Going Greek with T1D

August 27, 2018
Julie Burkett
The College of New Jersey
Julie is a sophomore biology major with a minor in public health at The College of New Jersey. Ever since she was diagnosed with T1D five days before her 12th birthday in 2010, T1D has been the center of her life and she knew that she someday wanted to do something meaningful to help those affected like her and her father. She has been involved with JDRF through Research Summits, Walks, and other fundraising events. She is also the president of her club field hockey team, a sister of Theta Phi Alpha sorority, and co-president of TCNJ's chapter of The Diabetes Link. She one day hopes to be a CDE, a researcher, or a policy worker.

Greek life was something I had considered joining prior to college. Both my mom and dad were involved with Greek organizations in college and they always raved about the experiences they had, their friends they made, and how much fun it was. However, when I got to school freshman year, I had settled in with a group of friends and decided that Greek life wasn’t something I necessarily needed. Then spring semester came around and it was time to register for formal recruitment, and my friends and I decided at the last moment to sign up. Let me tell you, recruitment is hard. The days are long, and the rules are strict, which became especially difficult for me as a diabetic. There I was, not wanting to be a burden or cause any problems but having to ask my Rho Gammas and other leaders of Greek life for special permission to take snacks with me and be allowed to step out of the room if I was low, which definitely happened several times, after standing, talking, and walking for almost 8 hours straight each day. I was already intimidated and unsure if this was all even worth it, but I made it to the end and had a huge “rush crush” on this one organization, Theta Phi Alpha. Thankfully, I trusted the process, something they drill into your heads during formal recruitment, and I ended up finding my home with Theta Phi. This was even further enforced for me when on Bid Day, I was excitedly hugging my new future sisters when I heard “the sisters of Theta Phi Alpha welcome Hannah Anolik!”, who just so happened to be my chapter co-president. I had known she was also going through recruitment, but I didn’t imagine that we would end up in the same sorority. I immediately felt so much more comfortable in this organization knowing my best school “dia-buddy” would be there with me through the entire new member process and beyond.

“We were both extremely open with our future sisters about what T1D is and how they could help us.”

The next day started a 6-week New Member Education Program, which involved several hours every night dedicated to learning about Theta Phi and getting to know my future sisters. There were absolutely days that I felt overwhelmed and stressed out, which as we all know can do all kinds of funny things to your blood sugars. Both Hannah and I felt the effects of the added stress, but we were able to work through it together. Also, now that we were becoming part of a sisterhood, we didn’t have to worry about tackling this all on our own. We were both extremely open with our future sisters about what T1D is and how they could help us. Our New Member Educator was very accommodating and understanding if we ever needed to miss out on an activity because of low or high blood sugar issues.

Once we were initiated, our sisterhood became one of the greatest support networks we would find. In Theta Phi we highly value  sisterhood and it is felt strongly among all of our members. However, we knew that with this new support network came the opportunity, as well as the necessity, for education about T1D. As I shared with my sisters what my condition was, some knew about it and had connections, some knew nothing and asked for explanations, and all were incredibly receptive. Everyone knows that Greek Life is often associated with partying and other such “extracurriculars”. While at my school the organizations were also involved with their philanthropies and bettering the campus in general, I won’t lie, there was partying involved as well. I was not much of a drinker in high school, but in college I had come to enjoy partying with my friends as almost every other college student does. However, I had the added disadvantage of being diabetic, requiring me to put a lot more thought into my nights out than my friends. I always had to pack glucose tabs or juice, make sure I had my meter or my CGM and both had full battery, carry glucagon in case something should go terribly wrong, and make sure that someone around me knew what to do if there was an emergency. Luckily, I had never had a major issue in the past, but every now and then my excellent dance moves would cause a not so excellent side effect of dropping blood sugars. So, partying was often something that brought me more nerves than enjoyment. However, now, being a part of a sisterhood that I trusted, I felt much more comfortable being out and enjoying myself. I knew that there was someone around me who could recognize my lows, who could help me find juice if I needed it, and who could get me home safely if I needed to leave. I also had sisters who would search an entire frat basement when I thought I lost my PDM, only to find it had been in my pocket the whole time!

“As I shared with my sisters what my condition was, some knew about it and had connections, some knew nothing and asked for explanations, and all were incredibly receptive.”

My sisters were dedicated to supporting all of my endeavors, so as Hannah and I planned events for College Diabetes Week, we knew we could count on our sisters participating in every event. And they did. Whether it was a bake sale, an awareness building event on World Diabetes Day, or a Diabetic for a Day activity, there was a huge showing of Theta Phi sisters every day. I have to say that is my favorite part of Greek Life. No matter what I am doing, I know that my sisters will support me, so I never have to feel alone in anything. And that is why I would recommend Greek Life to anyone who is remotely interested in becoming involved.

Editor’s note: Courtney Gale, a chapter leader and member of a sorority at Bryant University, wrote this sample letter to give the president of a sorority or fraternity so they can better understand T1D and your needs during recruitment and events. Feel free to tweak it to fit your needs!

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