This piece was written from my own perspective as a member of the Sigma (Amherst College) Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. It is not intended to be a broad defense of Greek life in America or even other chapters of my fraternity. It speaks only to my experience with my DKE brothers and to their role in my life.
I haven’t told most of my extended family or anyone in my hometown the status of my sexuality. I hope they don’t discover this article, as most of those people are wildly uninformed. But if they do, so be it.
“Frat Life ≠ Student Voice
This protest is not about ‘student rights’
This kind of crowd does not gather when survivor’s voices are institutionally swept under the rug.”
Posters with these accusations were placed outside of Val on Wednesday. The phrase “this kind of crowd” troubled me throughout the day. This was the first visible rebuttal that I had seen to my efforts to encourage Amherst’s student body to reconsider the Trustees’ prohibition of fraternities the day before. It wasn’t the nature of the posters’ generalization that bothered me so greatly, but rather that the claim was simply false. In contrast to that miserable stereotype, my fellow fraternity members have been the most accepting, supportive and empathetic people I have known, even — especially — with regard to sexuality and survival. I am telling my story because I know this to be true.
I am a DKE. The person who introduced me to my fraternity is a survivor of sexual assault. With the full permission of this individual, hereon referred to by the pseudonym “Julian,” I am sharing how our organization provided us the network of personal and emotional support that we both needed.
During my second semester at Amherst, my parents separated. A common occurrence in America, of course, but it was the first of many obstacles I encountered in my four years at Amherst. This coincided with my pledge process in the spring of 2010. I had known Julian since the third day of school, and I first sought out his advice because he was a good friend, a senior and a former president of DKE. I comfortably told him my feelings of confusion, anger, self-doubt and hatred — textbook reactions to such an experience — and he in kind offered his story of survival, which I had never heard before. We sat with wet eyes in his room, experiencing one of those “heart to heart” moments that show the immense human capacity for compassion. In telling me his story, Julian demonstrated how the fraternity became his principal support network. I learned then that men like these could someday fill that same role in my life.
Yesterday, knowing both his survivor story and how active he had been on campus as a Peer Advocate, I sent Julian a picture of the poster at our protest. He in turn forwarded me an email he had recently sent to President Martin in response to the Trustees’ decision.
The email, entitled “I’m not a Rapist,” reads:
The Trustees decision to institute a ban on membership in fraternities is an attempt by your administration to distract from the recently announced federal investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases, and to discount the college’s ownership in dealing with the serious problem of sexual assault on campus by shifting blame to a small group of students.
Framing the decision within the context of the sexual misconduct oversight committee findings is unfounded and offensive. I’m a survivor of a rape and sexual assault from my freshman year on campus. My case, one of the first to make it to the Committee on Discipline, was mishandled and deeply flawed. DKE, the organization you’ve decided to associate with sexual assault, was the only group that supported my recovery. As a result, I was able to help others on campus heal from the wounds of sexual assault. I counseled many students (fraternity members and others) on sexual respect and tolerance. The fraternity was our forum to address issues men felt uncomfortable discussing elsewhere.
I’m not a rapist, so don’t associate me and the organization who helped me recover with one.”
Julian was a victim of Amherst College’s failure to act, and his story adds to the rapidly growing list of sexual assault cases that the administration has botched. While I am loathe to potentially drag a dear friend’s painful memory into the public eye, I feel (and Julian agrees) that it furthers the ongoing dialogue surrounding sexual misconduct at Amherst in a way too valuable to ignore. It’s been almost two cycles of students since Julian’s assault, which, like countless others, was swept under the rug and largely forgotten. When Julian left, DKE lost our strongest voice ON campus. In his absence, common generalizations of fraternity life in American colleges have seeped in to fill the void. But his legacy isn’t gone — I think about what Julian taught me about being a good human with every incoming class of freshmen.
That is the critical issue at the center of this debate. Because much of what we do is secret, it is understandable that a large portion of the Amherst population, student and faculty alike, are in one way or another misinformed.
The second time my fraternity propped me up was in the summer of 2011, when my father was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. He was a damn fine man, a lover of life and my best friend. We lost him the following year, and it was a point of my life that I still have problems reliving, even at this very moment as I write. Yet, the brothers of my fraternity were there for me every step of the way. They consistently requested every single surgery update, test result and progress report throughout my father’s fight. I spent countless evenings crying, divulging personal experiences and rambling in circles with my brothers — more so than with my own family or even my therapist. Regardless of the time or workload, I could rely on any of them to come over for a drink and just listen. In an organization such as this, it is truly indescribable the ways in which I have been given support I was unable to receive elsewhere. My brothers were there for me in a way my other friend groups — a cappella, club sports teams and other campus organizations — were not. I tell you this in an attempt to explain what I see as the immense value of brotherhood.
I lost my father while I was abroad in 2012. The notes, messages and even one hand-written letter (from a class of ’72 DKE alumnus) warmed my heart. Their demonstration of support from a distance carried me through that time. The greatest show of love came during the funeral, when a large, beautiful vase of white roses arrived with the note “With Deepest Sympathy and Respect, The Brothers of the Sigma Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon.” This gesture of love moved my own mother to tears, as she fully understood that DKE gave me another home away from the one she and my father created.
Recently, I embraced the fact that I am either gay or bisexual. (Sexuality is profoundly confusing). I would not have been able to come “out of the closet” without these people who have become my brothers. Growing up in a very conservative area, I smothered my desires in an effort to avoid humiliation and shame. My actions, sayings, gestures and general appearance were carefully manicured throughout my whole life to avoid the possibility of being labeled or identified as a homosexual. I was legitimately planning on spending the rest of my life with a well-disguised secret. This reality did not change when I arrived at Amherst. Although the Queer Resource Center provides terrific support, it was unable to fulfill my emotional needs. Yet, DKE was once again able to make up for this void. My fraternity provided a well-timed solution in addressing my fears. Two semesters ago, we pledged our first openly gay man and a close fraternity brother came out to me. For the first time, with their support, I felt comfortable enough to confront my feelings. Given time I was able to accept my true identity and share it with the fraternity, the campus and eventually my immediate family. My experiences in a fraternity have wholeheartedly defined who I am as an individual, even instilling in me the confidence to write and publish this article regardless of its personal content.
The Amherst experience is unique, but it can be powerfully alienating. When that occurs, fraternities and the bonds they build can serve as a crucial support system for many young men who would otherwise lack a shoulder to lean on. In an effort to realize a more open, accepting, egalitarian and diverse campus, the college has banned a group that truly embodies that vision — the very thing that they are trying to promote. By removing these support systems, the college will inevitably make a negative impact on the lives of incoming students who could greatly benefit, as I have, from a fraternity-like institution. These fraternities are not the bastions of white, heterosexual male privilege that some have mischaracterized them as being. I’m a gay minority male who was recruited by a survivor, and I am a DKE.