Another day, another story about Greek-letter organizations doing things to reinforce every stereotype people have against them. What was it this time? The chapters of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and Chi Omega sorority on the University of Pennsylvania campus held a mixer with a “gangsta” theme.
The chapters are now, deservedly so, getting reamed for being culturally insensitive. This party led a columnist for Philadelphia Magazine to label UPenn students “shmucks” in a letter addressed to “Penn Kids.”
He wrote, “You’re not actually kids, after all: You’re adults. Maybe you were raised with too much “faux” ironic comedy racism in your pop culture to know the difference, but making fun of other races? Not actually cool. So grow up.”
The writer also points out that as students at an Ivy League school and members of Greek-letter organizations, these students will have opportunities others will not, so they would be wise to not waste them.
All of this is true. The students were wrong to hold the party, and they are wrong to waste any opportunities given to them. It’s just another piece of evidence in a long list about why Greek-letter organizations are bad and they foster an environment where privileged individuals can act even more stupid, superior, and privileged.
With that bleak of an image about Greek Life, it’s impossible to think that sororities and fraternities are still growing and expanding to even more campuses. Why would something that’s so clearly terrible, based on news coverage anyway, be allowed to stay on the hallowed grounds of higher education?
Why? Because these news stories and opinion columns share less than half of the real story about sorority and fraternity life. For every article about a party that got out of hand or (illegal) hazing, there are ten more that will never be published about philanthropy and volunteer work, fundraising, and good clean fun.
Chapters of Chi Omega and Beta Theta Pi throw an insensitive party and it’s major news. Delta Delta Delta Sorority as a whole reaches it fundraising goal of $15 million for St. Jude in 3.5 years instead of five and you never heard about it.
A (now former) member of Delta Gamma writes a horrible email to her sisters and the organization that I’m proud to consider myself a member of is nationally mocked and ridiculed. At the same time, that same organization opens schools for the blind, starts a partnership with TOMS shoes to provide eyewear to those in need, and announces a new partnership with wounded veterans, and it barely makes a blip.
I’m not condoning the actions of the students at UPenn, or the University of Texas, or Dartmouth, or Penn State, or any of the other institutions where Greeks made bad decisions. I’m not saying that Greek-letter organizations should be given a free pass to do whatever they please with no consequence.
As a member of a sorority, I can tell you that no organization condones behavior like that of the students at UPenn. I can hear the arguments now, “but why does this keep happening?” It keeps happening because college students, with Greek affiliation or not, make stupid decisions.
You keep hearing about it because Greek Life is an easy target, it’s a nice, identifiable group to write about. It’s less eye-grabbing to say “a group of random 18-23 year olds held a culturally insensitive party.” Greeks have a reputation we strive to change daily.
If a columnist in Pennsylvania wants to call Greeks schmucks, fine. The ones he’s referring to deserve it. But don’t dismiss Greek Life as a whole due to the actions of one group. There’s more to it than meets the eye and appears in the opinions column.
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