Editor’s Note: The email mentioned in this article may be racially and sexually offensive. To add, a brief excerpt of the email features profanity. Discretion is advised.
The first social fraternity is founded and over time, the legacy and values of Greek life takes a traditional place within higher education.
In fact, some of our past leaders of the free world, including Woodrow Wilson (Phi Kappa Psi), Theodore Roosevelt (Delta Kappa Epsilon/Alpha Delta Phi) and John F. Kennedy (Phi Kappa Theta) were frat bros.
Let’s not forget our favorite influential female figures – Katie Couric (Tri Delt), Condoleeza Rice (Alpha Chi Omega) and Lucy Liu (Chi Omega).
Greek life is expected to represent philanthropy, discipline and esteem.
It’s no secret that Greek life is, at times, selective, but Thursday evening, a leaked email revealed just how discriminatory fraternities can be.
The email, though brief, was direct in its racist and sexually violent message.
In the email, a university student directed other members of his fraternity to racially select whom would be invited to a party and reminded his brothers to “fuck consent.”
Students responded in droves online, exclaiming their shock, or lack thereof, at such a blatantly offensive email coming from a fraternity member. What is perhaps equally as shocking is the fact that the email was sent in 2014, but is only now surfacing.
The mixed responses themselves are evidence of a deeply complicated issue of discrimination that continues to go unaddressed in Greek life.
In response to the email, President Wallace Loh issued a statement expressing his disappointment in the content of the message and explained that thus far, entire chapter will take partake in “education training on diversity and respect” – essentially giving little more than a slap on the wrist. The investigation is still pending, he added.
Many students are demanding drastic action against the writer of the email, which was signed by a Kappa Sigma member named “A.J. Hurwitz,” that would parallel the expulsive actions taken by President Boren of the University of Oklahoma after its Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was exposed on video for singing a historically racist song.
However, Loh questioned whether or not the actions prescribed in the Kappa Sigma email are akin to “yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre.”
This university’s director of student conduct Andrea Goodwin, additionally cites the First Amendment, adding “if there are any known direct threats or if a hostile environment is fostered, our office in conjunction with the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct and the Department of Public Safety may pursue further action.”
Some students claim the email’s content was in jest, but how can one be sure?
After knowing several people who have been drugged and sexually assaulted at seemingly benign frat parties, the threat of rape, even under the guise of a joke, is something to take seriously.
So while there may be protection under the First Amendment (which is loosely and sometimes incorrectly used as an adequate defense), where is the guarantee that the jokes concerning rape and racism are empty? Where do we draw the line between free speech and hate crimes?
Racist behavior is not just an exhibition of bigotry, but a threatening and malicious display of hatred that strikes fear and anger into the hearts of the victims. When racist behavior is protected, victims of racism are simultaneously put in danger.
Following the University of Oklahoma SAE incident, an article Tuesday detailed racist Greek events held across the country.
Last semester, this university’s chapter of Delta Gamma was criticized for using the N-word on the official DG Instagram. The post was redacted after online criticism, but there did not appear to be any official repercussions issued from the university itself.
Defenders of the perpetrators all claimed that the Greek members in question were exercising their rights as American citizens, and therefore do not merit punishment. But how will the universities protect victims of this racism from the the unsafe and hostile environments that are created?
It is important to note that not all of Greek life is racist or sexist. Greek life is an excellent way to network, build relationships and participate in charitable organizations.
These events can be treated as isolated incidents, but the fact that it took a blatantly offensive and violent email months to surface may be indicative of a larger institutional issue.
From its inception, Greek life was founded by upper-class white men with economically, racially and sexually exclusory attitudes.
In response to a tweet, Loh explained that “education and training is an important first step” in combatting discrimination.
Today, everyone pledging Greek is required to be educated on consent and diversity in an effort to promote tolerance and respect, but these measures are clearly ineffective.
What is yet another seminar going to do to remedy the situation?
As of right now, there are no punishments in place that will have any permanent implications for the future of Greek life. Loh said “training is most effective when repeated over time,” but how many times do Greeks need to be caught before the “training” starts to make a difference?
And why do Greeks have to be trained to be tolerant and respectful?
National chapters and universities continue to claim racist or sexist actions committed by certain Greek members are not reflective of the organizations.
Despite the preemptive measures, the system itself, from rush through initiation and beyond, at times promotes an environment that encourages discriminatory and violent behavior.
Obviously, not all Greek members engage in aggressive behavior. But there are serious issues inherent in the Greek institution that continue to receive passes from universities. If there is to be any positive change in overall Greek culture, universities and national Greek organizations will need to take forceful action against intolerant Greek behavior.
Greek members need to be proactive in their leadership to ensure their chapter reflects the beliefs they value and oppose injustices within their community.
Hanna Greenblott is a sophomore English language and literature major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.