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Why I’m not surprised by SAE at University of Oklahoma

As a Higher Education administrator who works on diversity and inclusion on college campuses, I sadly am not surprised by the hateful and racist chants in the SAE fraternity at University of Oklahoma.

If anything, I believe that we in higher education have been enabling a culture of bad behavior while publicly speaking about our desire to clean up Greek Life on our campuses. As an administrator, it is extremely taboo for me to speak out and state this.

Instead, I’m supposed to pretend along with my colleagues that we in our field are continuing to work vigilantly to clean up the widely-known problematic issues of American Greek Life, particularly historically-White Greek Life (otherwise known as the National Panhellenic Conference or NPC and the Interfraternity Council or IFC).
In my humble view, the NPC and IFC are some of the most protected bastions of racism, elitism and white privilege anywhere in the United States.

“Dr. George Henderson, Norman’s first African American homeowner, is seen standing with students at a protest on the University of Oklahoma campus on Monday morning.” Photo Credit—BIJANHOSSEINI

It is protected by the silence of those in higher education who are more beholden to wealthy alums than the truth. In the process, we all are bought off by the huge sums of money that are donated to colleges and universities by the wealthy and well-connected who are increasingly shaping a more corporate and neoliberal agenda in higher education. (A bigger conversation for another day.)
I refuse to be silent about this any longer and I believe this is the time to discuss this issue in the wake of the shock that so many are experiencing. Greek organizations by their very nature are elitist entities. They only allow people who they deem good enough to participate in them. Once accepted, they are environments of intense social pressure to assimilate and conform to expected norms, rituals, culture and behavior. In the process, violence whether through hazing, sexual or otherwise persist in many organizations.

By the very nature of their exclusivity, Greek organizations contradict basic notions of diversity and inclusivity on campus communities and as a result contradict the presence of my entire profession within higher education.
It is important for everyone to know that Greek organizations are among the few in higher education that are not required to comply with non-discriminatory policies that every other organization is expected to comply with. This is because these organizations are grandfathered into the policy which is why they are permitted to determine entry by whatever internal criteria they choose. Meanwhile, despite the fact that we allow them to be exempt from non-discrimination, they still get all (and often more) benefits that other student organizations receive. Meanwhile, Greek Life offices are typically funded by the NPC and IFC organizations. This results in staffing that is essentially beholden to the members of the fraternities on campus. If you’re working in Greek Life, you better hope that NPC and IFC fraternities and sororities approve of your leadership because if they really want to, they can make your life a living hell and make your standing untenable. Not only are Greek Life staffs often in this precarious position with NPC and IFC organizations on campus, but there are few incentives to holistically support historically Black and multicultural Greek Organizations. As a result, there is inherently an imbalance and marginalizing of people of color throughout Greek Life systems.
These inherent problems result in what I view as a lack of accountability in which NPC and IFC organizations hold way too much power and have few incentives to change the racism, white privilege, binge drinking, homophobia, patriarchy, hazing and rape/sexual assault culture that too often are endemic within them. Although colleges and universities do have ultimate say as to whether or not these organizations can remain chartered with their respective institution, it is usually only revoked when the most egregious violations and circumstances occur. (Essentially when something horrible occurs that embarrasses the college or university in a very public manner.)

Racism & Fraternity Culture-2
At my last institution, I was involved in ‘educating’ fraternities about issues of race and racism after one member fraternity organized “Hood Rachet Thursday.” This was a party organized by a historically white fraternity with an Asian-American president and party organizer. They advertised with an image of a black rapper with gold fronts on his teeth and women against a wall twerking while upside down on their hands. They were going to have a twerking competition as a centerpiece of their party. Sadly, such things are not as unusual as they should be in historically-White fraternities. Instead, we periodically hear about blackface, minstrelsy, and other racist incidents around the country.
During one of the educational programs I led for the fraternities on campus, we had a discussion about race. A Latina student could tell that some of the leaders of the organizations were not taking the discussion seriously and called them out, saying that “you frat boys obviously don’t care about what’s going on here.” One of the white males responded, “First of all, don’t call us Frat Boys…” then proceeded to yell at the Latina further.
I asked my white male colleague from the Office of Greek Life why the student made an issue about her calling him a ‘frat’ boy. His response was, “It’s like the equivalent of calling someone the N-word.” I was like, “WHAT?!!!” and then proceeded to explain to him why it’s NOTHING like calling someone the N-word. This person was on a one-year contract and was shortly after hired into a permanent position.

@DanielleDunnOKC: Several statues @UofOklahoma campus have pieces of @OU_Unheard duct tape across mouths.#SAE

After that experience, I came to a new depth of understanding of how horrific the disconnect is in Greek Life. However, my frustrations with historically-White Greek organizations first started in college from marginalizing experiences as a person of color at white Greek-dominated Miami University in Ohio. Their domination of the culture on that campus, which persists today, contributes to my ongoing disconnect from my alma mater to this very day. Yet despite countless frustrating experiences that so many people of color encounter on campuses with dominant white Greek-life cultures, they have the audacity to ask us to give money back to the very institutions that continue to enable their dysfunction today. The dysfunction is rooted in a racist, patriarchal history that has not been undone or challenged in a meaningful way. If anything, it’s been enabled and protected by administrators and donors who have no real motivation to change it.
Let me be clear, I know many Greek organizations are not horrible and racist. I also know that many administrators are hard at work confronting racism, sexual assault and binge drinking in Greek Life around the country. However, it rarely is being challenged in fundamental ways from within the system and apparatus of Greek Life. It is typically happening by Multicultural Offices, Title IX officers and others outside of Greek Life who are trying to find a way to confront these challenges without creating a backlash. In the meantime, Greek Life offices all-too-often create a cocoon around their area from other administrators while high level administrators fear being perceived as unfairly cracking down on campus chapters by alums and present-day NPC and IFC members. In addition, NPC and IFC organizations are also effective at shaping narratives that Black and Multicultural Greek organizations often internalize, passively accept and sometimes replicate. What do I mean by that? Many in Black and Multicultural Greek organizations don’t want to risk losing networks and access to opportunities so they often don’t challenge white-Greek power or culture. As a result, this amplifies the lack of accountability within NPC and IFC organizations.
Elitism and privilege is a huge component of the problem. Just a couple weeks ago, a few NPC and IFC organizations from my previous institution went to a resort upstate for a weekend of partying. It resulted in over $100,000 in damage. The entitlement in these organizations is rampant.

These organizations coupled with the even more elitist secret societies that also operate within elite institutions are incubators for networks of power and influence that perpetuate this culture of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Due to their power and societal access at the highest rungs of power, these entities are feeders into the highest levels of systemic racism, sexism and homophobia.

@Meggie_Jay: We have BEEN working for MONTHS for a change at OU @OU_Unheard ” so proud”

It churns out people who perpetuate inequity and undermine social justice efforts at every turn possible.
Even if some people from these organizations do not actively perpetuate these circumstances, too many participants do. So when something like what happened in SAE occurs at University of Oklahoma, I am not surprised at all. And if you ask yourself honestly about the culture of Greek Life, are you really surprised either? Too many of us walk around oblivious of overtly evident dynamics in our society. Greek Life is very visible, but few question or challenge it’s culture. Then we act surprised when racist incidents come out as if we don’t know that this is a culture that passes rituals like this along. Do any of us really believe that these young people came up with this song? It is a legacy that they are inheriting and passing on to future generations who will perpetuate similar intolerant behavior. Some may be surprise, but I for one am not.

The post Racism & Fraternity Culture appeared first on Amer F. Ahmed.

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