Campus racism exposes cultural inequality

The events of the past weeks at Yale and Miz­zou have brought specific instances of rac­ism to the nation’s attention. Such outbreaks are rooted, however, in a long-standing institution of racism that extends far beyond fraternity houses and classrooms.

Despite their indisputable connection, each individual incident has its own distinct circum­stances and deserves to be evaluated as such. Therefore, this article will mainly focus on recent occurrences at Yale University, in the context of similar issues elsewhere.

Following a Halloween party hosted by Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), Yale student Neema Gith­ere ’18 wrote a Facebook post expressing her dis­gust at an interaction she had witnessed in front of the house: as a group of young women ap­proached the front door, an SAE member insisted that they leave, explaining that only white girls were permitted to enter. Githere added that she had personally experienced the same discrim­ination the previous year. Numerous students commented on her post, sharing similar stories of racism on the university’s campus.

An anonymous freshman disclosed that a fra­ternity member had turned him away from the same party. As he approached the house, a man in the doorway shouted, “Who the [expletive] do you think you are–you’re clearly gay.”

Another student claimed that SAE members had been going down the line of people outside of the house, picking out blonde girls and allow­ing them inside. The SAE president denied all accusations of systemic discrimination on behalf of the Yale chapter. The fraternity’s ongoing re­jection of the experiences of minorities serves to perpetuate the enforcement of prejudice instead of prevent further issues. SAE has already been suspended based on a violation of Yale’s sexual misconduct policy, and scrambling to save face will only tarnish their reputation further at this point.

This is certainly not the first time that SAE has fended off accusations of racism. Last spring, members of the Oklahoma University chapter posted a video featuring a group of SAE broth­ers on a bus shouting a racist chant. The video spread across social media and was eventually brought to the attention of the university’s ad­ministrators, ultimately leading to the expulsion of two students.

In May, SAE’s Stanford chapter was put on probation after incidences of cyberbullying, Ti­tle IX concerns and alcohol related issues. These recent problems are by no means isolated inci­dents. SAE, like many fraternities, has been found guilty on numerous occasions of directly engag­ing in discriminatory acts.

Prior to Halloween, associate master of Silli­man College Erika Christakis, a residential col­lege at Yale, received backlash for an email she sent out in response to Dean Burgwell Howard’s encouragement of respectful behavior on Hal­loween. She urged students to dress however they liked, without concern for the cultures and identities that they may be appropriating, saying, “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit in­appropriate or, yes, offensive?”

Not surprisingly, the student body responded strongly to Christakis’ tactless approach to the matter, and more than 740 students signed an open letter confronting the offensive nature of the email.

Since the pervasiveness of racism at the Uni­versity has become common knowledge, more Yale students have opened up about their experi­ences with various sorts of prejudice on campus. An appallingly large portion of the student body has experienced harassment of some kind in a variety of locations, from dining halls, to class­rooms, to the streets. In addition, many students have come forward lately about inadequate men­tal health resources, the inefficient process of filing sexual assault claims and the larger impact of these issues on minorities in the community.

As more students begin to share their past ex­periences, it becomes clear that the University is not a safe space for a large portion of its in­habitants. Many victims of racism and prejudice evidently did not feel comfortable voicing their experiences and pushing for change.

It is impossible to separate the racist practices of university administration from those of indi­vidual fraternities, the Greek system as a whole and the rest of the United States. The country must address the issue at every level, however, taking into account not just isolated issues, but the conception of racism on a larger scale.

For those of us not at Yale, it is all too easy to let only the most blatant, absurd examples of rac­ism shape our perceptions of what is really hap­pening. We need to keep in mind that we are see­ing these incidents from an outside perspective, and that they may look markedly different from the other side. Oversimplifying issues as complex as racism limits both the potential for positive change and the range of voices that are heard.

Although what happened at Yale connects to a larger picture, the focus should remain on Yale students–those directly affected by these specific events–when determining the outcomes of the situation.

The upheaval caused by these events will soon die down, but the nation needs to continue to ad­dress these issues, regardless of their prevalence in media and pop culture. Although the country’s overall indignation regarding the occurrences of the past few weeks indicates a positive de­velopment in public opinion, the nation should not wait until such an undeniable, conspicuous example as the fraternity controversy happens before we confront systemic discrimination. Not all instances of racism are as visible as mass emails and fraternity chants, something both col­leges and the general public need to keep in mind moving forward.

—Emma Jones ’19 is a student at Vassar College.

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