Beta plans discussions on racism and sexism

by Jeffrey Beyer | 11/9/95 6:00am

More than a month after Dean of the College Lee Pelton wrote a letter to Beta Theta Pi fraternity urging the house to develop "bona fide, authentic and ongoing events" to address racism and sexism in the Greek system and on campus, Beta has started to arrange a series of discussions to be held in January.

Pelton's letter to Beta, which was written on Sept. 28, was a response to an allegedly racist and sexist poem written and recited by a Beta brother over the summer. Pelton sent a copy of his letter to The Dartmouth.

A group of women from Native Americans at Dartmouth and Sigma Delta sorority discovered the poem and called a meeting in mid-August with Beta brothers, where they asked the brothers to privately apologize for the incident.

To address the issues raised by the incident, Beta President Jason Fanuele '96 and other representatives from the house met with Women's Resource Center Director Giavanna Munafo two weeks ago.

"We agreed that more than one program or discussion would be necessary and we came up with a three-part plan: one meeting for the members of Beta that will be facilitated by one or more male educators, one meeting for the members of Beta and Sigma Delta that would be facilitated by myself and one or more male educators and one more public meeting," Munafo wrote in an electronic-mail message.

Munafo wrote that she recently asked Fanuele to contact various male educators and Sigma Delt's programming chair to organize one or more planning meetings.

In an electronic-mail message Fanuele, who said the panel discussions will be a "multi-stage process," wrote he has already contacted the four possible male educators who will facilitate the discussions.

Beta is "anxious to address this controversial topic," Fanuele said. "In fact, many brothers are quite eager to voice their opinions in an intelligent and organized forum."

Less than a week after Pelton released his letter, Fanuele met with Pelton to discuss what Beta was doing in response to the incident.

Pelton said at that meeting, Fanuele told him Beta was "planning some events where the community and where members of Beta could come and talk about what actually happened."

Pelton said in October that the house will face no official sanctions for the College, but wrote in his letter that the house should respond in some positive way to the poem incident.

As for whether or not Beta's plans to hold the three panel discussions mean the house has adequately addressed the problem, Pelton said, "that is a question that is still waiting for an answer."

The discussions will not be held until Winter term because Beta does not want to rush into a poorly prepared presentation, according to Fanuele.

The poem, recited by a Beta brother during a meeting in July, allegedly contained offensive material, specifically about Native American women -- including one mentioned by name.

Munafo wrote that the October meeting between her and Fanuele was the first time the two had discussed the summer incident.

"We discussed the incident ... and how Beta might begin to create some change in the culture of the organization which made it possible for at least one of the brothers to feel the poem was appropriate and would be appreciated," Munafo wrote.

Munafo wrote the most difficult part of the process will be the efforts to create real change.

"I know that there are members of Beta who continue to believe that they have a right to say and do as they please and that efforts to create change ... are inappropriate," she wrote.

"There are also Beta brothers who were themselves offended by this incident and who wish to create such change," Munafo added. "This is a difficult challenge for Beta and for all of us who are willing to help facilitate any process of review, exploration, and education that might result," she wrote.