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Writers Retreat brings fraternity/sorority researchers to campus

  • Oracle Writers Retreat participants
    Writers Retreat:  Researchers gathered in Swem LIbrary to write and collaborate in the field of fraternity and sorority participation.  
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Last week, researchers from across the country gathered at William & Mary for the second annual Oracle Writers Retreat. Sponsored by the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA), the retreat was meant to give both professionals and students dedicated time to write and to connect with fellow researchers in the field.

“The retreat offers both individual and collaborative space for researchers,” said Jim Barber, the Clark F. and Elizabeth H. Diamond Associate Professor of Education at William & Mary. “It allows participants to carve out time to concentrate on their writing, but perhaps even more importantly, it allows them to see where their interests overlap with fellow researchers and identify new opportunities to move their work forward.”

Barber has been editor of Oracle, the AFA’s electronic journal dedicated to the study of fraternities and sororities, since 2018. Published biannually, the journal publishes peer-reviewed articles featuring empirical research on topics including hazing behaviors, alcohol and other substance abuse, measuring characteristics of brotherhood and sisterhood, and historical trends that continue to inform present-day work in the field of student affairs.

Eight researchers participated in this year’s retreat, held over three days in mid-July. The participants were professionals in the fields of student affairs and education from colleges and universities across the country. Several had recently completed doctoral programs, and used the time to prepare manuscripts for publication.

Joe Wheeless, assistant director of Student Leadership Development at William & Mary, facilitated the event and helped participants as they explored the campus and Williamsburg. The researchers stayed in university housing and were hosted by Swem Library during the day. Each participant had a private study room for writing, and the group gathered for collaborative sessions in the library’s meeting spaces.

For Barber, the retreat offers an opportunity to support research in the area of fraternity and sorority life. “Greek life is in the news all the time, and mostly for negative reasons,” he said. “But membership in fraternities and sororities across the nation is at an all-time high. The retreat is another chance to encourage thoughtful conversation and reflection on fraternity/sorority participation — and to work through some of the thorny issues that are at hand.”

Participants in the writers retreat were working on a wide range of topics related to fraternity and sorority participation, including hazing prevention, perceptions of masculinity, alcohol use, and burnout among fraternity/sorority advisors.

In addition to completing work individually, participants used the time to brainstorm more ways to disseminate research among interested audiences, including university administrators, educational professionals and the general public.

Pietro Sasso, assistant professor of college student personnel administration at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a participant in the retreat, said, “There’s often tension between what the research suggests and what colleges and universities are willing or able to do. Implementation is tough, but we have to slowly chip away at some of these issues with well-grounded and well-executed research.”

William & Mary has special significance for fraternity/sorority researchers because Phi Beta Kappa, the first collegiate Greek-letter organization, was founded by five William & Mary students in 1776 in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern. Two hundred years later, the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) was founded in Williamsburg in 1976.

Learn more about the Oracle, including how to submit articles for consideration.