By Abby Ford
One of the best life mottoes I learned from my sorority sisters is that, “it costs zero dollars to be a decent human.” It costs us absolutely nothing to be kind to others, and kindness is something that I wished showed up in our daily sorority lives a little more.
For context, I have spent much of this year traveling to teach sorority women how to be successful in recruitment. I love this work. Almost every program I deliver is wonderful, but if I’m being vulnerable — as I teach women to be — I need to be honest that I’ve had some moments this past semester when I’ve felt defeated… when I’ve felt lost… when I’ve felt hurt.
I can tell you, one of the worst experiences to encounter is standing in front of room full of women as the invited educator for their day… standing there passionately and authentically sharing pieces of your life with these sorority women, in their home… trying to help them in any ways that you can… only to have a large section of the audience make it completely obvious that they are talking negatively about you in their GroupMe and group messages.
I can think of one scenario in particular when a group of women was making it clear that I was being pointed at, laughed at, and clearly being made fun of in their group chats.
That experience was so terrible, that I made the choice to stand up for myself. As much as it would have been easier to just put my head down and keep doing my talk, I made a choice to acknowledge the disrespectful behavior, and politely exit the situation that was too toxic to even continue engaging in. I believed (and still believe) that was the most important educational decision I could have made in that moment.
Many would likely tell me to not let those kinds of things get to me, and believe me, I tried. But, it also frustrated me so much that it made me truly think about the way sorority women treat one another. Being a guest for just a day in a chapter or community and feeling the unkindness and disrespect I experienced that day infuriated me. It hurt to think about how the women I was working with probably treated each other on a day-to-day basis (not to mention how they might make PNMs feel). Far too often do we as sorority women preach empowering each other, only to then tear each other down behind closed doors (or within the dangerous anonymity of a cell phone screen). Because of this, far too often are we standing in our own way of truly experiencing the power of sorority.
When I think about why women’s organizations were founded in the first place, I always think about how they were the safe havens that women had on college campuses where they weren’t truly welcomed. Their time spent together was to help each other with academics, having a space to practice their speeches out loud (because they weren’t allowed to speak in their classes), and actually building bonds of sisterhood through fostering environments where fierce female relationships could thrive.
Part of why I left some experiences within the past few months feeling defeated is because I got to a place where I felt we were all disappointing our Founders. We have cultivated an experience that is too focused on being the trendiest chapter, the hottest chapter, or the chapter everyone wants to hang out with socially. Because of this, we have lost our way in truly supporting one another, regardless of the letters we wear.
I would love nothing more than for us to get back to the place in sorority where we actually do what we say. Where we actually recruit women to our chapters based on our values, actually partake in making our communities and world a better place through service and philanthropy, and actually build one another up through creating positive female relationships. I believe it starts with how we choose to treat any person we interact with at any given time. It extends beyond just our sorority experience, but rather, truly thinking about how we choose to engage with other humans on a daily basis.
It costs zero dollars to be a decent human. How do you add a little more kindness into this world?