their sophomore summer, but I’d like to find ways and pathways to get student leaders involved prior to that, so that they know how some of our governing councils work and they have some knowledge coming in to their year. I think that would be helpful because right now you come in and most of our students just took over in the spring. They’re thrust in these leadership roles, they’re making big decisions right away and there’s so much to get caught up on: what happened that whole year before, what were all the conversations that were happening, what was the progress that was made. A lot of times they don’t know. They have a very small transition period with the previous leaders and now, they’re leading. I would like to find ways to get our leaders into those positions earlier and get them tapped into things before they’re making these big decisions. We just did a Greek leaders’ retreat a couple of weeks ago where we brought together all of the governing councils and presidents. I facilitated a retreat with them to establish some goals, talk about where our community is, what we think is important towards making substantive and meaningful reform in the future, in addition to making sure that we’re articulating our value on this campus. We need to be very intentional about creating a plan for how we continue to be important on this campus, continuing the things that we do really well and creating a plan for how we’re going to create change in the areas we need improvement. So we just did that, our governing councils and our presidents have a really good path forward for what we want to accomplish this year.

What are the differences between Greek life here and Greek life in the South?

BJ: I think Dartmouth is unique. Dartmouth is different, and it’s tough to put your finger on exactly what it is, because some of it is just simply in acronyms and names of things. Dartmouth has its own language that you have to learn coming in. There are code words for everything — it’s not email, it’s blitz. All these things that take a while to learn — the lingo and the sort of unique culture. I mentioned earlier that I think inclusivity is a topic that I hear more here than I’ve heard anywhere else. I’ve seen a commitment from Dartmouth students to be more inclusive that I just haven’t seen elsewhere. I do think that’s different. The other thing I would say is that there’s more value in being a Dartmouth student and being a member of the Dartmouth chapter of this organization. Other places, students place more value on their network nationally, with other students in the same organization. But at Dartmouth, students have a lot more value placed on the Dartmouth network. I think that is more important to Dartmouth students partially because they can succeed with the Dartmouth network, so there’s more value placed on that and probably less allegiance to this national network of other brothers and sisters in the same organization.

What are the best parts of your job?

BJ: I really appreciate the challenge. I think it’s easy to say, you know, “Yes, you can do this” and “No, you can’t do this.” It’s a lot more difficult to work with students to facilitate a smart and safe process and to advise students and help them learn from these organizations. Our Greek leaders are running a business, essentially, managing a budget and working with their peers. Sometimes having really difficult conversations with them and ensuring that they hold their members accountable, plan service projects and events and think about risk management is complicated and challenging. I appreciate the challenge of working with students to think about how I can give them the skills, resources and knowledge to be able to self-govern. I appreciate that challenge and it’s rewarding to see our students learn outside of the classroom. And I’m challenged every day by Dartmouth students, which I love. Dartmouth students help me think differently about things and I really like that. It’s fun work, but it’s difficult and I think it takes time to really build up those relationships, build the kind of trust and rapport you need to be able to really tackle these big-picture issues.

What do you anticipate for Greek life here in the future?

BJ: I’ve seen a lot of growth and change in the nine months that I’ve been here. I’m excited about where we can go in the future because I think if we continue to build strong relationships between students and staff and continue to make the kind of progress that we’ve made since I’ve been here, we’re going to continue to address some of these challenging issues, to start to come up with some real, practical solutions to those challenges that we see in our community. I don’t want to be too specific because I think a lot of it is student-driven. I help our students refine and develop what their goals are going to be, and so that’s in a lot of ways how I imagine our success is being able to help the students make progress in the areas they want to make progress in. As we continue to refine that, some of our organizations have been sort of in a “survival mode.” That’s one of the things I would like to continue working on, that trust and rapport with this office and with staff in general. I think we’ve made great progress there and I want to continue to work on that and I want to see our organizations thrive and not just survive, not be fearful that they’re not going to be here. Our organizations add value to this campus and I want to help them continue to articulate that in productive ways and make that meaningful and substantive reform in other areas so that we can continue to thrive here. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve made really good progress. I feel really good about where we’re at.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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