Friday, September 30, 2016

Feature Friday: Molly Bankuti, Zeta Tau Alpha

Each Friday, we'll be featuring a different member of the Greek community and sharing their reflections on their Lehigh experience!  Check out our first, Molly Bankuti from Zeta Tau Alpha!

I've noticed over my past two years as a Lehigh student that it’s really easy to forget that we’re part of a larger community outside of this campus.  It’s pretty common to see students turning their nose up at people in the South Bethlehem community who haven’t been afforded the same opportunities that us Lehigh students tend to take for granted.  As a student coordinator in the Lehigh Community Service Office, I’m really lucky to work in an office centered on reminding people how important and enjoyable it is to stay engaged with the surrounding community.  The CSO works not only to create opportunities to become active members in our community, but also to emphasize how much we as people stand to benefit through building these relationships and looking beyond the Lehigh bubble.

But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s also really easy, as members of the Greek community, to even forget we’re a part of a bigger community on Lehigh’s campus, let alone South Bethlehem. We become focused on building a strong sisterhood or brotherhood, creating opportunities for leadership and growth within our chapter, contributing to our philanthropy, and building a strong relationship with our national organization. This leads us to overlook, or maybe just not realize, how much our chapters and the Greek community as a whole stands to gain through integrating ourselves with the rest of campus and other groups and organizations. 

Almost everyone who knows me is well aware that I participated in The LeaderShape Institute last January because I really haven’t stopped talking about it since.  The whole idea behind LeaderShape is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable: it’s about having tough conversations and forcing yourself to confront any reservations, misunderstandings, or assumptions you might have.  While I was at LeaderShape, and as I have ever since, I chose to prioritize confronting the lack of inclusivity on Lehigh’s campus.  When we compared the diversity statistics of students at LeaderShape to the statistics of Lehigh’s population, the discrepancies were shocking.  Without the numerous backgrounds and perspectives that were part of LeaderShape, the connections made, the personal growth, the development of confidence, and the increased understanding of all participants wouldn't have occurred.  The experience made me realize I don’t have the ability to reach my full potential, as an individual or as part of a group, if I’m limited to a very specific population and one way of thinking.

It was this diversity of perspectives and varying backgrounds that enabled us at LeaderShape to have real, honest conversations about why the student population at Lehigh feels so divided, and what we as members of the community can do to bring the campus together.  A lot of the conversations that we had blamed the campus divide on Greek Life.  But rather than turning me against my chapter, it inspired me to become more invested in its growth and more invested in working to break down any unspoken barriers between Greek life and the rest of campus.  While I could talk forever about the leadership opportunities, philanthropic involvement, and the strong sisterhood I find in my sorority, I could talk just as much about growing as a leader and as an overall person through LeaderShape.

My experiences at Lehigh have made me realize that creating a more inclusive Lehigh community, both on campus and as a part of South Bethlehem, is a goal we all need to focus on in order to strengthen our chapters and every other organization on campus.  Sharing our viewpoints and listening to the perspectives of others enables us to learn and grow instead of allowing these divides to remain.  A main way we can do this is by becoming further involved in the South Bethlehem community; through service we can create a more positive, inclusive, and welcoming atmosphere on and off campus. My work at the CSO and my experience at LeaderShape have shown me that an increased sense of unity would only stand to enhance every student’s Lehigh experience—even if we don’t realize it.