Whitman Wire

Racist brothers do not define Greek system

Christopher Hankin

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Illustration by Catalina Burch.

An astounding percentage of Whitman’s student body is involved in groups on campus. This is a testament to the inclusive environment fostered at our school. Whitman students are also frequently involved in multiple clubs. I, for example, am a member of a fraternity, a writer for The Pioneer, an occasional member of the Slam Poetry Club and a pickup soccer enthusiast. These are groups that help to define me; people can identify me by one or all of these affiliations. But to what degree do I define these organizations in the same way that they define me?

One organization that significantly defines its members is a men’s or women’s fraternity. Greek organizations polarize opinions and elicit strong responses from those involved and those who choose not to be. One of the fraternities at Washington State University is currently embroiled in a debate between the chapter and the Black Student Union after a member of the fraternity said some pretty terrible things to two black students at a party. I won’t repeat what it was that he said, but suffice it to say that it was enough to get the member expelled from the fraternity.

But the issue doesn’t end there. The BSU is now calling for the disbandment of the entire WSU chapter and has gone so far as to call the entire Greek system racist. Without diving into the specifics of whether or not the Greek system is racist (I would argue that though they may further the problem, college campuses do most of the damage without needing the help of Greek organizations), there is irony here: While the BSU is fighting against racial profiling and stereotyping, they are profiling and stereotyping the Greek system and its members. Though the two acts of profiling are not comparable in terms of historical significance or severity, it is still unfair to allow the actions of one racist individual to define every Greek-affiliated student at WSU.

This gets back to the question of how significantly individuals define organizations. One racist frat bro does not define the Greek system as a whole. One individual cannot speak for a group of that size unless the group allows him or her to do so. Had the chapter in question held a protest march in solidarity with their racist brother, the claim could be made that the organization as a whole was racist. But they didn’t do that. Instead, members of the fraternity expelled the racist brother, marched with students in the BSU and wrote a sincere open letter of apology trying to articulate the fact that this one person does not represent the chapter as a whole.

We live in a society that wants easy, fast, band-aid answers. Blaming the Greek system for racism in America is entirely unfair because American racism is so much bigger than any individual group. The Greek system is being made into a scapegoat because we don’t want to look deeper. That is not to say that the fraternity in question is blameless. It rests squarely on the shoulders of those brothers that they hand-picked a racist individual to be affiliated with their organization. But the racism exhibited by that individual, and maybe even that fraternity, is merely a symptom. Our society is sick. Cough drops won’t suffice; we need surgery.

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Racist brothers do not define Greek system