Dear person who is interested in joining a fraternity|sorority and who may have been bullied as a kid,
You may hold the key to addressing some of fraternity’s (and society’s) acknowledged problems.
We can say that I was an “artistic” kid. I was pretty imaginative and I grew up with three sisters: a traditional, partner in crime big sister, a big sister who would act like a brother to boy me up, and a big sister I basically idolized while I was a toddler and she was in high school. I danced a ton. . . Here’s a blog post about fraternity lip sync contests.
I learned to talk from them, what was cool from them, and how to dance from them. I had boy cousins who got me into WWF (WWE) and other traditional boy stuff before going to school, but that didn’t change the fact that I once passed for an adult woman at the age of 7 when I called people from a phone book to solicit real estate business for my mother.
“Thanks Margarita,” I’ll never forget that man’s words. . . for better or worse.
So when I got to school all was pretty dandy until 2nd grade. That’s around the time kids start whispering the word “sex” on the bus, even if all we knew of sex was that you had to be naked to do it – needless to say, boys are starting to develop egos.
Another classmate would, with his buddy, often point out that my voice sounded uncannily like that of a woman. The fact that I once wore tight dance shorts to school, completely ignorant of social norms, probably didn’t help.
I Blew That Kid’s Mind
Now keep in mind, this story is from my perspective. I don’t really care about it now, the “bully” may not even remember it now, but as a kid it was a major game changer in my life.
I dealt with the bullying for a while – I’m not sure how long, but before the end of that school year I brought the issue up to my mom and sisters.
We talked it out; they all had ideas. Only the youngest sister was at the same school, but she was in 5th grade at the time at the other end of the building, so she couldn’t stomp him for me. We sat around for a bit and they all gave me great ideas on what to say to shut the bully up.
Sidebar: I was a very polite, shy and fearful child. We once went to an Assyrian medicine woman to help cure my fear. . . it took two sessions.
There would be a professional from the school who would stand by our classroom door whenever a fire drill took place because I would have some sort of panic attack. I’m not proud of it, and I’ve chilled out since.
Anyway the idea of being confrontational to a bully sent shivers down my spine, so this team huddle with my mom and sisters was essential and I’m forever thankful.
Fate worked its magic at school the next day. As the class lined up to take a restroom break, or something, my name was announced on the intercom:
“Nik Koulogeorge please come to the office”
As I walked away, I heard him speak – for the purposes of this story his name was Tommy Salova.
All he said was: “Nik Koulogeorge,” my name, not even a taunt, just my name in a funny voice. It was enough to set me off.
I spun around and bluttered, “Tommy, if you don’t stop making fun of me I’m going to call you Tommy Saliva.” Get it? His last name sounds like saliva. The stuff that’s in your mouth!
At that moment, his bully co-pilot, Frat McCracken (for the purposes of this story, not his real name), turned to him, laughed, and said: “Ha Ha! Tommy Saliva!”
Bullies Are Annoying, But You Learn A Lot Standing Up To One
Tommy and I became friends after that point. Maybe it earned his respect or maybe he just grew out of bullying altogether.
This isn’t too different a story than my time as a fraternity man. In many ways “hazing” is a more systemic, occasionally homo-erotic form of bullying that many of us deal with in our families or one-on-one at school.
In any case, I was not physically hazed at my chapter, and was not mentally hazed in any extreme sense, just an older member being a little punk here and there. I actually missed a lot of activities my first year because I was rowing for Stetson and most of the initiated brothers didn’t seem to worry about my absence. (I changed a lot since elementary school.)
As I shared on Twitter:
Now, that encounter was probably a gag, but maybe it represents some mental toughness or maybe it wasn’t a gag and I just happened to be the guy who got away un-hazed.
Still, it became increasingly easy to effect change just by speaking up.
After initiation, a small group of us organized and pushed to change things we feared could head down increasingly dangerous roads: quizzes for new members, how they were administered, which questions were asked, the length of new member “education,” the idea that we should recruit people we were generally comfortable initiating.
The Decision To Initiate Goes Two Ways
Here’s the deal: The decision to initiate goes two ways. You as a new member have an immense power.
When you don’t initiate, pressure on the chapter will increase from its alumni, the school and its national/international entity. Pledging yourself to a fraternity begins a period of exclusive courtship for “no longer than 8 weeks” according to many fraternity policies. You still have an option to drop. What if, for once, initiated fraternity men were more concerned about new members dropping than whether they should drop new members? Catch my drift?
I said as much while I was a chapter president (That year we shortened our New Member Ed process to 4 weeks to encourage brothers to only recruit people they felt comfortable initiating. . . it wasn’t popular), as a fraternity professional and now as a random alumnus.
It is a waste of time to spend 8-10 weeks being bullied and then learn how everything works once you’ve been initiated. By that point, you’re halfway through one of the 2-3 years you’ll be “active” in your chapter. Your time as a new member should prepare you for life as a fraternity man after initiation. If what you are doing is not expected of the initiated brothers, there’s a high probability that it’s B.S. Demand that the men who think they can make you a “better man” practice what they preach.
Hell, if wall-sits are a way to make a man better, why don’t initiates do wall-sits every day?
Do yourself a favor: make yourself worth fighting for once in awhile.