I always thought I would attend a state school with 60,000+ new faces. Growing up in Palo Alto, I was stuck in what most of us who lived there called “the bubble,” and what most of those who viewed us afar referred to as “the tech capital of the world.” Everyone knew everything about everyone else, sometimes before we even knew it ourselves. And it was horrible. My sophomore year self would be appalled to see me now, in a university with the same amount of students as my high school in the middle of nowhere. Sororities and fraternities were never a factor when I was applying to college - rather, I chose Colgate because of what I perceived as a lack of Greek life. Less than a week in, for better or worse, I realized that Colgate was defined by Greek life.
I rushed because it seemed like everyone else was. It quickly became apparent that in order to have the social life I was used to in high school, not joining a sorority was out of the question. I liked the house, I loved the girls, and I was drawn in by the promise of belonging to something bigger than my freshman dorm. Rushing turned out to be one of the most influential decisions I would make at Colgate. The clichés of making new friends and building a support system weren’t empty promises. I met girls who I would never have met otherwise, and signed a lease for a house a week later with my best friend whom I met during rush. Greek life was all I expected it to be and more. And then, in the spring of my sophomore year, several women came forward with sexual assault allegations committed by members of one of our fraternities.
It is impossible to explain how it feels to learn that someone you know was raped. It is even harder to convey how this feeling is intensified in a small school where everyone knows everything about everyone, sometimes before we even knew it ourselves. Several of the men affiliated with the accused fraternity were some of my closest friends. They were no longer individuals, but rather a part of an organization that was no longer safe for women. The social climate changed dramatically, and the Greek life I swore I never would be a part of was blamed as the reason such a disgusting act had taken place. Several girls in my sorority disaffiliated, and those who stayed agreed to postpone any social events until serious changes were implemented.
For most outsiders, Greek life came to be seen as a perpetrator of sexual violence. For those of us involved, Greek life became something else entirely. Presidents and members of fraternities everywhere dedicated themselves to making necessary changes to provide an environment in which we would feel safe. Forums and discussions took place, while new rules and standards were implemented immediately. My perception of the university I had chosen (early decision and all) changed completely. To say it is difficult to have a conversation about sexual assault is an understatement. But, as a collective organization, we made efforts to tackle it.
I thought about disaffiliation. Not out of fear or disgust, and not to necessarily make a statement either, but rather because I did not want to be a part of a culture where sexual assault was even a question. But disaffiliation wouldn’t change what had happened - disaffiliation would remove me from the conversation. So I stayed. And by staying, I got to see how the men and women around me mobilized to fix this pressing issue. One individual’s actions did not reflect on those of the other hundreds of men who were a part of Greek life. It was incredible to see the sincerity and dedication each fraternity put into creating a safe and welcoming environment for myself and other women on campus.
Our attempted conversations about rape have been a compilation of statistics and headlines often intended more to reach an audience and gain media attention than to create an understanding and solve the underlying issue. I do not regret my decision to join my sorority. I cannot reiterate enough how big an impact these women have had on my life. Greek life is not a component of sexual assault - society’s response is. Next week, 260 young women will enter the recruitment process at Colgate. I'd like to press the importance of remembering what happened to many other young women who were affiliated. The question is not whether or not Greek life should continue to exist, but rather how we continue to move forward in making it a community and not a nightmare.