Monday, August 18, 2008

Iota Forever

This weekend I reconnected with my sorority. For some people, my being in one may not fit who they think I am. I can understand that. At the time, I wasn't expecting to fit one either. I went to a small college with a minority population of about 10% at the time. We're talking about 300 of us out of 3,000. Of the traditional 4 black Greek sororities that make up the Super 8, only 2 were represented on my campus (Super 8 = the 4 sororities and 4 fraternities that somehow are expected to fit the personalities of the millions of young blacks who may be interested in such an organization. The white groups, on the contrary, are numerous, as it should be. ) I wasn't close enough to another, larger school to even look into the other two sororities that weren't on my campus. I wasn't interested in the two sororities we had. I wasn't interested in joining a white sorority, which I could have done. I also wasn't interested in the nonsense that came with pledging one; i.e. hazing was the norm. I doubt it has gotten much better over the years.

Then one of the financial advisors asked to speak to me one day - I don't recall how she thought of me. Maybe it was my visibility on the campus. She told me about her sorority, Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. (emphasis on the Inc. please if you're going to say that out loud), and that she was looking to bring a chapter to our campus. She told me about their philosophies and the fact that they normally don't do undergrad chapters but they were looking to expand their membership base. She told me Iota was for business and professional women. She told they weren't part of the Super 8. (I then earned there are LOTS of us black Greeks out there who aren't part of the Super 8.)

Claudia Logan - that was her name - was the type of woman I liked personally so I listened to her and I considered what she said. I met the other girls she had spoken to and we all had one thing in common - none of us were the sorority type. We liked that, though the irony of joining a group because we DID fit in wasn't lost on us. We liked the focus on professionalism that the group had. We were of similar minds and behaviors, and agreed we liked what we heard - we especially liked being the pioneers for the organization on our campus - so we said yes.

We had fun together. We developed our own language. We worked hard to NOT be what we didn't like in other groups. We participated in a Step Show to show the other groups someone new was in town. We truly became sisters except now I only talk to one of them regularly and she keeps tabs on a couple of the others. But I know if we ever get back together again, it will be like no time has passed.

When I graduated and moved back home to Maryland, my focus was on getting a job and figuring out if I could move out on my own. It was tough. After a year, I'd resigned myself to living at home and being glad I could pay bills and save money. I had just started thinking about the rest of my life - possibly dating a guy I had met nearby, joining the local chapter of my sorority - when a full-time opportunity opened up in Connecticut and of course I had to take it because I didn't want to go to Texas where the other two newspaper opportunities were located because, well, let's just say, if I wanted to visit Mexico, it would have taken me all of 5 minutes to get there. Too deep for me.

When I moved here, I kept in touch with one of the sorors from the Maryland chapter I was considering. I learned that the nearest chapter was either a potentially 2-hour trip away in NY or 1 hour away in Hartford. I had just moved to this strange land and one hour seemed like a trip to the moon, despite the fact that I was driving 5 hours on the weekends to go home with no problem at all.

I wasn't interested in exploring beyond my new town and the surrounding ones just yet. In time, I branched out and expanded my horizon to include the neighboring states but I still wasn't ready to go to NY or Hartford for regular meetings of any kind. I was too lazy to do all that driving and soon too busy with a life and new family of my own. After fifteen years now in this state, and it is only now that I have an urge to reacquaint myself with the group I once loved.

So one Saturday I visited a meeting about 1 1/2 hours away at the house of one of the sorors in Hartford. I told them that I was interested in being reinstated but a monthly drive there would not be happening. Maybe every other month. They understood. We just had another meeting recently to discuss the upcoming regional conference which is being hosted by my new chapter and will conveniently be held in Hartford next year. Sitting there with these ladies, having nothing in common beyond our race, gender and Iota, I thought about a friend's recent discussion with her friend and the need to connect to other people. (My friend was on the pro side of this argument.) It's amazing how being in a sorority tears down at least one wall of suspicion and uncertainty we tend to put up when dealing with strangers, even when that stranger is of the same race as you. Sometimes that wall is at least partially torn down, however, when you are in a situation where there may only be a few of you of like same race. In that case, the fraternity is apparent once again.

The divisions I see now are between chapters but the rivalry is friendly and the feelings are mutual when you find yourself in the midst of women all donned in green (preferably kelly) and white. It was funny to listen as one soror spoke about wearing the apparel whenever we do community events - any event - in the name of Iota. She unbuttoned her jacket to reveal a shirt a new vendor had made. She turned around to show the turtle (our unofficial mascot which is all over the place so I don't know why it's not official yet) and the gasps and applause rose up. I was probably one of the youngest in the room. Some of the older ones were retired. But we were all on the same wavelength. I left there feeling glad I had found them again.

So now, as if I needed to add something else to my to-do list, I am back in the fold. I plan to work hard to keep my involvement on a level I can handle. If I had realized it was my chapter's turn to host the regional conference, I might have planned my re-entrance for another time. But then again, I never got the chance to do a lot of this stuff the first time around. Soror Logan died of lung cancer before we graduated. We were devastated and that made it difficult to stay plugged in like we needed to. But I bet you'd she'd be smiling a high-watt smile if she were here now. So happy she would be to know that the seed she planted was more deeply rooted than even I could have predicted. And I was glad too to know that the feeling wasn't superficial. Iota is still as relevant to my life today as I hoped it would be when I pledged 18 years ago, proving that choosing to join a sorority should not be something done frivolously. One should look beyond the pretty colors and popularity of the members to the meaning behind the organization, the fruit of the women who hail from there, and the possibility of what it can provide for you in the future. This is one family you can choose so why not choose someone of which you can be proud?

If you are in a sorority, feel free to show your pride. :-D

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