Henderson’s new director of Greek life already making an impact

By Nate Olson Published May 21, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Mark Buffalo

Keith Beason, standing in a dining area adorned with Greek-life symbols at Henderson State University, recently completed his first year as director of Greek life at the Arkadelphia college. Beason, a native of Redwater, Texas, is a 2009 graduate of Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

Keith Beason’s first semester at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia was a struggle. The small-town boy from Texas didn’t feel comfortable socially. It weighed on him so heavily, he contemplated transferring to junior college in Texarkana, Texas.

“I am from a close-knit community where you know everyone, and I had three of my best friends with me, but still, it was different,” he said. “I was used to people calling me by my first name or my nickname. I just wasn’t comfortable. I kind of stayed in my box.”

A couple of Beason’s hometown friends changed his life forever when they recruited him to pledge Phi Lamda Chi fraternity.

“I met a ton more people and became much more social,” he said. “I was quick to reach out and shake someone’s hand, where in the past, I wouldn’t talk and socialize. I became very social and learned a lot of leadership skills and organizational skills. When I graduated, they almost had to drag me away. I just loved it that much. I met so many people.”

The Greek experience not only kept Beason at college and on course to graduate, but also exposed him to a new a career path in higher education. He got to know then-SAU Dean of Students Connie Wilson.

“It wasn’t like a defining moment; I just didn’t know a position like that existed,” Beason said. “You are dealing with students at one of the most pivotal times in their lives, when they have left their parents and have newfound freedom. You are molding young people.”

Thirteen years after he first enrolled at SAU, Beason has completed his first year as the Greek-life director at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. He has helped increase the participation in Greek organizations, added a tutoring program and fostered alumni involvement.

Beason wasn’t sure what to expect when he enrolled at SAU after being raised by his grandparents and mother in Redwater, Texas.

Magnolia is hardly a metropolis, and SAU, with an enrollment around 4,000 students at the time, wouldn’t have seemed daunting. However, Beason missed knowing most everyone he encountered.

“It was kind of a lot to take in right at first, kind of a culture shock,” Beason said.

He can laugh at the naive small-town freshman now, especially when he remembers the transition he made to social butterfly, thanks to his buddies’ urging.

“They told me how much money I would need, the GPA requirements and the class load, so I was prepared when I came back for the second semester,” he said. “If it weren’t for [Phi Lamda Chi], I don’t know what would have happened.”

With a new outlook on college life, Beason flourished. He became a resident assistant in a dormitory and an orientation counselor for freshmen, and he was well-known among the student body.

The more Beason became entrenched in the Greek life, the more he knew he wanted to pursue higher education as a career.

He graduated from SAU in 2009 with a degree in general studies to prepare for graduate school. After taking some time off in 2009, he enrolled in Texas A&M University-Texarkana’s adult and higher-education master’s-degree program.

While pursuing his degree, he landed a full-time job working with student life organizations on campus. He started the school’s Greek-life program from scratch; instituted a Week of Service, encouraging students to help in the community; and established an orientation program.

In 2016, he was ready for a bigger challenge, and he and his girlfriend, Madison, moved to Arkadelphia, where they both took jobs on the Henderson State campus.

At Henderson, Beason inherited a Greek system that was battered. Some fraternities had left, and others barely existed.

“We changed some things up,” he said. “Greek life had gone through a pretty rough spell. [Students] weren’t acting right. They went through a time period where they didn’t change with the times, I’ve been told. The school tightened up on them and got strict with them, and it was needed. During that time, a lot of fraternities left. One sorority left, and growth wasn’t there as much.

“I was kind of brought in to loosen it up a little bit. I was told that from the very beginning. [Students] still have to follow rules, but I was just trying to help mold them.”

The students responded to the 31-year-old, and he made an immediate impact.

“Greek life is so important to the community that when I got here, I stepped into a spot that was bigger than I expected it to be,” Beason said. “I am glad for it.”

Beason started in June 2016 and, later that summer, had added Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity. The group initially consisted of 23 members and is now up to 26.

The two existing fraternities also grew. Phi Lambda Chi went from 11 members to 29, and Kappa Sigma doubled from 15 to 30.

“We had 26 men total, and now we have 85,” Beason said. “That is encouraging to me.”

Beason has also worked to get traditionally African-American fraternity Kappa Alpha Si reinstated and is helping to build its numbers. Delta Sigma Theta sorority graduated its two members, so Beason has tried to recruit more members to its organization.

Beason and students in the African-American organizations worked together to implement study sessions for all Greek students with a GPA lower than 2.5. Those students are required to attend one of those sessions per month.

“The transition has been interesting,” he said. “I am enjoying my position here working with a lot more students. One thing I am really happy to work with is more diversity and more cultural-based organizations. There is just more culture in general.

“At Texarkana, it was like we were building something new, and here there is something that is already there. It is exciting to work with organizations that have been here since 1946, when the first fraternity got here. You have the long history and long alumni involvement.”

Since he juggled multiple sports in high school, Beason has been a multitasker. He continues a full schedule today with some lofty commitments outside of his job duties.

He currently serves on the executive board of Phi Lamda Chi as the vice president of alumni affairs, a volunteer position.

“I think very highly of Keith, and I have known him since his days at SAU,” said Paul Smith, president and executive director of Phi Lamda Chi and director of athletic media relations at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. “He has always been impressive, and he continues to shine on our national executive board. We have only begun to see what he can do.”

Beason also sits on another special board. To Reach Every Youth is a nonprofit organization based in Texarkana to help patients battling sarcoma, a rare type of childhood cancer.

Trey Sutton, one of Beason’s childhood friends who urged him to join Phi Lamda Chi, was diagnosed with the disease before his senior year at SAU.

Beason and some fraternity brothers thought of ways to help Sutton cope with the diagnosis as he sought treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. To help him pass the time, they sent Sutton an Xbox video-game console and games, and a laptop.

Later in the school year, they formed a week-long fundraising effort with other Greeks on campus called Treyapalooza.

After Alpha Sigma Alpha raised the most money among the Greeks, the Phi Lamda Chi members dyed their hair red in honor of the fraternity’s color.

All of those red heads were barbered later that week at a party fundraiser, where high bidders got to choose a hairstyle for the members. They had to wear that style the next day in class. The day after that, they all shaved their heads.

The week-long event raised more than $5,000 for Sutton, who died three years later.

After Sutton’s death, on his next birthday, his mother, Vicki Westmoreland, invited many of his friends to a party. At the party, she revealed she was starting a foundation. Beason became a founding board member and now serves as the marketing director for the foundation. The group will sponsor its sixth memorial golf tournament this summer and has sponsored seven young sarcoma patients and raised $5,000 for research.

“[Beason] has always been there,” Westmoreland said. “He was there for Trey when he was sick, and he is a big connection for me because he is still Trey to me. He is in his age group and knows everything Trey went through. He has been a very big part of our board and does all of the graphic designs for our T-shirts and posters.”

After a successful debut year in Arkadelphia, Beason has big plans for the next school year, including more programs geared toward preventing substance abuse and hazing. He also wants to continue steady growth of Greek life.

“I don’t know anyone more suited for this position than Keith,” Smith said. “He is the type of person who is going to make sure to bring in the type of organizations that work well on the campus. He is going to identify some good ones.”

Editor Nate Olson can be reached at 501-378-3532 or nate@syncweekly.com.