My Pi Phi Story

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the 70th Biennial Convention of Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women. I am overwhelmed with all the emotions I have. I am so honoured to be a part of this sisterhood. If you had told my high school self that I would join a sorority, I would have laughed. Growing up I didn’t have many great girl friends. Not that I had none, I had a handful of girls who were there by my side. Unfortunately, I also had lots of girls who called themselves my friends but spread rumours about me and didn’t treat the friendship with the honour and respect I think any friendship deserves. I mostly hung out with guys. I don’t say this because ‘guys are more chill’ or they are somehow better friends. I’m by no means a ‘guys girl’, I just had, and still have a lot of male friends. I sometimes joke that I feel like a female imposter, a sheep in wolves clothing if you will.

That being said, my experience in Pi Beta Phi has been one that I hold so close to my heart and that I will cherish my whole life. We talked a lot this weekend about how each of us is in the fraternity together, but how no two Pi Phi experiences are the same. I would like to take some time to share some of my favourite Pi Phi memories. I would also like to talk about some of the things I have learned from these women, not only this weekend but in the last 4 years.

I initiated in the Fall semester of 2011, it was my second year of university. My first year had been hard. On top of moving to a city, living on my own for the first time and starting university, I had also just gotten out of a 2 year, abusive relationship. I was really low on confidence though out that year. I still made friends, I still volunteered a little, but I hadn’t quite found my home away from home. One of my friends had joined a fraternity and I became close with many of its members. Because of this I was introduced to one of the Pi Phi’s. We had a class together and studied together, her I and my friend from Alpha Epsilon Pi. She told me about the philanthropic service, the sincere friendships and the personal and intellectual growth that the group had brought her. I decided that in the fall, I would go through rush.

At our school, recruitment is unlike most schools. Pi Beta Phi was the only sorority on campus while I was in school. They held parties at peoples houses and picked us up in front of cafe’s. I was only able to make it out to one recruitment party, but luckily for me, I got a bid any ways. The girl who drove me to my first recruitment party ended up being my president one of the years that I served on exec. One of the only members I talked to at that party later became my big sister.

My first semester was magical. On the big/little date I went on with my big we both had to check emails, we pulled out our laptops to realize we had the same case on the same computer, and were both wearing the same nail polish. We got on famously from the beginning. Later that week I was having a hard day, I saw her and she asked if I was okay. That question ended in me bawling my eyes out to her. Sensing how embarrassed I was to be crying in public she wrapped herself around me and hid my face while comforting me in a way only a big sis can. (I still am not sure how she managed to engulf me in that hug given she is a tiny human, but that’s half the magic of it.) All through big/little week I hoped we had chosen each other, turns out we were each others first choices. I’ll never forget at reveal hearing her voice read out family poem and knowing I had a mentor and friend for life.

In my first active semester I became VP Membership. This is unprecedented, but our chapter is small and we sometimes have trouble filling our exec. I interviewed for a different position, but was asked if I would be willing to be slated for the position. I didn’t think I was ready, but the current President and VPM saw something in me and gave me the honour of serving on exec for my first year. That semester I went to Atlanta for a Leadership Academy where I learned so much. I met Paula Sheppard (who is now Grand President, and was just elected to serve her second term.) I also met girls from the Ontario Alpha Chapter at the University of Toronto. The friendship I developed with Winnie turned into a friendship between two chapters. We now frequently make Chapter trips to the Toronto house for their philanthropies and to celebrate Founders Day together.

My first semester as VPM I also got my little. The very first recruitment party she showed up earlier than everyone else. We both had a feeling that we knew each other, turns out we had been University Ambassadors together and I had given a tour of campus that included her room earlier that year. I knew from that first party (as did my big and grand big) that she had to be my little. We have one of the most incredible big/little relationships I’ve ever seen. We were also each others first choices. We call each other non-romantic soulmates, know most if not all of each others deepest darkest secrets and have supported each other through so much. While I am supposed to be the mentor, I often feel like she has taught me more than I could ever teach her. She is so fiercely motivated, she has high expectations for everyone around her, and she is one of the funniest people I have ever met. I will never be able to explain how much she has taught me, and how much I have grown while being the best mentor I can be to her.

The next year I was planning on being a member at large, but my little wasn’t having any of it. She talked me into running for VP Communications, something I will always owe her for because it ended up being the best exec I served on. We lucked out that year, everyone was so well suited for their position, and such a good fit with each other. To this day I know that any woman who served on that exec I could call in an emergency and have as an ally. We accomplished so much that I can’t even begin to list. I couldn’t be more proud to have called those women my colleagues and to have taken part in the work we did.

That year was also an incredibly hard year for me. My family struggled with financial and health issues which took a huge toll on me. My VP Member Development found out about this and came to me with the Emma Harper Turner Grant application mostly filled out. All I had to do was fill out the remaining personal information and write a letter. My exec took care of the recommendations and the nomination and then we sent the application off. I will never forget hearing the news. I got a phone call from my mum who had received the letter, I asked her to open it and tell me over the phone. When she found out the news she was in tears (which she rarely ever is), we both wept over the phone. If I didn’t already have proof that these women would support me through anything, this was my sign. Never in my life have I been so grateful to women I had never met. All of the Pi Phi’s who worked so hard to raise money for the Foundation made it possible for me to go to school and keep my position as VPC. If I hadn’t received this grant I would have likely dropped out of school. At the Recognition Luncheon on Saturday all of the Grant recipients stood for recognition. It was everything I could do not to cry. There are no words to explain how grateful I am to have been blessed and honoured this way.

In my last year I wound up being co-senior transition officer with one of my favourite people. Scarlett and I had so much fun with the position. My graduating class was full of some of the most incredible women I have ever met. The Toronto Area Alumnae Club came to visit and did the Alumnae Initiation Ceremony with us. This allowed me to meet Jessica Riehm, her commitment to her chapter and now her alumnae club is amazing. I am so pleased to have gotten a chance to spend time with her this weekend, and can’t wait to make more memories with her as an alumnae. I repeated a line that my big had sent me via text over and over again that year. ‘I’m so happy to have you in my life now and forever.’

As if all these memories are not incredible enough. I recently found out that my great Aunt had also been a Pi Phi at Ontario Alpha, she initiated in 1952. After graduation my Mum and I were visiting with her. We talked a little about Pi Phi and we did the handshake. She’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which has made her more and more hesitant to travel and meet new people. She asked me if I would wan’t to wear her badge, as she doesn’t have much use for it (she wasn’t a very involved alumnae and pinning it on has become a hassle.) This year at convention I had the honour of wearing her pearl badge and dangle. They have her name, chapter and initiation date and number engraved on the back. I have added my dangles to it as well. It’s such an incredible feeling to wear a piece of history with her initiation year on the back, and now the ‘Reaching New Heights, Chicago 2015’ dangle to accompany it.

This weekend was magical, I couldn’t be happier that I attended convention for the first time in my first year as an alumnae. It reminded me that I have surrounded myself with people who see hard work as the norm. Some of the women honoured this weekend have such incredible stories and I can only imagine the stories that us young collegiate and recent alumnae will have by the time we have the experience they do. I was reminded of our purpose, our ability as a group, and the need to constantly reach for a new goal. I’m so excited to share in the initiatives we have, from Read>Lead>Achieve to Arrow in the Arctic to Critical Conversations (two literacy philanthropies and an education model aimed at alcohol awareness, enthusiastic consent models, being active as opposed to a bystander when it comes to sexual assault and making allies with fraternities and other men to stop the pandemic on our campuses.)

I know many people have false ideas about what sorority life means. I hope these memories go to show how untrue most of those stereotypes are. I am beyond proud to wear the arrow, beyond blessed to have my sisters and their support and most importantly, beyond excited to see what goals we can reach in the upcoming years.

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The Difference Between Boys and Men (Alternately: The Consensual Dick Pic)

The other evening I spent about half an hour or so up on my roof doing yoga and reading. I live in a small apartment that is the attic of an old house, so the roof is our only outdoor space. The building next to mine has kind of been built on top of it. This provides a nice flat roof that is ideal for yoga, reading, watching other peoples firework displays, and as I found out that night, getting unsolicited sexual advances. My building is two stories high, across the street there are a few taller apartment buildings with balconies. As I laid out my yoga mat on my roof, I caught the attention of three men, nay, boys drinking on their balcony.

Because I am a woman, I am therefore an inherently sexualized being in our society. This, over the years, has been grounds for a lot of attention. In the case of that evening, I was trying to have some me time. I don’t do yoga for anyone other than me. It is a space where I get to face my fears, strengthen myself against them and reflect on my life. Or at least so I thought. My choosing to do yoga on my roof made me a performer that evening. The boys on the balcony provided a running commentary. ‘This isn’t her first time at the rodeo!’ ‘Look at how flexible she is!’ ‘Stretch that ass baby.’ ‘She’s so sexy.’ ‘She can probably hear us’ ‘I’m 25 by the way! And I know my way around a woman’s body’ ‘We should go over there, which house does she even live in.’ Then when I switched to reading (a book of poetry) one of them quipped ‘I’m gonna tell myself she’s reading the Karma Sutra for the sake of my fantasies later.’ All of this was followed by a round of applause as I rolled up my mat to go back into my apartment. I ignored them, as I’ve been taught to. I know they want attention and they aren’t worthy of it if they’re going to act like that.

This kind of attention is all to familiar to many. It comes in many different forms. From cat calls and wolf whistles to being grabbed in a dark club to unsolicited dick pics on social media and online dating websites. As women we have been type cast as passive, helpless, emotional, needy beings who must be objectified. The only way we could be sexual is if someone found us attractive and made sure we knew it. What I know all to well, is that all of that is a load of bullshit. Last time I checked I had agency, I could be pursue those I was interested and as I did that evening, ignore those I who didn’t interest me in the slightest.

These stereotypes seep into our relationships. I couldn’t tell you how many boys I’ve fallen for who put their own desires on me as if I were a blank canvas. These relationships never work out well for me. They’re the kind of people who pursue you with no remorse, who try to manipulate you into being what they want, who push you into doing things that make you uncomfortable. On the other hand, I’ve had the pleasure lately of having quite the opposite experience. The men I have been dating lately give me agency, they ask me what I want, they tell me their desires and ask if I would be interested in partaking. Things like ‘Can I hug you?’ ‘Would you like me to walk you home?’ ‘Can I kiss you?’

One of my favourite stories as of late, is one I like to call ‘My First Consentual Dick Pic.’ Anyone who has ever received a dick pic before knows that most of the time, its unsolicited. Unless you’re sexting, and even then sometimes it pops up out of the blue. This particular case, was much different. One of the men in my life lives in another city so seeing him isn’t always easy. We were texting one evening, at first about life and art and things that thrill us. Then, as the conversation went on it slowly tiptoed back to the last time we had been together, from which the conversation got a little steamy. That’s when he asked ‘Do you want to see what you are doing to me?’ This man, in all his poetic glory, had asked me to consent to him sending me a picture of his penis. It was a revelation.

Over the years I have learned the patterns of what I do and do not like. I have been hurt by stereotypes bleeding into my relationships. I have been objectified by people who were supposed to love and care about me. I’ve been lucky enough lately to have some lovely gentlemen wander across my path. I may not have the code cracked just yet on how to never get hurt again. (If any of you reading this have, please let me in on your secret.) I have however, discovered one pattern that seems to lead you to good outcomes. Pay no mind to the boy who objectifies you, but instead give your attention the the man who recognizes your agency.

Luggage

I once spent a summer in the Rockie Mountains, working at a golf course and living 1000 ft up a mountain. You have to understand that packing for this was quite the endeavour. Being at that altitude from the end of April until the beginning of September provides for a lot of changes in weather. I had rubber boots, a heavy coat, work wear, formal wear, club wear, hiking gear and just about everything in between. I also had to pack sheets and towels and a number of other items. All of this was packed into a suitcase that was literally larger than myself.

On my way home, I had this suitcase as well as a couple of other bags. I spent a few days in Calgary before flying back. On the last day of my trip I decided that with all of this luggage, as well as a hat I had bought there, I was going to take public transit to the airport. I remember standing at a bus stop trying to juggle my phone that had the route on Google Map, the hat which kept blowing away, my purse, my oversized suitcase and two backpacks strapped to my back and my front. By the time I arrived at the airport I was nearly in tears. When the man at the baggage counter told me my suitcase was overweight I began to furiously unpack and repacking while sobbing at the same time.

What I’m getting at here, is that this final leg of my trip seemed to work rather well as a metaphor for my life up until that point. The truth is, we all have some kind of baggage at this age. Even if you’ve been through nothing you pick up some useless tidbit along the way. Whether it is a sensible backpack, a fashionable purse, a massive suitcase with broken wheels or broken hat boxes that holds nothing at all. We all have something that we carry around with us. It is the memory that tells us we are no good until someone says we are. It is the childhood bully, the difficult relationship with a family member, the first time you fail a test or the first heartbreak. The truth is, none of us really know what we are doing. We are all young and inexperienced, making mistakes like taking public transit to the airport and not getting rid of that extra suitcase.

I’ve learned you only have two hands, one heart and a finite amount of patience. You have to learn to carry your baggage with some iota of grace, or leave some of it behind so you can get on that plane.