“A Cycle Repeated On Other Campuses”: Racism In Greek Life Didn’t Start At The University Of Oklahoma, Or Sigma Alpha Epsilon
That shaky clip taken on a fraternity party bus at the University of Oklahoma ignited national nausea. It was something about the glee with which the young men, in formalwear, toss off the word “nigger” and the phrase “hang him from a tree,” the way the young woman blithely claps along. The video portrays a cavalier, virulent racism among the educated and privileged that some people like to pretend is extinct.
But while the words and images were shocking, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that racism has been uncovered anew at an American fraternity, given the number of incidents that have occurred at them in the past. In response to the University of Oklahoma incident, one of the school’s prized football recruits, an offensive lineman named Jean Delance, chose to rescind his acceptance. But at the University of Alabama, where Delance could wind up playing, the Kappa Alpha Order, until recently, held an “Old South” parade every year, replete with Confederate flags. The event was called off in 2010, after the previous year’s procession came to a halt in front of a historically black sorority during their 35th anniversary celebration. Of course, the reason black fraternities and sororities exist in the first place is that the white institutions would not accept students of color. As recently as 2013, there were at least four sororities at the University of Alabama that accepted no black women, according to an article in the school’s newspaper.
And a fraternity or sorority doesn’t have to have any ties to the South in order for its members to participate in behavior that is racist at worst and hurtful at best. In 1998, Dartmouth College’s chapters of Chi Gamma Epsilon (a sorority) and Alpha Xi Delta sponsored a “Ghetto Party” and made national headlines after attendees showed up wearing afros and carrying fake guns. Students protested and the groups apologized, but the story drew ample notice after the New York Times got wind of it. 1998 may seem to be ancient history—but it happened again in 2013, when two other Greek organizations co-hosted a “Bloods and Crips” event. Students came dressed much the same way as their forebears had, attracted national outrage and gave the same swift apology. Dartmouth has since banned Greek life and hard alcohol on its campus, primarily for safety reasons.
It’s a cycle that’s been repeated on other campuses. At Penn State in 2012, a chapter of Chi Omega took a picture of its members decked out in Mexican-themed costumes. The women wore sombreros, ponchos and fake mustaches. Two held signs. One said, “Will mow lawn for weed + beer,” while the other said “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.” Once again, students were predictably offended, the story hit Gawker, and the sorority members quickly apologized.
It would seem there are two kinds of racism at fraternities and sororities, both ingrained. There’s the historical kind, like the “Old South” parade, and the active discrimination against black members. Then there’s the casual wielding of cultural stereotypes, like the theme parties, which reveals prejudice in an almost childlike form. Perhaps there’s a thrill that accompanies such alcohol-fueled transgressions, and the sense of belonging in an exclusive group outweighs compassion. The ugliness, whether about women or nerds or minority groups, is part of the point, and it can, to outsiders, sometimes seem like a fundamental function of Greek life.
The Oklahoma incident straddles both kinds of racism. There’s the history, and the lily-white membership, and there’s the in-group disregard for others. There, on that enclosed bus, those men (and a few women) felt as if they were in an environment in which they could sing that racist and seemingly longstanding fraternity cheer, crossing a line they must have known was there, without fear of consequences. It’s not the first time there’s been photographic documentation of racism in a Greek organization. It’s just the first time it has been illustrated so clearly.
By: Ali Elkin, Bloomberg Politics, March 13, 2015
The sad controversies of Penn State have shown us that there is one thing politicians in Washington do right. Well, do right most of the time. Official Washington is smart enough to know what the folks at Penn State sure didn’t — you don’t build statues or monuments to people who are still alive. At Penn State, they thought it was a great idea to erect a statue of football coach Joe Paterno when he not only was still alive but still coaching. Nobody could have imagined when they dedicated the Paterno statue in 2001 that it would have to be removed in ignominy and shame, by workers hiding behind a hastily-built fence, only 11 years later.
But they should have known they were taking chances when they decided to honor somebody whose legacy was still being writ. They should have listened to Robert Shrum, who said Sunday on Meet the Press: “We shouldn’t put up statues of living people. You’re going to make yourself a hostage to fortune. And that’s what happened here.”
If they had paid attention to how Washington builds its monuments, they would have seen an abundance of caution, a willingness to let the passions of the day subside and history render its considered verdict. Just look at the edifices that dot the Mall. George Washington died in 1799, universally acclaimed as the greatest American. But it was 49 years before work began on the Washington Monument, and it was not completed until 85 years after the first president’s death.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest of the Founders, died in 1826. It was 117 years before his Memorial was dedicated. Abraham Lincoln saved the union. But he was in his grave for 57 years before he got a Monument in his name. Franklin D. Roosevelt was beloved as the president who guided the country through a Great Depression and a world war. He did get his likeness on the dime, replacing Winged Victory, while passions were strong. But that was recognition of his work on what became the March of Dimes and the battle against polio. He didn’t get a memorial for 52 years, until 1997. And those eager to honor Martin Luther King Jr. had to wait 43 years after his assassination before his statue was unveiled in West Potomac Park.
The patience is often tested, particularly when passions are strongest. A center for the performing arts had already been approved by President Dwight Eisenhower three years before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Given the slain leader’s support for the arts, it was a no-brainer to affix his name to the new center in 1971. But waiting for history has served the country well. For the most part, the United States has avoided what is commonplace in dictatorships such as Iraq and the Soviet Union, where citizens could get dizzy watching statues of Saddam, Lenin and Stalin go up and come down.
Despite the pressure of those with personal nostalgia and political agendas such as those rushing to name buildings after Ronald Reagan and build statues of him while he was alive, the American model is to wait until contemporaries are dead before taking chisel to granite. Just think of the one major exception in the capital. Is there anyone who doesn’t regret the hasty decision to name the FBI headquarters for its longtime director J. Edgar Hoover? The decision was made in 1972 only 48 hours after Hoover’s death, and long before historians began sorting through some of the less salutory aspects of the director’s tenure.
By: George E. Condon, Jr., National Journal, July 24, 2012
Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said, “I did what I was supposed to.” In fact, nobody at Penn State did what basic human decency requires — and as a result, according to prosecutors, an alleged sexual predator who could have been stopped years ago was allowed to continue molesting young boys.
The arrest Saturday of Jerry Sandusky, the school’s former defensive coordinator, on felony child sex abuse charges, involving at least eight victims, has sent university officials scrambling to justify a pattern of self-serving inattention and inaction.
University Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley also face charges — for failing to report what they knew about Sandusky and for allegedly perjuring themselves before a grand jury. Both proclaim their innocence. After an emergency meeting of the university Board of Trustees, it was announced Sunday that the two officials would be stepping away from their jobs.
Penn State President Graham Spanier has said that Schultz and Curley have his “unconditional support.” If he believes the way they acted was right, or even remotely acceptable, then he needs to go, too — as does Paterno, who can only destroy his legacy by hanging on and trying to excuse the inexcusable.
Assuming that even half of what Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly alleges is true, Sandusky is a patient and calculating pedophile who used his insider status with the glamorous Penn State football program to lure boys as young as 10. Sandusky allegedly met his victims through the Second Mile, a charity he founded that provides programs for troubled — and vulnerable — youth.
The investigation that led to the charges was launched in 2009 after the mother of a boy — a Second Mile participant — reported allegations of sexual assault to officials at a high school where Sandusky, now 67, volunteered. But Penn State officials knew at least 11 years earlier that there were disturbing questions about physical contact between Sandusky and young boys.
In 1998, Sandusky was famous in the college football world as the defensive wizard who gave Penn State the nickname “Linebacker U,” and he was often mentioned as Paterno’s likely successor.
That year, the university police department conducted what a grand jury report calls a “lengthy investigation” of allegations that Sandusky had hugged, rubbed against and inappropriately touched two 11-year-old boys while they were naked with him in the showers of a Penn State locker room.
Detectives listened in as the mother of one of the boys called Sandusky to confront him. According to the grand jury report, Sandusky told her: “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”
The local district attorney declined to prosecute, and the investigation was closed. Paterno was Sandusky’s immediate boss, and Curley was Paterno’s. Perhaps all who were involved did, in the narrowest sense, what they were “supposed to.” But imagine how much better it would have been if someone had done the right thing and taken that 1998 incident seriously — better for the victims, but also better for the university’s reputation and ultimately better for Sandusky himself.
It gets much worse: In 2002, after Sandusky had retired — although he still had an office and enjoyed the run of the Penn State athletic facilities — a football team “graduate assistant” saw Sandusky raping a young boy in the showers, according to the grand jury report.
The assistant — widely identified in news reports as Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback who is now the team’s wide receivers coach and top recruiter — told Paterno what he had seen. Paterno told Curley. The assistant was eventually summoned to a meeting with Curley and Schultz at which he says he described the rape in graphic detail.
The two officials claim they were only told about behavior that was “not that serious.” They took it seriously enough, however, to decree that Sandusky could no longer bring Second Mile children into the football building.
But they “never attempted to learn the identity of the child in the shower,” according to the grand jury. “No one from the university did so.”
According to the grand jury, the assistant, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier all knew about the incident. Each covered his own behind. None lifted a finger to find out who the alleged victim was or what had become of him.
Tell us again: How did you do everything you were supposed to do?