People are often surprised when I tell them I am in a fraternity. I joined Delta Upsilon my freshman year and lived in the house last year, but I am no frat star. In the past two years, I’ve been to maybe three DU events, however I am close to active and inactive members. Considering I am a non-white member of an allegedly racist fraternity, I can speak to last week’s racial incident with some clarity. There are three things that I am sure of: excessively punishing DU is a mistake, disciplining the individuals involved needs to be firm and fair and DU’s proximity to the end of Frances Street is a factor that has been ignored.
I know DU doesn’t promote racism, their punishment should reflect this fact. Of the active members I know, most are smart and down to earth. Are there some assholes? Of course. Choose 150 people anywhere and you’re bound to get some bad eggs. Usually, controversial occurrences in fraternities—or any institution—are the misguided actions of individuals. Therefore, investigations need to separately address individuals and the institution to get the whole picture and give an appropriate response.
Even though I don’t consider DU racist, there have been uncomfortable situations in the house that have come from members’ cultural illiteracy. This ignorance comes from living in non-diverse social bubbles. To some actives, DU is link in a chain of exclusive and insular communities that started before they pledged DU, and will continue after. The transition from gated-suburbs and fancy prep-schools to Greek life is seamless. It is for this reason I can easily imagine last week’s incident happening at a country club. The continued ignorance of those who move from one posh social bubble to another reflects a misstep by the fraternity, but it is the university, not DU, which failed to enlighten these young men.
How about this Wisconsin: By graduation, everyone should be able to discuss white privilege and gender constructs in a competent manner. It is a shame that students can side-step intellectual inquiry with softball classes to fulfill their ethnic-studies requirements, because knowledge and tolerance go hand in hand.
The university’s discipline of the perpetrators needs to be firm and fair. If someone’s record shows a pattern of insensitivity, racism or classism and if past efforts to teach tolerance have failed, the university should sift and winnow these students right out of the student body. But since the harassers’ ignorance is partially a failure by the university, those involved with no record should be given another chance.
Those calling for harsh individual punishments are missing some important context. Next to DU is a small raised platform that is not visible from the street. It attracts an interesting crowd. Some people on the platform are just eclectic Madisonians enjoying the lake, but some use the platform to do heroin. When speakers and bikes go missing from DU, everyone blames the platform-goers. Whether this blame and the assumed drug use is correct or not is a police matter, but DU’s distrust of these neighbors also played a role in the incident. One might assume the connection between the harassed black students and the heroin-users is racial, but most of the people who spend their time on the platform are white. Also, DU is fenced in on all sides except to the street, so anyone on DU’s property is either lost and accidentally trespassing, or they are purposefully trespassing. This is true for the harassed students as well. These factors do not excuse any harassment, but they are part of the story.
The relationship between the Greek community and the rest of campus needs to be addressed in the wake of this alleged incident. It often seems as if fraternities play by their own rules, but had this incident happened anywhere else, I wonder if it would have made the news. The university should not let news coverage influence their decision away from the calm prudence needed to appropriately handle the situation, and people on campus should not use this incident to label fraternities, even DU, as racist.
David Ruiz is a senior majoring in English. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.