By Brock Wagehoft RIT ’15
I was raised in a village. Population 500. If you don’t know about downstate Illinois, picture cornfields and windmills. Throw in a railroad cutting through a town with a single restaurant, gas station, and an exit off the highway! When our population sign went from 500 to 600 in 2010, it was the biggest thing to ever happen. I’m fortunate to have been raised in that community, but it wasn’t all a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.
I always held the notion that this is not where I belong.
Growing up around service personnel and my parents being public servants, I longed for the camaraderie and acceptance of uniformed service – the idea that “we all wear the same uniform.” I carried this all the way to the Armed Forces Career Center, my escape pod from this place. They promptly denied me.
For those I have not met, I am one of the few Deaf members of our organization. Rejection from the Armed Forces devastated my urge to get out and find a place in the world. I remember crying in one of those village churches. I was angry; I was hurt, and now I was trapped. I knew I was different at 17 and had been my whole life, but I hadn’t yet found what I was searching for. This led me to the local township fire service. A few months after I earned my ‘full shield,’ I knew I had found my place, but in unfortunate circumstances.
A funeral. A fireman passed away from injuries sustained in a house fire. Thousands of first responders attended in full dress, coming from hours away for someone they did not know. They didn’t care. He was one of them. With those who wore the same colors, did the same jobs, believed in the same ideals, and walked into burning buildings and lines of fire together,
I learned what the word Fraternity meant.
I was one of them, too.
A medical diagnosis and a severe accident found me needing to realign my vision of belonging so soon after finding it. The Fire Chief encouraged me to go to college, despite not having the means. So, I searched for a college that would give me a scholarship for being Deaf, but I didn’t know how much that decision would change my life.
I knew I wanted to join a fraternity. From day one, when I was invited to play football in the quad, the spirit of service to one’s community and always bettering oneself spoke to me. I found belonging in New York Theta and Phi Kappa Psi. Through ups and downs, I could always look to my brothers for a helping hand and to put me back on track. But, a realization struck me during my time as an undergrad. Not every chapter was like this.
Not every member senses belonging. I understand that struggle. Not every chapter has alumni that will answer the phone. This is a heartbreaking realization and the reason I’m an advisor.
I have served three years as the chapter advisor for Ohio Beta at Wittenberg University. Through this role, I can be the voice on the other end of the phone. The person in the room that shows Phi Psi is a community of men both during and long after their four years. Shepherding them through their own trials and tribulations. Guiding those who are dealing with the same lack of belonging I experienced back to the circle. It is my privilege to walk alongside these men on their journeys, fostering our ideals and the belonging that brotherhood shares. So, one day, they may share that gift of shepherding the circle.
Many chapters don’t have a single advisor. I urge anyone thinking about becoming an advisor to reach out to Headquarters. You can be the voice on the other end of the phone and show that chapter that we are Phi Psis and we all wear the same badge.
Interested in becoming an advisor? Contact our Director of Volunteer Engagement Matthew Bratsch Rowan ‘11 at firstname.lastname@example.org.