Frat Culture On Trial
Issue   |   Wed, 10/17/2012 - 00:47

Last week, an article on AC Voice exposed a shockingly misogynistic shirt printed by members of an off-campus fraternity, Theta Delta Chi (TD), that was greeted with minimal punitive action by the administration, much to the author and students’ chagrin. However, it was not greeted with surprise. In a public meeting organized in response by President Martin, several women spoke out about experiencing sexual disrespect or sexism at the College. Sexism, and the less-than-pleasant experiences of survivors or women in general at the College, is an acknowledged norm. However, the focus of the conversation turned largely instead toward frats, fraternity culture and TD in particular. While the actions of TD are reprehensible, any administrative action that focuses solely on punishing TD, or examining fraternity culture at Amherst, will be a shallow, symbolic move that seeks to bury a symptom of the problem while ignoring the problem’s larger cause and the nature of student associations.

This is not an endorsement for or against banning the fraternity, for we must understand that a ban on the fraternity will not stop students from freely socializing and associating as always, and they will still live off campus as they always have. This is a call to the administration and the student community to look at the larger problems with social culture at Amherst and work toward solving them rather than being satisfied with surface-level punitive measures.

There are problems at Amherst that are reflective of the larger culture we students live in. The College is not a bubble with students devoid of sentiments of racism, misogyny, classism, homophobia or any other prejudiced mindset. We cannot expect the College, the administration or the student community to change the biases and sentiments of these students. We can, however, expect a more robust and communicative community that attempts to recognize these sentiments and work toward handling them in a respectful manner.

We must attempt to influence minds, rather than merely make associations unofficial. When any group of students with commonalities choose to associate, the group culture accentuates features that the members have in common. Thus, it is possible that in any group of male students — sports teams, fraternities or even all-male suites — we will find exaggerated enactments of ‘masculinity.’ Unless every student recognizes and understands their own behavior, this phenomenon will perpetuate itself until a ‘herd mentality’ leads to offensive acts by the members of the association. Banning one association will not prevent the offensive actions of any other group of students.

There are several ways in which this can happen. One way would be to encourage more all-campus dialogues and activities that focus on breaking the homogenous culture of Amherst’s social cliques. For a start, first-year orientations and seminars can be reoriented around discussing these hard biases. In fact, the entire culture of Amherst itself can and should be called into question — the emphasis on academic busywork and resume building over self-development and introspection further entrenches the very problems that have culminated in this T-shirt in the first place.

An additional step in the campaign against disrespect would be to tackle the social vacuum on campus that allows such pacified student associations to lurk in the shadows beyond the social framework of campus life. In our awkwardly forced-together yet fragmented social culture at Amherst, building deeper associations of students may in fact pave the way for a stronger bond and greater understanding at Amherst can be looped together and co-opted into building more active sense of school spirit — school spirit enabling us to celebrate difference.

There are pros and cons to punitive action, and there are different forms the action can take. Ultimately, however, we cannot expect serious change until we start asking — and answering — the harder questions.

Anchor
Comments
William McClung (not verified) says:
Thu, 10/18/2012 - 15:45

The group that styles itself "Theta Delta Chi" is not affiliated with Theta Delta Chi International Fraternity. We deplore the improper use of our name.
William McClung, Executive Director, Theta Delta Chi International Fraternity (execdir@tdx.org)
214 Lewis Wharf
Boston, MA 02110

Princess Jasmine (not verified) says:
Fri, 10/19/2012 - 12:30

If you seek to "focus on breaking the homogenous culture of Amherst’s social cliques" then let's be fair. What does that really mean? Does that mean getting rid of the Black Student Union? La Casa? The Pride Alliance? Or the Much Ado About Knitting Club?

No, of course that's not what you mean. You mean castrating any event that facilitates these "exaggerated enactments of masculinity." And if we don't act now, this phenomenon will perpetuate itself until a herd mentality leads to offensive acts! Gasp!

I can't wait until you kiddos get out into the real world. What are you going to do when you're trudging through the Lower East Side coming home from your 2-year I-Banking gig (that you didn't really want, but you resume-dropped anyhow even though you're a Poetry major) and some guy is wearing a T-shirt that says "F--- you." What are you going to do? Ask Biddy to make it stop?

Marina Weiss (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 02:59

Dear "Princess Jasmine,"

Don't worry, there's definitely already a herd mentality afoot-- it's a herd that you clearly feel comfortable hiding among. In the context of very real sexual assaults on American college campuses in general and at Amherst College in particular, I can tell you that "exaggerated enactments of masculinity," such as defending oneself from "castratration", are indeed in abundance in the real world, where I am up late, writing you.

Investigation into sexism is certainly warranted; it's the largest blemish on Amherst's burnished public image, and it affects the mental and physical safety of its student population. If the school hasn't changed too much since I left, racism is also extant, as is homophobia; do you argue that all "offensive acts" should be conceived of as inevitable? Do you argue against all action? The issue here is not t-shirts, it's student wellbeing, and ultimately, the wellbeing of the college as a whole.

Rape is the most common violent crime on American college campuses. Rape occurs at Amherst College. It isn't a new phenomenon, but it is a morally repellent one, involving the subjection of human beings to physical and emotional violation and trauma. What are your values, Jasmine? Are you incapable of seeing the bigger picture here, that you are privileging your own little group (I assume you are a frat boy, forgive me if I am making this assumption mistakenly, but I can see no other reason why you would be so defensive or have any need to be anonymous) over the wellbeing of an estimated 25% of females on campus?

Forgive me for being so antagonistic. I would love to have this conversation over email, but I have no idea who you are, so I am reduced to responding to your comment here. For more information about my opinions, please see my forthcoming letter to the editor of this newspaper.

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