The Fraternity Party That Made Sense of My Mess

“What’s your affiliation?” 

“I’m sorry what?”

“…What sorority were you in?”

My first day at the national sorority and fraternity advisor conference was off to an undesirable start. 

“Oh! Umm. Alpha Xi Delta…?” 

“Awesome!!!! I love that sorority! I was really big in my fraternity in college.” 

I already felt like a dang poser, and then this guy had to open that can of worms.

“Well. I was in it for a few months… I didn’t really find that true sisterhood. I didn’t feel like I belonged. But… all my best friends loved their sororities! Even the ones in Alpha Xi! I love Greeks! Woo!”

Good, Emily. Making friends already. I left that conversation defeated. What the heck was I doing? Why did UNL hire me to advise the Panhellenic Council (the 9 women in charge of uniting the 16 Panhellenic sororities)? I don’t know what I’m doing. And why was I studying Student Affairs? And where the heck does Jesus fit into all of this?! 

Have you ever felt like everything you knew and everything you loved was no longer in reach and getting back to any of it was completely out of your control? That’s been my first semester of grad school. I came in more confident than I’d ever been in my whole life. I knew who I was and what I was about. And while that hasn’t changed, it didn’t erase the fact that I’m an imperfect, broken human with flaws and pain points. 

But I was supposed to be perfect by now! I was supposed to finally have it all together. And gosh darn it, I thought I did. And then I was challenged by a lot of new people with new ideas and new passions. A few who came at me with new eyes and have done an amazing job at loving the wounds I had become blind to. And they’ve loved them in a way that’s painfully healing. I think transitions involve this beautiful suffering that sounds heroic on paper and in the movies and even in the life of our Lord, but when you let yourself truly experience it, it’s something different. We usually see the beauty after the suffering is over. After we’ve found our happy ending. But the Christian life calls us to see beauty in the midst of our mess.

“The experience of the beautiful has received new depth and new realism. The One who is the Beauty itself let himself be slapped in the face, spat upon, crowned with thorns; the Shroud of Turin can help us imagine this in a realistic way. However, in his Face that is so disfigured, there appears the genuine, extreme beauty: the beauty of love that goes "to the very end"; for this reason, it is revealed as greater than falsehood and violence.”

-Cardinal Ratzinger

I haven’t experienced beauty in this way in a very long time. I actually think I’ve been obsessed with trying to achieve the exact opposite of what is explained in the quote above. Recently, I’ve wanted cute Instagram pics and comfortable conversation topics and all feelings at the exact opposite spectrum of pain, loneliness, and discomfort. But who would we be without these emotions? Who would we be without this void? Well, we wouldn’t need anyone but ourselves. Community? Friendship? Sisterhood? A loving Father in Heaven? We wouldn’t need any of them. Is there beauty in a life that is perfect and easy? I think beauty would probably still exist. But it wouldn’t be the kind that last’s till the end. It wouldn’t be the kind that sacrifices or gives or endures. 

This new stage and these new people are leading me back to this very profound and simple truth. That to be real, love, as Mother Teresa so beautifully put, must cost. It must hurt, it must empty us of self. 

They are all leading me right back to the Lord, whether they know it or not. They are leading me to His mercy, something I thought I’d already tapped out. Something I honestly thought I didn’t need anymore. Because I’m fine. I’M FINE. What a joke of a word. 

On the last day of the conference I threw my previously planned schedule out the window. I saw a class called “The Sacred, Spiritual, Secret of Sorority and Fraternity Success”. BOOM. You’re dang speaking my language! And off I went.

The class ended up being one of the most beneficial hours of my entire semester. Matt, the speaker, sat us all down in a circle, turned the lights off, put candles in the middle, and proclaimed the space sacred. I didn’t know where things were going… but what the heck, at that point I was up for anything. We were asked to reflect upon our fraternity and sorority experiences. Once again, I went back to my freshman year and I kept asking God why that happened. Why didn’t I stay? Why was I here now? What was He doing? 

Matt, began to explain why he was there. He spoke about a night in his fraternity when all the guys went to a cabin for a weekend. They were there for a fun time, but before any beer was opened, they were led to the loft of the cabin. They sat in a circle with a candle in the middle and they just started talking. At first, they made jokes and goofed around, and then one guy dropped his metaphorical “bro mask” and was vulnerable. He shared where he was struggling, and he spoke about the bigger questions in life he was wrestling with. In what turned out to be a three hour conversation, one by one, these boys started to allow themselves to become men. They started being real with themselves and with each other. Matt said he would never forget that night. That night they were in it for something bigger than themselves

And there it was. That was it. That’s why I was there. That’s why I’m in student affairs and that’s why I’m in Greek life. That’s the opportunity I didn’t get my freshman year and the opportunity I want to facilitate with the women currently in sororities at UNL. I want to gather them together, give them a home, and talk about the bigger questions. What IS friendship? What IS sisterhood? What IS beauty?

And here we are. Full circle. All these hard things I’m learning, and all the growing pain I’m feeling, all of this is why I’m in this field. I’m writing this blog as part of an assignment called the “What We Do” project in my Introduction to Student Affairs class. As you may have guessed, I was supposed to find a creative way to explain what we do. And honestly, my class is crazy diverse! We all do such different things, from Outdoor Adventure, to Animal Science Advising, to Greek life. But something that is true for all of us is that to work in student affairs, is to love the whole person. It’s about getting into the uncomfortable stuff that students are carrying and finding the beauty there. It’s about the bigger questions and the growing pains. It’s about the cross and the resurrection. It’s about the process, not the product. 

It’s about embracing the messes in all of our lives and having hope for the future. 

Emily Martinez