My first thought? Kick them off. I can’t believe it’s happened again. The whole fraternity deserves to be punished. They take an oath of sister- or brotherhood, and by selectively choosing who is in their house, the “type” of person that they bring into their society dictates their culture. More accurately, the “type” of person brought into a house is a reflection of the house’s already existing culture. In the case of Phi Kappa Theta, they perpetuated a culture where intolerance and non-acceptance is both tolerated and acceptable. A group of members chanted a homophobic slur, and for that, the entire fraternity should be punished.
My second thought? I’m tired. After a year of operating at full capacity, having emotionally draining conversations and constantly arguing and fighting for what I believe to be right, I’m spent. I thought that the summer would let everyone cool down and that we would come back reinvigorated. But the fight goes on, and it feels like we’re having the same conversations that we were having months ago.
How could they do this? There has to be an explanation, and here’s my first instinct. While yes, chapters create a culture in which certain negative behavior is tolerated, not everyone is bad, and maybe even none of them are bad. After all, this chant started off as a tradition, and how often do we really pay attention to the words we say and things that we do once they’ve become normalized — once they’ve become tradition? If you’ve ever said that someone has “gone off the reservation,” rejoiced at the sound of the ice cream truck song, or not noticed that “under God” is written on our legal tender, you shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s possible that the fraternity members did not realize the significance of their statements. And we need not go into a historical analysis of the effects of group-think and what happens when good people stand by and do nothing in the midst of atrocity. So like I said, maybe they are not at fault. This analysis might be off, but you get the idea.
But in getting caught up in these arguments as to whether or not the fraternity is culpable, and whether or not these are bad people, we lose sight of the bigger argument. We get that emotional knee-jerk reaction, that feeling deep in the pits of our stomachs that screams retribution and judgment and punishment. But suspend those emotions for a second, delay that gut feeling. Lend me your imagination, just for a moment, so I can walk you through a train of thought.
Maybe they are to blame, and maybe they aren’t. In the end, it really doesn’t matter, because what does blaming achieve? What is justice but the legal variety of vengeance? Retribution polarizes people. The scrutiny which Phi Kappa Theta and many other Greek organizations before it have experienced causes members of the Greek community to feel oppressed, as if they are unwelcome at Lehigh. Blaming will only serve to fortify people in their opinions, making it less likely that we will ever see the changes we know need to be made at Lehigh. Change must be done in the context of our entire community, Greeks included.
Instead of using this incident as a condemnation of the Greek system, let’s use it to our advantage. It’s a litmus test, a status report as to how our campus culture is faring after a year of turbulence. As evidenced by the incident, not much has changed since the Umoja House hate crime. People seem to be just as culturally and socially unaware as they were before.
What has changed is our attitude. We’ve been placated by partial successes and half-measures of the past semester. The Summer Scholars institute is a partial success. It’s a pragmatic and creative step towards creating the campus climate that we envision. The voluntary resolution agreement made as a result of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigation of Lehigh is a half-measure, as anyone who read it could see. It does not contain the broad and penetrating solutions that our problems require. Instead, it contains ambiguous promises — “a series of student-focused remedies…that will include a committee to provide a forum for [discussion],” “an anti-discrimination statement” — the likes of which we have seen before. One stipulation is that Lehigh will submit annual campus climate reports to OCR. Few are aware that a campus climate report was taken in 2007, and it told us what we’ve had to fight to have acknowledged: that our campus is intolerant. So now we’re submitting more campus climate reports. It feels as though we’ve taken two steps back.
I came back from summer break relaxed and expecting to reap some of the benefits of last year’s struggles. This incident has reinvigorated me, gotten me angry, upset and passionate. But it’s important to place this passion in a constructive place.
Blaming, although it might feel satisfying, is not the solution to anything. It’s too easy. It requires no creativity and only widens the already existing gaps between us. If you really want to help, let this motivate you. Set up meetings, talk to professors or staff members, student organizations or groups. Let your emotion challenge you to start thinking about how you can change this situation we’re in.
– Wade Homer, Lehigh class of 2015