Chun: Making Sense of Scandal

by Steven Chun | 10/11/15 6:18pm

On Oct. 7, collegiate Greek life once again found itself in the center of national scrutiny and outrage with allegations of hazing and potential sexual misconduct. Earlier this month, a video surfaced online, which shows a crowd of cheering students surrounding a mattress upon which a boxer-clad male student is performing oral sex on a woman. At times, he seems to struggle to get up, but he is pinned by the woman’s arms and legs. A crowd of similarly shirtless students sit in the foreground — cheering the appalling spectacle. Soon after, Indiana University suspended Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and the national chapter revoked the campus organization’s charter.The details around the video are murky — whether either person consented or whether the woman was a hired stripper remain unclear. Sadly, uncertainty provides a potential escape for those wishing to mentally distance themselves from the video’s content. I saw the video as many others likely did — huddled around a smartphone screen. I initially thought I had just watched an assault, yet others raised their eyebrows at my reaction. Maybe it is because the victim was a male or because cheering brothers surrounded him. These factors do not align with the common narrative of sexual assault, and some qualify this with statements of doubt — “He probably agreed to this,” or “You can’t be forced to do that.” It is possible that the skeptics are right. The facts are unclear, and jumping to conclusions without more information would be inaccurate and irresponsible.The immediate assumption that the video fails to reveal some exonerating truths is equally — if not more — dangerous. As comfortable as assuming the best possible scenario may be, it encourages inaction and stagnates productive conversation. It is a form of confirmation bias. We latch onto the facts — or lack thereof — that allow us to make comfortable conclusions. No one likes to think that Greek life, the same system that permeates our campus, can allow for this. Yet, asking critical questions is the only line of thinking that leads to progress. Sometimes, to deny is to be delusional.We must reject the mental acrobatics we perform to avoid the grave reality of events like those seen in the video. We need to ensure our focus does not waver from the problems at hand. In the weeks after incidents such as this, there often come a slew of articles criticizing or defending the entire Greek system as a whole. The latter strain to point out that the majority of fraternities and sororities are positive, charitable and responsible communities. While true, reiterating this exhausting point is useless. When a rusting bridge breaks, the solution is to repair that bridge and others like it. There is no point in passionately arguing that most bridges are safe. Doing so distracts from the most urgent issues, which in the case of Greek life, is the safety of members and non-members alike.There will always be a period of fact-checking and re-assessment following these scandals. It has already come to light that the initial accusations of hazing may not be true, as the man involved was already an initiated member — regardless, his membership status does not address the potential recorded sexual assault. In the same way that the tragic untruths of a poorly-vetted Rolling Stone article do not change the realities of rape on campuses, any false alarm do not change the realities of Greek life. They did not change the racist chants of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma. They did not change the fate of Baruch College freshman Chun Deng, whose potential Psi Delta Psi brothers tackled him to the ground and tried to cover up the incident before taking Deng to the hospital for the brain injury that ultimately killed him.Our initial reactions to videos like the one at Indiana University have a powerful impact. In the cloud of half-truths and uncertainty that accompany every breaking story, we must be willing to come to uncomfortable conclusions. We must recognize that the revulsion we feel is a mark of the responsibility of every college student to change our campuses for the better. We cannot delude ourselves into complacency. Those in power, such as college administrators and law enforcement officers, will investigate and ultimately take action. Yet it is the student perception of these events — whether they are skeptical, disgusted or apathetic — that tell us far more about how far campus culture has come and how far we still have to go.