by Malaika Booker-Wright
Going away to college was an unforgettable experience. In fact, it played a major role in shaping me into the woman I am today.
I didn’t know anyone when I got to North Carolina in June of 1991. I guess being friendly helped me to get as many friends as I did. Let’s see. There was Latisha, Natasha, Tanika, Shalinda, and Melina; five beautiful Virginians. Latisha, Natasha, and Tanika were best friends in high school. Shalinda and Melina had been enemies until they became roommates in college.
Latisha (Tisha) was a mellow dramatic, immature nineteen year old. She used sex as a means of getting love. Describing her as promiscuous would be an understatement. She was the type of person who would do anything for a man, even if it meant losing a friendship. She always had to be the center of attention and she was very vain.
Shalinda was an intelligent, well-spoken eighteen year old. She lost both parents at an early age. That made her a very lonely and needy person. She always had her priorities in order. She was easy to talk to. We were pretty close. She had a good heart and I could count on her for anything.
Tanika was more focused than any of us. She was a pre-med major and she was always studying. She dressed classy, was out-spoken, and was mature for her nineteen years. She was stubborn, which is one of the reasons she argued a lot. The other is that she liked to hear herself talk. Her biggest problem was her attitude.
Natasha (Nat) was a comedian when she wasn’t being quiet. She too was focused and classy. She was always willing to help. She was dependable and a good listener. When I first met her, I thought she was much older than eighteen. Her maturity and wisdom were very noticeable.
Melina (Lina), the habitual liar, was eighteen also. She had a history of abuse. Much like Tisha, she would do anything for a man. Luckily, she would do almost anything for us. She was starved for attention. She would say and do anything to get it. She was naive and spoiled.
I was the youngest. I had just turned seventeen.
Together we were an inseparable “six pack.” We were always together.
One day, Nat knocked on my door. I noticed that she was dressed up. Before I could ask her why she was dressed up, she asked me to get dressed up too. She wanted the “six pack” to go to a meeting being held by the men of one of the fraternities on campus. It was a meeting to choose some “Sweethearts” for the organization.
I was not happy about having to put on a skirt, but I told Nat that I would meet them all there. Nat gave me the information I needed and left. I never got dressed. I didn’t go to the meeting.
Later, that night, Nat came to my room.
“Even though you didn’t show up at the meeting, I still love ya! One of the Brothers asked where you were. They still want you to be an Sweetheart. So, at eleven ‘o clock we have to be in back of the Communication Building wearing all black. You comin’?”
Why not? I thought. I was going to be a Sweetheart and I didn’t have to get dressed up. I told Nat that I would meet her in her room at ten thirty.
As usual, I was late. I got to Nat and Tanika’s room at five minutes to eleven. To my supprise, I didn’t see Shalinda. There was no time for questions. Nat, Tisha, Tanika, Lina, and I rushed to the Communication Building.
There, we received instructions to go to the apartment of one of the “Brothers.” When we got there, there were fifteen other girls dressed in black. There were eight men dressed in their fraternity’s paraphernalia.
We all introduced ourselves. The “Brothers” told us our duties and responsibilities, the history of the fraternity, and the reason why we were there. We were there to bond. Then, the hazing began. We were wrapped in toilet paper, squirted with mustard and katsup, and given new hairstyles. We were made to say and do funny things. We were given “line names” and “line numbers.” We were having fun.
Then, the fun turned scary. For seven minutes, each girl had to go into the bedroom with all eight “Brothers.” We had no idea what was about to happen. Part of me wanted to run out of that apartment. Part of me wanted to stay. I had known a few of the “Brothers” since the summer.
I was the seventh “line sister,” and the first of my friends. Six times, before me, I had heard smacking, screaming, yelling, and punching coming from that room. I was scared. When it was my turn, I didn’t hesitate. I was scared of the consequences. I went into the room and the “Brothers” told me to take a seat in the center of the room. I sat, and the lights went out. From various voices, known and unknown, a series of questions and demands followed. All to be answered and carried out.
“Do you have a man?”
“What do you think of the (fraternity)?”
“Are you a virgin?”
“Stomp your feet!”
“What color is the ocean?”
“Where are you from?”
On and on it went for seven minutes. They never touched me. It was all fun and games.
By the end of the night, the remaining thirteen “line sisters” had bonded.
The next day, I went to Shalinda’s room.
“Why you ain’t come last night?”
“I’m not into that. I know what they make yall do.”
“Have sex with them and do all their work and stuff.”
“You believe that?”
“Yeah. And I don’t need to be part of a group to feel like somebody. I’m my own person and you need to be your own person too.”
“What’s the difference between this and us pledging AKA next year?”
“Alpha Kappa Alpha is a sorority. (fraternity) Sweetheart isn’t. I’m not saying ‘Don’t pledge,’ but think about what you’re doing.”
“I can always drop off line, Shalinda.”
“Um huh. You’re my best friend and I’ll be there for you, but I think you’re following behind Nat and Tanika.”
“Well, I’m about to follow Nat and Tanika to the cafe. You comin’?”
We walked to the cafeteria. There, we met up with Nat, Tanika, and Tisha. We got our food and sat down to hear Tisha tell one of her stories about one of her men.
“Remember I told yall about the guy I was messin’ with over the summer?”
“Which one?” Tanika said.
“Brian! You know that’s my ‘Boo’.”
We all shook our heads in remembrance.
“Well, my Brian is Brian the (fraternity) .”
“Which one was he?” I said.
“The one that came in for the last five minutes. Big Brother Brain-Knee-Act?”
We all frowned in remembrance. He was ugly. He wasn’t her type at all.
“I know he ain’t cute, but I really like him. He so sweet and he knows how to work it!”
“You slept with him already?” Shalinda said in disgust.
“I thought we wasn’t supposed to be messin’ with any (fraternity) while we’re on line!” I said.
“Yeah, but he’s the one. I’m marrying that man. And we’re keeping it on the hush hush until we go over anyway. Listen, he took me…”
She went on and on about where he took her and how he treated her. She talked about marrying him and having his babies. Brian was her boyfriend now. We sat and listened to Tisha until Tanika couldn’t take it any longer. She interrupted with, “Where’s Lina?” Our conversation, then, went in a different direction.
The next few weeks were filled with hazing from the “Brothers”. The thirteen of us spent almost every moment together, leaving me with time for nothing else but schoolwork. The “Brothers” were teaching us to be “as one.” We ate every meal together. We had to have a “line sister” with us at all times. Every “line sister” had to have on the same colors. We were getting to be the best of friends.
Lina had a real problem with getting up in the morning to eat breakfast with us. It was too early for her. Tanika called a meeting to discuss the issue. She excluded Lina.
“The reason why I called this meeting is because Lina is fuckin’ up. The Brothers are threatening to drop the whole line if she doesn’t get it together. She missed almost every breakfast this week and today she had on red. Now, I say we drop her ass before they drop us.”
“Why don’t we talk to her first?” one of my “line sisters” said.
Tanika went and got Lina from her room.
“Lina, look. You know I don’t beat around the bush. So, you’re fuckin’ up and the options are for you to get your act together, or we drop you.”
Because Lina had such a nonchalant attitude, Tanika got very upset. Tanika called Lina every name she could think of calling her. Lina did the same. The argument got out of control and escalated into a fight. Our dorm mother came and put Tanika on probation. I had never seen Tanika like that. I guess the pressure got to her.
Without Tanika’s input, we decided to drop Lina from the “line.”
Later that night, Tisha came to my room. We talked about the events that had just taken place. Of course, this would not be a conversation without mentioning Brian.
“Lai, I really love Brian. I can’t wait until this is all over so we can come out in the open.”
Just then, I realized that she really did believe that she loved Brian.
“I believe you, Tee.”
Tisha picked up my phone and called Nat. They had a short conversation. Nat was on her way to my room to talk. When she got there, I could see the dilemma in her face.
“I got somethin’ to tell yall. The reason why Lina said to drop her is because she said that the Brothers raped her.”
“What?” Tisha and I said, simultaneously.
“When was this?” Tisha said in disbelief.
“That first night. Seven minutes in the room.”
“She’s lying!” Tisha said.
“Don’t say that. You don’t know what went on in that room. All you know is what happened to you and what we say happened to us.
“She said she filed a report with the police and went to the hospital and found out she’s pregnant.”
“I know she’s lying now!” Tisha said.
“She said her mother took her.”
“Lies, lies, lies,” Tisha sang.
“She lies, but about rape?” I asked.
“Call her mother,” Tisha said.
“I’m not calling the girl’s mother. If sympathy is what she wants, she has mine already. So, this doesn’t have to go any further than this room.”
Nat finished with all the details of Lina’s story. Most of it made no sense.
Well, somehow, the accusation went well beyond my room. In fact, it spread throughout the campus. It made me think. I had a hard time determining whether or not to stay “on line.” I went to Shalinda to talk about it. After all, she was the closest to me.
“The (fraternity) thing has me buggin’.”
A Warning Not to Pledge
“Malaika, I don’t want to hear about (fraternity) nothin’! I told you not to pledge that crap. And for the record, Lina is not and has not ever been pregnant. Her mother has not been down here since June and we were at Crabtree Valley (mall) when she supposedly went to the hospital. If we still hung out, you would know that! So, don’t ask my advice about anything that has to do with an (fraternity) .”
What happened to “You’re my best friend” and “I’ll be here for you?”
Now I was really confused. I thought about what I would do with that information. I thought about it for a week. I finally decided to tell Nat.
When I got to Nat and Tanika’s room, Tisha was there, in tears.
“What happened?” I inquired.
“Brian,” Nat mumbled.
“That son of a bitch was screwing some bitch and Tisha walked in. I’m tellin’ you, that shit was a set-up. His roommate let Tisha in knowing damn well he had somebody in there already, and I should fuck that bitch up,” Tanika said. Tanika didn’t need to worry about anything but her school work and attitude. She was about to be put on academic probation in addition to everything else.
“I gave him everything. I did whatever he wanted me to. And he’s gonna go and do this to me? And he knows how I feel about him. And now I have to fight to get him back,” Tisha bawled.
This wasn’t the right time to talk about Lina. Tanika and I watched Nat comfort Tisha. I felt bad for her. I think she really loved Brian.
Later that week, Nat walked me across campus. I decided to tell her what Shalinda had told me. Nat decided to have a talk with Lina.
It turned out that Lina did lie about the incident. The “Brothers” never touched her. Since Nat was convinced that there wasn’t a rape incident, I was convinced too. What had me so baffled was the fact that Nat got Lina to apologize to the “Brothers” and all of us. This news spread fast too.
At the end of the semester, Nat, Tisha, Tanika, and I became Sweethearts. Everything went back to the way they were before we pledged.
One semester, and five friends, taught me life lessons I’ll never forget. Tisha taught me that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is be someone who can be loved. because no matter how much you care, some people just don’t. Shalinda taught me that no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to disappoint you every once-in-a-while. However, you have to forgive them for that. Nat taught me that it’s not what you have in you life, but who you have in your life, that counts. Tanika taught me that either you control your attitude, or it will control you. Last but not least, Lina taught me the most important lesson of all. Your background and circumstances play a role in who you are. However, you are responsible for who you become.
[Editor’s Note: All names in this article have been changed to protect the innocent.]