1

On Traditions, and Why We Still Need Them

So, tonight, after what seemed to be a long week, I attended an event that I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed anything similar to in my life. I’m not sure how many details I can share, but suffice it to say that it was the sorority initiation ritual for a good friend of mine.

Even though it started at 7:30, I got there around 8:10 because I couldn’t find parking. It was in a lecture hall in Humanities, and when I came in, not much was happening; people were milling around and talking. I thought I’d missed something, but at 8:30 the lights dimmed and the ceremony began. Again, I probably shouldn’t share too many details, but there was some great singing, stepping, strolling, and chanting. While my friend was performing, it made me think about all the things I like about her; her commitment, her perseverance, and her willingness to take on tough challenges. Even though I didn’t really know what was going on around me, I was enjoying it. It was loud and unfamiliar, but it meant something to somebody, actually to a lot of people since the room was about three-quarters full.

After the dramatic ceremony, the lights came up and there were a lot of hugs and kisses all around. I went up front and managed to find my friend and give her a huge hug, and congratulate her and her new sisterhood. I didn’t know what to expect, but I honestly left feeling like I was part of a new group too.

I feel like it’s things like this that we need more of in this world. I’m not talking about sorority initiation ceremonies, but things that are positive, life-affirming, and, again, mean something to someone. Rituals and traditions like these celebrate progress and look to the future while simultaneously embracing the past. They celebrate hard work and determination, both in performing and in keeping a tradition alive. It wasn’t “my” ceremony, but it was exciting and fun to witness and it really made me think. Which is why I’m writing this. Overall, though, it let me spend an hour not thinking about myself, how much I have to do, the current state of our country, and all that, and for that I am appreciative.

2

A Collaborative (Lack of) Effort

Two days ago, West Virginia University freshman Nolan Burch tweeted that “[i]t’s about to be a very eventful night to say the least.”

He’ll never know just how eventful that night was; after being found unconscious on the floor of a frat house, he was rushed to the hospital where he died today. He was 18 years old.

Stories like this happen with more and more frequency, all over the country. The names, genders, races, and ages vary, but it’s always the same pattern. Over and over again. You could say that it was Burch’s fault for getting so drunk at the party; you could blame it on peer pressure, as he was pledging that fraternity; or you could blame it on his friends (with or without quotation marks) for allowing this to happen. But the facts remain the same. Someone is dead. This will happen again, elsewhere, next week. No one will be put on trial. It’s almost considered an act of God. Whoever was at that party, whoever served the alcohol, whoever hosted the event, will go on living their lives and Nolan Burch will become an afterthought.

In an interesting turn of events, WVU announced the suspension of all Greek life on campus. I’m going to give them two weeks, and I’m being generous, because everyone knows that when you anger the stupid rich people, their money goes away. And an act of revocation already failed; Kappa Sigma, the fraternity which Burch was rushing and who hosted the party, was suspended just one week prior to the event due to a street fight. You’d think they’d want to avoid trouble and maybe keep a low profile on campus for a while.

I’m not bashing Greek life; I know plenty of people who are in fraternities and sororities. Being a brother, and now an advisor, for APO – granted, not a social fraternity, but a Greek letter organization all the same – gives me a little more perspective on the state of fraternities. I am proud to be part of a group that does not haze nor drink, and values anti-hazing so highly that the term risk management – as in, not even risking any activities which could lead to hazing or an extreme incident such as this one. And I know Greeks who do good things, great things for charity, involving people who could otherwise be either sitting on their couches or getting drunk/high somewhere else. When a girl I knew at UMass was considering transferring because she was bored on campus and she didn’t have a lot of friends, one of the suggestions I made to her was to join a sorority that meshed with her interests and had girls that she liked in it, and she balked as if I’d told her to do yoga in the middle of a highway. (She ended up transferring anyway). But basically, Greek life is not all bad.

But then, things like this happen.

Is the Greek organization at fault? You could say no, because technically they had had their charter revoked, but the party occurred at a fraternity house, with people who would not have been there had it not been for the Greek organization. But no amount of rules and regulations by the national organization prevented this group from recruiting pledges or hosting parties, so in a way, the higher-ups in the fraternity were culpable, for not taking swifter action with the university to dispel the chapter from the campus in a more permanent way. The ones who are at fault are the occupants of the house and hosts of the party, in any event, because it happened on their property, regardless of being Greek or not. If they were true “brothers” and friends to Burch like they say they were, they could have taken action much earlier or stopped it from happening outright. Greek life didn’t control their choices; their own stupidity did.

WVU can yell, scream, and revoke Greek life all they want, but face it: unless you take legal action (at the university or the state levels) or physically displace the house’s residents, these kinds of things are going to keep happening. Because this is college, and it’s America, and it’s what happens. All of Greek life just gets thrown deeper into the pit, but nothing changes. It happens every time, and every time it does, it just returns to the status quo. Part of the blame lies with idiotic college students, but part of the blame lies with who is supporting these fraternities, and a lack of discipline and accountability on the part of the university who sometimes fail to always follow through thoroughly.

The fact that there are so many fingers pointing in so many directions that I’m going to need extra hands means that collectively, we’re doing something wrong.

It’s stupid students. It’s the alums and parents who fund their excessive drinking. It’s advisors who are left in the dark (where are they here?) It’s university police who are too busy giving parking citations. It’s university administrators who are out of touch with what’s going on under their noses.

Everyone talks about collaboration, but clearly we’re not doing a very good job of it here.

If we weren’t so caught up in our own lives, maybe we’d have more chances to save others.

Sources of Info:

Farrell, Paul. “Nolan Burch: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” Heavy.com. 14 November 2014. http://heavy.com/news/2014/11/nolan-burch-dead-wvu-freshman-frat-death-kappa-sigma/

Johnson, M. Alex. “West Virginia University Student Nolan Burch Dies From Injuries: School.” NBC News. 13 November 2014. <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/west-virginia-university-student-nolan-burch-dies-injuries-school-n248286>.