Why My Fraternity Saved Me

Content Warning: sexual, physical, gendered violence, hazing, explicit sexual content

Before writing my response, I just wanted to say that the experience that Ben wrote about in, “ABOLISH FRATERNITIES” is horrifying. There is no validation for what that fraternity did to him, and I’m sure everyone who read his piece can agree to the severity of that situation. I am not a citizen of this country, and only during my time at Tufts have I been introduced to the classic narrative of fraternity culture of American universities. Instead, I am explaining my situation from a subjective mental health and community-based perspective. (Thanks to Dylan for helping me express some of these thoughts, from his own essay on masculinity)

I grew up with a loving white Italian upper-middle class family in a suburb outside of Toronto. At the age of four, my father committed me to hockey, among other sports, full time. While all of my friends were hanging out after school, fostering relationships, and going to parties, I was at hockey practice, shooting lessons, power skating lessons, strength and conditioning sessions, all with professional hockey players and figure skaters. My father spent thousands of dollars on me to make me the best hockey player I could be. I always appreciated it and I knew how privileged I was amongst my fellow teammates, and probably many other hockey players across the country. Over time, though, I lost my passion for it. I love my father to death, and when I was growing up I always put his wants above my own. I didn’t do this because I was scared of him, but I did it because I wanted to make him happy, and I knew that what he was doing what was best for my future. My father trained me as an olympic/professional athlete, and 18 years later I finally realized the reason I was so unhappy. The person that I had to become in those locker rooms wasn’t the real me. For hours and hours every day, I had to act to fit the typical white straight cis mold so that no one would suspect I was different. In fact, I got so good at pretending to be someone else that I became a pretty decent actor and ended up starring in numerous performances during my high school and college years.

When I started dancing for Spirit of Color at Tufts University, I found my passion. Learning it wasn’t hard, it didn’t take 18 years of professional help or my father’s money. It took two years, help from some friends, and determination. When I am in rehearsal, or choreographing with Tory Kolbjornsen on a Thursday night, there is nothing that anyone could say or do to make me feel ashamed of who I am.

It’s very easy for one to put the blame on my father for my sadness growing up with hockey, but it’s harder to realize that it was the masculinity in sports — the talking about girls, lifting weights, wrestling each other to form a hierarchy, putting people down for being different, wearing clothes that didn’t scream “I’m a faggot” — that made me so sad, and I’m ashamed of myself for taking so long to realize where my true happiness is. My happiness lies in my newfound love for dance, for making videos, for wearing masculine clothes, for wearing feminine clothes, for wearing foundation and mascara to class. In boarding school, it took me three years until I finally came out to my hockey team, and rather than being scorned for being different, I was loved and accepted. I found the same supportive community when joining Theta Delta Chi.

My fraternity saved my life. Before pledging, Tufts was meaningless. I was depressed. Being surrounded by people, regardless of the situation, saved me. I missed being with a group of stupid masculine boys, like the ones on my hockey team who supported me for coming out, who loved goofing around and talking about the most useless shit. We didn’t talk about raping women, or who we cat-called that day. We talked about our crushes on girls, our crushes on boys, dancing, shopping, drinking, our families, our hopes, our dreams, our heartbreaks, and we talked about how fucked up the world was and how we could survive in it. We also did a lot of good; community service on campus was a huge aspect of being a part of the team and in fact we spent an entire winter, every morning at 6AM clearing a public pond for locals to use. I wasn’t the “gay hockey captain” on that hockey team, I was a defenseman with a wicked hard slapshot.

I needed that same feeling of camaraderie back in my life to be happy at Tufts and 123 is where I found the most tolerable insecure masculine boys on campus. I applaud Ben Kesslen for making my blood boil with his article, “ABOLISH FRATERNITIES.” One might say that the intensity of my blood boiling has something to do with my fragile masculinity or that I secretly hate myself, or that I have a bad relationship with my father. The truth is: I’m gay as fuck, I love myself, and I have beyond a great relationship with my father. So why am I so frustrated? I’m frustrated because defending myself or my fraternity is inherently impossible without somehow condoning sexual assault, rape culture, and hazing. However, If I don’t say anything, I’m just letting this article, with the addition of the political climate skew the vision and importance of Greek Life at Tufts.

A version of what Ben wrote about happens at Tufts to many of us; queerphobia, hazing, the inability to opt out, among other things associated with the event. I’ve experienced it and countless others have experienced it. Almost four years ago, I was at my first pledge event. I had a panic attack and I ran out that door. And while I realize how it was nearly impossible for Ben to leave that night, I didn’t feel chained to a wall or yelled at to stay, so I just simply left. But, I went back to my fraternity the next day, the day after that, and the day after that because, while I saw things that I didn’t like about the fraternity and the pledge process, I also saw so much good. So I made it my mission to push the fraternity to a place where I could see myself thriving — an environment that fosters the good things I saw and reforms the bad. Three years later, after countless arguments with brothers and crippling nights of panic attacks wondering if my friends would ever love me again, I made real change in this house. With the support of my loving and loyal brothers, we have eliminated our entire pledge process. It took forever, but it finally happened. I also made my fraternity a place where my dance team, a group of 20–30 people consisting of mostly all females of mixed identities are able to come and take over and dance without feeling harassed or subject to assault. I have made my fraternity a place where my queer friends can show up to a party in drag and be welcomed, loved, commended for their outfits, and sometimes even hit on. They aren’t treated as some fetishized gay obsession but as a HUMAN BEINGS. My queer and female friends are said “Hi” to on the street by my 123 brothers, are welcomed over before, after, and during a party, and are treated with respect and dignity. Why? Because I went out of my way EVERY DAY to make sure my brothers knew how to treat people who are different. I didn’t make a Facebook status and cut them off, I had conversations with them because I believed they could change. Why? Because I found out that fraternities don’t rape people, rapists rape people. If my friends want to come to my home and dance their fucking hearts out, they are going to without feeling the pressures of some man groping them or catcalling them from a corner. And where are my brothers supposed to be according to the posts I’ve seen on Facebook? Against some wall getting off? No. My brothers are right there on that coffee table next to my friends embarrassing themselves dancing to “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas.

Everyone on campus needs their niche and their place where they can feel comfortable and safe. My fraternity is mine. Let me shed some light about what I do behind closed doors. When non-members aren’t in my basement assaulting my party guests, stealing my alcohol, calling me a “Faggot,” or peeing on my floor, I am down in my basement dancing and drinking with my brothers, I am doing my laundry, I am cleaning the floor. We aren’t some spooky, dangerous urban legend. We are like you. Some of us find solace in Tufts Mountain Club, some choose TDC, some La Salsa. All of these organizations have their merits so it’s not up to any one person or one narrative to dictate which organizations should stay and which should go. Reform, however, is a different story and should be welcomed.

What we should champion for is a change to the overall system of governance for Greek Life. We need stricter hazing policies, more accountability, and better involvement from the school in regard to overseeing these processes. Do you think administrators in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life buy the sanitized outlines of the pledging process that fraternities hand over? I don’t think so. If they do, then these administrators should be replaced by ones that do a better, more comprehensive job. And in the likely situation that they don’t buy this bullshit, they should stop looking the other way.

Yes, hazing is bad. Assault is bad. On that topic, we are all very much on the same side. But we would be doing ourselves an injustice if we didn’t look at all spaces at Tufts. I have been sexually assaulted in a frat basement. I have been sexually assaulted at the Crafts house. I have been sexually assaulted outside of Dewick on Homecoming day. It happens here. It happens everywhere. As a campus, we need to take accountability for our peers and work together to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone anywhere. So instead of driving a wedge between Greek life and the rest of campus, we need to foster a community where we can all come together for a constructive dialogue and a critical look of all spaces on campus that can perpetuate hazing and sexual assault.

In fact, I’ve witnessed more disturbing events in our basement performed by people who aren’t part of our organization than by those who are. We can’t vet everyone who comes into the basement and we can’t control everything that happens, but we need to take steps in the right direction and stand up when we see these injustices taking place. Organizations like RMAT and Green Dot are great initiatives. They will change the culture on Tufts campus significantly as more and more people get involved. So get involved! Making a Facebook status isn’t change. Arguing on the Tufts Class of 2019 page isn’t change. Going to an actual event, showing your physical support, and taking training courses to prevent sexual assault and hazing: that is change.

Membership to a fraternity comes with the duty to improve the organization before we pass it along to the next wave of members. When policies don’t work, we don’t throw them out or leave them for the next group of members to fix. We work as a team to fix them. The idea that bulldozing the house and burning the charter will make the bad behavior miraculously disappear is naive. Do we abolish Harvard Men’s Soccer? All sports teams, clubs? Do we abolish men? No — we educate, learn, and reform.

My frat brothers and I understand that we got together because we were all looking for something to be a part of. For god’s sake, it is our natural instinct as human beings to want to be a part of something. We didn’t behave badly. The problem is not all of us, but the weakest who most want to indulge in bad behavior. My fraternity does not encourage, teach, or enable rape. The major issue is that Fraternities aren’t self-policing enough, and that the fraternity has traditionally been the safe house for the most immature people and worst behavior on a college campus. The idea that you can get away with it because it’s tradition. THAT is the problem that needs to be eliminated.

Packs of college graduates will spend their next decade in sports bars getting wasted and making lude comments, regardless of fraternities. That primal urge to form a mob isn’t going anywhere if you ghettoize it. Dangerous, unregulated clubs will exist off-campus where fraternities don’t. It’s not erasing the problem, it’s sending it somewhere else. Ben’s experience was awful and should not be repeated in any way shape or form, but attacking all fraternities as a whole — as an association of Tufts students — is not the right course of action. A Group of Nine is a good idea, but let’s try to figure out an alternative space for these organizations rather than taking it away from others. When I am working the front door at our parties, I am not looking for “hot chicks” or “blondes”: I am looking to let in people who aren’t wasted, and who don’t look like serial killers, and that’s the best I can do. I know you aren’t judging a book by its cover, but you only read the first page of a very long and complicated book.

SO! I challenge all of you to come to fraternities, be there with your friends. Stick together, have fun, and protect one another. If you see injustice at a party, do not walk by it and post about it on Yik Yak or Facebook or some other stupid meaningless brainwashing platform, fucking walk up to those people and say something. After the person in said situation is safe, find a brother and work together to fix the situation. This is what I do at most parties, and as I sit here finishing this horrendously long piece, I find myself pledging again. I pledge to never be a bystander at our parties, or any party for that matter, and I pledge to make sure everyone on campus feels as safe in my house as my friends do.