Monday, March 3, 2014

“……….because I belong.”

I meet quite a lot of sorority women and fraternity men. On average, I meet more than 500 men and women every year who have chosen to take fairly serious vows and provide a public expression of their commitments. They are first generation college students, 50-year members, legacies, “never joiners,” “Type A’s,” outside-the-box rebels, new leaders, old souls, new members, alumnae legends, “I used to be a DGs,” “been to 40 Conventions…”, etc. I’m struck by one essential truth when I meet these fine women and men. We are as diverse as stars in the sky. We find meaning in different things. But we all wear a badge, don’t we? At one time, we all have worn a badge. We belong to a “tribe” of sorts, a clan of people who have a shared experience. Our tribe is massive. We don’t have much to set us apart publicly, so our icons, our totems and symbols? They mean the world.

Take your chapter. Quintuple it. Add your alma mater. Quadruple that. Then add more than 225 years, and millions of people. That’s who fraternity women and men are. We are diverse and we cannot be easily defined, so we look to our rituals, our relationships, and those connective outward expressions like letters and badges to bond us together. I can spot at 60 paces a new member pin or a fraternity badge. There is nothing so heartwarming as a smartly dressed member with a badge placed appropriately on their heart. That lady or gentleman gets bonus points with me if they are not passively pressured or actively mandated to wear that badge with the rest of their new member class or peer group. If that person demonstrates authentic personal choice to wear that symbol, they are already elevated in my mind. If you are over 22 and still proudly wearing your badge? We’re probably going to be best friends. Something about that particular type of member almost always shows me, “They get it.” On some level, in some way, they are proud of what they are participating in. They still believe in fraternity. 

Even in the midst of hopeful belief and commitment, fraternities struggle. Part of our struggle is rooted in the fact that organizations have been trying, so hard, for so long, to articulate and demonstrate the MEANING in our membership. People have visuals of us that aren’t that pretty. We don’t have control over our symbols anymore. Are you defined by a paddle? A red solo cup? Your badge can’t trump a bad incident, but your behavior, supported by that badge, absolutely can. Icons like a badge can’t explain why we still haze and disregard human dignity. Our badges can’t cover up incidents that make us look insensitive, elitist, dangerous, callous or foolish. We are called to present public and significant meaning to our membership in the midst of a bit of a cultural mess. I don’t need to identify what kind of horrendous issues we’re dealing with as members of a fraternity. You know what they are.

So here we are. Millions of people. Looking for meaning. In the midst of a bit of a mess. In the midst of life’s messes, you have to be able to find people who believe what you believe. Who value what you value. It is no accident that we wear glittering reminders of who we champion and what we believe. Our badges create a clear beacon to safety in numbers and some understanding of our shared core values.

I did not receive my badge when I was initiated. Only a few new initiates in my chapter did. My chapter was focused on the friendships, and we weren’t always so task oriented, and we didn’t get our order in. You know how things sometimes happen in a chapter. The moment was missed. The first time I put my badge on, honestly, was at Delta Gamma’s Executive Offices. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. It was a meaningful moment and I was starting my consultant experience (so I really needed a badge), but it was my moment, and I was afraid to share what it meant to me. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh! I’ve never worn our badge before!” It sounds so ridiculous now to keep that moment to myself! Those women would have embraced the moment with me. I know now that those dear sisters would have understood.
Our beautiful anchor badge sometimes seems to weigh a thousand pounds. It’s not something I ever really can take off or put away. Even when I’m not wearing it, I’m wearing it. It speaks volumes, but sits silently on my left side. Wearing our badge carries the weight of our Founders dreams, our members hopes, living and dead. It carries the commitment of women who need for our organization to be meaningful, who earnestly work to make us better. Wearing the Delta Gamma badge means that I’m connected to women who are my heroes. My mentors. I’m reminded that our experience is reliant upon outward demonstrations of belief. I’m reminded that my badge connects me to women I will never meet. My badge makes me an advocate. It ties me to a promise. It makes me a teacher. It makes me a leader. I can be anything because of that badge. And so can you. Our Delta Gamma anchor badge is magical if you let it be.
The only piece of jewelry that transcends that incredibly powerful golden anchor is my beautiful wedding ring. I received both my ring and a small fraternity sweetheart badge from my husband. Both are treasured and so, so lovely. Both demonstrate David’s faith in me and in our family bond. But our Delta Gamma badge? It was conferred to me by more than 175,000 women. I was entrusted with that badge by strangers. When that badge was provided to me, I was reminded, in a whispered and subtle way, in the words of our Founders, “Cori, you belong here. You belong with us.”

Even now, something extraordinary happens when I put on my Delta Gamma badge. I’m reminded that I belong. I belong to you, and to this Fraternity, and to what we believe. My Delta Gamma experience is publicly affirmed because I wear the badge. My sisters are easily spotted. And I belong. And so do you. 

In an age of political and social tension, divisive discussion, class distinction, activism against systems that oppress, I wear this badge as a sign that our inclusive values transcend the divides that our culture can impose. I wear this badge as an outward sign of my pride in who we are, and where we are going. I wear it to explain how our experience is meaningful, and how the power of our experience can transcend a diverse membership and diverse interests. I wear it to show other women that they too can belong to something powerful. 

We’re not alone when we wear our golden anchor. I’ve seen the Sigma Sigma Sigma triangle greet me at church, and I’ve noticed the Alpha Kappa Alpha ivy leaf badge at a Junior League meeting. If I meet a member of Beta Theta Pi, wearing his single diamond on the field of black, or an Alpha Xi Delta, with her beautiful quill, I know, like they hopefully know, that we’ve both signed up for something big. We are searching for meaning together.  Access to that meaning in our membership is yours to find and discover for yourself. Please wear your golden anchor badge during your search for meaning, throughout your life. You might find sisters when you need support, or a partner in hope and optimism. Beacons of hope should be easy to find in this life filled with chaos and change and challenges. Look for other women wearing our Delta Gamma badge. And your badge? If it is long lost or hasn’t seen the sunshine in a while? Please, find it, pull it out on a special occasion, and put it back on. I invite you to participate in International Badge Day, in the hopes that you’ll rediscover your own personal sense of belonging. We’re all in this together. Let’s make it easy to spot who’s in “our tribe” with the beautiful, immutable symbols of our Founders.

Cori Gilbert Wallace, Delta Omega-William Woods, Vice President: Communications

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