Works in Progress: A Gentleman at All Times
by Jim Amidon '87
May 9, 2011
Cameron McDougal had been elected but not yet installed as president of Psi Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta at Wabash when his leadership skills faced a crucial test. While it was not yet his responsibility, McDougal felt compelled to convene his cabinet, meet with the fraternity’s pledges, and—literally—lay down the law regarding underage alcohol consumption.
The next week, three pledges attended a party at the University of Illinois. They admitted having a drink. McDougal and the new officers acted swiftly to hold the freshmen accountable. It was a tough move for a new president, but McDougal delayed their initiation for another year.
“We had to make a statement, we had to make clear our expectations for how a Wabash gentleman behaves,” says the biology major who plans a career in dentistry. “The Gentleman’s Rule says ‘at all times, both on and off campus,’ and that means underage drinking is both illegal and a violation of the Gentleman’s Rule, whether that’s here or in Illinois.”
McDougal seems to be gaining comfort in his leadership role. He knows that too often fraternities fail because leaders won’t make the tough decisions to hold their peers accountable for their actions.
“In a fraternity you need to have some kind of order, but it’s not a dictatorship,” the Fort Wayne native says. You have to seek common ground, and many times that means doing the unpopular thing—not hiding behind the brotherhood.”
Facing tough challenges is nothing new for McDougal, who along with his identical twin, Chris, was born with a severe hearing disability. While there are several Wabash students who have cochlear implants, the McDougals aren’t candidates because they lack the tiny hair follicles that transmit vibrations to signal the brain.
They both tackled the disability the same way—a multifaceted regimen of lip reading and speech therapy advocated by Hear Indiana. With the help of hearing aids, both are fully functional in and out of the classroom, though Cameron jokes that “our roommates love us because when we take out our hearing aids they can be as loud as they want.”
Cameron and Chris have been counselors at Hear Indiana’s Youth Leadership Camp.
But right now, Cameron is focusing much of his attention on serving his fraternity brothers.
While the Phi Gamma Delta brotherhood is central to him, Dr. Matt Creech ’95, a member of Delta Tau Delta, has had the greatest impact on McDougal to date. A President’s Scholar, McDougal had planned to attend Indiana or Northwestern. But Creech, his family’s dentist, suggested he take a look at Wabash.
Cameron and Chris visited campus and discovered it was a perfect fit. When the two brothers visited the Fiji house, they found something more.
“The Fiji house is everything I believe in about education and friendship,” McDougal recalls. “It brings together all of my own personal values.
“After I was initiated and began to meet the graduate brothers, I realized that it really does last forever. You know that they chose the fraternity for its values, and you see how those values match up with the way they lead their lives. And then you discover that those values are shared across all Fiji chapters, and there’s something special about the largeness of it.”
McDougal is well acquainted with the immensity of the fraternity. Last summer he was elected to serve as a student member of the international fraternity’s board of directors, the Council of Archons. He won unanimous confirmation by the 600 delegates at Ekklesia, the Fiji’s national conference in Phoenix, AZ. He has since spent many weekends traveling around North America working with undergraduates and launching new chapters.
“I have been approached by many undergraduates so far who are seeking more information about one of the decisions of the Archonate,” says McDougal. “I think they feel more comfortable talking to another undergraduate, and I think that’s a great asset to have on the board; it bridges the gap a little bit.”
Cameron’s path to the highest undergraduate perch in Phi Gamma Delta started out in Wabash’s Psi Chapter when he was elected the historian. Rummaging through boxes of material from the old chapter house, he worked with College Archivist Beth Swift to preserve the chapter’s archives—artifacts that date to 1866.
As an officer, he also wanted to makes some changes.
“I didn’t like how my brotherhood edu-cation program unfolded,” he recalls. “So I began the process to overhaul it.”
He met with Executive Director Bill Martin at a leadership training conference and began working with the international fraternity’s ritualist and archivist. As his interest deepened, local chapter advisor Dudley Miller ’78 suggested he make a run for a seat on the Council of Archons.
He was one of two men selected for a shake down by a 30-man panel at Ekklesia. But days before he was to leave, he crashed while wakeboarding on a lake, smashing and badly bruising his face.
So the airplane ride to Phoenix was brutal. The cabin pressure caused his face to swell. He passed out from pain. Spanish Professor Dan Rogers, the chapter’s new advisor, rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors performed surgery to get him through the next two days. “It was God’s way of showing a dental student what his patients will be going through in the future,” McDougal says.
“I was strangely calm for the interviews.” The usually focused but energetic McDougal smiles. “But maybe that was because of all the morphine.”
He says he loves being a member of the international Archons.
What he’s doing locally at Wabash is an agenda he’s also pursuing internationally.
“We hit our pledges with a full semester of educational requirements, but once you’re initiated, you’re only required five additional hours of education after that. If we don’t continue to educate the brothers on the history of the fraternity—our chapter, and most importantly, our values—then the chapter won’t last very long. Everything we do in life requires a constant re-invention and refreshment as time passes. Without it, complacency sets in, and everything you do suddenly becomes average. That is the value of the Fraternity: it provides a vivid simulation for life after college.”
To help provide leadership and networking opportunities, McDougal has begun to involve more alumni brothers in the activities of the chapter. In October, 36 graduate brothers returned for the fraternity’s annual “Pig Dinner,” the largest number in recent history. He’s also brought more faculty into the fold; in addition to Professor Rogers, biology professor Patrick Burton has been initiated as an honorary member. McDougal also sings the praises of political science professor Scott Himsel, biology professor John Munford, and English professor Agata Szczeszak-Brewer.
“Wabash professors don’t talk down to you; they treat us like peers,” McDougal says. “I can take problems to them and they don’t solve the problems for me. They help me see all sides of problems and then allow me to make the right decision.”