Syracuse University, others punish Greek organizations for despicable behavior
Syracuse University has permanently expelled its Theta Tau fraternity chapter after videos revealed its members spouting racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic language and acting out the sexual assault of a person with disabilities. In one video, which the fraternity has defended as “a satirical sketch” of a politically conservative brother, a member is asked to repeat: “I solemnly swear to always have hatred in my heart for…” — which he then concludes with racial slurs of black, Hispanic and Jewish individuals.
The video, while shocking and disturbing, is just one link in the long chain of inappropriate and downright harmful behavior exhibited by fraternities over the years. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo earlier this month, Lambda Chi Alpha came under fire when one brother wore blackface and others donned stereotypical gangster costumes and flashed gang signs at an event — resulting in the suspension of Interfraternity Council organizations at the school.
These are not isolated occurrences. Every year, careless hazing leaves students dead and fraternities become embroiled in controversies over sexual misconduct and other insensitive actions — and these are just the cases that have been publicized.
For decades, Greek life has been viewed as a staple of “the college experience” and therefore often wields considerable leverage over universities. As a result, an overwhelming lack of oversight at both the national and university level has allowed fraternities to engage in behavior that can range from morally questionable to criminal.
Only recently have colleges like Syracuse begun taking a stricter position against such violations. Multiple schools, such as Ohio State, Penn State University and the University of Michigan, have suspended fraternities indefinitely, while others like Harvard University are contemplating following suit.
Given such offenses, the Editorial Board doesn’t necessarily recommend banning Greek life across the board. For many, fraternities help bolster careers, forge friendships, raise money for charity, fortify qualities like leadership and improve communities through public service.
Yet a pattern of reckless and offensive conduct demonstrates a crucial need for systemic and cultural reformation. After all, is a brotherhood rooted in distasteful behavior, humiliation through hazing and bringing pain to others really a brotherhood?
Colleges must stress that Greek life is a privilege that comes in exchange for productive, healthy and principled organizations. The Editorial Board calls upon universities to strictly and swiftly enforce the rules of Greek life, and not only when another student dies during hazing, the lurid details of another sexual assault case goes public or more members are caught on camera spewing bigoted speech. The tired attempts to excuse the repercussions of despicable conduct as a horrendous accident, “just a joke” or plain ignorance will no longer suffice. Universities must properly hold fraternities accountable, even if that means being willing to ax their Greek life organizations when they jeopardize the physical and emotional health of other community members.
Written by: The Editorial Board