I learned this weekend you can take the girl out of the sorority, but you can’t take the sorority out of the girl
I’ve been out of the college life a long time now. Sixteen years of marriage. Four children. Lots of jobs. Those years of pins and letters and secret handshakes are not even full memories, just whispers of a younger, more slender woman. My brain filled with car pool schedules, grocery lists and parent-teacher conferences doesn’t have time to reminisce about late night studying, big sis/little sis parties and quiet floor policies. It’s of a different world. A different life. A different me.
I’d heard Saturday morning about the shooter at the UCSB campus and beautiful town of Santa Barbara. The story caught my husband’s attention, in part because of the horrific nature and “Not again!” internal cry. But also because of our Santa Barbara connection, a place where both my sisters-in-law attended school (Westmont College) and where Derek and I honeymooned. We could picture the California ocean town with its pier and bars and shuddered at the horror of a lovely Friday night gone wrong. As parents we grieved. Because now we grieve when anyone’s child is hurt.
But Sunday the story expanded for me as we learned about the sorority house where the gunman banged on the door for a minute, no one answered, so he turned and shot three girls on the front lawn. The YouTube videos where he named this particular group of college girls and his determination for blood shed there. A bad horror movie plot with a real-life Hollywood connected killer.
And again the location is what caught my attention: the Alpha Phi house.
Sorority means sisterhood. And I felt the sisterhood Sunday despite the years and life I’ve lived since I’ve been an active sorority girl. The tudor house on Warner St. in Tacoma, WA flashed in my mind. Where a hundred of us crammed into our basement meeting room on Monday nights to attend to chapter business. Where living with a bunch of girls had drama, but also true acceptance. It was a safe place in lots of ways making its mention in context of this news story that much more shocking.
My sorority experience didn’t mirror the stereotypes. I can say with complete assurance that I always felt supported by my “sisters” in a developmental time when doubts were more plentiful than self-confidence. I still credit my sorority experience to preparing me for the small talk required to be a grown-up (where else do you learn tricks on how to remember people’s names?) and the ability to participate in and run a meeting when I entered the workforce. But I also had a connection to the past, a history of women who attended college long before it was the norm who came together to support each other. None of those were reasons I joined Alpha Phi as a college freshman, but we often gain unexpected benefits in unplanned places.
And now a mother of four girls I’ve found myself wondering if sorority life is really what I want for them. I don’t know. I automatically default to those stereotypes of mean girls and college craziness that now makes me feel a full-blown prude and old. But I do know I want sisterhood for them. In friendships and in motherhood and in the workforce and in church. All places where I’ve found it.
What surprised me Sunday is the allegiance I felt to these college girls who certainly are living a different life than I. Who aren’t thinking about mortgage payments and retirement plans. Who Friday afternoon were likely thinking summer internships and returning home to a few months of mom and dad’s rules. I grieve that they now have to think about blood stained sidewalks and potential copycat aggressors.
I grieve because I’m in the sisterhood of motherhood, where I see every person now as someone’s child. I grieve because I’m in the sisterhood of Jesus following women who pray to the Prince of Peace.
And I grieve because I’m in the sisterhood of the ivy and lily of the valley, of Alpha Phi, and I stand Union Hand in Hand.
AOE dear sisters.