At this point in my budding blog I should probably add that these posts are not jokes—they are meant to highlight the contradictions surrounding campus life.
Ahh, The Greek Reformer. Is it a magazine? Is it an underground religious organization during the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece?
No, The Greek Reformer, in fact, is just like a regular Cornellian who roams the quads and complains about prelims. What distinguishes this Cornellian, though, is the gap between what he or she thinks versus what he or she puts into practice.
Before I move forward, I would like to acknowledge the existence and analyze the nature of the significant barriers that prevent us from putting ideas into practice.
One such barrier is collective memory surrounding the victimization of one’s people in the past. Each of our communities has a background, a story. The way we collectively remember our people’s journey often focuses only on the extremes—the traumas and the triumphs.
This is what is thrown around—the traumas of the past. Within my community, the call to “never forget” surrounds the vocabulary we use to talk about the Holocaust. During Passover, we remember the fact that our ancestors in Egypt were enslaved for 210 years. This memorialization, though meant to inspire action in response to injustices within and outside the Jewish community, often transforms into an obstacle to serious reflection and action.
I was told recently that attempting to accomplish change while holding victimization as the center of the conversation is like trying to talk to someone while holding your arms folded over your eyes. Because it does not convey confidence in one’s position or identity, it is not conducive for constructing substantive and productive dialogue. It is simply uninviting.
And yet, we tend to treat our victimization as trophies, competing with each other to see whose is bigger and represents something more important, more severe. Extending the previous analogy, competing victimizations are like two people trying to look eye to eye through a screen of protectively folded arms.
Instead of a trophy above our heads, we must carry the memory in our hearts, using it as a catalyst for empathy and effective support for the people around us who are victimized in their everyday lives.
But while collective memory can inhibit our willingness to actually improve upon our past, the more significant barrier to action is our unwillingness to improve upon our present, the status quo, the privileges each of us may have. After all, it is hard to give up that which makes our lives easier.
This brings me, finally, back to The Greek Reformer, the epitome of unwillingness to let go of the present.
Setting aside the debate about whether or not the philanthropy provided by Greek life justifies the incessant, loud partying that goes on within fraternity walls; setting aside the debate about whether or not the relationships these houses help form make up for the unhealthy encounters they make probable; I think it is important to take issue with the lack of action taken by the individuals who make up this system—the Greek Reformers.
This past week, I noticed on Facebook many posts damning the recent racially motivated acts that happened on Cornell’s campus—the assault in Collegetown and slurs yelled at the Latino Living center. I noticed many members of fraternities and sororities note their discontent with Greek culture and the misogyny and racism that pervades.
While voicing your opinion on social media or in an article is important to start a conversation and asserts your position as someone who does not hold the same values as a morally questionable institution, it does not constitute a solid effort towards effecting tangible change. In an opinion piece by a Sun columnist a few weeks ago, the writer stated: “it’s hard for me to reconcile [the great feminists and tender men I met through Greek life] with the issues I see in Greek life.”
Hard to reconcile, perhaps, but clearly not impossible, as the author remained in her sorority. It is certainly a brave statement to come out against something one holds dear, but it is worth less if the sentiment of feeling sorry for one’s position as part of a flawed and vilified institution wins out over building the movement within the Greek community that has been necessary for a long time.
There is no council or administration that has shown a commitment to sustained and effective policies that reduce the potential for harmful interactions within and surrounding the Greek community. Essentially, this means that with each new incident, a new wave of complaints and responses comes crashing down. Any improvements made are reactive, not proactive. The lack of effective leadership also means that the burden of finding a long-lasting solution must come from a coalition of members within the Greek community.
To quote the Sun’s Editorial board: “we eagerly await the forthcoming plan to combat ‘hatred, intolerance and violence,’ referenced in the Greek Tri-Council statement.” This is a statement coming from the onlookers of a system that has not changed its ways for many, many years. If change is to come, it must come from the Facebook posters and article writers who have been so satisfied in the past to remain nothing more than just posters and writers.
So, what will this plan be? Will it come from the ground up, from those like the author claiming a detrimental Greek system, or will it come from those who simply want to ride the tide, to wait out this wash of Facebook posts until another fraternity becomes wrapped up in hate and rape?
As an outsider, I have said my piece and must now return to how I can effect change. Taking the arms off of my eyes, I must have the conversations within my community that will encourage others to do the same. I must not be so insular, instead placing myself in surroundings where I can build relationships with those whom the current climate truly victimizes, and in settings where our combined voices can create administrative change.