Fraternities. On the outside, it is a seemingly odd and questionable phenomenon: a group of young college men who pay hundreds of dollars a semester to just be friends, party and do stereotypically masculine behaviors that rely on extremely good and refined social skills.
On the inside, it is something almost inexplicable, that what most often comes out of a member's mouth when asked "why?" is simply "brotherhood" or "family."
I, for one, never bought it. Growing up I had seen the typical movies: Animal House, Neighbors, and Total Frat Movie. I always thought to myself "that looks fun, but also really stupid," and turn on a new movie.
I could never fathom partaking in such boisterous and juvenile activities. Sure, it was funny to watch, but I knew who I was and my place. I was a very small built, short, awkward and less than socially impressive dude.
Far from your typical hyper-masculine, outgoing, extroverted and likable man. I could never be "just one of the guys" in a fraternity because growing up I never really had a male group of friends. I just never fit in with them and mainly took by myself.
I rarely socialized as a kid, and whenever I did, it was disastrous as I could not at all navigate the maze of social interaction. I was just too… weird. So, my social interaction was primarily limited to my family. My mother, father, and brother.
And then my father passed away in 2014. At the time I was never close to my brother really, so I had felt that I just lost the closest thing to a guy best friend that I had. I had one friend at the time, and she wasn't that close to me either. It was a very fuzzy and odd scene in my life, and I was just beginning to force myself into uncomfortable situations for the sake of "personal growth" or whatever crap I tried believing.
Nonetheless, my father was everything I had wanted to be socially. He was extremely bright, unapologetically friendly and incredibly funny. He was just very socially intelligent.
He knew how to interact with people, and I remember always asking myself "how does he do that." But life went on, and I had to continue.
And then my mother passed away, this year in early 2019. Just one month before I graduated. This was extremely hard, as at the time I was simultaneously taking four online college classes, preparing for finals, and had been dealing with my mother's health since the beginning of the school year.
In and out of hospitals and other facilities, and it took such a tremendous toll on me, mentally and physically. The only thing that was there for me during this time was my brother. My mother was my rock and biggest supporter. My absolute best friend and the person who I had interacted with the most every day for hours.
After losing something so integral to my everyday life, I was shocked at how empty and different life was. But I still had my wonderful older brother, until I moved away for college.
Arriving at the University of South Florida was a huge shocker. I had never thought I'd see the day where I move into my dorm. It was terrifying. So many (SO MANY) new people and new things.
Within the first month, I was already apart of Student Government, Residence Hall Association, and a couple of other clubs. Though I had yet to find a close group of friends that I truly clicked with. I wasn't too worried about it. And then I got a text.
The text was from a fraternity. Alpha Epsilon Pi. I didn't even know what that meant. However, off an extremely impulsive whim and a voice inside of my head, I decided to take an interest. I was an informal bid, which means I didn't participate in rush week.
I joined the new member class last minute. And to be honest, even after becoming a new member, I was shocked I was even beginning my journey to become a brother. I doubted myself, questioned why I was there, and if I belonged. But you know who didn't question my presence?
The brothers. After the first week of knowing this completely random group of men, meeting every brother and getting to know them slowly and getting close with the other new members in my class, all of them equally welcomed me as human. They were all so incredibly warm and inviting, and I felt nothing short of an open hand and passion for their organization.
Here was a group of people so different from me, and so different from each other individually, unified by this chapter of this fraternity on this college campus. It was all so natural too. What I had experienced was growing an intensely close bond to all of these wonderful men.
I felt like I had known these people all my life after just a short amount of time. And when the day I became an official brother, I genuinely felt part of a family. A new family. I loved every single one of these people in just the three months I had gotten to know them. Ever since then my main priority aside from academics has been my wonderful and incredibly amazing fraternity.
They have all done so much for me, simply by just being there. If I'm ever feeling upset, or down I know I can go to the house and talk to someone. If I ever want to get food with someone, I can just text another brother. Whether it is social, academic, philanthropic or whatever they're there for me. And I'm there for them!
That is what being in a fraternity means I came to realize. That is my "why." And I am far from the stereotype. I'm a five-foot-two Guatemalan boy that is still a nervous socializer but is slowly getting there, and with the support of my brothers, I feel I can grow into a better man, into the person that I always aspired to be. Into me.
So, to my brothers at the Psi Phi chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi at the University of South Florida, thank you so much. Thank you for accepting me for who I am and giving me such an unexpectedly warm and amazing gift.
Thank you for giving me a gift I will be forever grateful for. Thank you for giving me a family.