Have you ever been made to stand nearly naked in a shower while a fraternity member circled your fat? Participated in seven days of outrageous behavior and obscene drinking against your will, known to many as “Hell Week”? Stood against a wall while a member of the group to which you were seeking admission actually paddled you? No? Neither have I and I was in a sorority.
We’ve all heard the stories; underclassmen pledging houses, being forced into degrading behavior in order to “earn their letters.” Most recently, incidents of forced exercise for long periods of time were investigated at Florida A&M University after one pledge was taken to the hospital for a heart murmur, but a simple Internet search reminds us that the most stomach-churning episodes include sexual assault and gross violations of human rights. As of late, videos and photos have even popped up on social media in a manner that nearly boasts the illegal and disgusting acts of hazing. All in the name of pledging… loyalty?
In the most severe and heartbreaking cases, these actions of hazing have resulted in injury, hospitalization and even death; collegians being asked to pay an unfair price, demean themselves individually in the name of a group they put up on a pedestal. Unfortunately, the outrageous behavior of some project an ugly image of the many. I was a Kappa Delta at The Ohio State University and as a proud alumni, I wish I could tell you that these stories were fabricated; that these “rituals” are not an ongoing problem. As a lifelong member of the Greek community, it is with sadness that I can’t tell you these acts don’t happen, but what I can tell you is that they don’t have to happen and they absolutely do not take place within all Greek organizations.
I was in a sorority in college. I am a Kappa Delta. There was a point in time post-college that, when meeting new people or interviewing for a job, I didn’t necessarily lead with this personal fact. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed, I have never been anything but proud and humbled by my Greek affiliation, but I was not always forthcoming with this tidbit of information. Perhaps is was because of the stigma associated with sorority life by so many who were never involved, those among us who only heard the negative news stories but never had the opportunity to experience the sisterhood first hand. Stigmas fueled by the horrific actions of those who do not value the true meaning of sisterhood are a tough burden to be up against, but at some point you start to realize the only way to educate others is to be forthcoming with your own positive experience; the only way to honor something that has given you so much is to give it the appropriate place in the story you tell others.
Kappa Delta has a strict no-tolerance policy against hazing that has been proudly upheld on Ohio State’s campus for all the years I have known them to exist. Despite what others may tell you, this was never to the detriment of our house. Membership was not something you had to withstand abuse for and, as a result, we were one of the top five houses on campus during every recruitment cycle, honored with numerous accolades from the Greek council including Chapter of The Year. My pledge class never experienced “Hell Week” but, instead, were sent on a week long scavenger hunt for small gifts tailored to our individual personalities that welcomed us to the house. Younger members were immediately invited to numerous parties but never forced to drink and paddles were something that were decorated proudly with our letters and a little glitter, to be hung over our bed as a symbol of our new home. Hazing was simply not an option and was the antithesis of what we stood for. My sisters stopped at nothing to make me feel I belonged in our house just as much as I wanted to be there and I repeated this behavior to the classes that followed. This is the Greek life that I know.
As the years continue to fly by, I become increasingly aware of exactly how lucky I am that I found Kappa Delta and Kappa Delta found me. My experience within the sorority afforded me a laundry list of things that changed my life- opening doors to involvement on campus, a home away from home when I needed it the most and a sense of belonging when I found myself to be a very small fish in a large pond of experienced swimmers. My student affairs credits quickly gave way to both the best memories of my life and the titles that would culminate to form an impressive resume upon graduation. Above all, the most profound gift that sorority involvement presented was a sisterhood that made my life exponentially better; a sisterhood that never asked me to bring myself down, but would ultimately exist to make me a better person.
My sisters have, through college and post-collegiate “growing up,” become just that – sisters. Family. They understand me when I don’t understand myself. I don’t have to be anything other than exactly who I am when they are around and when I forget who I am, they are more than capable of bringing me back to a place of clarity. Life has thrown curve balls I could have never seen coming and the only reason I haven’t struck out is because they were coaching me on how to swing the bat. I lived through a heart-wrenching break up because they were there to pick me up off the closet floor when I couldn’t lift myself; I survived my first job out of college because they were there to talk me off the ledge and listen to me cry in the parking lot; I had the courage to move across the country to pursue my dream job because they held back their selfish notions of wanting me to stay and convinced me I had the gusto to make the move; and I have the courage to continue writing because of their undying faith in me. Friendships that began with boy-chasing and bar nights have carried me through all that comes with stepping into adulthood, have seen four weddings and three babies thus far and will undoubtedly see me more boys, babies and the biggest failures and accomplishments that life has in store. To say that these women have been a part of my happiest memories and most epic failures would be an understatement. They are forever a part of me. Their shoes are unable to be filled no matter how many acquaintances I may meet in my travels; they are my sisters and this is our sisterhood.
All-in-all, Kappa Delta truly represents the best parts of me and my decision to become a member of the Greek community changed my life in ways I could have never thought possible. I am deeply indebted to many individuals that my sorority put into my path, people I consider esteemed role models and mentors. I would not be where I am in my career if it were not for the doors that my involvement opened and the bravery that these women helped instill, giving me the courage to knock. I certainly owe my sisterhood much more than it ever asked of me.
I look forward to the day when hazing is no longer prevalent in the media because the existence of such degrading behavior has come to an end. Until then, I simply encourage anyone interested in Greek life to do their research. Do not let the known incidents of hazing deter you from what could turn out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. I promise you that, while hazing does happen, it is not indicative of true sisterhood nor is it something you should withstand in hopes of forming such bonds. Kappa Delta does not stand alone in their anti-hazing beliefs; a majority of sororities and fraternities on Ohio State’s campus alone upheld the same standards with much success. There are chapters on every campus that are ready to offer membership, expecting nothing more than the best person you can be. Greek life, in it’s finest form, will afford you so much more than it will ever ask of you in return.
In the end, I hope we can all take a stance against hazing, but not against Greek Life, remembering that they do not always go hand in hand.
Feature Image via Katie!