Ruining it for the Group

We’ve all been there: a group is having a great time and everything is going swimmingly, and then one person does something to ruin it all. Be it the disruptive kids who get recess cancelled for the whole class, to the friend who is having a bad time at a party and decides to take it out on others, I’m sure you can imagine.  

 The worst part about these all-too-common incidents in our social, dynamic lives is that they don’t just ruin the moment. Instead, they place all members of the group into the same category as the troublemaker in the eyes of the observer. When your group is called out for their bad behavior, it can be frustrating to know that your own behavior could be characterized by that example.

 Why the schoolyard analogies? Because one of the most influential, wonderful parts of my college experience is now making both my school and my organization look bad. If you aren’t familiar with my references, a fraternity at William and Mary has just been blasted for a disgusting email that a member sent out last week.  The email with the subject line “Life, Love, and P***y” was a pathetic piece of work from someone clearly trying too hard to fit into the cool, frat lifestyle image. I won’t elaborate, you can imagine for yourself or read it here.

 Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the email. Sure, the guy is a jerk.  That particular frat was full of guys who chose to act like jerks, and for that reason I never associated with them. If the email in question was just circulating on campus, I would roll my eyes, say something derisive, and forget about it.

 But now that the email has made the Huffington Post, I can’t help but remember those memories where one little idiot made the whole group look bad. By group, I don’t mean William and Mary’s Sigma Chi Chapter. Because that may be what I, an insider, think of when I read that email, but it is certainly not what people around the country are thinking when they read that email. I am by no means claiming to be a mind reader, but I know what kind of thoughts these black sheep examples provoke. People are thinking, “Wow, Greek life is terrible.” Or, “Huh, William and Mary?” I doubt the email eats at many people for long, and they probably roll their eyes as well and open another article when they’re done. But while I chalk it up to immature assholes who make everyone else look bad, I’m afraid that others who didn’t have my own experience will file the email away with their opinions that Greek life is a waste of time and is just one big party that teaches either members to treat the opposite sex like crap or to buy into that treatment (depending on your gender).

Is my analogy starting to make sense? At the end of the day, nothing will change the fact that Phi Mu made me the person I am today. It taught me to be kindness, community, leadership, and sisterhood. And most importantly, it taught me to treat others with openness, kindness, and friendship. I’d like to share a memory from when I first joined the chapter as a new transfer student at W&M. 

At the end of my sorority recruitment process, after the school’s 10 sororities and I had mutually narrowed each other down, I sat in a large hall full of girls and was told to write down my selections in order of first through third. I sat there staring at my page, filling with more and more panic as the other girls from my group finished theirs and left the hall. When I was the only one left, I started to cry, because I had no idea what I should choose. It had all been fun until then, but now it was serious. There would be no more dancing from house to house after that, I had to stick with the girls I picked. 

My counselors told me to take as much time as I needed and suggested I step out and call my mom. She consoled for a few minutes, but we didn’t make any progress. One choice was the very picture of what I thought “sorority life” should look like.  For another, I had had the most fun at and it had been at the top of the list until that day, when they underwhelmed me. And the third had not been at the top until that day, when it had crept up on me, and into my heart. But, something was holding me back from this last choice. First of all, I knew it wasn’t the coolest group on campus. That wouldn’t have bothered me if I had loved everyone, but I couldn’t shake a memory of meeting a girl I really disliked.

My dad got on the phone, and when I told him about the girl I didn’t like, he set me straight. “Look, there are 80 girls in the group, who says you have to be best friends with all of them? Even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t have time for that! Besides, their color is pink, so I don’t even know why you’re still stalling on choosing them.”

I laughed, and I knew he was right. I went in and put Phi Mu at the top of my list, and since then I have never regretted my choice, even when my sorority was disbanded when I graduated because they had low membership. I made the right choice for me.

One of the most telling experiences, that truly shows me I made the right choice, is that unlike what my dad told me, my interactions with that one girl I disliked were not over.  As it turned out, that girl was not someone I couldn’t spend time with. She was not someone I didn’t have anything in common with. She certainly never became my best friend, but I did come to think of her as what she was: my sister.

Phi My taught me when you are a sister, you owe your sisters something very important. It isn’t necessarily friendship, but is instead openness.  We were asked to be open to each other, and to take an interest in getting to know each other. While we may have had our own little cliques and groups, activities at meetings and sister events brought us together and required me to get to know girls I may never have approached otherwise.  More than once during my 3 years with Phi Mu, I met girls at Bid Day and thought that I wasn’t very interested in becoming their friend. And each time, I was proven wrong.  That isn’t to say that I never had my disagreements or fallings out with girls, but those situations were in the minority of my overall experience.

My roommate and I discussed this one day during our junior year. We had just a had a great time with a sister at an event, and were completely astonished that when she first came to the house, we had judged her as someone we would never hang out with.  We had been petty and small-minded. I was so glad that the workings of the sorority had forced us to at least get to know her.  I certainly didn’t become best friends with everyone that I got to know during their first weeks in the chapter, but I at least came to respect and value them.  There was something magical to me about knowing that I could approach any of the girls and find a friend, and that we would not hesitate to be there for each other in times of need, even if they would probably not be the girls that I had wine night with or called when I was having guy trouble.

To me, the Sigma Chi email reflects an attitude that is the complete opposite of my experience. I experienced openness to getting to know sisters, and to being able to extend the hand of friendship to any of them. The email shows a group that requires submission to the norm, and perpetuation of a culture of bravado and falseness. While I am aware that some people are truly assholes, I don’t think that every insecure frat boy thinks that he needs to “Save the Sluts”.  You have to be pretty smart to be admitted to W&M, and while some people do suffer under delusions of grandeur, I cannot accept the idea that every Sig Chi at W&M thinks such derogatory thoughts about women. Or, that every Greek thinks that, even in groups that I would never ever have fit into, or been “cool” enough for. I feel sorry for the author or that email, and his whole chapter as well, because they clearly haven’t experienced the same positive benefits of Greek life that I have.  

At the end of the day, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and I suppose the obnoxious frat guys who make the whole system look bad will continue get the attention.  No one will ever write or read stories on the Huffington Post about a how a silly, judgmental sorority girl is proven wrong and learns to be open to people. But I also believe that as long as experiences like mine are still happening, Greek life will still have a place in the American college experience. 

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