Being gay at Amherst isn’t as easy as one might expect, even if you come to this school already secure in your sexual orientation

When I came to Amherst, I was lost. I wasn’t on a varsity sports team, and had no interest in playing on any club teams. My first semester at Amherst was miserable. There were student athletes all around me (almost 40% of the student body identifies as such), pre-gaming with their respective teams, mixing and meeting groups of people that I would’ve loved the chance to meet. I was lonely and isolated, and I felt like I had zero social capital in the Amherst scene. And I’m a social person! I love meeting new people, from a variety of different social groups, and I was not getting that opportunity. When I applied to Amherst early decision, I had no idea that my social life would be like this. By the end of my first semester, I had decided that I wanted to apply to transfer. But second semester I started pledging DKE, and that was when I truly began to feel like Amherst could be a good home for me. I was part of incredibly diverse pledge class; one that proportionally represented the diverse racial, socioeconomic, and sexual identities that Amherst prides itself on. DKE and Chi Psi aren’t the bastions of white, heterosexual male privilege that some have mischaracterized them as. In fact, a majority of Chi Psi members identify as students of color, and both DKE and Chi Psi are need-blind, just like Amherst. If you can’t pay your dues, we’ll find a way to make things work.

As an openly gay man, I am hard pressed to find a group of people on this campus where I feel more comfortable with my sexuality than I am with my DKE brothers. Being gay at Amherst isn’t as easy as one might expect, even if you come to this school already secure in your sexual orientation. I was the president of my high school’s Queer Student Alliance, but even with our school’s wonderful queer community, I still didn’t feel comfortable. Having a network of people who I know accept me for who I am, regardless of the gender I love, has been essential to my mental well being. The suites that have DKE brothers living in them are some of the only places in the socials I would feel safe even just bringing a boyfriend, let alone dancing with him.

I ended up submitting my transfer application, and was accepted into Columbia’s class of 2016. But before I’d even heard back from the schools I’d applied to, I knew that I wasn’t going to transfer, and that Amherst was truly a place where I could thrive academically and be happy socially. When the trustees make this woefully misinformed decision to ban student fraternity membership, they are destroying an incredibly important and diverse aspect of a social scene that is dominated by athletic teams, teams that have essentially taken the place in the Amherst social scene that fraternities used to occupy before 1984. From a legal standpoint, this may appear to be a “responsible” decision, but from a mental health one, the opposite is true. According to the most recent campus-wide health survey, 76% of Amherst students reported feeling “very lonely” within the last year. This is 20 points higher than the national average for college students. More than a third of respondents identified as having felt “so depressed it was difficult to function”. When the trustees eliminate fraternities, they’re destroying some of the only social support systems a substantial number of non-athletes have. My brother is an incoming member of the class of 2018, and I know he’ll be fine, because I’m going to take care of him. But what about the other members of his class? Students exactly like my little brother, except with no one already in the social scene to help them make the transition?  These students haven’t even stepped foot onto the campus yet, and I’m already worried about their Amherst social experience. I love Amherst. But I don’t want to just attend a prestigious academic institution; I also want to be at a place where I feel comfortable in the social scene. I’m not sure an Amherst College without fraternities (or at least an already robust social support network for students, especially non-athletes) is that place.

-Anonymous ’16

I Am A DKE

This piece was originally written for The Amherst Student. It was written from my own perspective as a member of the Sigma (Amherst College) Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. It is not intended to be a broad defense of Greek life in America or even other chapters of my fraternity. It speaks only to my experience with my DKE brothers and to their role in my life.

I haven’t told most of my extended family or anyone in my hometown the status of my sexuality. I hope they don’t discover this article, as most of those people are wildly uninformed. But if they do, so be it.

“Frat Life ≠ Student Voice
This protest is not about ‘student rights’
This kind of crowd does not gather when survivor’s voices are institutionally swept under the rug.”

Posters with these accusations were placed outside of Val on Wednesday. The phrase “this kind of crowd” troubled me throughout the day. This was the first visible rebuttal that I had seen to my efforts to encourage Amherst’s student body to reconsider the Trustees’ prohibition of fraternities the day before. It wasn’t the nature of the posters’ generalization that bothered me so greatly, but rather that the claim was simply false. In contrast to that miserable stereotype, my fellow fraternity members have been the most accepting, supportive and empathetic people I have known, even — especially — with regard to sexuality and survival. I am telling my story because I know this to be true.

I am a DKE. The person who introduced me to my fraternity is a survivor of sexual assault. With the full permission of this individual, hereon referred to by the pseudonym “Julian,” I am sharing how our organization provided us the network of personal and emotional support that we both needed.

During my second semester at Amherst, my parents separated. A common occurrence in America, of course, but it was the first of many obstacles I encountered in my four years at Amherst. This coincided with my pledge process in the spring of 2010. I had known Julian since the third day of school, and I first sought out his advice because he was a good friend, a senior and a former president of DKE. I comfortably told him my feelings of confusion, anger, self-doubt and hatred — textbook reactions to such an experience — and he in kind offered his story of survival, which I had never heard before. We sat with wet eyes in his room, experiencing one of those “heart to heart” moments that show the immense human capacity for compassion. In telling me his story, Julian demonstrated how the fraternity became his principal support network. I learned then that men like these could someday fill that same role in my life.

Yesterday, knowing both his survivor story and how active he had been on campus as a Peer Advocate, I sent Julian a picture of the poster at our protest. He in turn forwarded me an email he had recently sent to President Martin in response to the Trustees’ decision.

The email, entitled “I’m not a Rapist,” reads:

“President Martin,

The Trustees decision to institute a ban on membership in fraternities is an attempt by your administration to distract from the recently announced federal investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases, and to discount the college’s ownership in dealing with the serious problem of sexual assault on campus by shifting blame to a small group of students.

Framing the decision within the context of the sexual misconduct oversight committee findings is unfounded and offensive. I’m a survivor of a rape and sexual assault from my freshman year on campus. My case, one of the first to make it to the Committee on Discipline, was mishandled and deeply flawed. DKE, the organization you’ve decided to associate with sexual assault, was the only group that supported my recovery. As a result, I was able to help others on campus heal from the wounds of sexual assault. I counseled many students (fraternity members and others) on sexual respect and tolerance. The fraternity was our forum to address issues men felt uncomfortable discussing elsewhere.

I’m not a rapist, so don’t associate me and the organization who helped me recover with one.”

Julian was a victim of Amherst College’s failure to act, and his story adds to the rapidly growing list of sexual assault cases that the administration has botched. While I am loathe to potentially drag a dear friend’s painful memory into the public eye, I feel (and Julian agrees) that it furthers the ongoing dialogue surrounding sexual misconduct at Amherst in a way too valuable to ignore. It’s been almost two cycles of students since Julian’s assault, which, like countless others, was swept under the rug and largely forgotten. When Julian left, DKE lost our strongest voice ON campus. In his absence, common generalizations of fraternity life in American colleges have seeped in to fill the void. But his legacy isn’t gone — I think about what Julian taught me about being a good human with every incoming class of freshmen.

That is the critical issue at the center of this debate. Because much of what we do is secret, it is understandable that a large portion of the Amherst population, student and faculty alike, are in one way or another misinformed.

The second time my fraternity propped me up was in the summer of 2011, when my father was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. He was a damn fine man, a lover of life and my best friend. We lost him the following year, and it was a point of my life that I still have problems reliving, even at this very moment as I write. Yet, the brothers of my fraternity were there for me every step of the way. They consistently requested every single surgery update, test result and progress report throughout my father’s fight. I spent countless evenings crying, divulging personal experiences and rambling in circles with my brothers — more so than with my own family or even my therapist. Regardless of the time or workload, I could rely on any of them to come over for a drink and just listen. In an organization such as this, it is truly indescribable the ways in which I have been given support I was unable to receive elsewhere. My brothers were there for me in a way my other friend groups — a cappella, club sports teams and other campus organizations — were not. I tell you this in an attempt to explain what I see as the immense value of brotherhood.

I lost my father while I was abroad in 2012. The notes, messages and even one hand-written letter (from a class of ’72 DKE alumnus) warmed my heart. Their demonstration of support from a distance carried me through that time. The greatest show of love came during the funeral, when a large, beautiful vase of white roses arrived with the note “With Deepest Sympathy and Respect, The Brothers of the Sigma Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon.” This gesture of love moved my own mother to tears, as she fully understood that DKE gave me another home away from the one she and my father created.

Recently, I embraced the fact that I am either gay or bisexual. (Sexuality is profoundly confusing). I would not have been able to come “out of the closet” without these people who have become my brothers. Growing up in a very conservative area, I smothered my desires in an effort to avoid humiliation and shame. My actions, sayings, gestures and general appearance were carefully manicured throughout my whole life to avoid the possibility of being labeled or identified as a homosexual. I was legitimately planning on spending the rest of my life with a well-disguised secret. This reality did not change when I arrived at Amherst. Although the Queer Resource Center provides terrific support, it was unable to fulfill my emotional needs. Yet, DKE was once again able to make up for this void. My fraternity provided a well-timed solution in addressing my fears. Two semesters ago, we pledged our first openly gay man and a close fraternity brother came out to me. For the first time, with their support, I felt comfortable enough to confront my feelings. Given time I was able to accept my true identity and share it with the fraternity, the campus and eventually my immediate family. My experiences in a fraternity have wholeheartedly defined who I am as an individual, even instilling in me the confidence to write and publish this article regardless of its personal content.

The Amherst experience is unique, but it can be powerfully alienating. When that occurs, fraternities and the bonds they build can serve as a crucial support system for many young men who would otherwise lack a shoulder to lean on. In an effort to realize a more open, accepting, egalitarian and diverse campus, the college has banned a group that truly embodies that vision — the very thing that they are trying to promote. By removing these support systems, the college will inevitably make a negative impact on the lives of incoming students who could greatly benefit, as I have, from a fraternity-like institution. These fraternities are not the bastions of white, heterosexual male privilege that some have mischaracterized them as being. I’m a gay minority male who was recruited by a survivor, and I am a DKE.

-Carlos Bello ’14E

Their support and love gave me an outlet to express myself to my friends, not some counselor to whom I would not relate. Since then my grades have improved drastically, I am happy for the first time in my life, and I know that my future will have certainty.

Joining Delta Kappa Epsilon was the most profound decision I have ever made in my life.

 

I suffer from a form of social anxiety that makes it nearly impossible to make and maintain friendships because of an innate fear of rejection. I was able to make surface-level friendships with several kids in my year, but I felt there was no environment conducive to deeper emotional bonds. Every club I joined was just a club, nothing more.

 

DKE is a brotherhood in the truest sense of the word. My brothers helped me through every step of my Amherst career and I surely would have transferred without them. My social anxiety manifested itself in the form of suicidal depression my sophomore year, and my brothers saved me from it. Their support and love gave me an outlet to express myself to my friends, not some counselor to whom I would not relate. Since then my grades have improved drastically, I am happy for the first time in my life, and I know that my future will have certainty. That certainty is that I will go the rest of my life hand in hand with my brothers, which is better than going alone.

- Anonymous ’14

In all honesty, I did not have the slightest idea that the individuals I was meeting were in a so-called “underground” fraternity and yet I kept seeking them out because they had shown me so much warmth.

There is something to be said about the creation of families. I grew up in a disjointed household. My father, in whatever state of mind he was when he divorced from my mother, took virtually all material aspects of my life. Our house, our car, our medical coverage, all sequentially cut off and yet my mother remained focused on one thing: the family that we had become. As I went through middle school and high school, I learned that family is not exclusive to genetic connectedness but instead a designation of loyalty and of trust and of love. I consider my closest friends from high school to be my family and as I looked for colleges I made a point of only even applying to liberal arts schools because I wanted to increase the size of my family by making meaningful connections with my peers within the academic context.

 

In high school I played multiple varsity sports, participated in various chamber music groups, was the Chief Justice of my student body government, and had friends in all other walks of student life. On campus at Amherst, however, the stratification of student groups became imminently apparent as time went on. My good friends became more distant as they were drawn to make sports or similar commitments and I feared that the family I had hoped to find here would be lost.

 

At this low, I found Delta Kappa Epsilon. In all honesty, I did not have the slightest idea that the individuals I was meeting were in a so-called “underground” fraternity and yet I kept seeking them out because they had shown me so much warmth. When I eventually asked myself whether or not I wanted to join DKE, I found an answer within myself that I contest to be a fundamental aspect of my life: I am alone at Amherst College. My mother cannot help me out here. My father never helped me anyways. The friends I had made are gone. I never had any siblings. Yet here I was with the opportunity to make brothers: to defy the stratification and forge relationships stronger than I could have ever asked for. The brothers of Delta Kappa Epsilon have given me everything at a time when I had nothing and asked only that I be a gentleman, a scholar, and a jolly good fellow in return.

-Anonymous ’17

In DKE I found a group that I knew would always have my back, regardless of if I made a fool of myself socially. It was a safety net to me.

In high school I suffered from what I would call crippling social anxiety. I was so afraid of being judged that I tried my best to just not interact with people. I had only 3 people I would consider to be my friends. The only reason I was friends with these people is because we all played our club sport together and were forced to interact. Eventually I grew comfortable enough around them to open up. But, they had their own friend groups outside of of my club sport. I had no social group. I was miserable.

 

I was only invited to one party in high school, late in my sophomore year. I wanted to go, but I was terrified that people there would judge me. I fell asleep that night cursing myself for not going. Most other nights I fell asleep going over the brief conversations I had with other people to see if I should have done or said anything different. I also did not eat lunch once in high school. I was afraid I wouldn’t have anyone to sit with, and worse than that I was afraid I would sit with someone I was friendly with who secretly didn’t like me. So I went to the library everyday and pretended to do work. I was so scared of judgment that I shut myself out of the world. I may have gone to high school, but I didn’t experience it, and I will always regret the time that I wasted.

 

I kept on hearing from relatives that “college is the best 4 years of your life.” After 2 months at Amherst, I didn’t see how that was true. My social experience hadn’t been much better than high school, because no one was willing to embrace such a socially awkward kid. Thankfully college got better, and I attribute this almost entirely to DKE. The brothers in DKE welcomed me with open arms whenever I saw them, whether sitting at Val for a meal or out at night on the weekends. In DKE I found a group that I knew would always have my back, regardless of if I made a fool of myself socially. It was a safety net tome. I realized that all those other people might judge me, might not want to be my friend if I do something embarrassing, but not DKE. Slowly I have begun to come out of my shell and I love it. Now when people say, “College is the best 4 years of your life” I actually believe that they could be right. I am finally able to be myself, and I have DKE to thank for that.

-Anonymous `16

DKE provides social opportunities and a support system for men on this campus who don’t have other options.

My first semester at Amherst was the most miserable time in my entire life. I was lonelier than I had ever been. I’m not an athlete and when I got to school I had nothing; no social life, no community, no support system. I became deeply depressed. The college did an abysmally terrible job of supporting me. No one spotted the clear warning signs and in November I tried to kill myself. I spent some days in a psychiatric ward of a hospital and some more at home in New York. I came back to campus at the urging of a few guys who I barely knew but who believed in me, who believed that I could be happy at Amherst. These guys went on to be my pledge brothers and now my fraternity brothers. The rest of the semester was hard. I still felt alone, lost, and without a community. I signed my DKE bid and hoped for the best.

Like any one else with depression I have my ups and downs. I came into second semester after weeks at home with my friends, as part of a community, feeling good. Pledging started soon afterwards and throughout it all unity was stressed above everything else. I didn’t buy into it much. I thought about dropping a lot. Eventually I got low again. The same lonely despondency that almost killed me in the fall had crept back into my head. I started to pack my bags, planning on heading home and get help.

Then DKE intervened. No one judged me. No one demanded an explanation. They just refused to let me leave. Brothers and pledges came to me and supported me. They made me feel safe and wanted and loved in a way that I had never felt since coming to Amherst. I knew that I had to stay at Amherst and finish my semester because I could not imagine a reality where these guys weren’t my brothers. I needed DKE because I needed to honor the brotherhood I had formed. I needed DKE because I needed to be a part of a community. I needed DKE because I needed an outlet. I still do.

DKE provides social opportunities and a support system for men on this campus who don’t have other options. It provides role models and a place to call our own. Amherst has had 30 years to come up with an alternative and it has done nothing. There is no good alternative at a school as small, divided, and stratified as Amherst. The two weeks since initiation have been the best I’ve had at Amherst and there’s nothing a Board of Trustees or school administration can do to change that. I am proud to be a Deke today and I’ll be proud to be a Deke on July 2nd because of the profound impact DKE has made on my life.

-Anonymous ’17

Joining DKE has been the single greatest asset to my mental health since I arrived at this college.

I am a male from the class of 2016, and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. I have struggled with self-esteem issues my entire life. I have struggled to define myself as a person, especially after transitioning from an all-male high school to the diverse environment of Amherst College. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for the past four years, and have seriously considered the option of suicide at several points. I am an emotionally fragile and introverted person, and I have been my whole life. Before college, I never had a social group that wholly accepted me. My time spent with high school varsity teams was emotionally traumatizing. The coach verbally berated us on a daily basis, and some of my classmates followed his lead and did the same. This continual problem lead me to quit the team in the spring of my junior year. I chose to attend Amherst because, as I understood, the smaller student body would provide an environment where I could craft a strong support group among my peers, some of whom might even be the athletes I once vilified in high school.

After arriving at Amherst, I met many people and made a lot of friends, but the relationships I had during Orientation gradually fizzled out as each person settled into different lives on campus. I tried playing my high school sport again, and although the first few practices were incredibly stressful, but it proved to be a great experience while it lasted. We bonded as a team and had weekly social events, but our club season ended in November. From that point on, no matter how hard I tried, I simply didn’t have a social life at Amherst. I am not a social butterfly; I have to make a concerted effort to overcome my stress and anxiety in unfamiliar social situation. On weekends, I would wander from party to party in search of, well, something. Adults always told me, “College is the best time of your life!” so I searched all over the campus to find it. I went to Frisbee parties in Jenkins, Glee Club mixers in Tyler, baseball parties in Pond, and swim team events in Crossett. Every time, I returned to my dorm room angry and frustrated with myself, because no matter how hard I tried to fit in to these groups, people still viewed me with mute apprehension or even sheer hostility. By the end of my freshman year, I had become despondent over my future at this college, and had become deeply cynical about my own future.

Joining DKE has been the single greatest asset to my mental health since I arrived at this college. When I first became involved in DKE this year, my day-to-day life at Amherst immediately changed. People who I had never met before started noticing me, acting in a much friendlier manner in casual interactions. I started meeting all kinds of interesting new people from all walks of life, hearing stories about people from Singapore to Ethiopia. Those interactions may not seem like much, but when I have the weight of the world on my back they help me refocus and keep an optimistic outlook. The structure of the fraternity has helped ensure my emotional stability, in that I constantly interact with people who know my limits and embrace them as part of my identity. I have been on the brink of an emotional breakdown several times during this past semester, but my fraternity brothers pulled me back from the precipice every time, and I have done the same for them. The abolishment of fraternities will prevent future students from engaging in this organization, one of the most powerful support groups on campus that has helped me gain control of my life and get a handle on my future. I only hope that those students are better prepared for this environment than I was.

-Anonymous ’16