After a whirlwind week following my return from Indiana, I finally had the chance to sit down and reflect on my experience at Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (U.I.F.I.). In a nutshell, U.I.F.I. is an intense five-day learning experience for fraternity and sorority leaders across the nation to come together to ask those tough questions about the Greek community and share their experiences, ideas, and perspectives. But the best way that I’ve heard U.I.F.I. described is as “a much needed slap in the face with reality” because sometimes you need to take a step back to look at the big picture and confront the truth before you can move forward.
Every week throughout the summer, a new session of nearly one hundred student participants and a team of Greek life and campus professionals will descend into a sorority house at Indiana University in a flurry of overpacked bags and nervous energy. That initial momentum only builds throughout the week. We start the week as strangers but part five short days later as a supportive, close-knit community with a shared purpose. How? U.I.F.I. has the unique capability to unite people from all different places, backgrounds, and ideologies through challenge and action. U.I.F.I. leaves a big impact on participants but—more importantly—empowers students to make their own impact so they can be a part of the working solution.
U.I.F.I. is truly a once in a lifetime experience and I got to experience it twice. After attending as a participant during the summer of 2015, I returned this past week as an intern for Session 2. When I accepted the position, I faced questions from my friends and family of “You’re okay with taking an entire week off for this volunteer position?” and my answer was a confident “Yes.” I am a strong believer in the cyclical nature of service and I so very much wanted to give back to the experience that had given me the tools to success a year ago and to the institute that had challenged my perception of what Fraternity and Sorority Life could be and should be. Following my U.I.F.I., I knew that I wanted the opportunity to be a contributing part of someone else’s experience and to continue building the program and its purpose.
I got a lot of questions of what I actually did as an intern. The easy answer is that interns help with the logistical aspect of the program. We set up for different sessions and make sure the the entire day runs smoothly. We assist the lead facilitators and get to coordinate the service activities for Into the Streets. But there’s so much more than that.
As an intern, I had the honor of working with the most incredible U.I.F.I. leadership team and facilitator team. These are the people that do not get near enough credit for dedicating their careers to fighting for our Greek communities, mentoring and encouraging growth, and challenging students like me every day. The work that the facilitators do within their own campus communities or within their national organizations is truly the most inspiring thing.
As an intern, I connected with students like me from across the nation. Students with different stories that led them to U.I.F.I. Students who cared and who were there to be a part of the change that needs to happen on a local and national level. U.I.F.I. participants may all wear different Greek letters on their chests but they are united under similar values, purposes, and goals. At U.I.F.I., it doesn’t matter whether you’re a member of Alpha Alpha Alpha chapter or Beta Beta fraternity or sorority. It doesn’t matter if your chapter is the best or the biggest or the smartest on your campus. All that matters is that, at one time, you decided to pledge yourself to becoming a better version of yourself and joined a brotherhood or a sisterhood. U.I.F.I. tackles problems that the entire Greek community faces and that takes a kind of selflessness to look beyond the borders of your own organization.
As an intern, I was given the opportunity to share my own story. To draw on my own week at U.I.F.I. as a participant and how I shaped action and change on my own campus from that experience. To share the struggles and the victories that I encountered in the year following U.I.F.I. My personality is a shy and reserved one, so being honest and sharing those personal stories was a small act of courage for me. The kind words of thanks, encouragement, and support that I received after sharing my intern testimonial may have just been quick passing remarks from the people who gave them. But for me, those words were golden threads of hope after a rough semester. A small comfort and an affirmation that I was doing good. They served as a reinvigorating response to help me back on feet as I prepare for my final semester as Panhellenic president and as an undergraduate student.
As an intern, the week of U.I.F.I. was a long one. Late night conversations and phone calls were normal. Second-hand anxiety from students traveling into Indiana who had a few bumps in the road or— more accurately—a few delays at the airport. The pressure of using a rationed amount of flip chart paper throughout the week. The added stress of creating eight, 5-by-7 grids out of tape on the floor when I’m a perfectionist (the uneven lines and unequal spacing is something that still haunts me). So it was undoubtedly the little victories throughout the week that were celebrated with overwhelming enthusiasm. Things like completing an efficient store run ten minutes before Target closed or having all the buses on schedule for Into the Streets. The fact that no one was seriously injured during the Potato Head activity while going up and down a cramped stairwell and fighting for the best plastic arms or eyeballs was a victory in itself.
All kidding aside, I cannot express my thanks enough to every person who made this intern experience an incredibly rewarding one. For those considering returning to U.I.F.I. as an intern, I can not recommend it enough. But for now, go be a hero on your campus and “OYS.”