Can Greek life forget its problematic past?

Apr 21st, 2018 | By | Category: 2017-2018, Opinions

By Quinlyn Manfull
Staff Writer

If an organization cannot uphold basic standards of decency among its members, cannot hold members accountable for violence done in a community, then they have no right to be on our campus.

Within the past couple of weeks, instances of racism perpetuated by members of Greek life have dominated news cycles nationally as well as dominating our campus.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) made national news when a bus of members at University of Oklahoma sang a racist song that referenced lynching and never admitting black students to the fraternity. SAE’s Yale chapter was reportedly holding a “white-women only” policy at their parties. Miami’s Delta Zeta chapter kicked four members out over a video of them singing racial slurs in “Freaky Friday” by Lil Dicky and Chris Brown.

For a campus that is often criticized by some for chilling out conservative viewpoints, for being too based in call-out culture, we have a hard time calling out institutions that perpetuate racism, classism and misogyny. Alpha Phi’s response to a member being called out for using the n-word was to “admonish” the members involved. Eventually, actions were taken against members involved in the video but even that does not remove them from culpability in the racist system they partake in.

Members are punished more in sororities for missing events (often for good reasons) than for the perpetuation of racism. If that isn’t telling to the goals and values of an organization, I’m not sure what is.

Blatant racism and the acceptance of racism by members of the Alpha Phi community, and now we’re finding out, members of the Willamette community as a whole, has become utterly visible. The response has been to protect, to attempt to keep secret, as we saw when members of Delta Gamma engaged with a racist meme on Facebook were just asked to apologize during chapter, some chose not to with no consequence. This is not a singular issue.

There is something unique about Greek life. Unlike other kinds of students groups on campus, sororities and fraternities tend to enjoy certain privileges that shield them from serious consequences when racist, homophobic and misogynist acts take place. Why is that?

Let’s look to the history of Greek organizations: fraternities and sororities were seen as a way for white upper-class men and women to distance themselves from an increasingly diverse student population.

Phi Delta Theta suspended its Williams College chapter for pledging “non-Aryans” in 1953. Today, many of the national Greek organizations don’t even keep records of how many people in their organizations are people of color. In this way, fraternities can simply say they’re colorblind and ignore racial inequities.

The Greek system is more than just antiquated, it is violent. This violence is visible through hundreds of years of exclusion still present in the founding principles of organizations.

Willamette Greek chapters and their members cannot distance themselves from their national organization by saying “it’s different here.” Chapters cannot dissociate themselves from national stories of racism, homophobia and violence just because “hazing doesn’t happen here.”

Even in the case of expulsion for members based on behavior, the chapter gets to wipe themselves clean of guilt. When Kappa Sigma removes a member for posting offensive remarks on Facebook, they act like a moral chapter even though there are numerous known predators still celebrated by their brothers.

Greek systems breed brotherhood and sisterhood above all else. I’ll hear a seemingly understanding and reasonable person begin to defend predacious behavior of their “brother” without any thought. Members who claim to be allies then get defensive when confronted with critiques of their organization.

Fraternities across this country harbor rapists. They provide community and brotherhood for those who have committed violence against often numerous bodies across campus. If you are a member of a fraternity and your first reaction is to jump on the defense of the assailant, you are part of the problem.

Fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual violence the average male university student, according to a CNN study. Recognize that statistic and contemplate why you want to align yourself with that organization. This is the same organization that has hazed students until they die, that charges a premium on community membership and a seat at the table of the elite.

When even the harshest action a chapter can take is made against an assailant or a racist member, the chapter must also condemn all behavior related to those grievances, and take steps to prevent from happening in the future. All members must be held accountable for their actions.

You cannot remove yourself from these issues, you cannot like or retweet a critique of your fraternity but then not take a closer look at your own role, not listen to your female friends who have said a member of executive leadership on your frat is a predator, not acknowledge that you are still paying money to a national fraternity that doesn’t hold each chapter accountable.

 

qimanfull@willamette.edu

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