Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It’s a time to be grateful and look back at some of the things we tend to take for granted. My house has been the center of Thanksgiving growing up - which also fuels my love for the holiday. However, there is one thing that I have always hated about Thanksgiving: the questions.
Like every other college student, I am constantly bombarded with prying questions from aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. “How is college?” “What are you studying?” “How much money will your career path make?” “When are you getting married?”
Yes, these are some of the hundreds of inquiries that I receive every single year. In years past my answers were cookie cutter. “I’m doing fine, just working hard in school. I’m not sure what I want to do but I have time to figure it out.” This was a fantastic way of deflecting the nosy questions. Well, this past Thanksgiving the pressure was at an all-time high. I wasn’t in high school anymore, I wasn’t even in my first year of college anymore. I spent the week before Thanksgiving day mentally preparing my answers - being Indian-American, your image to others is everything. Once the day arrived, I grinned. I felt like I was taking a test with all the answers known. I was about to surprise everyone. First question: “So what is your major?”
“Business. Sports Business to be exact, I want to manage finances for a professional Sports Organization.” I swiftly answered.
Next question: “Are you doing anything in sports with the school?”
“Yes, actually. I’m working for the Oregon Football program. I help with their analytics committee and I show people around the complex. You all should really come up there sometime, the facilities the school has are second to none.”
I could see the look on everyone’s impressed faces at the table. I was acing this test.
Finally, one last question came through: “What else are you doing?”
“Well, I’m also finishing up my first quarter as the community service and philanthropy chair for a fraternity.”
The room got quiet. I didn’t receive the reaction that I was hoping for. My family knew nothing about fraternities. They only heard what was on TV and the news; the negative stuff. There was a sense of disappointment and concern. From that point on, my relatives thought I was up to no good in college. Mockingly, one of my cousins asked: “So is ‘community service’ code name for something else that you don’t want to disclose?” I knew that my family didn’t believe that I was actually organizing community service events.
On a cold and rainy day in Eugene Oregon, I walked out into the pouring showers. I just finished my last final. On my walk back home I started thinking about the term. As my first official term as head of community service at Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity, I learned more than I ever had up to that point. With school, my football internship, and school, I felt that I never really had a chance to look back at my progress. I finally had a chance to do just that.
My community service role had big shoes to fill. My predecessor, Justin Furtado, took the standard of community service to another level.
Before, we only had one community service event per quarter - and that’s if we got lucky. Justin came in and changed that right away. Every week there was some form of event that helped us give back to the community. We even had a minimum requirement of community service hours that we needed to complete. From picking invasive species to the packaging at the local food kitchen, Alpha Sigma Phi’s community service number rose. Among all our members we finished the term with roughly 800 hours of work. This was unprecedented for any organization on campus and awarded led us to the 2019 Chapter of the Year Award given by the University of Oregon. I felt proud to be a part of this. I felt that we were the “anti-fraternity.” In the sense that we were just a bunch of men who came together to achieve something positive and bigger than ourselves.
At the start of my first term, I took on the role. Justin paved the way, but I wanted to beat his number of 800. More importantly than any stat, I really wanted the members of this fraternity to understand that we don’t do community service just to simply do it. We do it because we care for others. Every member of my fraternity is privileged in some form of another; it was, and still is our job to give back whatever we can and make a difference. I wanted to create a long-lasting culture of serving selflessly.
So I upped the ante. I was going to put out more service events than ever before. I was constantly making phone calls and sending emails to anyone that would have us help them. The number of times someone hung up on the phone after I said the phrase “We are a fraternity” was astonishing. I wasn’t going to let that discourage me though. After some time, we finally found a few events willing to host us. From there it became smooth sailing. We started getting more events, more inquiries if our services could be provided. I graciously accepted any offer we could. Throughout the year we helped kids carve pumpkins, gardened, passed out sandwiches to the homeless, picked up trash at the river, and so much more. The boys were out there making a difference and changing the true meaning of a fraternity.
As I reached home back from my final. I logged on to my computer and checked the final number of service hours we logged for the 10-week quarter. I couldn’t believe what I saw: 1300 hours among 70 members! It was special to me, but I realized that the number was meaningless. Nothing else matters unless these individuals learn the importance of community service. After seeing how our members fight to get a spot to help make burritos for the hungry, I think the message definitely permeated.
For the rest of my Thanksgiving, I was the subject of many side conversations. I understand the baggage that being in a fraternity comes with. I understand that not all fraternities are perfect; not even mine. Running a fraternity is hard. It’s even harder to make college students take time out of their lives to give back to someone. There were many days I wanted to quit and take it easy. But every time things got tough I saw something in the members of the organization. You can truly see in their thoughts and actions that they care and want to make a difference. You can really feel that they want to change the stereotypes of a fraternity and that they want to use the resources they have been given to make a difference.
To this day, I don’t think anyone in my family - even my parents- don’t really understand what I do with Alpha Sigma Phi. To be honest: I actually enjoy that. One day the results will be known and if they’re not, that’s not the point. The matter of fact is that the members of Alpha Sigma Phi are still making a difference to the Eugene community today. I just hope that the message I tried to spread will stick to our members for the rest of their lives: To do selfless good to others with what you have.
I slept easily that Thanksgiving night. I knew the kind of positive impact that my fraternity was making to change the narrative.