Walking the Tightrope – Sigma Pi Pioneers New Health and Safety Education Initiative with Plaid

The college fraternal experience is often billed to students as an opportunity to explore, be carefree, and make the most of their last years before entering “the real world.” It’s true that this is often a time when students learn more about themselves and what they want out of the future, but the perception that life after college doesn’t offer these opportunities sometimes leaves members feeling pressured. A partnership between Sigma Pi and educational development firm Plaid aims to contextualize and alleviate some of that pressure.

The idea that members’ undergraduate years are the only time they have to enjoy life can prompt fraternity men to engage in behaviors with high risk attached. In August of 2019, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that over 50 percent of full-time college students (aged 18-22) are monthly consumers of alcohol, and nearly 35 percent engage in binge drinking on a monthly basis. The NIAAA also estimated that alcohol contributes to over 1,500 student deaths per year and over 95,000 cases of sexual assault and date rape. In light of these numbers and other trends seen in our own research, Plaid developed a new approach to risk management education, the Tightrope Online Risk Management program, with the goal of providing students with important background and context about real-life situations they may face in college.

The Tightrope program is an online suite of five courses that cover topics ranging from alcohol and drug use to the culture of alcohol. The courses also cover related topics like hazing prevention, sexual misconduct, and mental health. Each course can be completed in less than 30 minutes, which allows members to integrate risk management learning into their busy schedules, and they can do it from anywhere with an internet connection—using a phone, tablet, laptop, or any device with internet capabilities and a screen. 

The desire to provide students with opportunities to grow is what brought many of us into the fraternal industry. Sigma Pi is proud to work with Plaid in pioneering a new way for members to examine their behaviors and make safer decisions while in college. Since its inception in August 2019, more than 3,884 undergraduate members of Sigma Pi have completed the Tightrope program, leading the way toward a better, safer college experience. This means that with the first year of Tightrope, a large number of undergraduates within the Fraternity have received this vital training.

The courses focus on giving members the information they need to make better, safer decisions while in college. Since members are often walking a tightrope between behaviors in which they want to engage and consequences that may be unforeseen, these courses are meant to broaden their understanding of risky situations in which they may find themselves. After completing the Tightrope program, members should feel more equipped to make confident decisions about their extracurricular experiences in college. Each course presents the facts in an honest, straightforward manner and prompts members to complete activities throughout the course to show progression. Each course concludes with a knowledge check to ensure comprehension of the main educational points.

“We feel confident that the Tightrope Program will better prepare our undergraduate members in their overall knowledge and decision making skills,” said Alexander Pettigrew (Indiana of Pennsylvania ’15). “In our continued partnership with Plaid, we are constantly looking to further develop our membership.“

Connecting with members about the realities of risky behavior can be easier said than done. College-age students live in a reality in which they are constantly juggling new ideas and exciting propositions—many of which may have consequences that are larger and more complex than they are equipped to handle at that point in their development. This makes education on alcohol and drug use (and other risk-related behaviors) both important and difficult. Plaid tackled this challenge by specifically tailoring Tightrope to work with student development in mind. 

Discussing risk management with fraternity men can often be dry and difficult. Even after productive conversations, they may still make decisions that mentors, advisors, and other adults would find to be the wrong choice. To help bolster member decision-making, the Tightrope program also includes additional in-person, peer-to-peer resources called Companion Guides. These guides can be used by chapter leaders (and general members), as well as volunteers, to prompt conversation between brothers. The online courses provide the basic education to help students make good decisions; the Companion Guides offer opportunities to engage with and apply the learning as a group of brothers.

In explaining the importance of the program, Plaid Partner Dr. Dawn Wiese says, “Every year we have new students, so we have to educate them every year. If we make any progress at all on issues like alcohol, it’s a big deal because each year students bring new behaviors with them.”

For additional information regarding the Tightrope program, please visit www.tightropeprogram.com.

Bayard Membership Experience