Symphony In Action: Sophie Gerth
Symphony in Action is our new blog series that focuses on sharing the voices and stories of Alpha Xi Deltas. After the recent senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, we specifically asked our Black Sisters and Sisters of Color to reach out so we could amplify their voices and presence. This ongoing series will feature Sisters’ paths, their Alpha Xi Delta trajectory and a myriad of other experiences. Sharing with one another is a way to live our Symphony out loud. If you’re interested in sharing your story, please contact us at email@example.com.
Written by Sophie Gerth, Elon '19
I found Elon University by mistake. Being from a suburb of Seattle, WA, my exposure to east coast schools included massive state schools and ivy leagues—neither of which I was either interested in or able to attend. I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and I can admire it from a perspective that I never had before going to college. People are often a product of their homes, as each part of the country (or world) carries customs, traditions, and contexts that shape a person. That would explain my love for big Pine and Evergreen trees, my wistfulness for rainy afternoons (paired with a magnetic obsession to enjoy the sun whenever I can), and my utmost appreciation for the sublimity of nature. Yes, some of these things can be easily stereotyped, and maybe if I grew up somewhere else, I wouldn’t appreciate a rainy day as much. But I cannot pretend like the culture of the Pacific Northwest did not fundamentally shape some of the things I value and treasure in this world and this life. So naturally, I decided to leave it.
Going to college had always been a given of my future beyond high school; it is my privilege to acknowledge that. As soon as I entered my sophomore year of high school, my parents and I sat down with a college counselor who would help me prepare for and eventually select a college. I had some preferences (the usual…medium sized school, safe campus, Greek life, etc.), but one rang louder than the rest: it had to be outside of the state of Washington. This led me to a limbo period, where I would imagine myself in different parts of the country, attempting to discern whether I would be happy there. North Carolina was a place I had settled on mainly for the stellar academic schools in the state. Elon was one of many in the area that I intended on exploring but I never gave it as much thought as my other schools in North Carolina. I practically stumbled onto campus in-between what I thought were more important college tours. But the answer was clear as day: Elon would be the place for me. There was some perfect combination of red brick, white column, lush greenery and enormous Oaks that couldn’t be replicated.
Sophie Gerth is a 2019 initiate of Alpha Xi Delta's Theta Nu Chapter at Elon University.
The transition into college was extremely tough because I had one miscalculation in my exciting and adventurous move across the country: nothing will prepare from leaving your home, your family, and everything you’ve ever known for the first time. Homesickness hit me like a bullet. It challenged me in a way that I had never had before, and it forced me to grow up and confront parts of myself that I had never had a reason to before. There is a quote that I have always thought of when I try to explain the feeling, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” -M.A. It couldn’t be more true, but as I’ve had some time to get settled into my new home and my new beginning, I can’t help but believe that I might be the luckiest person on earth to have two places, different in almost every way, that I call home. And even more importantly, new beginnings are one of the rarest and valuable things in the world.
My biggest and best beginning was my Sisterhood in Alpha Xi Delta. I knew from the moment that I stepped into my first round of recruitment that these were my people. By preference round, I was captivated by the passion and ambition of my soon-to-be-Sisters. If I have learned one thing, it is that Alpha Xi Delta women bring light to every space they enter, whether that be joy, courage, or even a literal light on injustice. Today, I shed some light on a fraction of my own story with the hopes of extending my lived experience towards the people who mean the most to me.
My roommate, Ava, and I in our very first photo on bid day as an Alpha Xi Delta! Running home with her was the best feeling ever
New beginning meant exciting new things like Sisterhood, but it also meant new introductions, new faces, and new questions. I found that moving across the country yielded for one particular question more often than others, though it was something I also heard back in Washington a lot: “Where are you from?” In college, this question makes a lot of sense, as many people are from different parts of the country (even the world) and it’s a pretty natural question to begin to get to know someone. There is nothing wrong with that question. What begins to cross lines is the frequent follow-up question after I respond with “Seattle”: “No, but like, where are you from?”. Suddenly, I am thrown into a crisis of my identity, because I am answering the question truthfully but the querent doesn’t buy that. Suddenly, they are only interested in the most external part of my existence, which is the color of my skin. As a half-white, half-Pakistani woman, I am very racially ambiguous. Paired with the fact that my mother moved away from Pakistan when she was a couple of years old, I have very little connection to my brownness’ heritage. I am not white-passing, but I am also not brown (and as I have been told before, I don’t “act brown,” which is inherently problematic for many reasons). Like my move from Seattle to North Carolina, my identity is ripped into two pieces that no other person will ever really understand. It is a gift to have the richness of two very different ethnicities and cultures, but it is also an identity that few people understand, and even fewer know how to talk about.
First, I feel angry; how dare someone try to tell me that I can’t be from somewhere! This doesn’t last long. Second, I feel irritated; I know the question that they are trying to ask me isn’t “where are you from?”. It’s actually “what is your ethnicity?”. But instead of asking that, they place me in a headlock, where I need to compromise the integrity of our conversation to maintain comfort. Because correcting someone on the question they’re trying to ask is not the best way to make friends, nor is it a way to talk to an elder, a parent, a stranger, a professor, a new friend, a dental hygienist, or a waiter (yes, these are all examples of the kinds of people who have asked me this exact question). To make sure that all parties are comfortable (except me), I have to tell them that I am in fact from Washington, but that I acknowledge that I am not completely white and proceed to tell them of my racial makeup. This is where the compromise of integrity comes into play: the querent maintains a position of power, eliciting an answer from me that I felt I had to give, although my ethnicity isn’t actually anyone’s business but my own. I also wrongfully affirm that the fact that my belonging isn’t actually in Washington, instead it’s a place that reflects the pigmentation of my skin. Third, I feel dejected and othered. I prepare myself for the comments that are about to be made about how I “look exotic” or that I resemble “Princess Jasmine.” I feel that I cannot belong to Washington state, the state that I love so dearly and miss so much because I am not white. This is because the United States is seen in shades of white, despite being a self-proclaimed “melting pot.” This is a misconception that we need to talk about, as it is the only way that we can decimate uncomfortable conversations such as the one that I experience so often. Link Image Change
My first photo with my little, Shea, who we welcomed into my Greek family in March
This question made me consider a lot of things. First, it is a privilege to experience microaggressions, as some aren’t so lucky. I cannot imagine what it is like to fear for my life because of the color of my skin, nor do I ever pretend to do so. As I recounted before, the feelings I go through because of my skin color are typically mild anger, irritation, and dejection. Not once has it ever been fear. Second, it affirms a lot that I have discovered about the contexts of the places we grow up in, the places where we feel we belong, and the value of new beginnings. College has been a wonderful time for me to explore my identity and how I define myself; I have always seen my brownness as a big part of me, but I never thought it fundamentally defined who I am. Leaving the Pacific Northwest, where there are a lot more people who look like me, and coming to North Carolina, I was offered a new lens on how people perceive me. It has taught me that sometimes my comfort is more important than others. It has taught me that there is an inner strength within me that must reject the assignments others will make on my identity. It has taught me that I am capable of doing hard things and telling hard stories. The color of my skin has brought me to conversations beyond literal belonging; it has brought me to conversations about social belonging, economic belonging, housing opportunity belonging, educational belonging, etc. As a Political Science major, I am examining how identity and belonging are indoctrinated theoretically and communicatively. I am also involved with voter registration on my campus to ensure that all students have equitable resources to register and vote. The questioning of belonging has helped lead me to new spaces that need my presence and helping eradicate these discrepancies is the most fulfilling job I will ever have.
I say all of this fully acknowledging that other than my family, my sisterhood is another place of unequivocal belonging. As I said before, this is because Alpha Xi Delta is a courageous, gracious, and peaceful light in my life. I wish I had the words to describe this organization, but I don’t. Instead, I could only describe it as the feeling that you get when you feel boundless: unbounded by stereotypes, generalization, stories. A place where you can fully feel the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, because our own symphony says it is “with gracious and kindly hearts we may share in both joy and sorrow and bring into living reality the Sisterhood of women”. From my own chapter’s unbreakable sisterhood, to the outreach I had partnering with nationals on Alpha Xi Delta Votes, I know that Alpha Xi Delta sees me not for what I am, whether that be the color of my skin or where I am from, but for what I can be. And that is the perfect context for a new beginning.