Turn fraternity housing over to minorities and women
Before you think about emailing me or Student Life telling us how this article is reactionary to the guns found on campus or why your fraternity isn’t like those rowdy hooligans from “the football frat,” just know I started writing this article a week before the permanent suspension of Phi Delta Theta.
Washington University has a pathetic history when it comes to appropriately disciplining fraternities for hazing, sexual assault and harassment, racist practices and violating any pre-existing watered-down punishment. Fraternities are a perfect representation of the type of person who has power and influence over the University: white, wealthy and male. You may find the occasional Black or Latinx member roaming their sticky halls, but every group that oppresses others needs that one example showing how progressive they are, or as Zora Neale Hurston famously said, “all my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” These “brotherhoods” have done nothing but occupy valuable space and make the University feel unsafe for many. In order to remediate the damage they have caused, Washington University should convert fraternity housing into living spaces for minorities and women.
The University recently released a two-year, 12-point plan for creating a more inclusive and diverse community. With this report and the constant talk about diversity, we can say that not only does University leadership know there is a problem, but they’re willing to devote time, energy and resources to fixing it. Well, I say it is time for them to put up or shut up. Anyone can generate long reports and come up with long-term plans, but what are you doing right now? There are obstacles that will take years to properly fix, but there are also ones that are more immediate and will demonstrate to minority students that you are serious about change. Go for the low hanging fruit—the lowest of which is providing spaces for minorities and women on campus. If the safety and success of minorities and women is a real priority for the University, then they can move heaven and earth to make sure something is done right now.
In his tenure as chancellor, Mark Wrighton has brought Wash. U. onto the cusp of national prominence. Although not as recognizable as peer institutions, if someone knows about Wash. U., they know where we stand—but they also know where we fall: designating space for its minority students. Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Tufts University, Georgetown University, Cornell University, Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University all have spaces for students of color, while Duke University has two. If we truly want our university to be a national powerhouse, then our leaders need to look past the endowment and start investing in what remains the weakest part.
Now, to the fraternities: Student Life recently detailed a partial timeline of negative fraternity-related incidents since 1993. This list is far from complete, and does not include the sexual assaults that the University is ill-equipped to properly handle or the racist practices that are touted as “tradition” or are justified because “we have a Black brother.” You may say it’s “only a few bad apples” but take a look at what that really means. The full quote is “a few bad apples spoils the barrel.” So, when one (or several) of you do something horrible, the moment you excuse or ignore it in the name of “brotherhood,” you are all forever tainted. When you join an organization, its reputation is now your reputation. Saying “I’ll speak up next time” keeps your nose away from smelling the rotting barrel that is your fraternity.
As most fraternities do little actual good to the University community, are regularly held unaccountable for their actions and make the University unsafe for minorities and women, I see no reason why we should continue to provide prime space for any fraternity. Wash. U. is laughably behind peer institutions in providing space for minorities and will continue to be as long as the University doesn’t make the success of its most vulnerable students a priority. You never see stories about a college finally attaining a record number of wealthy, white male groups on campus or about how they had to fight tooth and nail for the tiniest bit of space to call their own.
By taking the bold and necessary step in standing up to the white, male supremacy that is fraternities and giving space to minorities and women, Wash. U. will have truly taken the steps to becoming a real leader in the world. The past was only white and male, the future is diverse. Wash. U.: don’t be on the wrong side of history again.