Should a fraternity/sorority office apologize for the insensitive actions of a member they had no control over? In my opinion: No – but if one should, then it shouldn’t play dumb.
Today’s racist fraternity/sorority incident is brought to you by a girl from New Jersey who lives in Alabama but is not southern and so she believes she is allowed to say “Nigger.” Oh, also, she’s an Alpha Phi at the University of Alabama, where Greek Life has already faced heat for their discriminatory practices. It’s a “journalist’s” dream as far as dramatic backstory goes.
As can be expected, the national office of Alpha Phi put out a statement; it reads as follows:
I wonder: Why did Alpha Phi issued a statement at all? They didn’t recruit her. There is a good chance that most at Alpha Phi’s international office have never met this woman and know nothing of her other than some biographical information and her payment history.
Here are four notes regarding the statement made by Alpha Phi International, similar statements from other organizations, and why they are (in the words of a UIFI graduate) “mistakes,” and not “missteps.”
1. The Vague, Cookie-Cutter, Hit-Every-Mark Statements Highlight How Disconnected HQ Offices Are From Their Students
It’s not just Alpha Phi, every fraternity, sorority, corporation, university president, political party, etc. issues an almost carbon copy, white-guilt statement like this after a racist incident involving a member. Swap out the word “diverse” with a list of policies if the incident is related to hazing, drinking, drug abuse or sexual assault.
No fraternity or sorority (inter)national office knows who their chapters are recruiting. Sororities in particular have instituted a comprehensive recruitment process championed as “values-based,” and yet the women of this chapter are on Twitter playing dumb and pretending they didn’t know their racist friend existed. Suddenly, “she’s not our sister,” and “she’s not representative of us.” Maybe part of their values-based interview process should involve a question like, “Do you think it’s okay to shout the n-word?” or, “Are you a racist with a short fuse?”
If she made a million dollars or got a 4.0 then we would credit ourselves as having found her and built her into a great woman. When a member does something embarrassing; however, we treat them more like a family casting their lesbian daughter out to the streets for damaging their reputation. Is that sisterhood?
Want to promote your students as leaders? Here’s a better statement to do just that: “The leadership of the Alabama Chapter of Alpha Phi has terminated [Name]’s membership in line with their values congruence policies. She is no longer affiliated with the chapter or international organization.” Playing dumb is not cute, it’s not leadership and it’s not progressive.
2. Are Fraternities/Sororities People?
During an election season, I notice that most higher education/fraternity/sorority professionals tend to support Democratic Party candidates, positions and talking points. That’s not bad, but here’s something inconsistent between those political posts and our demands that organizations release statements:
We cannot say that “Corporations aren’t people” during an election and then demand human actions from those non-human entities in our day to day life. I explored this question in another post. Any statement should have come from a human at Alpha Phi. Someone wrote that statement – so whose thoughts and mindset does it actually represent?
Who is Alpha Phi? How does Alpha Phi have an opinion if it’s not a person? Who is the “we” Alpha Phi references in their statement? Is it the staff of the International Office? Is it just the chief executive and communication team? Did all of the members have a say in this woman’s membership?
Let’s agree to stop demanding statements and opinions of non-human entities and associations. If we need a statement to feel less guilty by association, have it come from a human person in the organization – an executive director or national president is a good place to start. Nothing implies a sense of shame like refusing to attach your name to something (that’s why I don’t let people write “anonymous” posts for Fraternity Man).
3. Back to Cookie-Cutter Statements: NPC Sororities Are Not Diverse – Do We Think People Are Too Stupid To Notice?
I want to point out that an NPC sorority referring to their organization as “diverse” is like saying “I’m not homophobic because I work with a gay,” or, “I’m not racist, my nanny was black!”
What do you mean by “diverse”? Why not share some statistics? It seems to me like choosing to include “diverse” in that statement was a pacification technique which is only exacerbated when one looks at the Alpha Phi website and sees photos of only white women and an entirely white leadership council.
All NPC organizations were founded as exclusively white organizations. It’s not a bad thing – it’s just the historic truth. They no longer have such requirements, but they also haven’t added a new sorority to their trade association since before the Civil Rights Act. To have hundreds of thousands of white women in these organizations and not expect one, several, or hundreds to be emphatically racist is unrealistic.
People have terrible flaws, so why is everyone playing innocent while throwing her under the bus? Which leads me to a final point regarding the damaging effects of these apologetic statements:
4. This Is A Spectacle, It Always Is
This woman’s name is on the internet, her videos are on the internet, and she’s been trashed by people who days ago called her a lifelong sister.
If these words were said in a car, but not recorded, would she have been expelled? Would everyone be doing their part to make sure she is cast aside? Have you ever seen a fraternity/sorority chapter release a statement when they expel anyone other than those who’ve made headlines?
It’s not her behavior we are disgusted with, it’s the audacity she demonstrated to be racist in a public forum. It’s the same for the SAE’s at Oklahoma, who boldly sang a racist song outside of their chapter house. Had they never been on that bus, and recorded by that man, their chapter would still exist in all it’s secret racist glory today – would it not? They’d be applauded by Greek Life professionals high and low if they donated $10,000 to charity and managed to keep their racist song off camera.
So those of us who claim to promote diversity and to stick up for racial injustice need a swift kick in the gut. A press release does not remedy the situation, nor does a single expulsion. There are racist members of our organizations. If you don’t expel them, you accept it. Maybe your chapter wants to accept it, fine, then don’t lie when one gets on camera and pretend you never knew.
If your alumni are racist and forcing your chapter to turn down people who would be great additions to your friend club then make it a spectacle. Tell them to shut up and stop obsessing over those with whom you choose to be friends.
I’ve picked on Alpha Phi in this post, but I guarantee I could have swapped out any letters and any photos from any NPC sorority website or almost any NIC fraternity website and come up with the same result.
Just last fall, the Michigan chapter of my fraternity intended to host a party themed after our Fraternity’s focus on Ancient Egyptian culture, teachings and mythology (which are completely unrelated to the modern Arab Republic of Egypt – mind you). A member of the Egyptian Student Association at the school issued a complaint, the chapter cancelled the party and requested the national office submit a statement – which it did.
It is not a bad thing to apologize, cancel an event or expel a member. Your chapter, your rules. . . once again, “your chapter, your rules,” which means that those of us who are not a part of your chapter should advise, offer support, and leave it at that. Sometimes it feels like college professionals and fraternity/sorority professionals are just annoying helicopter parents.
Statements like Alpha Phi’s wear at the trust the public holds for our organizations.
Fraternity and Sorority headquarters (among others referenced in this post) issue apology after apology for things with which they have no connection and no capacity to be involved. It also gives the public the impression that those offices do have the capacity to be involved.