Moving into fraternity house was the best decision I made in collegeBy Tray Smith | 04/22/2013 11:00pm
I started college as a senior but am graduating as a freshman. For my first three years at Alabama, I spent most of my time saving the world, first as a freshman SGA representative, then as a campaign worker, Crimson White staffer, intern and Blackburn Fellow. I’ve spent most of my last year going to parties I was never able to attend before, traveling to places I’ve never been, fulfilling commitments I’ve always pushed aside, and spending time with people I may not be able to see as often in the future.
Ideally, I would have maintained a better balance all along, but everything worked out just fine in the end. Having been a part of so many different communities and experiences has given me a much greater appreciation for our campus as a whole, and it has been one hell of a time.
I’ve seen the arrival of craft beer, the revival of Little Italy, and the decline of Gallettes. I’ve mastered “Find my iPhone” and learned the hard way to use my mirrors when backing out of packed parking lots. I saw innocent people suffer and watched heroes respond after the April 27, 2011 tornado, celebrated in New Orleans and Miami when our football team twice brought renewed hope to a recovering city, and realized that even the greatest joy can be interrupted by terrible tragedy.
I’ve learned that life is a finite gift of God’s grace, that everyone and everything has a purpose, and that we fulfill our own purpose in the way we love and care for each other.
I was a junior CW editor when I moved into my fraternity house, which was the best decision I made in college. I wanted to live on campus, and I knew if I lived anywhere else work would prevent me from seeing my friends. The dilapidated rooms and broken ceiling tiles in the old Sigma Chi house would have never made it into a UA recruiting brochure, but living there was a great challenge for an only child from Atmore, Ala., who grew up with just one neighbor.
Being part of a close-knit community of other students is the best opportunity we have in college, and I have made many great friends through my fraternity and from living in the house. As our campus has grown to include over 32,000 students and suite-style dorms have proliferated, living with a community of friends and roommates has become an increasingly rare privilege. Greek organizations and living-learning communities like Blount, Parker Adams and Mallet are a welcome exception to this trend, and serve as great models for providing students with a home in the social fabric of our rapidly growing university.
Of course, there are many other sources of community on campus, and I was fortunate to have relationships across campus, from my excellent roommates sophomore year to my many friends and co-workers at the CW to the outstanding upperclassmen who mentored me and introduced me to campus.
While expanding enrollment has made it more important for students to find specific activities and groups they can take part in, it has also made it more imperative for us to strengthen the unity and common identity we all share as Alabama students. I am proud that during my time here, tired divisions began to dissolve, established dogmas were disproved, and people who were never supposed to be friends came together to do great things.
The greek system is often portrayed, and perceived, as a monolithic political force conspiring to control campus, but I lived in my fraternity house for over a year while I still worked as an editor at the CW. Next year, a greek student will serve as the editor-in-chief.
UA students are realizing that old rules don’t apply, that belonging to one organization shouldn’t stop anyone from embracing another, and that questioning and challenging our peers and ourselves is the source of our growth as a student body.
While we may disagree or come from different backgrounds, we can still build friendships and collaborate as students. This may sound obvious, but it has not always been this way. New students from different backgrounds are energetically infusing campus with their attitudes and ideas, and I look forward to seeing the progress and change another decade of growth brings.
I am hopeful about the future because of the Machine member at the bar who said he respects the CW’s work and purpose even if he objects to some of its coverage; the greeks who want students of every color in their house even if they aren’t sure of the best way to get there; the decent, hardworking administrators from the Dean of Students office to the Honors College who are working to help our students adapt to new realities and take advantage of new opportunities.
I am hopeful because I know I am leaving a campus infinitely richer and stronger than the one I stepped foot on four years ago, and I don’t expect our momentum to slow down anytime soon.
Tray Smith served as the opinion editor of The Crimson White. His column ran weekly.