reconciling greek life

frat-house-party-keg-stand.jpg

It’s a debate known long to colleges: should traditionally social fraternities continue to persist on campuses? Today, I officially finish my term on the IFC Executive Board and so can reflect wholeheartedly on my learnings over the past year, as well as speak honestly without fear of distraction from my work. Those who paid attention to articles on campus know that I, together with others, have posted previous posts on fraternity life.  Some of mine are here and here, and some of the critics’ posts are here and here. Today, I attempt to reconcile many of these seemingly opposing ideas, clarify some large misconceptions and propose a future for fraternities on campuses.

I’ll start by saying the past year on the Executive Board has broken my heart. I came onto the Board with an idea of what my role should be, a lot of it based on lofty ideals. I held myself to a lower standard then, and in retrospect, I was very much a typical new fraternity member, with warped ideas of masculinity, alcohol use and mental health. A lot of it came from the way I grew up, with the military and my own wrongful interpretation of popular influences. But as I sat on the board, something compelled me to spend Winter and Spring quarter listening to and understanding my community. That’s when I heard real stories, stories that weren’t about kegstands or rolling joints, but about difficult nights feeling alone or about being hazed and feeling ashamed or the worst, sexual assault and rape.

I’d be a liar if I told you that I initially didn’t want to justify some of these stories as blips in the larger picture. I couldn’t reconcile my experience of friendship and heightened solidarity with what was happening in the larger community. Where was the accountability and where was the trust? Did chapters feel okay simply letting another chapter run its course, despite knowing that it was set on the wrong path? I realised this ought to be my mandate – empowering our community to own our problems and make sustainable changes to address these issues. There were, of course, definitive stages that had to be met:

  1. Acknowledging we’ve done wrong
  2. Recognising that we can do right
  3. Collaborating and trusting
  4. Transitioning to a new normal

I spent my year focused on bringing us into the first stage and preparing us for the second stage. I frequently ran into challenges both from within and out of the community. Members would refuse to acknowledge that we had issues or struggle to change their chapter cultures given general memberships’ lack of adherence. It was a hard enough to stay the course and maintain membership involvement, and now the prerogative to think about complex issues challenged how leaders should prioritise their time. From without, we faced no shortage in shelling about the problems we had. Personally, one of the frustrating thing about Daily columnists (and I used to be one) was that they never tried to ask the board about our views or about what was being done. In some ways, it was a true temperature check of the visibility of our measures to the community, but in other ways, it was misdirecting in where reality was truly at.  We were trying, but our focus wasn’t to let the world know we were doing good work so that we could get a pat on the back. It was to convince our members of this mandate and to get their participation onboard. That’s why the Board rarely wrote a letter back. We listened, and we tried to make sure we stayed consistent with our goals of improving our community. The letters merely reminded us that we had work to do and no shortage of critics.

So why keep fraternities around?

Why allow institutions that were built on racist and sexist principles continue to exist? Firstly, can the foundations of an institution change? Can people join an organisation, re-evaluate the principles, take what’s good and leave what’s bad, and therefore redetermine the future of an organisation. I think we must first be open to the ability for institutions to change. Why not tear them down and start something new all over again? Because it’s costly and the costs affect everyone. Think about Northwestern. Northwestern started out as a racist institution, but it’s been able to redetermine its future by establishing new fundamental principles and deconstructing elements of its racism. Its people (administrators, students and faculty) believed its core purpose of education was still valuable and made an effort to change from the inside. Has Northwestern changed altogether? Not yet, but it’s a journey and it has benefited so many from its change.

Fraternities provide the same promise. Fraternities provide the facilities to improve its members and provide a support system for them. But rather than its past where it encouraged toxic masculinity, it can now use its all-male-identifying environment to promote healthy masculinity in a space that is challenging but still in its own ways ‘safe’. Of course, masculinity defined by men alone isn’t enough and must be shaped by interactions with society at large, and different identity groups. We must interact with women, with members of colour, with non-heterosexual men and realise that masculinity is not a box. Fraternities done right can transform young boys, corrupted by the world and popular media already, into mature men who care about issues around them and are compelled to work for what’s right.

But all that’s ambitious. and all that’s bold. The reason why I believe it’s possible, though, is because I’ve seen change happen. I’ve seen my chapter grow and try to navigate complex territory with values-based discussions and debate. I’ve seen growth in members and I’ve seen fraternities provide support systems for people that have fallen through the cracks.  So, every time I hear something bad about our community, I acknowledge it and accept that we have to do something about it. But I don’t rush to the abomination of every member. I identify the institutional structure that perpetuates injustice and I work to tear them down, but I don’t invalidate the institutional structures that perpetuate goodwill. Because we can do with whatever good we have, given that it’s so scarce these days.

Some elements of fraternities will never change, I believe. Competitive drinking is endemic to most student organisations, and fraternities are no exceptions. Symbols and rituals and recruitment are how organisations practice its values and ensure members coming in are aligned with said values. But in all of these things, we can curb the bad and promote the good. We can promote inclusive values-based recruitment instead of casual alcohol-based recruitment.  We can promote responsible and intentional social planning instead of reckless partying.

I believe in possibility, and I must trust that people can become better. It is this trust and belief that has allowed me to move past initial challenges and build valuable relationships with so many people. I used to make enemies by disagreeing with others, but I now trust that through listening and negotiation, everyone comes out with some level of empathy that is useful for building a better future.

Because fraternities are fundamentally social organisations, members have to build leadership in navigating social phenomenon and convince others about issues. Value judgements have to be made, and competency must be built. This is another opportunity that must be fully exploited by chapters to transform members to powerful members of our community. There is a promise.

Trust that the IFC at Northwestern can change, and trust that people are listening and trying to champion this change, as vigorously and vehemently as possible. I leave the community slightly better than where it was last year, and I hope it can continue doing good to its members and the communities it interacts with.

Keep Believing.

 

seeing south america: nasca + cusco + macchu picchu

The adventure continues as I move from Lima to Nasca. The journey leaves the city and goes to the desert, where sun-baked houses occupy the large expanse and sunsets are beautiful.

Nasca

Nasca is one of the smaller Peruvian towns, normally part of a larger trail going through Paracas and Ica, which I, unfortunately, didn’t have the time to explore this trip. The main highlight of Nasca, however, was the Nasca Lines, left by the extinguished Nasca settlements. You need to book a group flight to really see the lines in their true glory, and if you book early, you can get flights for as low as 70 USD. The average, otherwise, is 80 USD.  I flew with AeroParacas, which is decently reliable flight operator.

paracas

Once you’re up in the air, the whole flight takes around 30-40 minutes, with many dips and curls so don’t eat anything before your flight. The pilots do these so that you can get a closer view of the lines which are magnificent. You really need an eye for perspective to appreciate the intention and scale of the Nasca Lines, some of which are accurate to a high degree on their depiction of various animals and people. The Spider was my favourite, and one of the most visible drawings. It’s rumoured that these lines were drawn in worship to the Gods, or because of aliens, but because not much is known about the Nasca settlements, we will also not know much about the lines and their intentions for the foreseeable future.

spider

Getting to and from Nasca is easiest by bus (Cruz del Sur is my recommendation for quality service) and doesn’t really have much other for the tourist beyond the lines. There are some really cool aqueducts/wells and beautifully stunning landscapes so I would recommend one additional day to explore those. I must give one of my highest recommendations to NaNasqa Hostel, run by Roy (below). It’s by far one of the best representations of what a homely hostel should be, with Roy and his Mom making the personal effort to take care of you and make sure you’re well prepared for your trips. I had the pleasure of building the friendships I did with both Roy and Dino, another friend of the hostel. If you go to Nasca, definitely stay here.

nanasqa

On we must now continue on the rest of the trip.  I took the bus from Nasca to Cusco which was supposed to last approximately 12 hours. Unfortunately, I learned a very important lesson about South America on this journey, which was that you should never expect for plans to go they way you intend for them to. Protests are frequent and rampant, and tourists are often hostage to the situation at hand. We were stuck in the mountains on the way up to Cusco for 12 hours, and I learnt a bit about the state of affairs in mountain towns. It’s sobering to learn that much of Peru is left to fend for themselves, especially in the rural areas, and that as a result, many are left without basic resources such as clean water and access to supplies. This was an added lens to see this country through. Also, I used the 12 hours to acclimatise to the altitude, which helped when I reached Cusco.

protest

Cusco

Cusco is nearly 3600m about sea level, causing many to think of altitude sickness and Coca Leaves. Cusco was by far one of my favourite cities on this trip. It’s a big city, but much of its history remaining and breathing, with cobblestone streets and indigenous Incan descendants in traditional garb in plain sight. Cusco is a convenient entry point to understanding Incan civilisations and what Peru is mostly renowned for.

garb

Cusco as a town has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. While there are many trips (beautiful but normally costly) you can base out of Cusco, I’d recommend starting with a walking tour of the city to understand the seat of Incan civilisation, as well as the Spanish occupation of the Incan empire.  For example, below you can see Qorikancha, which was the Incan Sun Temple and by extension, one of the most important buildings in the Incan Empire. It’s unfortunate then that when the Spanish occupied, they converted the temple to a church, destroying many of the cultural and historical aspects of the building. There are still remainders of the temple, and within the church as well, many beautiful Christian paintings and treasures.

qoricancha

Walking into the Plaza de Armas, you’ll see the many important buildings of Cusco. Below is the main cathedral of the city, which was again built over important Incan temples. It became a morbidly fun challenge to wonder what every Spanish/Christian building was built over and discover the rich heritage of both Incan culture and the Spanish occupation.

cuscocathedral

Once you’re in Cusco, you can begin trying some of the more exquisite foods available. I tried Cuy (guinea pig), which has mixed reactions upon my utterance. I personally found it tasty, but too much of a hassle to eat and so won’t try it again. A good locals-only place to try cuy without breaking your wallet is La Chomba. Another meat I tried was Alpaca. I had it as a steak to really get familiar with the meat, but you can eat it in burgers or other meat dishes in Cusco. It’s tasty for sure, and lies somewhere between mutton and beef on the taste spectrum. Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse is where I went for mine, and the different sauces they offer help bring out different dimensions to the meat.

alpaca

Finally, once you build up the capability, eat Peruvian street food. Anticuchos were one of my favorite. They’re basically skewered beef hearts that are amazingly tasty and chewy.

anticuchos

Macchu Picchu

One of the must-do trips to take from Cusco is the one to Macchu Picchu, one of the only remaining ruins of the Incan civilisations that are also stunning beautiful. There are multiple ways to get there, and there are other blogs for this, but in essence, you can choose to hike there or take the train. I’d honestly have chosen to hike had I known you have to book 6 months in advance and pay nearly 600 USD for the whole package, but alas, I was not as prepared and had to book the fast trip. Booking a package is convenient and covers most of your logistics, all for an average of 200USD. A bus first takes you to Ollantaytamboo, itself a town with historical ruins, from which you take Perurail through the mountains to the base of Macchu Picchu.

train

The train carries both tourists and locals, and so as a way of prioritising locals (after many protests that complained about favouritism of services to tourists), tourists only get 2 cabins that are basically the equivalent of first-class cabins. This explains why tickets run out fast. The good thing is that the cabins do provide beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and landscapes so photo opportunities are available. The train reaches Aguas Calientes, which is a small town with no roads and multitudes of hotels and restaurants primarily catered for tourists. Trust me when I say that the town has nothing else going on besides Macchu Picchu. Prices also match the tourist phenomenon so don’t try to stay too long here.trainview

Buses go up to Macchu Picchu for 12USD a ride, or you can take a roughly 1.5 – 2 hour climb up the Incan steps to the entry gate. Either way, the highlight of the trip is walking past the entry point, up the small knoll and into the steppes that are iconic to what is Macchu Picchu. I had the luck to see the clouds leave the town and provide an astonishing view of this city. Taking the tour provided a thorough and comprehensive understanding of not only the city but the Incan civilisation as a whole, including how the people lived and how they worshipped. The mountains provide a backdrop that is not easily replicable and you truly feel like you’re living in the heavens. The photos I took reflect the beauty of the Macchu Picchu only to the minutest extents. One must stand amongst these ruins to truly appreciate them.

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Lllamas also roam these ruins freely, grazing and cheesing around. They’ll occasionally pose for a photo but like to be left alone most times.llama

From the main ruins, there are also multiple other trails you can follow, including climbing up the taller mountains on the sides to get a better view. I took a hike to see the Incan Bridge (below), which saw me walk along the sides of cliffs and overlook vertical drops. The bridge in itself is simple, but perplexing, and altogether dangerous.incabridge

Quickly, a good recommendation for hostels in Cusco is Pariwana Hostel, which is a large party-esque hostel with a lot of activities both internally and in Cusco. I’d recommend staying away from their internal travel agency and doing a bit of legwork around the city to book tours, but for everything else, Pariwana has got you covered for an affordable rate.

I left this part of Peru absolutely fed with adventure, beauty and emotion. There was so much richness that I hadn’t been exposed to before, especially with such frequency, and I was realizing my world was a lot bigger than I had thought it was. How much history does our world hold and how ignorant are we to think that we cannot take lessons away from our past?

I was about to find out as I made the journey forward to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Till then,

hooah

seeing south america : lima

Winter Break 2016 saw me go to South America, to explore a continent I had never been to and to interact with a metaculture that I had just started to become familiar with. The first portion of this trip was in Peru, and we’ll start with Lima. Let’s just say that quickly into the trip I learnt I can’t travel in South America the way I’ve been familiar with so far – I was about to be schooled.

Lima

Lima is the capital of Peru. When I talk to other SA travellers a lot of them mention how less alluring of an option the city is compared to other Peruvian wonders, but I’ve come to disagree. Lima has a rich past and a promising future, and that energy is something different that can be tapped into when you walk the streets. Historically, Lima also was a huge strategic city for the Spanish Conquistadors, who play an important role in most of my trip, and a good entry point to understanding Peru and other parts of SA. Lima is a lot more of a collective of districts, rather than one big city, and exploring these districts provide a lot of diversity and wholesomeness to the traveler’s understanding of Lima.barranco

One of the more iconic districts is Barranco. Located in the south-eastern part of Lima, this district is known as the Bohemian District and has played host to the inspiration of many Peruvian creatives and intellectuals. Its colourful baroque buildings stand out and encourage you to consider indulging in your own creative moment. There are many beautiful graffiti pieces and architectural sights to look at as you walk through this district.

bridge

One of the more iconic parts of the district is the Bridge of Sighs – a beautiful wooden bridge that overlooks a deep ravine (Bajada de los Baños) and puts you in the heart of what Barranco is. Come here for some cool views.centrohistorice

If you want to see the historical (Spanish) part of the city, you have to take a 20 minute drive up away from Miraflores to the Centro area, which is essentially downtown Lima. Here you’ll find the Plaza de Armas, which is the main city centre for most Spanish cities, and a lot of beautiful Spanish buildings. Almost every Plaza I’ve seen has a Palace and a Cathedral almost assured, and the Spanish don’t hold back on the beauty of these structures.

miraflores

Of course, Miraflores is where most tourists go to in Lima, and that’s because of the beaches, backdropped by tall cliffs and sights of the district behind you. I was lucky enough to be brought to a private beach which had sand on it, but some of the public access beaches are rock beaches so take your pick. There are also some pretty sweet spots amongst the cliffs if you look online for you to catch the sunset. They call some of these ‘Lovers Area’ because of the obvious connotation but the sunsets from Lima are amazing so you should go there even if you’re by yourself. ceviche

Onto food. You’ll hear it again and again. Lima is the culinary capital of the Americas. There’s not only direct access to a rich diversity of ingredients here, there are unique flavour profiles and cooking methods that really push the boundaries of good food. One of the things you must try is Ceviche – cured fish (or other seafood) with lime zest and spiced with aji, a Peruvian take on chilli. If you like sushi or sashimi, ceviche isn’t that far off, and Canta Rana in Barranco comes highly recommended for its local focus, so no touristy overpricing, and community vibes.

maido

If you want to Fine Dining anywhere in South America, you have a number of options. Don’t let Lima slip away. Maido is an amazing Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant that offers stunningly exquisite dishes. If you want to try the kitchen’s best, go for the Nikkei Experience, a multi-course menu that takes you on a journey of Peruvian ingredients. My favorite was this reduction of a shrimp based broth over spices and herbs from the Peruvian jungle. It was eventually served a baked cod belly, and was absolutely mind blowing.

luquma

And don’t do yourself a disservice by not trying the fruits. Luquma is a sweet and addictive fruit that is served best when mixed with milk (so ice creams or yoghurts) and is readily available. This picture is also from Maido and shows a Luquma ice cream in a chocolate shell and served with milk foam.

Here are some general travel tips for Lima:

Location to stay in: Miraflores and Barranco are your go-tos. Miraflores if you want access to the beaches, Barranco for the beautiful bohemian district and bars. I stayed in a hostel called Family Backpackers Club. It’s a pretty no-frills and reliable hostel (6.5/10 from me) but don’t expect to leave feeling anything special about the place.

SIM Cards/ Data: Avoid getting a SIM Card in the airport. It’s overpriced and not worth it. Go into the city centre and get one for 10 soles (~ 3 USD) and add money to your account and purchase a data plan for around 25 soles (~8 USD). That should set you up for at least a week.

ATMs: Don’t be tricked into using any regular ATMs. Peru has ATMs that don’t charge local withdrawal fees like Scotiabank and a number of others. Save up to 8 USD per transaction by using these

Transport: Uber is available and super cheap in Lima. Try to use it wherever you go and avoid getting your directions misinterpreted.

Crime: Not as present. I’m sure there’ll be regular pickpocketing if you don’t keep your wits about you, but I didn’t feel unsafe in Lima at all.

elna

I have to thank Elna for showing my around this beautiful city and telling me about what it has to offer. She was also such an amazing person in providing me tips around Peru in general and bringing me to some local haunts. People like Elna are hard to come by. Thank you!

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In the next post, I’ll cover Nasca and Cusco so look out for that! Till then,

hooah.