08 Sep 2021 Fall Pledge Class Challenge
Past National President and Brother Maggie Katz has had a lifelong dedication to and passion for APO. She challenges the fall pledge or new member class to make the Fraternity a more welcoming and inclusive place than ever before so more people can share the APO experience. Her pledge class challenge is as follows.
To the fall 2021 pledge or new member class of Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity,
My challenge stems from the belief that we are better together. We can all do service as individuals, and many do. By joining APO, we have chosen a more communal involvement that takes advantage of synergy. Together, we can do so much more than we can do alone. In short, we are better together, and the change starts with each one of us. By putting our energies and skills together, we make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is the beauty of APO. And, the more people we have, the more energy and skills we have so the whole is that much greater.
Narrowing things down, I am committed to focusing my efforts on three areas: accessibility, racial justice, and gender and sexuality. Each is personal and important to me. I hope everyone can find something personal and important to them, the chapter and their pledge or new member class.
Accessibility: From ensuring our meetings and projects are physically accessible to addressing mental health issues, we need to take the needs of people with disabilities into account. Some things, like being deaf or blind, are generally more outwardly recognizable. Others, like anxiety, chronic pain or eating disorders, are not. This is personal for me as I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018. My primary symptom is fatigue, so I need to rest more often than used to be the case and need access to places to sit. I can no longer participate in labor-intensive service. Whether it is obvious or not, we should make sure there are no barriers to participation for anyone.
Sample projects related to accessibility:
- Build a wheelchair ramp and/or benches on campus or in the community.
- Ensure the chapter’s online presence is e-reader friendly for people who are visually impaired.
- Help remove the stigma attached to mental health issues and increase awareness of resources with a marketing campaign.
- Participate in Special Olympics training or competitions.
- Raise money for autism awareness.
- Volunteer for groups like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
- Sponsor speakers on campus or in the community on accessibility issues.
Racial Justice: This has been a grave concern since the founding of America. My priority is to help ensure that everyone has access to opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, etc. I am well aware of my privilege and hope to use it to move the needle on this critical issue. As someone who is virtually always in the majority, I welcome any opportunity to gain perspective and learn how better to benefit underserved communities, individually and for the Fraternity. I want to go beyond my participation in Black Lives Matter protests. Too often, people make assumptions about those around them based on skin color, accents or other such factors. While how you grow up certainly impacts who you are, it does not define you. People should be judged based on who they are, which can only be assessed after getting to know them. We cannot use stereotypes, unintentional biases or even prior experiences to think we know someone based on external factors. Get to know people personally, giving them the same benefit of the doubt that you want given to you. This needs to happen societally, but starts with each of us as individuals.
Sample projects related to racial justice:
- Register voters and help make it easier to cast votes (you cannot make a difference if you cannot participate).
- Tutor students at schools with large populations of color or limited resources.
- Volunteer for an organization serving at-risk youth like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
- Raise money for scholarships for underserved populations.
- Partner with groups supporting communities of color like National Alliance for Hispanic Health or Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum.
- Reach out to APO chapters at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
- Sponsor dialogues designed to increase understanding of social justice issues.
Gender and Sexuality: While this has always been a relevant issue, awareness came slowly for many of us. Growing up, it never occurred to me that there were more than two genders. Now I know better. Who you love or how you define your gender is a personal matter and should certainly not be used as a basis to discriminate. This has long been an essential issue to me. My niece coming out as a lesbian made it more personal. Interesting that her sister never felt the need to tell me she was heterosexual. This, among many other things, needs to change.
Sample projects related to gender and sexuality:
- Register voters and help make it easier to cast votes (help ensure those making decisions about your life share your priorities).
- Support suicide prevention groups for the LGBTQ+ community like the Trevor Project.
- Work with campus and community resources to provide education on transgender issues and how to be an effective ally.
- Promote Pride Month activities.
- Work with LGBTQ+ experts to develop and share written materials on LGBTQ+ issues relevant to your campus and community.
- Partner with organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG.
- Sponsor, support or promote attendance at a symposium on LGBTQ+ issues.
The sample projects are just that, some ideas to prime the pump. Please look at your campus and community to determine what is needed. Then, address that need. That is what APO is best at doing. And be creative.
For example, we know that food insecurity disproportionately impacts communities of color. So, consider supporting food banks in such areas. While not what many would consider a racial justice project, there cannot be education or bettering of circumstances — and therefore, true social justice — without sufficient resources like food and heat.
Review your campus policies related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Know your environment. If you are happy with what you see, great. If not, advocate for the changes you want. This is your world, do not leave it to others. Take responsibility for creating the kind of world in which you want to live.
But before you do anything else, please look inward and be sure that you, individually and as an organization, are creating the kind of environment that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion. Does your chapter represent the diversity of your campus? Does your chapter truly welcome everyone? Do your recruitment efforts actively seek diversity? Are you ensuring that everyone in the chapter and in organizations that you serve is respected? That is my challenge to myself and to you.
Alpha Phi Omega was founded on lofty goals. We have had a relatively diverse population of members from the beginning. However, presence does not equal inclusion. I believe that we can and must do more. We need to commit to doing better now. We are Better Together: The Change Starts with Me.