By Emily Goldberg
She sits on the foot of her bed, head held high with perfect posture. She intertwines her fingers between the purple and teal bands wrapped around her wrists. They may be coated with a tough exterior but underneath, they’re just made from a simple string.
Kennedy was a 5th generation Sooner and was expecting to find her time at the University of Oklahoma to be nothing short of perfect. As an event management and entrepreneur scholar, she held herself to the highest standard to build a worthy portfolio, until the program started falling short. Determined to succeed and make her family proud, she searched for the one thing that she knew would instantly make her experience better – leadership opportunities. She joined a sorority, got involved within her major and residence hall but she still wasn’t sharing the same feelings that her parents had when they attended the university. So she turned to another activity.
She walks up to the front door, clenching the rim of her dress, listening to the roar of the pop music coming from inside the house. As time seems to be going by more slowly, every noise began to fade until all she could her was the ticking of her watch as each second passed. She stares at the three painted, wooden letters attached to the side of the house wondering if this could fix what’s been missing in her college experience. Would this make it any better? Is this what it feels like to be a “normal college student”? She holds on tightly to her sorority sisters and they bring her into the party. She slithers in between the crowds of people to catch up with her friends while shielding her eyes from the flashing neon lights. The rooms and staircases filled with empty cans, red solo cups, and trash, make her hesitant. This was all new territory for her.
And then she met him.
He was wonderful – an older man, a fraternity man. He was the missing piece that would change her mind about her school and make her love it just as her parents did. This would be the night that changes her life, she’s found the one she could put all of her trust into, the one that she was destined to marry.
As the weeks went by, everything was falling into place for Kennedy. She instantly became happier and her perfect brand new relationship was a topic that everyone wanted to talk about.
They were perfect.
Her four white walls stared back at her like she was an animal in a zoo. The room seemed to be getting smaller and quieter until all she could hear was a slow and muted cry with each short breath she took. She looked down at her ring, the four edges of the cross, glistening, never leaving her sight, pierce into her heart as they chip away any last bit of self-respect. Leaving her in a daze, Kennedy had no idea what had just happened to her.
Her life soon became a spiraling whirlwind that she didn’t know how to control. “What had happened to me? What did I do wrong? Why did this happen?” were the only things running through her head at all times. She distanced herself from everything that once made her comfortable – her boyfriend, her sisters and her schoolwork hoping that she could find answers herself, but always coming up short. It wasn’t until she stopped going to his room and stopped talking to him altogether that he even knew something was wrong.
“The weeks that followed, just as he touched me, my skin crawled,” Kennedy said.
Feeling scared and alone, she finally admitted to herself that this was not what the college experience should be like and the picture perfect image that she had created, the image that her mother, father and everyone else before her lived out, had burned to ashes. At the end of the semester and after many discussions with her parents, Kennedy traveled back home to have what would surprisingly be the most incredible next two years of her life.
Coping with an idea that was still so foreign to her, she spent the next year working for a charity. She got to know her parents on a deeper level, despite them having no knowledge of one of the major reasons she left OU. She leaped so far out of her comfort zone and traveled to 15 European countries, all on her own. And finally, a dream that she held on to for so long, she was able to intern at Walt Disney World in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
“I know it was a bad thing but honestly I’m kind of thankful it happened because I would have just gone on that track that I thought was right for me that I know now, was absolutely not,” Kennedy said.
Finally being able to somewhat get a grasp on her life, the new and improved girl decided to make the biggest leap of faith she would ever make in her life. She went back to school.
Seventeen hours on her way to Florida with nothing to do but to stare at the open road, she constantly questioned whether or not she should turn around and go back to the place that has been her familiar safe haven for two years. She looked in the back seat of her car and carefully examined the loaded boxes and bins and her heart sank.
She was given a second chance, a brand new life and nothing would go wrong this time. Feeling completely apprehensive about how everything on Florida Southern’s campus worked, she reluctantly decided to once again go through recruitment and this time, found her home in Alpha Chi Omega. Their national philanthropy is domestic violence awareness and sexual assault awareness, education and prevention.
Because of Alpha Chi Omega, things were starting to fall into place, she had finally come to terms with what exactly had happened to her but in a sisterhood full of 70 girls, she still felt alone at times.
“To be able to be normal, I had to push down every emotion, everything, to function on a daily basis,” Kennedy said.
In an effort to make her new life at FSC worthwhile, she decided to take the risk and run for a high position in her sorority. This instantly gave her a purpose, a reason to fight against everything that she had to go through. Through this leadership position and being around all of her new sisters she realized something that she never thought could happen.
She wasn’t fighting alone.
Talking through her battles with other sisters with similar if not the same story was daily therapy.
“Every time you tell someone it’s like a little piece of it isn’t yours anymore and it just gets lighter and it’s not as hard anymore. And you can turn it into something that isn’t so dark. It doesn’t have to be a tragedy forever it can just be a tragic story,” Kennedy said.
The summer of 2016, Kennedy traveled to Jamaica to work at a summer camp. Faced with many different cultures and students with different backgrounds, she discovered that many children she taught came from dangerous households. Even though she was presented with a great deal of change, there was one constant that she provided.
She listened and was able to help.
Because she was educated on the signs of domestic violence, she was able to comfort them the proper way with correct information or provide them with the necessary resources to get help. She was able to provide early prevention for kids who were too young to have their lives change forever.
Since her time as an Alpha Chi Omega, she has planned and organized campus wide events, brought in speakers and heard their stories about their fight and has grown again to love herself.
“People are complex and make mistakes. Over the years, I’ve been able to forgive him. I’ve become at peace with it,” Kennedy said.
She sits on the foot of her bed with perfect posture, wearing a shirt that bares three familiar Greek letters. She stares down at the purple and teal strings wrapped around her wrist and the ring with the big silver cross. The walls aren’t suffocating her, her door isn’t shut and the room is filled with the laughter of her sisters as they gather on the couch in the common area.
She no longer needs to live in fear.
October is domestic violence awareness month. Kennedy encourages those who feel threatened to be bold and reach out for help. It is as simple as calling this hot-line number: 1800-799-7233.
Note: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals