In the early 1980’s, like Brett Kavanaugh, I pledged a campus Greek group. Away from classes at UICC (as it used to be called), there were parties and there was drinking. Youthful indiscretions arose, then subsided.
Sigma Phi Alpha was a small group at the big commuter school. We were pals with Tau Alpha Rho; a few of the girls had TAR boyfriends, and we often had dances together.
Before I got to be a full-fledged sister, I was a pledge. My pledge mom (barely a year older than me) became one of my best friends to this day. We all had a lot of fun, meeting up in the cafeteria, learning the Greek alphabet (more often than not, to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy), pledges fetching snacks on the spur of the moment for the sisters. During Greek Week TAR cheered for us and we them.
Before I came to that point, the newest girls, we who were pledging had to endure Hellnight. We did exercises and chanted the alphabet over and over because – as in the military – we were told to. Blindfolded, we ate what the sisters fed us. I particularly recall sardines in a disgusting mix with something like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. We ate it because they told us to and by that point, hours from when we’d started, we felt we were starving!
At length, thirteen hours in, most of the other pledges had gotten the message. Not me – let’s run some more! Finally it got through even my thick head: I heard yet one more of the other girls say the exact same phrase as she sagged to the floor: Only one sit-up, one rep, because my pledge sisters are tired. When I was told to lead again and announced “One,” the sisters asked why just one, and I gave the same response. Not “I have had enough,” but “My pledge sisters are tired.” We hadn’t been allowed to talk to each other, but their relief was palpable: At last – she gets it too! And so, finally, we were finished. Aside from a wrenched ankle, nobody was hurt, and of course nobody got assaulted. A few of the sisters had had to leave, but those remaining took all the no-longer-pledges out to breakfast.
A few years later, when I was a police recruit, we were told to meet at a location where a few of us worked out sometimes, a repurposed warehouse, cavernous and dusty. The instructors suddenly weren’t our friends; they told us not to talk, just do as we were told. This seemed exactly like Hellnight, so I reasoned the worst they could do, since it wasn’t the military and they couldn’t touch us, would be to work us through what would normally be lunchtime. Surely the City would be loathe to pay thirty of us overtime just so the teachers could make a point. I could manage without lunch.
We went through the situations, the instructors pretending to be bad guys, distraught victims-turned-offenders, and so on: as each scenario played out, they switched without a word, just like real life. We greenhorns went with the flow, not speaking unless spoken to, and then only tersely.
After 8-1/2 hours, a normal tour of duty, we were dismissed. We went home, or in small groups to eat and decompress. Four similar days followed. We survived.
From these two seemingly disparate but similarly stressful events came the realization we were expected, in both cases, to reach, without anyone else specifically telling us what to say or do: we were to show concern and respect for others, and self-restraint.
It’s too bad Kavanaugh never got the message, and no-one should sit on any court who hasn’t.