I joined Greek life for the wrong reasons.
It was my first day on campus. The freshman class was escorted to the south side of campus, past the football stadium, through the tailgate lot, and into the basketball arena where we sat down and listened to people on a stage talk at us. Somewhere between leaving my dorm and arriving to the arena, I met Matt.
Matt was a Senior who stood much taller than his 5’9” frame. Nick told me he “knows what it’s like being a Freshman guy here trying to find something to do.” We proceeded to talk, exchanged numbers, and he told me to shoot him a text if I was ever bored. He was in a fraternity and based on what I had heard my short time on campus, being involved in Greek Life was the only way to go.
Flash Forward: Twelve weeks later.
I’m walking into a small room with just one table and three chairs: two for the men in suits behind the table, and one reserved for me, facing them. The men in suits were representatives from the fraternity’s headquarters who flew into town to investigate the hazing accusations against the chapter I was pledging.
“Talk to us about your pledge process,” one asked.
I was told pledging was “the most fun you’ll never want to have again” when I rushed.
The details of my time as a pledge were as fresh in mind then as they are today. They included forced nights of drinking alcohol with my pledge brothers, learning names of pledge classes from years past, memorizing random fraternity facts, consuming various food concoctions, push-ups, sit ups, wall sits, and blindfolds. All for the sake of “brotherhood” and “unity.”
We would all get together in very dark rooms and the active brothers would tell us “nationals are coming down to initiate you early because you are the biggest pledge class on campus. Hell Week is canceled.” Five seconds of joy was quickly squelched by the screams of the active brothers saying “You don’t deserve our brotherhood.” Their reasoning? We didn’t go through hell week like they did. We spent the rest of that night begging and pleading with them to put us through “hell week” as soon as possible. “Because we did it” was the most common response whenever we dared to ask them why.
After a series of written interviews, video depositions, and in-person meetings with numerous pledges and brothers, the chapter was found guilty of the hazing charges. At the conclusion of the investigation the representatives from the fraternity’s headquarters decided to close the chapter and take the charter. All of the undergraduate brothers were suspended. The alumni specifically named in the investigation were suspended. And the most recent pledge class, my pledge class, were de-pledged and told we were not brothers of the fraternity.
At this point it had been six months since my pledge brothers and I accepted our bids and four months since our pledge process was halted after “pledging activities” caused the hospitalization of my pledge brother. It had been two weeks since we were told our pledge class was officially dissolved.
There were twelve of us remaining in the wake of our unusual first journey into Greek life. There were talks of our group going ‘underground’ and running our own local chapter (with none of the rights and privileges of legitimate Greek organization.) This is not what we wanted. This is not what we needed.
Meeting in a spare room of the Liberal Arts Building, the twelve of us, along with a few selected additions, discussed the merits of founding a new group on campus. Looking back, I often wonder what the heck we knew about starting a fraternity. All of us were products of a failed campus organization. It was an imposing amount of courage that propelled us into starting our own organization. One built on the idea that we could offer a better fraternal experience without hazing.
March: 12 members
May: 25 members
October: 41 members
April: 61 members
Twelve pledges who said no to hazing turned into a brotherhood of 61 in 399 days. This is the Iota Sigma chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity.
It wasn’t a scam (regardless of what other fraternities would say) and we weren’t just another fraternity. We built it from the ground up, and our foundation was based on one philosophy: we didn’t need hazing to build a great chapter. My experience taught me hazing made obedient pledges, not good brothers. Hazing was easy, but not effective. Hazing was exhausting, not energizing.
If we were to be a group that lasted a hundred years, our pathway to membership could not be built on the fragility of hazing. Hazing creates division between pledge classes. Hazing creates a culture of obedience rather than one of critical thinking. We had no interest in recruiting 18-year-old projects/liabilities. We existed to recruit good men and make them great…and it worked.
Consistency follows groups who do not haze. A chapter that does not haze consistently ranks among the top in recruitment each year. A chapter that does not haze performs well academically on a consistent basis. A chapter that does not haze consistently places in the top three in Homecoming and Greek Week every year since its founding. A chapter that does not haze is the first fraternity to win chapter of the year in a decade, several other awards on campus, and back-to-back Alter Awards.
Hazing has no place in my chapter because the Founders saw what hazing does to a group of men. You don’t build better men by breaking them down. Like a Division I football powerhouse, you build a great team by recruiting the best and developing their strengths to work for the team. We had a system that consistently won championships, so we recruited new members that would fit that system and perpetuate success. Recruitment became the easiest part of our jobs once the trophies came in and our reputation for winning got out.
Kevin Kutner, Field Executive
As part of our Sacred Purpose commitment to the Mental Health of all our brothers this post comes to us in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week.
For some of us, there are moments we have in our lives that are so painful we wonder how we could ever forget them. The more I talk about it, the more I see it in other people’s lives. Everyone seems to have their painful moments, no matter how trivial. For me, that moment was the day I decided to kill myself.
For so long, I looked for an excuse. Why do I feel this way? Why do I hate myself so much I wanted to not exist? I was a sophomore in college. I had academic scholarships. I was involved. I was in a fraternity with some of the best guys I knew. I had a good family. I even survived cancer. I thought I was going to change the world. Those are the things I was proud of; having depression and anxiety however, were not included.
When I would look into other people’s eyes, I could see a light in them. When something funny came up or someone they liked walked into a room, their eyes would light up. Looking in a mirror you can sometimes see the light in your own eyes. The light that tells you to keep going; you’re meant for something. One day, the light behind my eyes stop shining as bright. Eventually, I saw it go out.
It was then I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I hated me. I thought God hated me. I was utterly hopeless.
The seeming totality of darkness came and I was no longer in control. Every night, I’d find solace in the blade of a knife up and down my arms and legs. Why? To kill the numbness. To allow the physical pain to supersede the emotional pain and give myself a breath of fresh air. I’d watch the blood, as pure as rubies, float down my skin like tears.
I would hide the scars in my eyes and on legs so you couldn’t see them. I’d make up excuses as to why I wasn’t sleeping or eating. “It’s just stress” or “I just don’t have time right now” were my go-to excuses. I lost over 30 pounds in just two months. I’d lie when people asked me if I had plans so I can sit in my bedroom, in the dark, accompanied only by my thoughts, or the occasional text to a suicide hotline.
Once they know you’re serious, they’ll ask you for a plan. I’d gone over it so many times in my head, I had it down to a science. I could overdose or jump off of the tallest building on campus. I ran through each option but the deciding factor was my car. I’d go on these long drives by myself and see how fast my car could go. I wanted a rush before I left. I’d drive my car over 120 miles per hour and crash into the cement overpass.
It would be quick and I would be gone.
Then the night came. The night in November I would die. They would find an eloquent letter written about why and I’d try to give them as many answers as possible and hopefully they would understand it was not their fault. I was the broken one.
That’s when my friends intervened. I had made my intentions known to a few folks before and in my hour of need, they knew. This is the moment. They were done listening; this time they pushed. They pushed me toward the help I needed.
I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. They take your shoelaces in there. I missed my shoelaces. I missed my friends. I missed writing about all of it. There are no pencils and pens, just crayons. The worst part? There’s no music. So I’d write the lyrics down in different colors.
In the middle of my stay, a nurse brought me a package. It was my Theta Chi jersey. My fingers lined the stitching and the fabric absorbed each tear. Those letters represented over a hundred people who believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. People who wanted to make me better. They represented an oath I took to live to higher standard, be the best version of myself, and to help all of those around me. I didn’t feel alone anymore. The light in my eyes began to flicker.
From then on, it was a long road. I’d be lying if I said that place fixed everything. It did unearth some truths I wasn’t ready for, but desperately needed to hear. Being there allowed me to see how serious my disease was, but it didn’t fix me. My depression still follows me, but I manage because I found help. I had the support of close friends to continue treatment. They helped me see that my life is more than just a few good years. It is a gift. I kept living because I began to focus on the flickers of light despite the presence of darkness. As the lights gleamed brighter, eventually, my entire world illuminated. I saw hope. I saw the people who believe in me and much as I believe in them.
I’m 24 now. I’ll still face tough times, but I’m living out my dreams because with help, I made the choice to keep living.
So I challenge you:
When your friend is hurting, go to them.
When someone wants to talk, make time to listen.
When the people you love need you, find them and make sure they know you’re there.
You have no idea what people face but it’s your duty to make them feel like they belong here. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them often. You have no idea when they’ll need to hear it. These things won’t cure depression, but it’s easier to face hard times when you know that there are people out there that want you to be here.
Believe in others and tell them; show them. Let your actions and words speak volumes. That is how we beat suicide; how we can keep our friends alive. That is how people like me survive and recover and write the story five years later.
Chris Hixon (Iota Theta/Central Florida 2015)
Click here for Risk Factors and Warning Signs
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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Labor Day Weekend gets deadlier every year. Unfortunately, this trend is not new and the rates have been rising over the past 50 years. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates 405 preventable fatalities will take place this weekend.
This sobering information takes my mind back to this time a few years ago when I lost an old friend of mine in a reckless driving accident.
Stuart and I were instant friends when we met at church camp during middle school. That seems to happen with everyone though right? Thrust into a situation where you know either a bunch of folks or no one and you have to make it work. Something was different about Stuart though. It was like we had known each other our whole lives. His sense of humor disarmed everyone. Owning his “big boy” appearance with jokes about his weight, his seemingly always red cheeks, and as we got older, his “old-lady mobile” (he drove a Buick during high school.)
Every year, we would reconvene at church camp. Sometimes without having seen each other since the summer before, but as we got older and were given car privileges/later curfews, Stuart and I became even closer. We realized we grew up just miles away from each other in a large city’s suburban outskirts but were only separated by school zone boundaries. We would go to church together on Sundays and Wednesdays and to rock shows on the weekend. He was always down for a good laugh or a serious talk and we would often jump back and forth between the two. Stuart and I came from vastly different upbringings, but we connected on such a deep level it was hard to keep us separated. You knew stepping foot into his space to be prepared for anything, but you knew you would be different when you stepped out of it. He had that kind of effect.
As we got older, church camps became a thing of the past, college choices were made, and distance came between us. This is something I know most people can relate to, but with Stuart, it was different. No matter the distance, we kept in touch. Through Facebook or random texts, he was always there. Always joking. Always laughing. We watched each other grow from afar but we always knew we had a bond. Our bonds would grow stronger with other people over time, but we always had our childhood. We always had summers and rock shows.
Stuart was in his last semester at Texas State University and set to graduate with a degree in Political Science in December. It was a typical Friday night- hanging out with friends, laughing (his laugh was contagious), telling jokes (not sure if anyone could top his), and responsibly enjoying drinks. As the night was winding down, Stuart was ready to head home and got into the passenger seat of his friend’s car. That was the last ride Stuart would take.
Stuart died at the scene. The car, going over 90 mph, smashed into a retaining wall and eventually wrapping around a tree just west of a golf course. The driver, lost his life later that morning in the hospital.
Reckless driving is one of many risky behaviors to avoid this weekend. In an effort to keep roadways safe, the NSC offers these safe driving tips for Labor Day weekend travelers:
- Don’t drink and drive. Police Officers will be in full force focusing attention on impaired drivers.
- If you do drink, make arrangements for a designated driver or a taxi.
- Wear your seat belt. It is estimated that 148 people may survive collisions this weekend because they will have worn safety belts.
- Enforce a distraction-free zone for drivers. This includes cell phones, gps, etc. – Designate a DJ for the car and someone to text for your driver.
- Allow plenty of travel time to discourage speeding and frustration.
- Drive alert and exercise extreme caution at all times.
Please enjoy yourselves responsibly this weekend and let’s start the fall semester off right.