FROM THE WEST SIDE TO WEST END
Kevin Groll, ’16, School of Engineering
I came to Vanderbilt from the West Side of Cincinnati, which is best described as a small town. Most residents are second, third, and fourth generation West Siders, and people grow up destined to stay forever. Being a West Sider always gave me a sense of belonging, an identity of which I am still proud, and one that bonded me from an early age with thousands of other people. The first question any West Sider will ask is where someone went to high school; the second is where someone went to grade school – because all West Siders enjoy only one degree of separation.
When I arrived at Vanderbilt, it felt like I had relinquished that sense of belonging. I did not know a single person, and the community and friendships I had valued throughout my childhood were now a few hundred miles away. Classmates often talked about Greek Life as the place to discover that belonging. But, the idea of a fraternity was something I did not understand – the term rush confused me and I could not begin to decipher the Greek letters I saw on the sides of the houses.
I eventually decided to rush at the urging of my roommate, though I was reluctant to even try. Greek Life back home did not have a good reputation and was seen as an artificial way of making friends – I never thought “paying for friends” would fill the void leaving home had left. Yet, in the fraternity I would eventually join, I finally found my sense of belonging at Vanderbilt: the brothers at Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) who made me feel like I was back on the West Side. Many had come from small towns themselves, were raised with the same mentality of community, and were longing to find that belonging at Vanderbilt, like me. I soon found my home away from home and discovered that same sense of pride in my fraternity identity.
My brothers have challenged me and supported me since the day I joined. When I ultimately decided to pursue leadership in ATO and the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), it was all made possible by the confidence and growth that they inspired. I wanted to help lead the next generation of fraternities, so men like me could find their place in the fraternity community, like I had. As a member of my fraternity, I learned how to challenge those around me to grow and how to have difficult conversations with brothers I love. I have had opportunities to sit down with deans, vice chancellors, and even the chancellor himself to discuss initiatives to make positive change at Vanderbilt, opportunities made possible by my decision to go Greek. My fraternity experience has been both tumultuous and empowering but it has made all the difference in my Vanderbilt journey. I thank my brothers and ATO for my growth as a man during college and for giving me a second home.