By Amanda Saper
When I became President of my sorority they told me a lot of things. They said,
“Leading 200 women takes a very special person”
“This will look great on your résumé”
“Empower your girls”
“I expected nothing less from you”
“They are so lucky to have you”
And this was exciting. This was thrilling. Truthfully, you have to be kind of crazy and yet, kind of wildly passionate to agree to lead 200 college-aged women at a large public university.
They told me about the logistics: The papers, the meetings, the interviews.
I attended conferences. I wrote letters. I became an administrative queen. I argued on behalf of us. It's exhilarating. I am learning critical skills on how to be a leader and how to represent my organization. They told me all this would happen. I knew about the strength of sorority women and the power of a chapter president.
But there were things they didn’t tell me.
There were things that live in the corners of dark rooms.
One week in. It was late on a Friday night and a girl showed up knocking furiously at my door. When I opened it, I remember her being kind of frozen until she collapsed on my floor. She didn’t have to say it.
This was the first time that I was confronted with the idea that I would be dealing with sexual assault as a sorority president.
I did what I knew to do. I called the right numbers, said the right things. But her eyes were somewhere else and I had to wonder if a phone call would ever be enough.
I let it go. Because she asked me to. Because it is difficult to report. Because I thought this would be a rarity. Because she wanted to forget, so I thought I had to too.
But weeks went by and another girl showed up at my door. The same knock.
“No I don’t want to report it”
“He is my friend”
“We social there too often”
Two days later, another girl came with the same steady knock. Ending in the same way, asking me to forget.
There were days when their knuckles against the wood of my door felt steadier than their muted voices, as they rushed through stories with missing pieces.
Sisterhood. Was this what they were talking about? Trying to piece them back together, a kind of quiet struggle only we knew. They didn’t want justice; they wanted a friend. So I kept their monsters with me.
The knocking never stopped.
They didn’t tell me about this part; the part that I couldn’t put on my résumé, the part that had nothing to do with a strong public speaking voice, or a well-written email.
I see him sometimes. I see all of them actually. I watch them and I wonder why they never told me about this part. About knowing people’s pain, but not being able to do anything about it. There is nothing empowering in this part. About seeing them at crowded parties and having to smile. But they seem okay, so I think that I have to be too. Because after all, it wasn’t even me it happened to, it wasn’t even my story.
But that’s the issue here; It is is my story, It is everyone’s story.
Being in a sorority is about taking care of each other. And we do take care of each other. We pick each other back up and try to make sense of a messy world. But the mess keeps getting larger and there is silence where there should be words. I am in desperate search of those words.
They told me being president was about empowering women. And some days, it is. But these people’s monsters have become my own, and there must be more that I can do than carry the weight of it with them.
Being president of my sorority is the greatest thing I have known, but I am told to empower women in a rigged system where there are silent heroes. Heroes that do not know they are heroes. Heroes that think it is their fault because sorority women are sluts, and we are stupid, and we did this to ourselves.
Sometimes I wonder when I will be next. Whose door will I knock on? And how far must this go on until we run out of doors?