May 25, 2012

Fraternal failings

Alpha Delt and DU’s recent bias incidents speak to a culture of insensitivity, need for understanding.

Recently, two fraternity chapters at the U of C showed an ugly side of themselves to the campus community. In particular, a number of Latino student groups, including Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), rightly expressed outrage at two recent incidents: Alpha Delta Phi (Alpha Delt) played Latin music while having its pledges wear sombreros and mow its front lawn and Delta Upsilon (DU) created a public Facebook event for a party titled “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes.” Some may brush off these juvenile acts as “boys being boys” or as bits of politically incorrect fun, but such dismissals only reflect a culture of insensitivity. The University and minority interest organizations have taken steps to address these actions, and while the fraternities have responded, they have not done so to the proper extent. DU and Alpha Delt should make it their top priority to engage with administrators and minority groups to avoid such bias incidents, and should evaluate why they occurred in the first place.

Since the appearance of “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes,” DU has written an apologetic letter to a number of concerned student groups, met with the leaders of these groups, and issued an informal public apology through Facebook. However, it failed to appear at an OMSA–organized meeting between student groups and administrators. Meanwhile, Alpha Delt has categorically refused to publicly apologize, though it has met with administrators. What both frats must realize is that efforts to reconcile relations between them and the offended groups are not aimed at shaming them—they certainly shouldn’t be—but intend to form a shared understanding of values and goals. Replacing this adversarial dynamic with one that is more cooperative could prevent future transgressions, as well as strengthen cultural respect and acceptance on campus.

If both fraternities show unwillingness to take full accountability, the University must take disciplinary action. Firstly, the offenses should be officially recognized as bias incidents, and the offending individuals should be tried accordingly. The University could also consider working with the Interfraternity Council (IFC)—the independent representative body that aims to provide “a general direction for the growth and betterment of all fraternities” on campus—to discuss probations or warnings to assign to DU and Alpha Delt that respect the independent nature of Greek life at the U of C.

Lastly, discussions should focus on why these incidents happened at all. DU, in its response letter, admittedly notes, “It was never our intention to offend or hurt any minority groups.” It’s hard to imagine, then, how members could write an event description that entreated guests to bring out “an unlimited need to conquer, spread disease, and enslave natives.” Both Alpha Delt and DU would lose no popularity on campus, or attendance at their parties, if they refrained from discriminatory and sexist acts. Some might claim that such incidents are not malicious, but are exaggerated or done in irony and jest; however, no matter their intended effect, they just come across as stupid. The recent five-year suspension of Yale’s DKE chapter—imposed for the persistent presence of sexist pledging practices—should stand as a reminder that there is a line that can’t be crossed.

Fraternities here are usually a positive presence on our campus and in the community. The scale of their philanthropic and community service efforts ranks highly among student organizations, and is certainly worthy of praise. It is a real shame, then, to see two brotherhoods not only confer dishonor on the University with their actions, but further have the gall to not hold themselves completely and publicly accountable for doing so. Simply put, both DU and Alpha Delt must cooperate with the community and eliminate any trace of bias in their activities, or risk the disrepute their current behavior merits.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.