I’m barefoot in a meeting room sitting across three senior girls who intimidate me beyond belief. I don’t know their formal titles, but they each hold an important position on the Panhellenic board. I’m a PNM - potential new member - who was exiting my last house on the second day of rush when one of these young women asked me to come with her. “Am I in trouble?” I remember asking as we made our way there. “No,” she told me, “but your Rho Gamma reported something...we’ll talk about it more when we get there.” My stomach sinks and I think I know what’s going on. His face pops up in my mind, and I wonder if I’ll have to give his name - or worse, his fraternity. As we make our way into Schine, I envision myself being known as the freshman who got a vulnerable guy in trouble or a frat kicked off campus because she’s a prude.
I guess I’m going to start off my saying that he was objectively hot. This is sort of a flex, but more so because so often we think of guys who coerce girls as ugly and desperate - and therefore, feel a fucked up type of pity for them because they “felt like they had no other options”. But that’s not true - plenty of boys and men who do awful things are hot, charming, eligible bachelors - not that being ugly is any excuse, of course, but it is certainly a way we attempt to rationalize irrational behavior. We talk about incels who hate women because they can’t get women, but we don’t talk about slimy hot guys because we can’t understand why they’re slimy when they can just...be hot.
Anyway, it was my first semester at Syracuse and I was taking an Arts & Sciences class based around reading and analyzing fiction. It was in the Hall of Languages, where the building itself intimidated me but the classrooms looked just like the ones I’d had in high school. I sat in the front of the room so I didn’t have a great view of everyone in the class, but I remember noticing him one day in early October. Damn. I would want to turn my head to look at him but would constantly pussy out because there is literally nothing subtle about that. And I was a freshman who didn’t know anyone, so I couldn’t really insta-stalk or ask anyone, like, “do you know a hot guy with dark hair in my English class?”
One day after our recitation, I was walking out of the building when he stopped me and asked me for my name. I was so nervous. I told him and he introduced himself. He was calm and confident, which made me even more nervous. He asked what year I was, and I told him I was a freshman. He told me he was a junior. He said we should study together sometime, and asked me for my number. Then he said he better get back to his house. “Oh, you have a house?” I asked. Looking back I cringe at this. Literally so embarrassing. “My frat house,” he said with a laugh, “I’m in ___”. “Oh, cool,” I said, before we awkwardly exchanged goodbyes and walked in different directions. I had never heard of his fraternity before, nor did I know much about fraternities in general besides that my friends from my floor and I would hop between some of them at night. I’d go along with minimal knowledge as to where I was, taking in the new and weird atmosphere of a frat party.
I asked my friends if they knew of the frat he told me he was in, and while some didn’t know, some got excited. They told me some interesting things: the frat was “top tier,” the guys are cool, and the guys are dicks - details which are apparently not at all contradictory. They said it was a compliment that he asked me to study, and we went back and forth for a bit on whether he was flirting or not (I am awful at taking hints). They warned me, though: hooking up with a frat guy, especially one in a frat that sorority girls like, could get you blacklisted from sororities.
I don’t remember the exact details of what happened next, but he texted me to initiate a study session in Bird. I was surprised he wasn’t making an actual move, but happy to have someone to study with nevertheless. We sat across from each other as we reviewed readings and important quotes from class. He was cold and distant, and I didn’t really know how to act as I didn’t know him at all. I asked him if he was okay and he assured me that he was just tired, but seemed to get sadder the longer we studied. When I asked him again if he was sure he was okay, he confided in me that he faced the loss of a close family member just a week before. I said that I was sorry, and he said it was okay and that he didn't want to talk about it. I told him that if he needed anything I was there, and he thanked me before gesturing to our textbook. We continued studying.
We studied together another time and it was a little more comfortable. He asked if I was rushing, and I told him probably but that I wasn’t set on it. He told me there was a sorority he thinks I’d fit perfectly in, and that his little brother (in his frat, not biological) is dating a girl in it. He said he’d give her my number and that we should get lunch or something, and that he’d put in a good word. I was a little more tense knowing he had the power to dictate which sorority I was in, at least to an extent. I went along with it, though, even though a part of me felt like it might be against the rules.
We started to Snapchat and he started to flirt with me a bit. I was pretty excited. Sometimes he’d invite me to his frat at night, and I’d say I couldn’t go there because I didn’t want to walk alone in the dark, and/or that I felt weird going to a frat house full of older boys alone - both which were true. He’d usually flirt a little more and nothing would come of it. Once, I replied to his invite by inviting him to my dorm. He asked if I was kidding and then told me no, that it would be so weird and that it’s been too long a time since he’d been in a dorm. I cheekily typed that it was his loss. We kept flirting, and he continued to invite me over late at night, to which I’d either not reply, reject, or tell him to come to my dorm, which was usually met with a condescending response about my being a freshman.
We continued this cycle into winter break. I liked the attention anyway, and hoped that when we got back he’d make a move in a normal way. We’d flirt and chat a bit, nothing too deep. When I went on vacation, I’d send him pictures of me in my bikinis. One of those days, we got into a conversation about rush. I didn’t ask, but he said he’d put in a good word for me at the sorority his little brother’s girlfriend was in. I guess he changed his mind after that. He typed, “Actually I won’t because you never came to see me at ___. I’ll tell all my friends at ___, ___, ___, ___, and ___ that you’re a weirdo.” My stomach dropped. Not just one sorority, but five sororities I’ll be blacklisted from - if not yet, then definitely if I didn’t go see him when I got back to school. I wasn’t sure if he was messing with me. He had to be...right? But I figured that if he was joking around and I screenshotted it, he’d say he was just joking around and to delete it. And if he wasn’t, well...I screenshotted it. “Lol not kidding,” he added. Okay. So he wasn’t kidding, I guess. Some sort of adrenaline rush triggered me to respond, “thank u,” with several exclamation points, a bold move I honestly would probably never have had the audacity to do had I not been shaking. “Screenshot the not kidding too,” he adds, seemingly angry. So I do.
Going through rush was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done. I spent so much of high school trying to find myself and be authentic and it felt like two-minute conversations were completely flattening me back into “what” I was instead of “who”. But that’s a story for another time. I was terrified going into the houses that he threatened to tell that I was weird, as I hadn’t seen him when I got back to school to make up for not going to his house before break. I went back and forth about what to do about the threat, constantly telling myself I was just being dramatic. But part of me shut off when I walked into the houses I thought he’d gotten me blacklisted from - why would anyone want someone that their friend warned was a weirdo? I was completely unable to relax and be myself, and I wondered if the girl I was speaking to was the friend he told.
Did I, in turn, purposely choose houses that he didn’t include on his list of houses he included in the Snaptext? Maybe. I don’t know. I ask myself that still, because I’m not really sure, but I definitely thought differently about these houses thinking that that was how they choose who they want and who they don’t.
I tried to casually bring up the incident to my Rho Gamma because it was really eating me up inside. I was like, “Um, what do you do if, hypothetically, a boy says he’ll tell a bunch of sororities you’re weird if you don’t go to hook up with him...or because you didn’t go to hook up with him...or something like that?” Not something that was taken lightly, nor should it have been. “Did that really happen?” she asked. I wasn’t really sure what to say so I attempted to change the subject, but it was already out there. And before I knew it, a Panhel board member was walking me to a meeting room in Schine to discuss what the fuck I was talking about with other important people.
Sitting at that table was so weird. They let me take off my shoes because the snow had seeped through my cute shoes and my feet were sopping wet. They asked me how rush was going and I told them well, and we chatted for a bit before they told me that the Rho Gamma had reported what happened. Part of me was angry that this was being made into such a big deal, even though in the back of my mind I knew it sort of was. They kept asking more details and I was so intimidated and scared of getting him in trouble, or in trouble myself, that I froze up. The girl on the right kept tapping away at her laptop - taking notes, I assume. I kept asking them if his fraternity would get “kicked off campus” or if he would get in trouble, and they kept telling me that it wasn’t my fault and that he did it to himself. I knew he did, but I also thought about how much stress he must have been under given his recent loss and didn’t quite understand that grieving does not permit coercion. But as much as I was thinking about him, I was also thinking about myself: I didn’t want to be known as the girl who messed up the life of a perfectly good guy. I refused to give his name, but agreed to give the name of his fraternity if they promised not to get them in trouble. The women assured me that they would just tell their executive board that they needed to have a meeting about how to treat girls - especially freshmen - as a chapter. So I gave the name of his frat.
They asked if I had any proof of the incident, which I did - Bitmoji and all. I turned my phone to them when one hand, covering every time his name was printed with the fingers on my other. I think they were shocked at how straight-up it was - he literally said exactly what I told them he had, no sugar coating or anything. One of the girls had a difficult time seeing the phone with his name showing. I asked her to promise me that she will not write down the name or hold it against the person shown, and she promised. When I moved my finger to reveal the name, it was clear she knew him. “My favorite,” she groaned with an eye roll. I wondered what her history with him was.
Meanwhile, I’d been Snapchatting a boy for a few days when he told me that he was in ___ - coincidentally, the same frat as the guy we’ve been talking about. I told him that he seemed nice, but that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue the conversation because I had a bad experience with his frat. He asked me what happened, and without revealing the name, I pretty much told him everything, all the way up to that they will probably have a meeting about it within the next few days. He apologized that that happened and tried to be super understanding, and promised that if I told him who it was he would not make any waves. I told him who it was and he told me he was in his year, but he didn’t doubt me.
Later that night, he told me his whole fraternity had a meeting about avoiding making girls uncomfortable, particularly younger girls. He told me the guy had been on his phone and wasn’t paying attention, and asked for my permission to relay his name to their president. I protested but he said he wanted to make sure he didn’t do the same thing to any other girls, so, finally, I agreed.
It was the morning of bid day and my hand was shaking as I blinked on mascara in my poorly-lit dorm room mirror. I was overthinking things that sound so stupid looking back, but were such a big deal at the time: Would I get a bid to the house I want? Would they like me there? Who else would be in it? Would my friends get the houses they want? My phone screen lit up, and covering my spring semester schedule was a text notification. “Hi,” it reads, “I want to clear up that I didn’t and would never say anything bad about you to a sorority…” The text is long, so I look away for a second to prepare for either a threat or an apology, because it really could go either way. “I think you’re really great and hope you get into wherever you want to! I’m sorry if you thought I was being serious I think you’re a great girl and hope for the best.” Phew. No threat of being dropped from the houses I “preffed”, nor anything about his fraternity hating me. A good apology, even, besides the gaslighting, but fine.
I’m a junior now, and looking back on this makes me realize how vulnerable I was. I was so intimidated by our age gap, by his fraternity, by the way I thought he could dictate my reputation among sororities. I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but I didn’t want it to become an accusatory thing, and quite honestly, I didn’t want to relive every detail. Now that he’s graduated, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure freshmen girls know that this type of behavior is never okay. I, like so many 18-year-old girls, came to school ready to adjust to whatever the new normal of college was, and was ready to accept this behavior because I thought it was just what guys did. But being older than you, in a fraternity, or having alleged power over your reputation should not give anyone the power to pressure you into anything. I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could confide in or ask for advice on the situation - and going to Panhellenic or the school felt overly dramatic. But it is so essential not to let behavior like this slide. Hold your friends - especially your “guy friends” - accountable, hold your fraternity brothers and sorority sisters accountable, and hold yourself accountable.