Op-Ed: An Alternate Perspective

I write this in the hope not of diminishing any other story, but strengthening all together the picture of Swarthmore’s fraternities. After all, what is life but a mosaic of individual moments together?

I suffer from what has recently been termed psychotic depression. What this means for me is that along with classic depressive symptoms, I frequently suffer from delusions and hallucinations. In high school I believed for almost an entire summer that I was actually dead. I frequently believe that no one can see me, that no one can touch me, that I am not real. There is nothing more terrifying than the conviction that you don’t exist.

My freshman year was hard. I spent most of it trying to punish myself for being worthless by treating myself like I was worthless. Other people started to treat me that way too. It was a dark world inside my head. But no matter how dark your world, there is always somewhere you can find light.

Listen: There was a night when I was completely lost. I couldn’t remember my own name. I was positive no one could see me, because there was nothing to see—IwasemptyIwasworthlessIwasnothingyouarenothingyoudontevenhaveaname. I knew absolutely that I deserved to die. I wanted to die. I wanted to be the one to pull the trigger.

I was sitting on the floor in the corner of DU. It was after 3am. Nearly everyone had gone home. I was the poster-child for vulnerability in that moment. I would have done anything to get someone, anyone to touch me, to make me real. It would have been so easy to hurt me the way so many people have been hurt.

It was a Phi Psi member who found me and got help from the last stragglers downstairs. Picture it: a girl on the floor, four large men standing over her… And then a DU member crouched down, and asked me what was wrong. They listened. Every one. We were there for nearly an hour. The Du member told me his own shames, his own fears, made himself vulnerable, so that I would not be alone. The Phi Psi member told me I deserved better, deserved to be treated better, deserved to treat myself better (me, worthless me, I deserved better). And another DU member told me that I shouldn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thought, that I was a pretty cool girl, and I was welcome in his house, always safe in his house. And a third DU member walked me all the way back to ML so that I wouldn’t get hurt.

Perhaps it is shallow, perhaps it is stupid to imagine that a single experience can change your life, but I know this truth: four strangers saw me when I couldn’t be seen. And though it’s a small thing, perhaps, to spend an hour talking to a stranger about her pain and her fear, it has been a big thing to me. I will never forget it.

The world is full of small cruelties. I had no idea until that moment that it could be so full of small kindnesses.

In another world, I would have killed myself. I was so sure I wouldn’t be missed.

I do not mean to suggest that I owe my life to the fraternities, but I know that I owe it to four individual brothers. So it is, that more and more, I am starting to think that it is only individuality that matters. There are the individuals here, at Swarthmore, who have shaped this discussion in incredibly brave ways—Joyce, who stood up and questioned the status quo, Parker and Marian who shared such horribly painful stories for the sake of a genuine vision of frat life. And then, of course, we have the individuals, who, hiding behind the anonymity afforded by the Daily Gazette comments section, have taken the opportunity to viciously attack other commenters, forgetting that it is not a faceless post they attack, but an individual, with fears and desires like any other. In fact, if there is anything that came through as a central problem in both Parker and Marian’s editorials, it was the fact that the fraternities themselves seem to have forgotten that they are comprised of individuals. The fraternities have learned to be insular beasts, awkward creatures with many faces but only one voice, when they should be houses that contain many lives, many individual ideas and shames and truths and loves. The truth is, fraternity brothers are individuals. And the truth is that fraternity brothers need to hold one another accountable, as individuals. Individual generosities should be celebrated. Individual transgressions need to be noted and brought to light and punished. To the fraternity brothers, I say what a DU member said to me: “you deserve better.” Hold yourselves to a higher standard. Hold your brothers to a higher standard, because they deserve to bear the responsibility of being accountable to you, and to this campus, as individuals.

Op-ed submitted by Hannah Grunwald ’14


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0 comments

  1. 0
    An Admirer says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is a brave and remarkable thing how well you articulated your story and the wise message that “After all, what is life but a mosaic of individual moments together?” Like you, I’ve had defining moments with people at this school, both when I was the one who needed help, and when I was the one giving help.

    How we conduct ourselves individually shouldn’t be influenced by our affiliations. But the groups we are affiliated with have the potential to be determined by the actions and attitudes of strong individuals. Groups have the power use their influence for good. Like you, I’ve had experiences where I was vulnerable, and brothers from DU and Phi Psi went above and beyond. I think if the kind of individuals we’ve both encountered at the frats infuse their kindness and generosity of spirit into the personality of the organizations as wholes, the fraternities can and will use their influence for widespread good on campus.

  2. 0
    Ana '13 says:

    Once again I’m struck by the willingness of my classmates to share so much of themselves and open up their hearts and lives to enhance our collective perspective. You’re loved, Hannah.

  3. 0
    Emma S says:

    First of all, I love you Hannah — you are an AMAZING human being, and I knew this to be true from the first time we met almost four years ago at Ride the Tide. It usually takes me a long while to trust a person, but something about you resonated — kind and just outgoing enough not to scare me into shyness, beautiful, honest, full of enthusiasm for our shared new adventure that was Swarthmore. You were brave and open in our discussions, as well as a great listener. Knowing you’d be here, too, became another reason for me to look forward to the Fall. I will make sure to tell you truths more often in person.

    Secondly, incredibly meaningful, substantial, well written Op-Ed. This is what the current discussion on Greek life needs to be about to — NOT juvenile-ly slandering the well-thought-out contriebutions of others, nor going on a crusade of tying everything about Greek life here on campus into one positive or negitive definition. You have something significant to bring to the conversation and bravely put it out there with your signature.

    Personally, I like to partake of the free alcohol provided by the frats from time to time, and to occasionally spend some time inside the Houses with friends if the other parties on campus aren’t quite to our liking. My one interaction with brothers inside the House, aside from the ones relegated to drink-duty, was when I (bravely?) came over to Phi Si from Olde Club during a show to use the restroom early one Saturday night. It was their alumni weekend, and a rather motley and intoxicated group of alums politely invited me inside and insisted on guarding the bathroom door while I peed — they wanted to make sure no riffraff tried to walk in and take advantage of my ‘compromised’ state? In any case, they drunkenly insisted on being my protectors, stayed back from the door far enough so that when I walked out they were not too close for comfort, and then kindly wished me a pleasant evening. I did not need their protection and found the whole situation rather ridiculous, but looking back it was kinda sweet and I certainly wasn’t made at all uncomfortable, rather I was amused.

    I find the way in which students such as Parker and others who’ve shared personal experiences were treated in the fraternities to be awful. If I remember the string of posts following Parker’s Op-Ed correctly, so have brothers. I in no way challenge the bravery of these individuals who have shared such personal stories of hurt nor the value of their stories, and believe they are essential to the current discussion of
    Greek life. I simply support Hannah as a close friend and peer in giving her take on things, and give my own brief and in comparison rather ‘small’ experience with the frats because I believe that if this discussion on Greek life is to be had, it needs to be comprised of honest experiences and reactions as opposed to unfounded rants such as some of those that have been seen in comments to the Op-Eds.

    Again, thanks so much Hannah and you’re wonderful! Love, Emma

  4. 0
    Jay Stephens 14 says:

    I usually don’t like being serious in DG comment sections, but infinite kudos to you for sharing your story. As someone also suffering from a mental illness, I know how powerful moments like the one you shared can be, and I wish this was the norm rather than the exception (with people all over campus, not just in the frats).

    I’m friends with some great individuals in the frats and I think it’s really important to remember that these institutions are composed of individuals who should be uniquely considered and, as you said, held accountable for their good and bad deeds. Basically – thanks for adding this to the dialogue.

  5. 0
    Rose Pitkin says:

    Hannah, this is wonderful. Thank you for being brave enough to openly and honestly share your story. You make great points that we should all stop and think about. Peer accountability is a challenging thing – but something we must push ourselves and those around us to do more. The hardest thing to do is to stand up and say no to our peers when everyone else is saying yes. But we must strive to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do – no matter how hard it seems in that moment.

  6. 0
    ZW '12 says:

    This comment will not address Greek life.

    I don’t make a point of posting on the Gazette after I’ve graduated (seriously, who wants the headache?), but I just want to say that this op-ed really hit home for me in a lot of ways. While I was at Swarthmore, I suffered from what was later diagnosed as Bipolar disorder with psychotic features. When at my worst, I heard voices telling me that I was the source of all evil and that I should erase myself from the earth for the good of humanity. Most of the time I felt alone, and it didn’t help that I was mishandled in my treatment at CAPS. What struck me about your piece is that you show how one person at one right time can mean all the difference—literally the difference between life and death. These people, I suppose these brothers, did a truly righteous thing. I can’t really imagine how they felt; maybe it was hard for them to take time to care for you while they were being pulled in different directions, or maybe it was hard for them to make themselves vulnerable enough to help you. But for me on the other side of the equation, someone reaching out at the right time literally saved my life.

    Hannah: Keep on speaking out, because there are loads of us now and before who aren’t or weren’t able to. Read Fletcher Wortmann’s (’09) book “Triggered”. Seek out help wherever and whenever you need it. And most of all, take care of yourself. If you want to connect and swap stories (re: CAPS, insurance, academic matters, hospitalization, etc.) and support systems, my e-mail is sisyphussmiling@gmail.com .

    Everyone “else”: Mental illness isn’t a game. Our distress is real. We’re not just looking for attention. Please support us, and we will support you as well.

    1. 0
      2012 says:

      As someone who suffered from a psychotic depression in their teens, I echo ZW’s sentiment. Thank you so much for sharing, and hopefully these discussions will continue to blossom even without the whole Greek Life drama going on. I wish I were half as brave as you for putting your experience out there.

  7. 0
    Maurice G. Eldridge says:

    Hannah and Marian have been courageous and they have owned their words. I do hope many more of us will follow their example in owning what we add to the conversations by signing our names when writing in this community forum. Maurice Eldridge ’61

  8. 0
    Student says:

    I understand that you had a positive experience with the fraternities, and I also acknowledge that the fraternities are made up of individuals.

    However, this does not nullify the criticisms (implied or overt) presented in the recent op-eds. The criticism is of greek life as an institution; For example, in Marian’s article it was clear that the existence of the institution of greek life caused the behavior of brothers toward her in a negative way.
    The individual transgressions you are referring to are exactly a part of the greek system: explicit examples like Marian’s article show that brothers are not holding each other accountable.

    1. 0
      Hannah Grunwald says:

      Student– I guess what I was trying to say was that indeed brothers are NOT holding each other accountable– something which needs to change. The intention of this article was to call attention to the composition of the frats, which as you note has been overshadowed (in a way that I think we can strive to change) by the institution. The intention was to recognize the problem, and also recognize that there were strong enough individuals in the fraternities that ultimately we can find a solution. Go ahead and read the last paragraph again and tell me if you still disagree.

      1. 0
        Student says:

        I understand what you’re saying; However, the implication of my last comment is that even if the brothers held each other accountable, it wouldn’t make a difference: just the existence of the institution causes problems like I mentioned, regardless of the good heart of many fraternity members. So yes, I respectfully disagree.

        Good article though, I’m glad you shared your experience, and regardless of anyone’s view any reasonable dialogue is welcome.
        Please don’t view my comments as overly negative, I didn’t intend them to be perceived that way, although I feel that most people are on edge and are viewing comments critical towards your position as personal attacks against you, something that I really don’t want to support.

    2. 0
      Chill out and listen says:

      Student: Important and interesting argument, but, uh, not really the place for it. There’s a lot more to get out of Hannah’s story (and Marian’s, and Parker’s) than just another opportunity to rehash the institutional/individual responsibility issues.

      Hannah, thank you for your story. I hope that people listen–really listen–to stories like yours as this discussion moves forward.

    3. 0
      Miriam says:

      I believe Hannah made it very clear in her very first paragraph that she did not intend this to nullify the negative stories or criticism.

      “I write this in the hope not of diminishing any other story, but strengthening all together the picture of Swarthmore’s fraternities. After all, what is life but a mosaic of individual moments together?”

      1. 0
        Student says:

        If you want to actually discuss, I’m willing. Want to elaborate how it is disgraceful? I’m not making a personal attack against the author, just stating some criticisms of her position in the last paragraph. Try reading some of the other Gazette comments in other articles, there are some that I think you want to save the “disgraceful” label for.

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