As a Sigma Chi, Cameron Dolcourt ’04 found that difference is not just accepted it’s encouraged
I am not your average fraternity guy. I don’t play football or soccer. My only “sports” are billiards, chess, and darts. I don’t wear the trendiest clothes. And I’m not one to streak across campus on Saturday nights. I am 4 feet 8 inches tall, walk with a cane, and use an electric scooter for traveling longer distances. In addition, I have had reconstructive surgery on my face and feet to correct malformations due to a rare genetic disorder.
As much as people try to deny it, humans judge each other based on appearance. For someone who looks “different,” this can be extremely frustrating. When I went shopping with my parents, clerks would ask, “What does he want?” instead of asking me. When I’m out on my own, strangers can be overly nice, holding doors or trying to be helpful, despite my protests that I can manage on my own. I learned that I had to be extremely forthright in explaining that I could do many tasks for myself and did not need the help of strangers. In time, I came to distrust others, assuming they deemed me incapable of helping myself.
Most kids in grade school—though much more accepting, less assuming, and more tolerant than strangers—did not see me as a playmate, but as an acquaintance. I had a small group of very loyal friends and a large group of people who knew me as “the scooter kid.” But even with loyal friends, I was still somewhat of an outsider.
During my first semester at Puget Sound, I was a homebody. I had a small core of friends, and we did everything together. I assumed that everyone else had already decided who I was and what I had to offer. During fraternity spring rush, I didn’t want to participate because I thought there was little chance I would be accepted.
My roommate, a neighbor, and a few other students from my dorm decided to rush, and most of them joined Sigma Chi. They told me about their brothers and their good times and activities as Sigma Chis. After a while, curiosity overcame suspicion and I wandered over to the Sigma Chi chapter house for a barbecue. What I experienced overwhelmed me.
As I drove my little green four-wheeled electric scooter across the street, I saw groups of students standing in front of the doorway, on the lawn, and near the gas grill. I didn’t know many of them, but they knew me. Several people called my name as I approached the door, welcoming and inviting me inside. I saw them welcome and invite others inside as well. I was being treated like everyone else!
I began to notice that some of the brothers I had seen at the barbecue were also in several of my classes. I was surprised by how thoughtful they were—the opposite of how I thought fraternity guys would act. They weren’t fools or elitist, but instead interacted congenially with others.
As I reflected more on all I had seen, I began to realize Sigma Chi was exactly what I needed. I was excited and knew I would participate in fall rush.
As I approached Greek Row the first night of rush, Sigma Chis stood outside clapping as we all went into the house. The welcome feeling was just as I had remembered. Several of the brothers came and talked with me, gave me a tour of the house, and told me how they had heard about me from my former roommate and others from my dorm. I did not receive the same warm reception at the other three fraternities later that evening, but it didn’t matter. I knew from the first time that I visited the Sigma Chi house, that it was where I belonged.
As I went through pledgeship, I learned about The Sigma Chi Creed, The Spirit, and The Jordan Standard. I learned that Sigma Chis are taught to accept people with different temperaments, talents, and convictions, and that individuality is not just encouraged, but mandatory. It was obvious why I was welcome. Now more than ever, I wanted to succeed. I wanted to prove the faith my brothers had in me was not in error, and that, despite my physical limitations, I could live up to the ideals they demonstrated. I also wanted to prove to myself that they were not wrong about me, and I strove to meet every challenge faced by the other pledges with the best attitude I could.
During pledgeship, my scooter become somewhat of a house “pet.” Brothers protected it from harm and warned me when someone tried to steal it. Sometimes they wanted to ride it around or “try something,” but for the most part they understood that the scooter acted as my “legs,” and they protected it like their own property.
Once I became an initiated member, I continued to be involved with house activities. I was elected scholarship chair because I had demonstrated academic success and leadership potential. I went to every pledge meeting because I wanted the pledges to know who I was and that I was as much a part of the chapter as everyone else. I wanted them to interact with me, to get to know more about me than my reputation as “the scooter kid.” I wanted them to understand that The Spirit is not just a piece of writing but a passage that profoundly guides Sigma Chis.
As I became active in the chapter, I grew more confident of my abilities. On weekends I made a point of cooking dinner to avoid the cafeteria. When word got out that I knew my way around a kitchen, Ethan Chung ’04 and I auctioned off a home-cooked dinner to Alpha Phi sorority for $650—10 percent of the total money raised during Derby Days. From this I learned that others on campus had seen past my disability and focused instead on my abilities.
Being a part of Sigma Chi taught me several valuable and enduring lessons. For years I had sought to blend in, to be one of the guys. I knew I stood out, but I didn’t like that it was because I am short or use a cane for mobility. But I discovered that being different, no matter the reason, could actually be beneficial. While it still annoys me that I am judged based on appearance, I also know that we overlook those who appear the same as everybody else. In this age of “conformity,” those who don’t follow the trends are the people we notice, the people we talk about, the people we remember. Sigma Chi helped me to become comfortable being a part of a group while remaining distinct. In essence, I learned to straddle the boundary between belonging and individuality.
My experiences in Sigma Chi also taught me to be comfortable with my capabilities and limitations. As I was encouraged to test my own abilities and push myself beyond my comfort zone, I became more confident. It no longer bothers me when strangers assume I cannot open a door or carry a package; I know I can prove them wrong.
Because Sigma Chi encourages diversity within its membership, I was able to interact with brothers of different talents and convictions, to realize that not everyone is excellent at everything and that people are accepted for what they can do, not what they can’t.
Most important, I learned that although my disability affects how I accomplish tasks, it does not influence how I relate to others. While I may not be able to do everything, I can participate in most activities. For instance, during rush we took 50 freshmen to the paintball fields. Since I don’t run or dodge well, I stood outside the war zone to talk with those who had been “tagged.” It would have been far easier to simply skip that activity, but I saw I could make a difference by being involved. And because I was there, the recruits learned about me and about Sigma Chi.
A disability is an explanation, not an excuse. It requires thought and acknowledgement, but it cannot be the final arbiter. Everyone must accept their limitations and learn to adapt them to their lives, not adapt their lives to them. For me, learning to adapt meant accepting that I could be on the dance floor with everyone else or in the date auction. I try not to hide the cane or the scooter, but instead use them for humor—to make jokes about my height (or lack thereof). I learned to highlight my talents in cooking and photography for the betterment of the chapter. I learned to participate in every area of life that I wanted, not just those that were easy.
The brothers of the Delta Phi chapter gave me tremendous gifts. By challenging me to get out of my comfort zone, they taught me valuable lessons about interacting with others as people, not based on stereotypes. They taught me that I could do more physically than I thought. Most important, they taught me not to limit myself because of my disability but to succeed in spite of it.
The first year of school I couldn’t see myself joining a fraternity. Now I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t joined Sigma Chi.
Cameron Dolcourt ’04 is enrolled at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, working toward a Master of Professional Communication. This essay originally appeared in the fall 2005 edition of The Magazine of Sigma Chi and is reprinted with permission.