Whenever people ask me about my first year of college, I tick through the list of “typical” collegiate things that most people inquire about. I rattle off the classes I took, mention some of the friends I’ve made, talk about living on campus, say that I joined a fraternity, tell what I’ve decided to major in, talk about … Wait. WHAT? You did WHAT? Yep. That’s pretty much the reaction I receive every time I inform someone that I’m a frat brother. As soon as I drop the “F” word, nothing else on my list seems to be of as much interest to the person I’m talking to. To some extent, every guy who joins a fraternity gets this reaction thanks to the seemingly immovable perception of fraternities as bands of grossly derogatory dudes who do nothing but party all day. But perhaps BECAUSE of that perception, which of course is utterly false in like 99 percent of cases, I seem to get an even more shocked reaction an even greater amount of the time.
So, I thought I would tackle this shock factor for any and all readers who are considering Greek life in college by saying first and foremost that Greek life is just as much an option for you as it is for your able-bodied classmates. I think a big part of people’s shock is that they don’t feel like people who use wheelchairs or have other physical limitations can physically go through the pledging process. For whatever reason, people believe that there are certain things that you MUST do in order to be initiated into a fraternity or sorority, and that if you can’t do those specific things, then you aren’t an eligible candidate for membership. To me, this sort of attitude is illogical. My entire life, I have joined the organizations I wanted to join and participated in the activities I wished to participate in on levels matched with my ability level. Perfect example: I am an Eagle Scout, the highest rank you can achieve in the Boy Scouts of America program. Scouting is a very physical program in many ways; scouts have to camp, hike, and demonstrate cooking and advanced first aid. Naturally, there were things I could not do the traditional way. Through a specially designed set of alternate requirements, however, I met the same standards as my fellow Eagles.
Greek life is no different. Regardless of what popular culture has led you to think about the Greek system, it is not discriminatory. If you want to be a fraternity bro or sorority sis, you absolutely can. Are their certain expectations to be met in the pledging process? Absolutely. Are you expected to meet them? Of course. Are you expected to meet them in the exact same way as your pledge brothers or sisters? Only if doing so is within your physical ability. My pledge process this spring was very much like my scouting experience. My brothers in Kappa Alpha Order at Furman University offered me a bid with the same conditions that accompanied my pledge brothers’ bids. I went through the same pledge ceremony as my pledge brothers and, for the most part, just like in Scouts, I completed the same tasks they completed throughout the pledging process.
My pledge experience was different only insofar as it needed to be. There were certain group activities that I couldn’t participate in, just as I couldn’t go camping in scouts. There were certain gatherings that I didn’t attend because they took place after my bed time (don’t be alarmed by this; my caregiver came at 10 p.m. — REALLY early by college standards). But if it took place during daylight hours and was something I was physically capable of doing, I was there and I did it.
What made my pledge experience MOST different is also, for me, what made it most rewarding. Nearly all of the activities and rituals in the pledge process are unknown to pledges until they are in the thick of them. As you might imagine, this didn’t always work for me or for my brothers who were planning out such activities. They had to hear from me whether a certain tradition was doable and, naturally, I had to know what the tradition was in order for me to make the call. Our solution to this “crossroads” was to have private conversations, one activity or event at a time. Both the conversations themselves, in which I got to spend quality time with who are now some of my closest brothers, and the sense that I got from them were very gratifying. The sense I got in every single one of these convocations was that my brothers wanted to tell me about the tradition in question because they wanted me to be sure it was appropriately suited to my abilities. But at the same time they did not want to tell me about it because, if I could participate, they didn’t want to spoil it for me. There was always a hesitation, and they always shared as few details as possible — only those they thought were essential for me to determine my ability to participate. It was clear to me what they really wanted was for my experience to be no different than my pledge brothers’.
Ultimately, this “open dialogue” between my brothers and me showed me what being in a brotherhood or sisterhood is all about: friendship so deep that you are willing to sacrifice a little tradition (a little anything really) in order for your brother or sister to be included like everyone else. In the end, knowing how much my brothers wanted me to have that same Furman KA experience was just as good as anything I actually missed out on.
So if you want to go Greek, GO GREEK! Don’t worry that you won’t be able to do everything. You WON’T be able to do everything. But if the organization you select is the right fit, that won’t matter. You’ll be able to do enough of the traditional stuff and likely, like me, you will have something extra to remember. Whatever you do miss out on in the pledging process, I guarantee you will get back tenfold just by being a member. If there’s one perception about sororities and fraternities that IS true, it’s that the friends you make in your Greek organization are friends you will have for life.