Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I write this in the hope not of diminishing any other story, but strengthening all together the picture of Swarthmore’s fraternities. After all, what is life but a mosaic of individual moments together?
I suffer from what has recently been termed psychotic depression. What this means for me is that along with classic depressive symptoms, I frequently suffer from delusions and hallucinations. In high school I believed for almost an entire summer that I was actually dead. I frequently believe that no one can see me, that no one can touch me, that I am not real. There is nothing more terrifying than the conviction that you don’t exist.
My freshman year was hard. I spent most of it trying to punish myself for being worthless by treating myself like I was worthless. Other people started to treat me that way too. It was a dark world inside my head. But no matter how dark your world, there is always somewhere you can find light.
Listen: There was a night when I was completely lost. I couldn’t remember my own name. I was positive no one could see me, because there was nothing to see—
I was sitting on the floor in the corner of DU. It was after 3am. Nearly everyone had gone home. I was the poster-child for vulnerability in that moment. I would have done anything to get someone, anyone to touch me, to make me real. It would have been so easy to hurt me the way so many people have been hurt.
It was a Phi Psi member who found me and got help from the last stragglers downstairs. Picture it: a girl on the floor, four large men standing over her… And then a DU member crouched down, and asked me what was wrong. They listened. Every one. We were there for nearly an hour. The Du member told me his own shames, his own fears, made himself vulnerable, so that I would not be alone. The Phi Psi member told me I deserved better, deserved to be treated better, deserved to treat myself better (me, worthless me, I deserved better). And another DU member told me that I shouldn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thought, that I was a pretty cool girl, and I was welcome in his house, always safe in his house. And a third DU member walked me all the way back to ML so that I wouldn’t get hurt.
Perhaps it is shallow, perhaps it is stupid to imagine that a single experience can change your life, but I know this truth: four strangers saw me when I couldn’t be seen. And though it’s a small thing, perhaps, to spend an hour talking to a stranger about her pain and her fear, it has been a big thing to me. I will never forget it.
The world is full of small cruelties. I had no idea until that moment that it could be so full of small kindnesses.
In another world, I would have killed myself. I was so sure I wouldn’t be missed.
I do not mean to suggest that I owe my life to the fraternities, but I know that I owe it to four individual brothers. So it is, that more and more, I am starting to think that it is only individuality that matters. There are the individuals here, at Swarthmore, who have shaped this discussion in incredibly brave ways—Joyce, who stood up and questioned the status quo, Parker and Marian who shared such horribly painful stories for the sake of a genuine vision of frat life. And then, of course, we have the individuals, who, hiding behind the anonymity afforded by the Daily Gazette comments section, have taken the opportunity to viciously attack other commenters, forgetting that it is not a faceless post they attack, but an individual, with fears and desires like any other. In fact, if there is anything that came through as a central problem in both Parker and Marian’s editorials, it was the fact that the fraternities themselves seem to have forgotten that they are comprised of individuals. The fraternities have learned to be insular beasts, awkward creatures with many faces but only one voice, when they should be houses that contain many lives, many individual ideas and shames and truths and loves. The truth is, fraternity brothers are individuals. And the truth is that fraternity brothers need to hold one another accountable, as individuals. Individual generosities should be celebrated. Individual transgressions need to be noted and brought to light and punished. To the fraternity brothers, I say what a DU member said to me: “you deserve better.” Hold yourselves to a higher standard. Hold your brothers to a higher standard, because they deserve to bear the responsibility of being accountable to you, and to this campus, as individuals.
Op-ed submitted by Hannah Grunwald ’14