This is the Part II of a three-part series on Music, Mental Health, and Masculinity. Be sure to check back to read parts I and III.
When I was about 14 I had a conversation with my uncle, who makes a living playing music. He asked what I listened to these days, and I told him Metal and Hardcore. Quickly, my uncle asked about a few bands, to which I replied “No I don’t like those emo bands.”
Uncle: What’s wrong with Emo bands?
Me: They just complain and are annoying.
Uncle: Isn’t Emo short for emotional?
Me: Yeah I think so…?
Uncle: Isn’t Metal and hardcore emotional?
Me: Well yeah, but it’s different…
Uncle: I don’t know; it sounds like you listen to Emo music.
I was struck by this and halfheartedly admitted to myself that he had a valid point. Of course, I shrugged it off in the moment to defend my view; citing the musicianship and lyrical content of Emo music as supporting factors in my disregard for the genre.
Where did the disregard for an entire scene of music come from? It came from my view of masculinity through the lens of a teenager.
After my going to my first concert in 7th grade (Slipknot, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Trivium), my friends and I became obsessed with heavier music. The energy and passion we witnessed at the show was unlike anything we had experienced. Enormous mosh pits, screaming along to songs, head banging, fans jumping fences to get into the pit, shoes being lit on fire and thrown; it was an adrenaline fueled sea of chaos and we loved it. Perhaps if it was any other concert, we would have been set down a different path, but that day our choice had been made. We wanted more.
Naturally, we turned to YouTube to watch other Metal concerts to discover new bands. I couldn’t say when, but it got to a point where what we were listening to “wasn’t heavy enough.” We were building a tolerance for Metal and needed something stronger.
Soon we were discovering bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Animosity, Despised Icon, Carnifex, Through The Eyes of the Dead, The Red Chord, and the list goes on. It almost became some unwritten law that if the band did any clean vocals (singing) they sucked, and Emo bands being at the forefront of this “suckage.”
We could literally pull up a band’s page and write them off simply from the 3 genre descriptions that were listed. I had come to understand and buy into the idea that listening to Emo music somehow made you weaker, or a lesser fan. I would see shirts at concerts that said “Defend Metal, Kill Emo Kids”. Metal, right?
The irony was most Metal bands preached the same kind of acceptance and understanding their Emo contemporaries did, just in a different way. It was all a means to the same end. An outlet to seek refuge from life’s turmoil, and your own insecurities. I didn’t realize it, but I was using heavy music to escape from my issues while feeling safe behind a veil of masculinity.
I love Death Metal. I still listen to it every day. I’m actually listening to Whitechapel right now. My point however is that it was easier to wear the patch of Metal with confidence, because I felt protected by what I considered to be its inherit “toughness”. I knew Emo music was the butt of many jokes, simply because they were outwardly emotional and vulnerable about very real subjects, but unfortunately, I fed into that.
Believe it or not, Metal, is equally open and emotional on similar subjects, but people have this hesitation and fear of the genre, and for whatever reason, I loved being a part of that. I felt stronger, more protected and more of a man because of the music I listened to. It was a vicious cycle, fueling both my affinity for Metal and disdain for Emo music.
During my fall into the Death Metal abyss, I caught wind of bands like Stick to Your Guns, The Ghost Inside, Have Heart, and Guns Up. These groups embodied more of Hardcore style of punk mixed with some Metal motifs and an attitude reminiscent of the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) punk bands from the 1980’s. Not only did they preach an understanding of mental and emotional issues, but they addressed a wide range of topics like drug and alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, masculinity, and family struggles.
These bands had a defining role in my life. They helped me shatter my ignorance towards music, myself, and my identity. They question the stereotype of what it meant to be a man and opened my eyes to the fact that what you wear, what you look like, who you know, and what music you listen to has nothing to do with your ability to be a good person. I found a strength in this. I found acceptance. It wasn’t just an acceptance of the music I had previously written off, but it was an acceptance of myself, my problems, and who I was. It was an acceptance of it being okay to cry, scream, and hate the world. With them, it was okay not to ALWAYS be okay and they worked to offer solutions through their music, to light a path towards getting through these problems.
Sacred Purpose does the same thing for me. Living my life through our shared sacred purpose lets me know my brothers are there, just like music, to help me through. Shattering the idea of what it means to be a man and what it means to hold myself and others accountable is something I didn’t think music could do. Re-framing masculinity and mental health, as a ton of our chapters are doing is a good thing, and is a conversation worth having. I am proud to be a member of an organization that values health and safety just as much as it values brotherhood.
“A poor man’s poor sport we’ve fallen short of reasoning/Sex does not determine capability /But we let our hostility be our guide to decide /What’s right for a girl and for a guy/Because every sex is just as able to keep this foundation stable /Enough is enough speak up its tough but don’t think that your unable/Let acceptance be our key to unlock our integrity /From there we’ll be able to see that there’s more than just she and he”— “A Poor Man’s Poor Sport” by Stick to Your Guns
Kris Taibl, Director of Communications
Summer-The warmest season of the year, in the northern hemisphere from June to August. What student doesn’t love this season? It’s when the rigors
of classwork slow down. It’s that time of year where you don’t have to peel off multiple layers as soon as you walk into a building. Finally, after months, you are able to escape the rattling indoor heat to indulge in the sights and smells of the great outdoors. Most students see this as a time to kick back and do, literally, nothing. Why not instead, take advantage of the opportunities available to you during this break?
Here are some tips to help make the most of your summer.
Get a job/internship
Are your dues owed by the time everyone gets back for fall semester? Planning on a spring break trip next year? What about formal? These things all require a good amount of money, but if you start working and saving over summer, it’ll be much easier to manage. The scope of jobs and internships available for college students is vast, but they all can help you plan for a great year, while at the same time provide you with real world work experience. The great part about this is that you are choosing it. If you get an offer for an internship that you aren’t excited about, look around for another opportunity. Summer offers something we normally don’t have an excess of: time. Regardless of the path you take with a summer job or internship, the experience could provide opportunity for full-time employment after you graduate. At a minimum, you’ll meet new people and expand your network.
Take a class
A lot of majors have that one required class that nearly everyone seems to struggle with (organic chem. FTW). Taking it during the summer is a great chance to earn a better grade. You have the opportunity to take one class at a time and won’t have other coursework to distract you. Yes, having class during the summer is not ideal having fun, however ask yourself: Do I really want to take this class along with a full course load? Equally, it could also be a chance to take a class that interests you, but you haven’t been able to fit into your regular course load. Just because you’re a molecular biology major doesn’t mean you should bar yourself from taking a stab at that sculpture or piano class. Don’t be scared to try something new.
Establish a workout routine
Summer is a great time to start a workout schedule. Due to the nice weather gyms often offer great deals during the summer to attract more customers (I used to pay $60 for 3 months during the summer with free parking at my school’s rec center). With the warmer weather you can create a mixture of inside and outside exercise routines to keep you invigorated. Developing an effective workout schedule in the summer gives you time to build a habit and perfect it towards your needs. By the time fall semester starts up, it will be that much easier to continue and give you an outlet whenever a break from classes and studying are needed.
Make time for yourself
Whether it is reading a book on the sunny veranda or hitting the links for a round of 18, making time for your own enjoyment is essential. Summer is a great time to decompress from all the hours of studying from the past school year. It also gives you time to hang out with friends and family. Enjoy this beautiful season before reality hits, once again.
Summer never seems to be long enough (especially up in the north). Instead of spending your entire summer on a couch do something to help better yourself. Don’t worry, Netflix will still be there once the cold weather hits again.
Nick Hoke, Field Executive
Addiction doesn’t always start in a back alley. Addiction often starts in the medicine cabinet of your own home. Addiction is an indiscriminate, chronic disease that can dismantle whole communities given the chance. You can come from a suburban bubble, rural town, culturally diverse neighborhood, single parent household, all the privilege in the world, or none; addiction knows no bounds.
This topic has been on my mind lately after realizing drug overdoses now take more lives every year than traffic accidents. I have been struggling with how to write a compelling post on a topic I have no direct experience with. I do not personally suffer from drug addiction and to be completely honest, I couldn’t recall anyone in my immediate circle who is. That’s the weird thing about addiction though, it hides in plain sight. Your parents, siblings, neighbors, fraternity brothers, classmates, colleagues, and friends could all be struggling to live with their addiction and you would never know it by looking at them. This made the gears in my brain begin to rotate.
I’ve heard it said before that college is a dangerous place. Dangerous because it is the place you go where your beliefs are tested, your opinions are scrutinized, and any preconceived notion about how other people live is often shattered. You meet people from higher and lower socio-economic standing, different races, different religions and, different expectations of what college is supposed to be.
I met a student named Bob once. I was in a position to help Bob get into college. He wasn’t a traditional aged prospective student, but somehow Bob’s application ended up on my desk. When we sat down to talk face to face I could tell there was something he was struggling with but from a professional standpoint, I was not the person he needed to speak with. Then the topic of housing came up. Bob opened up, explaining he was recently released from a substance abuse recovery center and was unsure of the best housing option for him.
People often ask what motivates me and my answer is consistent; I want to feel like I’m helpful.
In this moment, I knew Bob needed my help. He didn’t need my help to combat his addictions (I am severely underqualified to help in that regard) but what I could do was be empathetic and point him in the right direction. At this point in his recovery he was ready to tackle college again. I never asked Bob about his past or his recovery but I knew what was ahead of him. An often precarious place, college can harbor temptations and resources an addict would need to relapse. College is an easy place to experience a setback. College is a dangerous place.
After a few meetings with Bob over the course of a summer, we worked together to get his paperwork in line so he could begin course work in the fall. Once he was enrolled, our paths did not cross again for a number of years. My purpose in Bob’s life was served and I was able to yield whatever power I had to get him started in the right direction. Knowing my own college experience and knowing the landscape of universities today, I would often think about what he was up to. Was he still abstaining from whatever he was recovering from? Did he give in? Did he find a group? Is he even enrolled? All of the thoughts would come in random bursts, but as we all know, life comes at you pretty fast. In the interim from our last encounter Bob was not part of my thought process any longer. Other students with other challenges came through my door and I did my job to help them navigate their way to begin a college career. It wasn’t until an all staff meeting, years later, did Bob reappear in my life.
Bob’s name was on the agenda in the spot we normally reserve for campus professionals. They would come to tell us about new initiatives their department had coming up or to ask for our assistance during an all campus event. When I walked into the meeting, Bob was in the front of the room in a suit and tie (a far cry from his camo shorts, backwards hat and flip flops I was accustomed to seeing him in). Bob was ready and waiting to present on a Collegiate Recovery Program he and a few other students in recovery were launching on our campus.
He lived his life, as I then found out, actively abusing mind altering substances for 10 years before he sought treatment. I sat and listed to an impassioned man discuss the systemic biases the general public and some universities hold in regards to recovering students. He outlined their plan to help students in recovery feel wanted on a large campus and engage them in ways that would not interfere with their long-term recovery. Their group had the backing from campus administration and were in the talks of acquiring a wing of a residence hall specifically for recovering students. His purpose for coming to our meeting was to get the word out. He knew my department was considered the front porch to the university. Having this knowledge in our back pockets could lead other students to them and could possibly move students closer to recovery.
As he spoke I wondered if he remembered who I was. There had to have been at least twenty more impactful people in his life since we had met. I could point out a few when he was discussing who he had partnered with on campus. After taking questions he addressed the group but looked in my direction and said “thank you”. As Bob was walked out he headed in my direction and I stood up, really unsure of what I was going to say but before the words came out of my mouth, his intentions were clear:
“I remember you. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t help. Thank you for believing in me.”
I know my small role in his life is not what kept him in long-term recovery but his acknowledgement is what keeps me grounded in the work I do. The small things I did to help a student get into college had become one of the turning points in his life. I was part of his long-term recovery. The magnitude of his appreciation was strongly felt by me and in that moment I knew what I did mattered. What we do as educators, administrators, friends, colleagues, brothers, and human beings matter.
Bob graduated last weekend with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. He did this while simultaneously winning national awards for his advocacy, being selected as one of the top 40 student leaders on his campus, becoming a certified Peer Recovery Specialist, and joining a fraternity.
This fall, Bob is on his way to an Ivy League school to work on a Master’s Degree in Social Work to continue in his pursuit to be an advocate for those like him, in long-term recovery.
Collegiate Recovery Programs are all across North America with many being on our host campuses. The mission of CRP is to meet the needs of this growing population of recovering young adults as they pursue their educations. Several colleges and universities have also developed collegiate recovery communities to help young adults in recovery maintain their abstinence while in school. The primary goal of these communities is to provide a safe haven for young adult students who are struggling to maintain their hard-won abstinence while surrounded by resources to enable their addictions.
For a full list of universities click here.
Need help with substance abuse? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
After traveling across the country and visiting with numerous chapters who differ in every way imaginable, I couldn’t help but notice at least one similarity across the board: every Vice President of Health and Safety (VPHS) had slightly different definitions of what their role was in the chapter. Some would say, “I’m the bro other bros can come to with problems” while others would express “I’m the dude who puts on events and encourages less partying.”
While all have some semblance of truth at their core, they all miss the mark on the original intent of the position and how it has evolved to address the needs of the ever-changing Greek landscape. It is imperative every VPHS fully understands why Sacred Purpose came to be, their role in the chapter, as well as how to bring our Sacred Purpose to a community wide level, and beyond.
If you google “fraternities” your search results would be riddled with informational links and unfortunately the majority of the info you see would be negative content. Articles sometime range from alcohol abuse statistics among fraternity groups, to hazing allegations, and even the tragic death of undergraduate members. The idea these stories have become a normal narrative in Greek life is the very reason Sacred Purpose came to fruition. The word “sacred” is used intentionally and is not to be taken lightly. Our Founders took an oath to protect and support one another, with the understanding that today’s members would continue their legacy.
Caring for others is the highest expression of courage and true friendship. The mission of Sacred Purpose is simple: Develop a deeper level of mutual caring for one another, in turn, strengthening the brotherhood and the community as a whole.
The VPHS is the embodiment of Sacred Purpose and their role is twofold. He should be a resource to the members for emotional, physical and relational strength, while at the same time educating the chapter to do the same. He should cultivate working relationships with campus and community health and safety professionals who can support the mission.
The VHPS should be on a first name basis with offices that promote health and safety initiatives on their campus. Counseling centers, university health centers, campus Title IX coordinators, police and fire departments are all resources that should be utilized to maximize the effectiveness of this position and our Sacred Purpose. These trained professionals can assist in our efforts to host community wide events to shed light on tough topics like sexual assault prevention, mental/physical health, or life safety best practices.
The Sacred Purpose movement is unique to Theta Chi and is at the forefront of making health and safety a priority among Greeks. The VPHS serves an invaluable role which needs to be accepted with passion, responsibility, and accountability. Our Sacred Purpose is gaining traction and starting to be recognized by friends and allies in the general population. Critical conversations are being had in our chapter houses and on campuses across North America, and the VHPS is keeping the dialogue going. It is time to put an end to the negative perception fraternities have in the public eye and start a productive conversation on how Greek life can make a positive impact on its members and campuses as a whole.
We cannot simply say we are “…ennobled by a high and sacred purpose…” We have to live it.
Taylor Dahlem, Field Executive
In a few weeks it’ll be time to cram for those final exams then it’s finally three months of freedom! Being from Maryland, this means boat trips on the river, Orioles games at The Yard, crabs doused in Old Bay, and of course a trip to Ocean City. But whatever your summer plans may entail, it probably involves trading in your sweatshirt for a Theta Chi tank. That means it’s time to start shedding the winter plumpness and getting in shape.
I’m not going tell you to skip “wing night” or not eat Chick-Fil-A; you can still have fun, go out with friends, and eat the foods you like. I’m here to give you a quick rundown on how to eat a little healthier and still be yourself. Education is the first step to living a healthier lifestyle. One blog post cannot possibly cover it all, but it’s a good place to start and hopefully it will inspire you to continue the research and share the knowledge.
First, let’s talk about your diet. When I say diet, I don’t mean going on one, I’m talking about what you actually eat. Unfortunately, diet fads don’t work. Even though you may lose weight (awesome), they don’t focus on long-term health (not awesome.) The fat cells your body develops to store fat as you gain weight, never go away – even when you lose the weight. This is why it is so easy to put weight back on. If weight loss is your goal, you’ll need to develop a plan to change your lifestyle. That sounds daunting but I’ll break it down and offer some tips to help you out.
- Before you make changes, record what you eat and how much you exercise for seven days. You don’t need to spend money on this, there are plenty of free apps to help you: My Fitness Pal and My Plate are two I would recommend.
- Take your seven-day log, do a little research, and figure out what areas you can improve in. This is the hardest part so feel free to get help from a nutritionist or personal trainer. Chances are you might have someone in your chapter majoring in a health and fitness field that could help.
- Make a plan on how to incorporate your areas for improvement into your diet over time. The key here is not to quit “cold turkey”. If you have a few sodas each day, cut your limit to one per day then once you conquer that, every other day, and so on. You can still go out but consider grilled chicken instead of fried, downsize your unhealthy selections – then eventually eliminate them, hold the butter and salt, etc.
- Take a look at your exercise routine. If you don’t have one, incorporate an actual plan. Put your workout schedule into your calendar and try to keep it to the same time each day. It may be hard at first but once your body gets acclimated to this routine, it becomes almost second nature. Make sure you’re lifting and doing cardio. You don’t need to get big, but use weights to tone your body. Burning fat will happen through cardio. You can do as many crunches as you want but it’s actually cardio that will allow those abs to show.
- Continue tracking your food and drink intake and educate yourself about what is in your food so you know what you’re eating. This is really important. If you go through three sauce packets at Chick-Fil-A, that’s 400-500 extra calories. A large Baja Blast from Taco Bell is over 500 calories. Those items might seem rather harmless but they add up quickly and neither of those items have any nutritional value. On the other hand, guacamole (minus the chips) and nuts for example, are high in fats but in reality offer high nutritional value so they’re good, in moderation. This is why it’s important to know exactly what you’re eating.
Then what? Keep it going! Continue slowly eliminating the unhealthy aspects from your diet, exercising, tracking your food intake, and educating yourself on healthy foods. Get a brother or friend to join you. It adds a layer of accountability and even a little competition. There will be times you need the motivation. Don’t be afraid of a cheat day or cheat meal as long as you don’t make a habit out of it. After a while, you’ll find yourself not even wanting those unhealthy foods you used to crave.
Ultimately, It’s about living a healthy life and developing a healthy lifestyle while you’re young and can better train your body and mind. You’ll feel better, be more productive, be more confident, and just be all around happier. For those chapters I’ve visited you’ve already heard this but for the rest of you – buy a tux before you’re 30 and stay that size.
Marc Bodine, Field Executive
I sat down today to finish writing my weekly blog post but with the news of another iconic artist passing this year, I thought I would write something a bit different.
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”- Prince
This is not a eulogy for Prince Rogers Nelson. I realize he is not the only person to pass away today but his life and his art touched millions. Prince’s musical catalog is vast and, up until this afternoon, seemed like it was never going to end. Fifty full albums and countless collaborations with artists from across all genres, his music gave us a way to fully escape into a world only he truly knew. Listening to the curated DJ tributes across most music streaming platforms have made this easier to write. One quipped “Look at all this music he gave us and imagine all the music he never wanted us to see. How many platinum records were waiting for the world in his “maybe later” pile?!”
His music was an experiment in human emotion, creativity and most notably, sound. He experimented with sound like no other musician at the time. “When Doves Cry” has no bass line which was completely unusual for an 80’s dance song but somehow it still pops. It did have a bass line before the final version was finished but in true Prince fashion, he removed it because it was too conventional. He was trying to transcend the establishment of music at the time and create, not duplicate.
This, for me, is a call to action for anyone who thinks they still have time. This thing that connects all of us can be taken away at any moment and it is our duty as humans to live every day to the fullest.
• Make time to shoot a text to your mom to say you’re doing alright.
• Ask that person who you’ve been catching eyes with all semester for coffee after class.
• Do something that you wouldn’t normally do.
• Be different if that is who you are or if that is who you desperately want to be.
• Stand up and lead if that is your calling.
• Write if that is who you are.
• Create if it means you will make sense of this life.
Prince was an artist, performer, dynamic producer, legendary guitar player and someone who never gave in. He was a lot of things to a lot of people but for me he was someone who lived his life with no regrets. Someone who pushed the limits and fought for his craft. He was political, creative, extraordinary, enigmatic, spirited, secretive, and above all else, authentic. Living an authentic life, I feel like is the most important thing for each and every one of us to do.
As a chapter, you cannot compare yourselves to the other groups on campus. Our Sacred Purpose already sets us apart from every fraternity on campuses across North America. Keep innovating and challenging the stereotype. Look to the other men in your chapter and challenge them to be extraordinary. Know who you are and be that person. Be that person no matter the consequences. What have you got to lose? Go out and get after it.
Be Prince; that’s what he would have wanted for you.
A few weeks ago I was invited to The White House. Take a minute to let that sink in. This guy from Texas was invited to represent Theta Chi Fraternity at The White House. Only 24 hours have passed since I was sitting in a room with about 100 other folks and I still cannot believe it happened.
Get to the point – okay, I hear you.
I was invited on behalf of It’s On Us to represent Theta Chi Fraternity and, on a larger scale, Greek life across America to honor ten students who are doing extraordinary things to make a difference on their college campuses for sexual assault awareness and prevention.
Why was it important to have Greeks represented at this event? The Greek System is the largest network of volunteers in the U.S. Members of Greek life donate over 10 million hours of volunteer service annually and have roughly 750,000 active undergraduate members in 12,000 chapters on more than 800 campuses. Greek students are Student Body Presidents and Vice Presidents. Greek students are founders of spirit clubs and consistently the most involved on any given campus, year in and year out. Suffice it to say their circle of influence is vast. So what can we do as Greeks to bring about positive change on our campuses? Start the conversation.
The It’s On Us campaign is committed to ending sexual assault on college campuses in America. The campaign, starting in the fall of 2014, asks that we all take personal accountability for preventing campus sexual assault by working as a team and fully realizing it is on ALL of us to make the change. It’s On Us puts the control in the student’s hands and empowers individuals on campuses to affect positive change. It’s On Us asks individuals to take The Pledge. This pledge is a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault. It’s a promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution. Taking the pledge is the first step.
The It’s On Us Champions of Change honored 10 students who have done some amazing things on their campuses. Jessica Davidson, a Chi Omega and Student Body Vice President of the University of Denver, led the charge in making comprehensive sexual assault prevention education and policy changes. She became a part of a national conversation on sexual assault with her blog post landing on the front page of the Huffington Post. Malayna Hasmanis is a Phi Mu and the founding member and president of Greeks Against Sexual Assault at Grand Valley State University. For the last four years, Claire Kelling has coordinated Take Back the Night at Virginia Tech and will begin her pursuit of a PhD in Statistics to bring the power of data analytics into the conversation.
These are just three examples of how students are leading the effort to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses.
Vice President of the United States of America Joe Biden has been an advocate for the end of violence towards women for over three decades. He too was in attendance yesterday. He addressed the audience for more than 30 minutes about how important this cause is to him. With the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, written by Biden himself, he began to slowly erode the age old established notion that domestic violence was a family issue. His words resonated with the crowd when he said “nothing short of changing the way women are treated on college campuses and high schools will be treated as a success. We can change the culture.” The Vice President made it clear when he closed with this statement: “My goal is setting the foundation so your generation, when you drop off your son or daughter at college, you will not have the feeling in the back of your mind ‘will they be a victim of abuse?’”
Many Theta Chi chapters across North America have taken the pledge, and have even organized events with It’s On Us to raise awareness. Gamma Tau/Drake University has used their influence on campus to create change. Iota Sigma/Towson, Zeta Sigma/ Wisconsin-River Falls created their own PSAs taking the pledge. Alpha Mu/ Iowa State hosted a sexual assault and domestic violence candle light vigil reflection for students and faculty on their campus. More and more chapters are participating in events hosted by other organizations with the single goal of letting their fellow students know, they are not alone.
We as men of Theta Chi Fraternity are charged with extending a Helping Hand to all who seek it. It is our obligation to help others and to find them help. We have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves every day, “am I doing everything I can?” As corny as it sounds, we are the future of humanity. If we are able to affect a cultural shift that pushes us away from the idea that intimate partner violence and sexual assault is okay, we will take that shift into the work force, into our own homes, and eventually into the lives of our children.
“When men can stand up and start conversations and end the jokes about rape and vulnerability, then we can have culture change.”- Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States.
“It was 4 years ago this month I was sexually assaulted.”
I finally said that out loud for the first time the other day and it felt like the floor beneath me had fallen out. Typing it was almost impossible, because now that I am writing it down, it makes it real, it makes that secret of my life public.
When I first thought about writing this piece I reflected on the fact that it was this month, April, 4 years prior that I encountered a person that would change my life. How unfortunate that this incident coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
For as long as I can remember I have always struggled with mental health issues. This grew out of a place where I knew I was different; Growing up gay in Texas was not exactly a walk in the park, and everyone around me seemed to know before I did. I lived in a “glass closet.” I was constantly trying to fit into a masculine mold that just was not authentic to who I was, often at odds with the rural community where I grew up. When I went to college I wanted to put my best foot forward, so I toned down my flamboyancy, adopted a new wardrobe and image, and decided to be what I thought everyone else wanted me to be. I joined Theta Chi after the recommendation of some friends, and found a group of men that quickly saw through this front and supported me as best as they could. My first year in college was everything I needed, and helped tremendously with my self-image. My second year was probably the worst, as I fell into a depressing spiral that almost drove me to end my own life. Thankfully a number of brothers and administrators intervened and I finally got the help I needed.
I tell you all of this because I think the context of who I am, my identities, and the way I navigated my own sexual assault matter. These pieces all impact one another.
Just a few weeks prior to the incident I had just turned 21 years old. I was in my third year of undergrad and thought I was invincible. Likely harboring a few alcoholic tendencies, I was going out every chance I got. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, sometimes even on Sunday nights. It never negatively affected my grades, my involvement in co-curricular activities, or my friendships however, I was also drinking to nurse old wounds. After recently going through a break up with my first boyfriend, I was not in an emotional space that was healthy, and I was not willing or able to recognize it.
It was a Saturday night; I was out with my usual crowd by 9:30 p.m. (I had to take advantage of the cheap drink deals at the local college dive bar, 50 cents well drinks), and we found ourselves playing darts against a group of guys that we knew from intramural sports. Drink after drink, shot after shot, I likely had 10-15 drinks within a 3-hour period. I can remember every detail, the clothes I was wearing, the jeans, my shoes, even the way my hair was parted that night, but the last memory I have is being handed a drink by my eventual rapist.
From that point forward it is all a blur. A few images pop up every now and again of the room I was in, the apartment, things that were said, and the actual event itself. I remember saying, “No.” I remember crying. I can’t remember the whole event, just the memories of things that haunt me at the most inconvenient times (usually during a graphic scene in a movie, in the middle of a student staff training, or when I am in a particularly dark club). I woke up the next morning in my own apartment, sitting in the shower with all of my clothes still on. I did not move the rest of the day from my bed.
Feeling dirty, guilty, and helpless, I decided not to tell anyone for a while. The person who raped me was well-known on campus and I didn’t think anything would come of me reporting the information. I also felt like I had taken up a considerable amount of time from the student affairs administrators and the Greek life staff at the time, and I didn’t want to be a burden to them. Looking back, I regret not reporting the incident and wonder how things might have turned out had I decided to do so.
Additionally, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I had internalized this message that gay men were inherently promiscuous, so this was likely my own fault. I had slept with this particular individual before and wondered whether or not I was asking for it.
“Did I consent? This is probably my fault; I was asking for it.
I shouldn’t have been so drunk and should have listened to my friends.
Some of my friends don’t believe me, why would anyone else?
What is my mom going to think? What about my dad?*
No one can know, I have things to do and don’t have time to be a victim.
It has been too long since then, I can’t report it now.”
*It should be noted that I did tell my parents this past week prior to this post becoming public, that is how long it took me to build up the courage to tell them this part of myself.
All of these thoughts ran through my head constantly (and sometimes still do). After a few months, I started to tell a few people, usually after getting drunk again and finally letting my guard down. However, it wasn’t until my senior year at my chapter’s senior night that I finally told my brothers. I was about to embark on the next journey in my life and it felt fitting to tell the group of men with whom I could be honest. I was met with compassionate reactions and hugs afterward; it was the perfect send off.
A few months later I went to graduate school in Vermont to become a higher education professional, and hopefully support students like myself that struggle with the same things. And while I thought I had finally dealt with all of my demons, we should know by now that it was just an illusion. Graduate school was difficult, and in the midst of grieving several deaths, I found it hard to survive.
It was not until my third semester in grad school that I decided to start seeing a counselor again. Here I was, an administrator referring students constantly to counseling services, constantly talking about how students should confront the deepest pieces of themselves, yet I was failing to take my own advice. If it wasn’t for my supervisor, friends in my cohort pushing me to receive counseling, and my faith in God, I’m not sure I would have finished my program. For me, going to church every Sunday, going through the sacraments, and finding peace in silence was instrumental in my recovery.
In retrospect, I think all of this means that we are never truly done dealing with our “crap.” It’s cyclical, and crops up every now and again. Even this past week as I was speaking with a student, I had to take a moment to process a traumatic piece of my past that was getting in the way of me being present. While I am in a better place of coping now, I know that I have a long road ahead of me.
But here are some things that I have learned thus far:
1. It was not my fault. No matter the circumstances, what I experienced was real, and it was not my fault.
2. It happens to men, and as a man it is my responsibility to end gender-based violence in our culture.
3. Tell somebody, when you’re ready, but please report it. Don’t let this person get away with it.
4. Take care of yourself, in whatever way is meaningful for you. If this is religion, meditation, running,
working out, Netflix-binge, whatever it is… THAT’S GREAT. Don’t let alcohol or drugs become your coping mechanism.
This is my story. It’s messy and horrible, but it is a part of my journey. It is also why I do the work that I do. If you ever need a helping hand, or a brother to talk to, I’m here.
Sean Smallwood (Delta Phi/North Texas 2013)
email@example.com | Twitter: @SeanRSmallwood
This has been an incredible season for the Golden State Warriors. From their 24-0 start to seeing their head coach sidelined for the first 43 games of the season due to a back injury, the Warriors have made this season exhilarating to watch— but they are still not satisfied.
The Warriors are chasing history this season. The 24-0 start was its own success, yet are other spoils of war in the Warriors’ sight. They are looking to not only become the first team in NBA history to go through a single season without back-to-back losses, but to also best the current NBA highest single season win/loss record held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls at 72-10. Things are now getting tight down the stretch for the defending champs. With the regular season coming to an end next week, the Warriors must win all 4 of their remaining games, including home and away dates with the San Antonio Spurs to make history.
Statistics show they have at least a 56% chance of matching the historic 72-10 mark but only a 14% chance of surpassing it and becoming the only team in history to go 73-9. The pressure’s on, right?
The Spurs are not the only thing standing in their way, of course, but this might seem like their biggest obstacle. Fatigue can lead to turnovers and miscommunication on the court. Lack of sleep due to their schedule (4 games in 6 nights) can hamper their ability to focus. Stress will play a huge role in their performance over the next 7 days and could even hold over into their post-season play. To make things even more difficult, the Warriors have still not secured the overall number 1 seed for the NBA Playoffs. The Spurs are only 3.5 games behind the Warriors in the standings and still have a shot at 70 victories if they win out. The night is dark and full of terrors, you know what I mean?
How can the Warriors manage expectations and still outperform the competition over the next 7 days? They have a resiliency never before seen in the NBA through their ability to, at this point, not lose back-to-back games. They have youth on their side with the average age of their starting 5 being 26.8. They have a coaching staff with a combined 7 NBA Finals victories, including their most recent victory in the 2014-2015 season. They have some of the loudest fans on earth with 120 decibels of raw sound power being unleashed in Oracle Arena. They have their families who not only are NBA veterans themselves (Dell Curry, Mychal Thompson, both with championships of their own) but a support network of wives, mothers, siblings, and children all there to pick them up when they feel overwhelmed.
So what does this have to do with collegiate men and their health and safety? I am really glad you asked.
At this point in every collegian’s spring semester, the pressure is on. Some brothers are on the last sprint toward graduation. Others are on a mad dash to catch up on all the reading they neglected during SPRING BREAK 2016. Some might even be frozen with fear for their fate is left in the hands of the professor they swear has a vendetta against them. Some are in a mad dash to finish strong and secure that 4.0 GPA to make themselves competitive in the summer internship pool. Making the connection?
Some of our brothers are the first in their family to attend college, let alone graduate with a 4-year degree (making history). Others are spread so thin with work, school, and other student organizations their mind has become mentally taxed to its limit (fatigue). Some brothers are active participants in group projects and all-nighters spent in the library with 4 tests or papers due over the course of 6 days (lack of sleep). Some may even feel like they are trapped in pressure cookers trying pass their classes so summer isn’t consumed with retaking courses (Stress carrying over). Luckily for our undergraduates, they do not have the San Antonio Spurs standing in their way.
But the record, fatigue, lack of sleep, and stress are not the only thing our collegians have in common with the Golden State Warriors. They also carry with them the resiliency which is manifested in their ability to study all night, wake up the next day and not only take but ace their last test before the final in organic chemistry. They obviously have youth on their side with most Theta Chi members being between the age of 18-22. Their coaching staff is made up of older members, Greek life advisors, chapter advisory boards, and actively engaged alumni who are there to help design the play and watch them execute. Their own brothers serve as their fan base; although I hope they can keep the decibel level down during study sessions or tests. Their families are full of college veterans and a wide support network who can provide encouragement and knowledge when things become overwhelming.
Staying healthy during this critical moment in the semester is imperative to the success of not only our individual brothers but to our brotherhood as a whole. Utilize your resources and know your limits. Remember how invincible you felt during March Madness before Michigan State was bounced in the first round? If you are lamenting over something similar, it is in this moment you have to pick yourself up and find a way to overcome the odds. It’s time to make the trek towards the end of the semester with composure and determination.
• Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night
• Exercise regularly
• Eat well
• Take Breaks
• Use your down time between exams wisely
• Don’t get lit
I wholeheartedly believe in our collective brotherhood to make history and outperform others during these vital moments of the semester. It excites me to know the men of Theta Chi Fraternity will live by their maxim this semester and truly honor “Alma Mater First and Theta Chi for Alma Mater…With that being said, The Spurs will prevent the Golden State Warriors from making history and will take them to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals to eventually win the 2016 NBA Championship.
Did I mention I’m a die-hard Spurs fan? I’m even wearing my lucky socks for tonight’s match-up right now.
Going off to college is like baiting your own fishing hook for the first time; It’s a rite of passage. You’ve been told by your father, his father, and maybe even his father about what to expect when you take those nervous first steps onto campus. They describe this utopia of free thought, open minds, flowing fountains of knowledge, etcetera, etcetera. All of these things sounded wonderful but one thing they warned me of was the dreaded Freshmen Fifteen.
Before I made this journey a reality I spent my first year out of high school working and saving money so I could have the ideal freshman year. No work, just school and fun. During this year I gave up soda, changed my diet, began to exercise more strategically and ended up losing 40lbs. I was ready to make a name for myself on campus. I knew fraternities were a thing but I hadn’t give it much thought until I found myself at a baseball game with a bunch of guys from Theta Chi Fraternity.
“I hope you’re ready for the best year of your life” felt like it was on repeat during the beginning of the recruitment process; almost like they practiced it over and over in the mirror. Even up to initiation, these words flowed from their mouths and into our ears and we were ready. Somewhere during the pledge process some of the older active members took me under their wing and began to show me the ropes. How to act during a social, what to do when you ask a girl to formal, how to properly handle a celebratory taunt when you score the winning touchdown during the IM all-campus championship and even how to handle the psychological damage of getting dunked on the next month during the IM all-campus championship; these guys knew how to conduct themselves. But something was off. We were being social, athletic, I was going to class but somehow the Freshmen Fifteen was gaining on me. Literally.
Flash Forward a year and I am living in the house and instead of just 15 lbs. I was now 30 lbs. heavier than when I started. My body was beginning to feel the effects of a year of abuse. I abused alcohol, food and apathy for anything that didn’t include drinking and chilling. I was quickly running out of money and the ladies who were giving me the time of day my first semester stopped texting. Something had to change.
When I told folks my plan to take year off drinking I was confronted with blank stares and confused responses. “This is college dude. No way you can last a year” was the refrain from the peanut gallery but I was determined to make this a reality. Brotherhood camp outs were tough, going out to the bars were even harder but something had to give. Some of my closest friends were enablers too. After all, “its college” was a mantra some of them lived by. But still, I knew I needed to make a change.
It wasn’t easy, and it had a sweeping effect on my social life, however, by the second semester of my junior year I had given up fast food too and was starting to see my hard work come to fruition. Eventually, I had the support of my chapter and brothers who wanted to tag along. We worked out at 6 a.m., ran 15 miles per week, and didn’t settle for a crunch wrap supreme after a night out. Yes, if you’ve been to Iota Beta, you know the struggle between healthy eating and late night Taco Bell runs(walks).
I had once again lost 40 lbs. and not only gained the respect of my fraternity brothers, but regained my self-respect. Defeating the Freshman Fifteen is possible and rewarding. Find a habit that gets you active and moving, and don’t be afraid to take a night off. We all go to college for an education but for some of us, the most useful educating comes from outside the classroom. Discovering and developing healthy habits will pay off when you leave school and free time is limited. Setting expectations, allowing flexibility and understanding how healthy living is a viable option for college and beyond is a great way to turn a habit into a lifestyle.
Check out this link for info on how to create a healthy routine.
Jordan Carter, Development Officer