Fraternities Were Not Built On Racism

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There was an article recently published on the website Thinkprogress.org by Casey Quinlan that claimed that because fraternities were built on racism, people shouldn’t be surprised when they do racist things. Presented in this article were a number of unsupported, historically inaccurate, and even false claims that place Greek life in a less than stellar light. While race continues to be a prevalent issue in society today, the conversations that must be had about it need to not only be factual, but also holistic — not merely placing the blame on one segment of college life.

One of the first instances that the article chose to touch on was the SAE chapter at Yale. The article claimed that “SAE’s Yale chapter was reportedly also responsible for enforcing a ‘white women’ only policy at their fraternity parties.” First and foremost, the SAE chapter at Yale was accused of having such a policy on only one instance. It was not an ongoing policy, as suggested in the article published on Thinkprogress.org. Secondly, a press release from SAE’s national headquarters, as well as the university itself, found that no such discrimination took place. The release reads:

The national headquarters completed its investigation of alleged racial intolerance at a social event hosted by our Connecticut Omega chapter at Yale University last November. The facts in the case indicate that no “white-girls only” party took place during Halloween weekend.

University administrators conducted a separate investigation, which also found no evidence of systematic discrimination against people of color, according to their report. During the event, law-enforcement officials directed SAE members to stop admittance and to create clear walkways outside of the house. The alleged denial of entry happened during this time period, but members adhered to the guidance of law enforcement. Our chapter at Yale University is comprised of a diverse group of brothers, and the event likewise was attended by a diverse group of students.

When issues of race do arise, Quinlan argues that universities choose not to take action because, and I quote, “former fraternity brothers often donate large sums of money to the university…” Often? An alumni pool may contain one or two large donors to the school, if you’re lucky. However, the majority of that group is not chomping at the bit to throw money back at the school they just spent four years paying for, Casey. I am sure that the SAE chapter at OU had large alumni donors, but did that stop them from getting the boot and being held accountable for their despicable actions? Nope.

Quinlan also presented the views of a senior at the University of Chicago, who claimed that she noticed “campus police turning a blind eye to underage drinking at mostly white fraternity houses while heavily monitoring students of color who don’t belong to Greek life.” Neither the senior, nor Quinlan, provide any sort of evidence to support this claim, and quite honestly, anyone who has ever set foot on a college campus knows that university police don’t run after every stumbling drunk kid that they see. The fact of the matter is that as society seeks to become increasingly more aware of issues like racism, misogyny, and hazing, fraternities are punished, quite frequently, when they act in such ways; we are not above university policy or the law. Campus police turning a blind eye toward underage drinking is not motivated by race and happens across campuses everywhere, regardless of whether or not a person is Greek affiliated.

To keep with the theme of falsified and twisted information, the article conveniently provides a brief and somewhat distorted history of fraternities in the United States and how they have, from day one, been involved in racist practices. Quinlan argues that “Frats were a way for white upper-class men to separate themselves from an increasingly diverse student population” and includes a passage from the book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, which claims that “The DNA of these organizations, if you go back, these predominantly white fraternities in particular were created after the Civil War with the expansion of college to non-aristocratic students.” Anyone who knows the basic history of how fraternities emerged on college campuses knows this claim to be at least partially false.

A number of the most prominent fraternities on campuses today were actually founded prior to the Civil War, including, but not limited to, Beta Theta Pi (1839), Phi Delta Theta (1848), Phi Gamma Delta (1848), Sigma Chi (1855), Theta Chi (1856), and Delta Tau Delta (1858). In the case of the Miami Triad, all three fraternities were founded more than 50 years before the first African American male student even enrolled at Miami of Ohio, according to the historical timeline published on their website. Therefore, if you are looking for someone to point fingers at for not promoting diversity during the infancy stages of college fraternities, point them towards the universities themselves, not the actual organizations, who were merely a subset of the environment at their respective schools.

Next up on Quinlan’s list of hate toward fraternities is the “power” that is associated with them. He cites a Cornell University source, saying that “Although only 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in fraternities, 76% of U.S. Senators and Congressmen, 85% of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, 80% of Fortune 500 executives and all but two presidents belonged to fraternities.” In reality, these numbers are greatly exaggerated. The actual data looks something along the lines of 31% of Supreme Court Justices, 50% of Fortune 500 executives, and only 44% of U.S. Presidents, according to the IFC. There is no immediate source of power that you gain access to by joining a fraternity. The only sense of “power” it may give you in terms of your career is an increased number of connections to which you have access to, which, last time I checked, is not something to reprimand a group over.

It is worth noting that a lack of diversity is not something exclusive to Greek life on college campuses. The coaching scene in college football, for instance, is predominately white, with only 11 of the 128 Division I head coaches being black. You can even count the number of black Division I university presidents on one hand, according to Time.com. Every aspect of college life can do better at diversifying themselves; stop simply placing it on the shoulders of fraternities and sororities. Individual chapters, even individual brothers, may make the mistake of committing an act that is racially offensive, such as the racist chant performed on video by an SAE chapter at Oklahoma, but that does not mean that Greek life as a whole should be blamed for their stupidity and insensitivity. We do not harbor hatred or seek to suppress minorities, and for those chapters and brothers who do go against such values, we hold them accountable for their actions. At the end of the day, all we are really looking for are dudes who we wouldn’t mind throwing a few cold ones back with.

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