Colonize this

| Senior Forum Editor

If you’ve taken any kind of world history, you learned about areas with a legacy of colonization: India, America, Hong Kong, much of Africa (it’s all the same thing, right?), Wash. U….wait, what? One of those items is not like the other—Wash. U. is, at least ostensibly, free of European men oppressing and exploiting us for our resources. There are at least a few pompous, old white men on campus, but it’s not like they oppress the rest of us or anything (well, I suppose that’s open to interpretation). But still, the legacy of colonization—with all its nasty connotations of oppression, disenfranchisement and suffering—continues, at least linguistically. Kappa Delta just started a colony at Wash. U., which in Greek lingo means that a new chapter of the sorority has been founded here. As several members of the Class of 2013 Facebook Group pointed out, the term “colony” is problematic and needs to be examined critically.

This isn’t to say that the entire Greek system is evil or that Kappa Delta isn’t welcome here. They’re just using regular Greek lingo. So what’s in a colony? It’s just a word, right?

Well, the legacy of colonization is still present in numerous modern nations. Opium Wars, anyone? Well, that happened like, over a hundred years ago. How about apartheid in South Africa? These are just a few examples of colonization and associated racist, oppressive and generally immoral actions. India, for example, gained independence in 1947, a fact which did not immediately erase the effects of British colonization. The partition of India and Pakistan was done hastily and poorly, resulting in bloodshed on both sides and ongoing conflict in the region.

Hell, the legacy of oppression is still present here in America, an unpleasant fact that is usually glossed over by rosy “melting pot” rhetoric and cutesy reenactments of the first Thanksgiving. “Indian reservations” might mean “casinos” to you, but they’re an institutionalized holdover from an era of oppression, carried out in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” According to the New York Times, the rate of sexual assault on reservations is more than twice the national average. Even the narrative we learned in 5th-grade American history emphasizes the struggle of Americans against the oppressive British Empire. Uncomfortable? Definitely—but ignoring uncomfortable aspects of history and culture is how society progresses. And these are just instances perpetrated by European countries.

Speaking of uncomfortable, the promotional postcards distributed around the South 40 are pretty much devoid of anyone other than pretty, smiling white women. Well, these are the individuals that occupy sororities in the mind of American popular culture (“Legally Blonde,” anyone?). But in reality, there are Asian, black, Middle Eastern, Native American and Latina sorority sisters, and they are just as important to the Greek community as anyone else. Not including an ethnically diverse range of women sends the explicit message that minorities aren’t welcome. Or at least don’t belong on promotional material.

And yes, I realize that the newest members of Kappa Delta aren’t consciously drawing on a legacy of oppression, racism and White Man’s Burden when they chant about sisterhood and have cupcake fundraisers. Apartheid cupcakes? Not so appetizing. But language has more power than people who cry “political correctness!” consider. There’s a reason words like “retarded,” for example, aren’t considered acceptable: because they carry a lot of baggage—emotional and otherwise—that is hurtful. Just because it’s not offensive to you doesn’t mean it’s not to someone else. Like wearing racist Halloween costumes, using the word “colony” smacks of ignorance and ethnic privilege. Simply replacing the word doesn’t get at the root of issue, however; the reasons why the word is offensive need to be discussed. Maybe its all Greek to me, but is there a reason sisterhood needs to be associated with military oppression?

  • Anonymous

    I’m embarrassed to be associated with this school in all honesty. This is exactly why I am never donating any of
    my hard-earned money towards the school. WashU continues to attract people who are so out of touch with reality and choose to create controversy over such mundane non-issues. The fact a handful of students are actually make an issue out of this simple word choice is beyond me.

    Get a grip WashU. There is a real world outside of your little bubble you call Washington University.

  • frustrated student

    I think you need to seriously reconsider the things which you are choosing to “get offended” at this new year. This is not a true issue that people should be worrying about. It is clearly not what the sorority has intended for it to mean. This is a prime example of someone trying to make an issue out of nothing in order to make a story.

  • bloop

    I don’t have anything to say to this other than LOL

  • are you serious

    Literally don’t people have better things to do with their time here than submit op-eds to StudLife that nitpick over word usage that has been traditionally associated with the expansion of the Greek system? Being politically-correct is one thing, being stupid is another. God forbid we ever expand to the Moon and call that a “colony” lest we offend the natives.

  • Poor, oppressed brown person

    As a descendent of Indian people who lived under British colonization, I hereby give Kappa Delta permission to use the word “colony” to refer to their current expansion into Wash U. I hope this appeases you, easily offended college liberal.

    • ConcernedStudent

      In contrast to what most are saying, I am actually very offended by this term. As an Indian-American as well I can honestly say that the reason I didn’t join a sorority is because I didn’t feel welcome. “Poor, oppressed brown person” don’t even try to tell me that you haven’t once walked into a room as the minority and not felt some sort of distance from the rest in the room. Furthermore, if you still disagree, the numbers simply don’t add up. Anyone who isn’t a caucasian male in American society today is definitely still at a loss due to some type of discrimination whether that’s in terms of a salary or at the non-tangible level of simply not being able to garner a similar level of dominance among a group regardless of skill. One of the biggest problems with using such terminology is as Natalie writes, it is entrenched in a slew of historical references that bring along the baggage of years of racial inequities and power dynamics that have yet to be resolved. We can forget about these unseemly aspects of life or we can do as Natalie did and open up a space for discussion. So in conclusion, yes, a large group of white girls coming to my campus (not WashU) to “colonize” does make me uncomfortable regardless of how benign their intentions may be.

      • Smh

        It’s a word. It only holds as much stock as you put into it. If you choose to weigh it so heavily that it causes you discomfort, then enjoy your completely avoidable misery. This is a non-issue and I’m sick of StudLife giving this woman a voice to ramble about nonsensical issues.