Every college student involved in a student organization shares many of the common values that fraternities and sororities are founded upon. With an intent to find a group of people with similar interests or backgrounds, the goal is the same across the board. Students want to find a place where they belong. It’s when you stick some Greek letters on these group of students that everything changes.
From Neighbors (2014), to Legally Blonde (2001), Monsters University (2013), and all the way back to National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), the depiction of fraternal social organizations has always been one that’s intertwined with the idea of class, social hierarchy, and exclusivity.
Kappa Alpha set the ideal that joining a Greek fraternal organization was more than just joining a student organization. It was a transition into a secret society. And who doesn’t like a good secret?
- Ingrid Vasquez
And that’s the thing. When Phi Beta Kappa, the first fraternal organization in the United States, was founded in 1776, students were interested in finding a way to engage in discussion more freely outside of the classroom. When the first general Greek fraternal organization was founded in 1825, it took its ideals straight from Phi Beta Kappa. Putting more of an emphasis on brotherhood however, Kappa Alpha set the ideal that joining a Greek fraternal organization was more than just joining a student organization. It was a transition into a secret society. And who doesn’t like a good secret?
That is the question that leads into the current debate at the University of Oklahoma (OU) and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (or SAE) fraternity. Less than 24 hours after a video had surfaced showing members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Delta Delta Delta chanting “there will never be an [expletive] in SAE, you can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me” on their way to a Founder’s Day event, the national organization of SAE closed its OU chapter and suspended all members from the national organization. It was then learned that members had till Tuesday night to clear out of that fraternity house and that two of its members featured in the video had been expelled.
While many are applauding the actions taken against SAE, were they really the best response possible from the university and the fraternity’s national chapter? Trying to find a solution to a problem is one thing. But understanding why the problem needs a solution is another. And that’s where I believe the University of Oklahoma and the national organization of SAE are lacking.
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They say that good press is any press. But anyone will do whatever it takes to make a scandal go away. It all goes back to giving the people what they want.
It’s not my intention to say that the actions from OU or SAE’s national organization weren’t genuine. Compared to many fraternity and sorority incidents that have occurred in the past few years across all college campuses, the University of Oklahoma and SAE were the first to make such a public response to an issue of this sorts. This leads me to question what will happen after the national spotlight goes away and that plans that OU and SAE have to keep something like this from happening again.
Putting a Band-Aid on a open wound will stop the bleeding. But that doesn’t mean the bleeding won’t happen again.
That is where my call to action lies. You can’t punish someone for committing a crime of bigotry. But you can certainly try to show them why that mentality is questionable.
By the time that most head off to college, they are eighteen years old and are capable of forming their own ideas about the world. It is not a situation where parents are to blame or one’s upbringing is brought forward. It doesn’t matter if you wear Greek letters, or if your skin is black or white. We all have the power to make our voice heard. And in a setting where students are working to make their voice heard through whatever their fields of study may be, the universities and colleges across the United States need to do the same.
They are the true parental figures for students when students away from home. And just like any normal parent, they shouldn’t let any questionable actions go unnoticed. We can’t expect students to develop intellectually without a lesson being taught.
And in all actuality, isn’t that was school is for?
Ingrid Vasquez is a fourth-year Journalism and Mexican American Studies student at the University of Texas at Austin.