College to investigate Beta poem incident

by Jason Casell | 8/16/95 5:00am

Assistant Dean of Residential Life Deb Reinders said the College will investigate an incident surrounding an allegedly racially and sexually offensive poem read aloud at a meeting of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and written by a Beta brother.

"The investigation will take place with me and the president of the organization," Reinders said yesterday. "If there are possible violations, the president will be informed, and the organization will be charged."

A meeting between several Beta brothers and a select group of women where the brothers privately apologized for the incident was held Sunday evening at Kappa Chi Kappa fraternity.

According to women who read the poem, it contained derogatory comments about women, specifically Native American women, and referred to specific Dartmouth women, including one by name.

"The house deeply regrets this isolated incident and has already enacted measures to prevent it from ever happening again," Beta President Jason Fanuele '96 wrote in an electronic-mail message to The Dartmouth.

"Anyone that actually knows the '96 and '97 brothers of Beta, realizes that we are leaders who would never condone or promote the racism or sexism of which we are accused," he added.

Fanuele, who is not serving as president this term, said Beta is using the incident to promote discussion within the Greek system.

"It is important to note that this isolated incident is not being ignored by Beta," Fanuele wrote.

"In fact, the only light in this otherwise dark situation is that Beta has used this isolated incident as a springboard for more productive discussions," he added. "We will be holding further such discussions in the fall for the entire Greek system."

Dean of the College Lee Pelton said he was pleased some students took the initiative to hold their own discussion.

"Students have had the opportunity to express their dismay, displeasure and consternation over the contents of the poem," Pelton said. "I'm certainly encouraged by that."

But Pelton said further College action is not out of the question.

"Given what I do know right now, this has not violated any code of standards the College has," Pelton said. "Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is conceivable that the College might wish to take some action."

But many people said they think the Beta incident is indicative of a larger problem.

"I don't think this is an isolated incident," said Director of the Women's Resource Center Giavanna Munafo. "This type of thing happens in the world in general -- all you have to do is read a magazine or watch TV."

Munafo said while sexism and racism exist both inside and outside of the Greek system, the atmosphere in fraternities makes prejudiced speech more common.

"In fraternity houses, the ante is up," she said. "It's a more volatile environment -- the way women are seen and understood is exacerbated in most male-only environments."

Munafo said the Women's Resource Center is in the process of organizing discussions with the Panhellenic Council, the self-governing body of the College's sororities, to talk about issues like sexism in the Greek System.

Panhell Summer President Jessica Russo '97 said she does not think this incident is unique to Beta.

"I know it's not just isolated to Beta," she said. "This probably goes on in fraternities, and to some extent sororities, but any time you get a group of people together I think it's inevitable."

Russo said she thinks the discussion on Sunday night was a positive step. She added she did not see the need to involve more people.

"Anytime you can handle something on a small-scale basis, that is the best option," she said.

Acting Native American Program Director Michael Hanitchak also said he is not surprised at the incident.

"I find the incident disappointing but not surprising," Hanitchak said. "This is indicative of the society in which we live. It's certainly not limited to Dartmouth, although some specifics of it might be."

Hanitchak said the Native American woman allegedly mentioned in the poem has not spoken to him about the incident.

Jack Burnett '71, president of the local Beta Board of Trustees, said he was not aware of the incident and declined to comment.