Spoonful of Brotherhood

The 20s are all about learning how to be part of a community. College is about figuring out how to exist in the world and live with other people. More than just getting a degree, college is the place where we are tasked with finding the best ways to interact with other people. Community building can be tough sometimes. Some barriers have to come down before a foundation can even be laid. When you've constructed your communal place, it can became your safe zone. Take a big ole gulp because a spoonful of brotherhood is all you need. 

Whenever I tell people or they find out that I'm in a fraternity people are always shocked. They ask me if I'm kidding or follow up with which one. Fundamentally their stereotypes and the stigmas they associate with being in the fraternity/sorority life community do not line up with who they perceive me to be. It's a testament to what the community I get to be part of actually is about if they somehow got me of all people to join. Apparently my reputation as the quintessential golden boy of my institution precedes me. Sometimes it comes up and other times it's not the most salient identity I hold but it's still there nonetheless. I'm embarrassed to say I very rarely wear my letters around campus. I know I'm supposed to be proud of what they represent and the years of history and values they allude to but they also come with some heavy negative connotations. It's either people love fraternity and sorority life, or they absolutely abhor it. What is a middle ground?

The letters I wear distinguish me as a community member, at least that's what I see them as. Not a an elitist patriarchal reinforcer or a wild ass perpetual drunken frat boy but just someone who is part of something larger. I know my community can be fraught with problematic areas and behaviors (separating those deeds from the doer) - some of which I might add are based on hyperbolized generalizations and misconceptions - but it is one of the most powerfully positive impactful things unique to this country. I'll acknowledge the bad (binge drinking, perpetuating rape culture, hazing etc.) but the good is also just as important to take note of (community service, philanthropy, networking, life skills). These problems are issues for all organizations that seek to distinguish members from non-members. Fraternity/sorority life teaches you how to be part of a community and furthermore how to be part of the world, and that is undeniably invaluable. A few of my professors have totally ragged on fraternity/sorority life and associated it strictly with the BMS, Van Wilder, Animal House representations of it. Wearing letters to class seemingly changes the context of who I am and calls into question my ability to think and my beliefs on the treatment of people in general. It's tough to navigate but there is value in breaking down barriers and destigmatizing this amazing thing. My membership in one of these values based organizations speaks for itself and say a lot, but people have to be open to listen. All it takes is a spoonful of brotherhood.

Honestly, if I'm going to keep it real I was not feeling my fraternity for a hot second. I came to dread our chapter meetings that went way too long and caused more strife and dissent than productive discussion. Relationships were a little strained and overall things just seemed to be lackluster. It just wasn't fun anymore. Friday was our spring brotherhood retreat which called for us to depart from campus and spend the weekend devoid of technology and distractions. I rode with one of the most direct people I know, Dom (brevity is a true gift and the dude has it) and we were just ranting about our qualms with life in general but our organization as well. I didn't come in with a bad attitude per say but I totally was not down to spend 24 hours engaged in doing just one thing. I had my beefs to squash for sure.  We got our room assignments courtesy of my roommate, Jake, who serves as our vice president and we all settled in. Outside we went to explore the massive field behind where we were staying (Common Grounds Center in Starksboro, VT), some people tossed a Frisbee,  played some football, and threw a baseball like none other. You know I was taking pictures and observing from afar (I'm so old, classic me). We headed back inside to star the retreat off and run through some ice breakers, team builders, community standards and start some of the most candid conversations we'd had in a long time. We broke for dinner cooked by our wonderful brother and former chef, Alton, and Dylan. Breaking bread has a certain distinct way of bringing people together.

More activities, interspersed with "whys" (we joined our fratenrnity) and hanging out. All of us were sitting together on couches, chairs, the floor and just broing out. Sharing blankets, pillows, and being our playful selves. Within two hours of being there I had found my love for my fraternity and my brothers again. Suddenly what had happened, and all that pent up frustration with my brothers was insignificant. It didn't matter and yeah some of it still needed to be addressed, but I remembered just how much I loved these people. Love. That's it. Seeing everyone interact and the profound brotherly love they demonstrated was more than enough to revive my passion. Some of us hit the beautiful outdoors to play manhunt, which terrified the shat out of me. Zach and I hid together and couldn't help laughing until we tried to be sly and got caught (it was like something from a movie). We had these little notes to write to each brother about how we felt about them that I worked on through the night. People played guitar and sang, played games, talked to each other, and gave some hardcore massages. Somehow I ended up using my brother Campbell (secretly I call him Campby, but no one tell him that) as a chair for hours on end. I realized how genuinely happy I was just to be in that positive space with all those people and ridiculously comfortable I was at the same time. I hung around with Will, Dzenan, Tanner and actually everyone at some point in time. I was getting to be me and that means cracking some ridiculous jokes, being weird, and giving up on personal boundaries. As the night went on, more and more brothers turned down for bed until it was David, Campbell and I left in the main room. I realized I hadn't brought a blanket and was not about that ratchet towel sheet life, so I resolved to get cozy on the couch with Campbell for bed time. Totally out of character for me being the prince of personal space bubbles but what's a spoon(ful) of brotherhood between friends?

Do you ever wake up and are completely disoriented by where you are? Yeah, Saturday morning was exactly like that. I'd shifted in my sleep and my arm was numb but other than that it wasn't too bad, at least I didn't freeze to death. David had passed the heck out on a double couch contraption and had me chuckling with his sleep noises. It was time to get up and cook breakfast so I went ham on firing up the oven to cook a whole lot of bacon. Alton and Campbell made homefries and scrambled eggs and the other brothers got their bagels on. Sitting together to eat a meal in and of itself had so much meaning and provided space for conversations that usually never happen. Laughter, smiles, and so much bedhead describe that morning. We jumped right into more discussion about values, goals, brainstorming, recognizing personality differences and effective recruitment methods. Special guests, Derrick (remember Papa Dubois) and the absolutely wonderful, Lisa, gave presentations that challenged us to think about ourselves and how others perceive us. Everyone had something to say and it was great to hear from all who were present. Lunch time hit and people took the outdoors to just play around  and do their video segment for a video. I played some disc (cause that's what the cool kid say), took some more pictures and talked to people that I usually don't get to, Bela, Connor, Joe and all the rest. We reconvened and people spoke the truth of who they are and what our chapter has meant to them and it was truly touching #rightinthefeels. Lane and Aidan joined us for more energizers and discussion. We broke for group cleanup and some unbearably cute pictures (notice them all through this post) before separating to head home. Even driving home had a little adventure at the gas station which was actually kind of hilarious and totally Vermont. I was totally tuckered out but duty called as I helped Sam from RHA swag himself out a bit and borrow my suspenders for queer prom that night. I got ready myself and hit the party and spent my time with my friend, Courtney. We were totally going in on people's interesting dance moves but we had an awesome time which was the perfect way to end my Saturday night. A spoonful of brotherhood makes everything better.

*So why did I join Phi Mu Delta? I wanted lifelong friends. I wanted people who I would have in my wedding and become a godfather to my future kids. I wanted to find my place and fit in for once in a space. I wanted to give back to the community. I found all these things with my chapter.  I also see glimpses or similarities with why other people joined. I had no intention of doing so and was afraid, but have never regretted the decision to accept my bid. Fraternity life changed me for the better. I may forget from time to time but I know I will always love the hell out of my brothers, and know that we're in it for the long haul. Each and everyone of them brings some profoundly special to our group and the world. What a gift to have not only brothers by blood but brothers by choice. This is what community looks like.
 
My blog post question for the day is ... what group were you part of that was formative for your college experience? You know me, doing the absolute most and doing 6 clubs/organizations at one time, but my big three with my fraternity, RHA, and TV station.

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