Content warning: This story discusses suicide.
It started with a conversation over cigars last year. Bethany England (‘21) told her close friend, Samuel Morse, that she had always wanted to join a fraternity. To Morse, that was that– he was set on the two of them going through recruitment as a pair one day.
But then Morse, a rising sophomore at Rollins at the time, died by suicide in July 2018.
“In whatever I wanted to do, even if it was outside the box for a female, even if I wasn’t good at it or I was probably going to fail, he still supported whatever I was interested in,” said England.
England took their promise to heart, and decided to go through fraternity recruitment two weeks ago in Morse’s honor.
“At first it was a joke between the two of us, but after Sam [Morse] died, I realized the importance of community. The importance of having people there for you, to have your back, and having people to reach out to. That’s something that a fraternity and sorority offer. Rushing is an opportunity that he lost. I did this for him,” England said.
Once the first night of recruitment rolled around on Wednesday, Jan. 16, England dolled herself up in the perfect bright red lipstick, sharply ironed pink pantsuit, and loose curls. “I knew I was going to be the only female in the room, so why try to hide it?” she said.
She was not nervous heading into a male-dominated setting. “I spent most of my childhood and teenage years hanging with guys and doing ‘masculine activities.’ I’m a total girlie girl when it comes to fashion and style, but interest wise, I align closer with men,” England said.
She walked out of her dorm room confidently, interested in sparking conversations about suicide awareness. “I wasn’t intimidated going into it because of the fact that I found strength in the reason why I was rushing. And because of the opportunity to start the conversation about suicide awareness,” England said.
She was very serious about joining a fraternity, though, and went through the process in hopes that she could find the sense of community that Morse had found through his friends in Lambda Chi Alpha and X Club. She also went into the experience open to becoming the first woman to join a fraternity on the Rollins campus, as Morse’s words of encouragement still rang in her ears: “You never can let your fear get in the way of your purpose.”
Once she arrived at the event, England mingled with the fraternities, taking special interest in the Rollins chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha. She went over to X Club when she heard that they had someone rolling cigars, and she said that it felt like everything was coming full circle. Since she and Morse smoked cigars every week, experiencing this as a part of the recruitment process was fitting.
England said that she had a positive experience going through recruitment and that the fraternities all responded favorably. She originally planned on attending all of the events that she did not need an invitation to, assuming her experience would end there. However, Lambda Chi Alpha invited her to return for the final night before bid day and ended up giving her an unofficial bid.
According to the bylaws of each fraternity on campus, people who identify as women cannot join these organizations. National fraternities are subject to the rules set for them by superiors outside of Rollins and must uphold them under penalty of losing their charter, while local fraternities, such as X Club, are free to change their bylaws upon action by current members. Although X Club had the authority to make changes to their bylaws, they did not extend a bid to England.
On bid day, although women are not allowed to attend, and England could not be offered a real bid, Lambda Chi Alpha gave her an unofficial bid card. “She just really related with our chapter. We were close with Sam [Morse], and it meant a lot to us that she went through this and that she was changing the way we were thinking about things,” said Fred Marro (‘19), president of the Rollins chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha.
“We knew that we couldn’t officially bid her, but it was clear through our reactions [when she came up in the bid discussion] that we all really connected with her, and we all cared for her,” said Marro. While she cannot officially be a brother, Marro made it clear that the brotherhood sees her as one.
England believes that part of Morse’s goal in encouraging her to go through recruitment was to open the door for other women like herself who think a fraternity is the right space for them. Marro said that England’s recruitment experience was important in more ways than one; not only was it symbolic of a true dedication to her friendship with Morse, but it pushed the boundaries of what a fraternity is and created a space for more open discussion about it.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.