BGSU tragedy: shared grief I’ve observed from alumni

I was out to dinner with my family this evening. The conversation swirled around various topics, but I was mostly in a different world, thinking of the deaths of three young sorority sisters in Alpha Xi Delta and I struggled to muster up much of an appetite to eat my meal. At a couple points, for a brief moment, I thought that I might have a warm tear trickle down my cheek, but I was able to hold it in. Like a broken record, I continually find myself muttering “it’s so tragic, this is just so sad.”

For the current undergraduates at Bowling Green, I don’t think Greek life will ever look quite the same. An event this monumental can have a way of dividing time; there was time before the Alpha Xi Delta tragedy, but now the Greek community lives in a world after the tragedy.

In our age of media, we hear tragic and horrible news all the time. I think if we’re being honest, usually, when we express sorrow for something, we’re just doing so because it’s socially expected.

A coworker says his grandmother died, we say “I’m sorry to hear about that.” We watch the news and hear about a fatal stabbing and think “That’s unfortunate,” but so often, we don’t give these types of things a second thought.

But all day, I’ve talked to friends from college, and the vast majority of them never met the three young women who have passed away. And yet, the sorrow which so many of us feel is sincere and genuine.

So why is this affecting us so deeply?

This is my theory:

We try to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the women in Alpha Xi Delta and know how unbearable it would be. Even if it hadn’t been in our own chapter, and had just been a chapter where we had friends, we know how heartbreaking it would be. Even if it had been a chapter with which our chapter had limited interaction, we know how difficult it would be to go through this. And so, we empathize.

We’re struck to the core by the sudden finality. The lack of closure, the lack of a chance to say goodbye. When our own friends, or chapter brothers/sisters were leaving to go on spring break and we said our goodbyes, never did we ever imagine that it was for the last time. And as hard as it would have been to lose a fraternity brother or sorority sister, the Alpha Xi Deltas lost three.

I feel that among BGSU alumni and students, there is a certain spirit, a certain bond, and a certain loyalty.

I also think that it stings because there’s this feeling of: “This didn’t have to happen…This was unnecessary….If that old woman could have just been driving in the correct lane, THEN ALL OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED AND THOSE GIRLS WOULD BE ON SPRING BREAK RIGHT NOW!”

There’s the surreal thought of how these three young women were alive 24 hours ago. It seems so close to us. But when we’re looking back to what has happened in the past, and it is an event as tragic as this, it might as well have been a thousand years ago.

Awhile ago a friend who was never in a fraternity said to me that he never understood the purpose of Greek life and that we were just “buying our friends.” Anyone in a fraternity or sorority has heard this before. When I was a student, that used to really bother me. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I know that I have something special, and I expect a person who isn’t Greek and who doesn’t have that experience to be naieve.

I continue to pray for the families, for Alpha Xi Delta, and for the two young women who remain hospitalized.

Joshua Benner
About the author: Josh Benner is a 2008 graduate of Bowling Green State University and an alumnus of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. He served as the president of the BGSU Interfraternity Council from 2007-08. Josh currently lives in Columbus where he is in graduate school and serves as the current Chapter Advisory Board Chairman for the Phi Delta Theta chapter at the Ohio State University.