Let Me S-P-E-L-L It Out

I have a nine-year-old son. He is everything to me. He is a great kid. A Cub Scout, goes to church, received Student of Month last year in the second grade, makes good grades, thinks of others, and is a very easy kid to raise. I consider that the “nature” part…I didn’t teach him to be good, he just came into the world that way. Alas…he is still a growing boy and adolescence is coming.

 


The Back Story

April 2014

Earlier in the year on the way to a Cub Scout camp out (yes, I camp), my son asked me to tell him about “S–E–X” spelled out. He told me also not to hold back, but talk to him “like I am a college student.” This last statement is attributed to my work in higher education…I think or hope? I ignored the college student part and talked to him like the eight-year-old he was at the time and talked about the mating habits of whales. You can laugh…no one is ever ready for this conversation as a parent. NO ONE.

Ironic Foreshadowing

7:30 a.m. November 19th, 2014

Today my kiddo had an orthodontist appointment at 7:30 a.m. As this doctor was trying to make nine-year-old chatter with my son around his sports/interests, my son ignored all of those questions and asked several directly related to the appointment and his teeth. And the comment from the professional was around the fact that this kid likes to know the facts and get to the point. If only I knew how pertinent the conversation would be later that evening.

Day is Done…Almost

7:45 p.m., November 19th, 2014

Tonight, November 19th, 2014, changed everything for me, for him, for what is to come, and it entirely changed this article that I was writing for Connections. As he was getting ready for bed, I found some very inappropriate things on his iPad around “S–E–X.” He will not see this article for a very, very long time (translate NEVER) but tonight, as I said before, everything changed for me. My sweet baby is an inquisitive boy who will hit puberty soon and he has questions about sex. In processing the information he was privy to, he told me that he just wanted to understand what the term S-E-X meant. Additionally, he said he asked me again last week to explain S-E-X and I kind of blew it off…my fault. He will not see a piece of technology for a month…his fault. My fault…I thought pornography was blocked on the iPad.

My whole struggle is what he saw had nothing to do with what I believe healthy people want out of relationships, or what I believe sex should be between a couple. It’s really hard to now tell him the definition based on the pornographic information presented by the internet for anyone to see.

As a speaker, I know having a child and getting older has affected me. I look out into audiences and I speak from a place of what I wish I had heard when I was in college, and I speak from a place that I hope my son will hear when he enters his college. I am not a Pollyanna but I believe people make a lot of stupid, intentional decisions that make their life worse and then question why life is “so hard?”

So this article comes from a place of a struggling mom, a woman who is blessed with many healthy relationships in her life, whose sorority experience transformed her, who has a son that wants to know about S-E-X long before I want him to know, who will use far less research articles than others in this publication, and maybe a woman who just needs to blow some steam.

11:47 a.m., November 20th, 2014

Off to the bookstore to get an age appropriate book on sex.

 

MY THOUGHTS ON S-E-X, F-R-A-T-E-R-N-I-T-I-E-S, AND S-O-R-O-R-I-T-I-E-S

When I am asked something I don’t know the answer to, I find myself responding by going to the internet. It’s no surprise my kid told me he went to the internet and typed in “S-E-X” when I didn’t give him a real answer. So, I looked on the internet tonight of their definition on this topic and I will tell you it simply isn’t true. The pictures, the information, the crap that is out there doesn’t display a healthy relationship or patterns I would want my son, myself, or you to emulate. It’s not my version of sex. And let me date myself, when I was growing up there was no internet so the most scandalous thing I had access to was a Judy Bloom book or watching Madonna’s video “Like a Virgin” on MTV (check it out), but that was sixth grade.

A slight T-R-A-N-S-I-T-I-O-N… When you Google “Greek Life,” there are so many positive sites from national, international, and local chapters and universities who echo and display positive pictures and messaging around this experience. But, when you keep looking there is a lot of crap that comes up, such as stuff about boys in basements learning to become “men,” or alcohol being thrown on you at fraternity parties, or half-dressed women giving their bodies away.

So, it makes me question where do you get your information to learn what is acceptable or not acceptable behavior as fraternity men and sorority women?

You don’t learn about sex or what it means to be a true sorority woman or fraternity man by watching abnormal information on the internet. But that is our go-to… that is how we access information. So, when someone interested in joining a sorority/fraternity goes to the internet, what should they believe? The nice websites which depict values of scholarship, leadership, service, sisterhood, and brotherhood? Or the sites that depict us as people who smoke pot, do lines of coke, harm each other, drink too much, have casual sex with multiple partners, and a place where we have no regard for each other? I am not sure some days which version is winning.

MARRIAGE AND INITIATION…OH SO SIMILAR

The wedding ceremony and sorority/fraternity initiation has some similarities.

Here is what I learned about marriage from Jenna McCarthy from her hilarious Ted Talk on marriage and the benefits: Every year in the U.S. alone, 2,077,000 couples make a legal decision to spend the rest of their lives together and not have sex with anyone else. Detailed pacts are made – pacts that would rival Panhellenic recruitment – and they will stand before God and family and make a vow to honor and cherish through weight gain, financial loss, happy and sad times. Half of these people will be divorced within the decade. Why do half of these unions work? What do the folks do right and what can we learn from them?

Research suggests the happiest couples are the ones that focus on the positive. Married couples are healthier physically and emotionally, and have more sex than single friends. They live longer. It has value.

Take a look at this TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jenna_mccarthy_what_you_don_t_know_about_marriage?language=en

Currently, there are about 750,000 undergraduate members in 12,000 chapters across the U.S. and Canada that have chosen to make a vow to their fraternity/sorority to spend the rest of their lives together committed to the principles. Detailed pacts are made and young men and women stand in robes, in front of alumni/alumnae and sisters/brothers and make a vow for lifetime to live by a certain set of values for better or for worse.

Research suggests membership fosters lifelong friendship, being a member increases retention at your university and – the good news – we graduate at higher rates than non-members. It has value.

I wonder if the marriage rates apply to us…do you think 50% of our members check out within a decade? If this is true, I wonder why?

THE DILEMMA

“Sisterhood and Brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” Maya Angelou, Alpha Kappa Alpha

Our biggest marketing tools are the simple words – BROTHERHOOD and SISTERHOOD. We say it on the internet, in our videos, publications, on flyers, and through social media. We all recruit and say these two uncomplicated words. Google it, you get 499,000 results. We tell the world that this thing called “sorority” and “fraternity” is not just friendship. It’s not just about belonging, going to meetings, wearing letters, or going to parties. It’s about being part of a FAMILY. We basically say, you want “friendship,” then go to the residence hall, BUT we provide something MORE… we will be your BROTHERS/SISTERS. It’s likely the two words we most agree on as sorority/fraternity members.

As a 25-year member of AOII, a 14-year employee of Pi Kappa Phi, as a mom and as a human, let me tell you at its core what I think brotherhood and sisterhood is.

  • It means we will treat ALL members as a family member.
  • It means we will treat ALL members with dignity and respect.
  • It means we will try and keep each other safe.
  • It means we might fight, argue, and disagree because we are family. It won’t always be perfect.
  • It means we will treat new members with all of the above because – through our marketing efforts – we have told them such. We will be true to our word.
  • It means if we are selling the “family” concept, you become a family member once we invite you to join not after we harm, hurt, or abuse you so you “earn it.”
  • It means the phrase “It’s not my business” plays no role in the organization because we take a VOW to be each other’s business.

Relationships aren’t easy but that is how we distinguish ourselves from the myriad of clubs and organizations on college campuses. We say we are BETTER and OFFER more because we will treat you as a FAMILY MEMBER.

The sad part is if you compare some of the headlines this fall around sororities/fraternities, we have a dilemma. Almost a crisis. Here are some of the worst ones:  

  • “Jury Finds Tradition Is No Excuse for Brutal Hazing”
  • “4 fraternity members arrested in student’s death”
  • “College fraternities under fire for hazing deaths, offensive behavior”
  • “Police make frat house arrest in rape case”
  • “University Suspends Fraternity Activities After Death”

I have heard more than a dozen times (x 12, and add 1000), from undergraduate sorority/fraternity members that the media is out to get us. The media is NOT out to get us. Here is when the media pays attention and reports on us: when we accept new members through the rush/recruitment/intake process, and through conversations and marketing we sell the brotherhood/sisterhood model and then we don’t keep these people safe. We don’t treat them with dignity and respect. We simply FAIL as a family member through stupid tenants of “history,” “tradition,” or “it wasn’t my business.”

And maybe you are checked out during this part and grateful that your experience isn’t in line with those fall headlines, but when we say we are members of a community that means we are all a family. Are you doing your job as a family member – while it might not be your own organization – to speak up?

SO…WHAT’S YOUR “RELATIONSHIP STATUS?”

People like to know where they stand in a relationship. So much so, Facebook allows us to tell our “friends” our current status.

I hear many of the same status updates when I ask a fraternity man or sorority woman about their experience. All too often it falls in to the “I’m a pledge,” “I’m just a member,” or “I’m an officer” categories. But if you really had to think about your status with your organization, how you felt about the role you play, your relationship with others, how valued you feel, how much you put into the organization, what is your REAL status?

What if there was a drop down menu attached to your fraternity/sorority badge and you got show your relationship status with your fraternity/sorority? What would it say?

Here are some Facebook options:

  • Single
  • In a Relationship
  • Engaged
  • Married
  • In a civil union
  • In a domestic relationship
  • In an open relationship
  • It’s complicated
  • Separated
  • Divorced
  • Widowed

What if our options looked like this?

  • I’m A Proud Member (Giving my best here, trying to represent, I’m not perfect, but I am a grateful contributing member.)
  • I’m An Officer (I hate all of you right now b/c you are sucking the life out of me, or just do what I say because you elected me, OR I proudly represent?)
  • I’m Just a Pledge (You need me to drive you somewhere, or clean up your sh*t?)
  • I’m A Neo (I am just a Neo, I still have sand between my toes.)
  • I’m a Pledge Baby (I am a smart woman, but will act like a stupid girl and I need presents to be happy.)
  • I’m Trying to Get Out (Only ___ more dues payments before I am done.)
  • Friends with Benefits (Only participating for fun between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.)
  • I’m A Leader (I am true to my word, I volunteer, I have a good attitude, I try, my brothers/sisters ARE my business and I have no problem intervening.)

What is your relationship status? Think about it…

SO… WHAT IS COMMITTED S-E-X?

Sex isn’t something you do, it’s a place you enter with another person. It’s a language and not just a behavior. Committed sex is willful and intentional and present. It can be beautiful. I hope in time my son will understand that.

SO… WHAT IS COMMITTED S-O-R-O-R-I-T-Y and F-R-A-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y?

Being Greek isn’t something you do, it’s a place where you enter with other people. It’s a language and ritual, not just a social experience. Committed members are willful and intentional and present. It can be beautiful. I hope in time my son will understand that.

SO… LET ME S-P-E-L-L IT OUT

“An unshakeable self-esteem comes from an unshakeable commitment to your values.” Brian Tracy

I am not your moral God or compass. I have likely put some information in this article that many of you will disagree with. I am fine with that. Being in this “family” of sorority/fraternity means we all have different opinions and we can be OK with that. But, here is what I have learned in my 44 years. You can’t teach self-esteem. Despite numerous people trying to write modules or speak on this subject, self-esteem is an extension of self-worth. And at some point, self-worth is gained by making intentional choices each and every day and night that reflect the man or woman you want to be. You are going to mess up. That is being a human. But making intentional choices around alcohol, your body, your friends, how you treat others, how you allow others to treat you, if you choose to stay in bad friendships and relationships, if you choose to have S-E-X or not, where you spend your time ALL matter. It matters when you look in the mirror and really look at your heart and soul. And when you look in the mirror and don’t feel good, all I can tell you is to work on your relationship with yourself and the choices you are making. Think about the things you really value, those lessons from your ritual, and try to align your choices around that. Perhaps if you made different choices, you might smile a bit more in that mirror and recognize how truly amazing you are (or as amazing as your mom likely thinks you are).

A healthy relationship with yourself is ongoing, never-ending and can be beautiful. I hope in time you will understand that.

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”  Michael Jackson

 

By Dr. Lori Hart

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