Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

by Jake | 5/3/96 5:00am

Don't judge a book by its cover. That saying may be trite and over-used, but this does not negate its value. To get up on my high horse for a moment, I want to say I feel strongly that it is morally wrong to make decisions and judgments based solely on general impressions, although that is the way society seems to have trained us.

We're supposed to vote for candidates about whom we have learned through clips and sound bites; we're supposed to choose our colleges based on the opinions of a few people and a one night prospective visit; and we're supposed to judge people based on stereotypes about their skin, gender, sexual preference, or organizational affiliation.

Some of you probably just did a double take on the last part of that sentence -- I hope so. I make that assertion not to encourage people to judge others based only on impressions; to the contrary, I would encourage you with all of my might NOT to do so.

However, it's important that we recognize that stereotyping does occur, and that it occurs because society fosters it. As some people from the National Coalition Building Institute once told me, every tiny prejudicial fact presented to us by our parents, our friends, and society builds up on some subconscious "record" in our minds, that plays them back to us whether we like it or not.

So what does this have to do with the CFS system? In my opinion, everything. If I were to stand up in public and let my "record" play, saying (Disclaimer: I would never make such statements as the following in reality, as they are utter falsehoods), "African-Americans are only at Dartmouth because of affirmative action," or, "I don't trust Latinos because they're all illegal immigrants," I would quickly be attacked (and rightly so) by a number of people on this campus for subscribing to stereotypes and basing beliefs about every member of a group on my general impressions.

It seems, however, that certain people are able to find justification in basing beliefs about and judging the CFS system, CFS organizations, and CFS members on their records' general impressions and stereotypes. This is certainly not to say that "Greek-ism" has had nearly as harmful an affect on people as other "-isms" -- but the principle of stereotyping behind it remains the same.

The existence of these stereotypes is clear; we can look to recent exchanges in this publication to show us that (If you want specific examples, I'd be glad to provide them).

In addition, chances are good that you, Greek or Independent, have made judgments on houses based on general perceptions -- come on, you know the general stereotypes of the different CFS organizations -- which your record throws at you every time you walk by one (I know mine does). And Dartmouth accepts that.

On a larger scale, stereotypes about fraternities, sororities or coeducational houses in general can be even more accepted. Consider the whole notion of "frats rape." I recently heard a gentleman preface a statement by saying he did not wish to vocalize that sentiment, but I felt what he eventually said had the same general ring. It seems to me that many people's records include the idea.

This gentleman got me thinking: it is particularly difficult for me, as a Sexual Assault Peer Advisor, Undergraduate Advisor, and most importantly as someone who makes a conscious effort to prevent sexual assault, to reconcile the idea that fraternities and sororities are, "complicit in the creation of a rape culture," (see Sean Donahue '96's column in The Dartmouth on February 13, 1995) with my love of my organization and my personal values.

If all fraternity members are responsible for rape, then how can I legitimately allow myself to be in one? Fortunately, I don't accept Donahue's position; to modify another cliche, my belief is that fraternities don't rape people -- people rape people.

I will not try to deny that sexual assaults and activities that are denigrating women (and, similarly, some that are denigrating men) have taken place in this system -- nor that these events are anything but heinous. On that same note, I know that I, and a number of other members of the system (check out yesterday's SAGE column) are actively working to prevent sexual assault, to teach Dartmouth students that women and men deserve respect, and to emphasize that no matter how you look at it, no means no.

When we do this work, we aren't always wearing our letters, so you may not be able to see our efforts but believe me, they are there, both on individual and large scale levels.

And, no matter how many "experts" agree with Donahue, I still cannot legitimize the blanket sentiment that "frats rape." I can't legitimize blanket sentiments, period. For me, doing that is as bad as accepting the prejudices my record offers.

Therefore, I ask you: please don't judge the CFS system, CFS organizations, CFS members -- or anything or anyone else on this campus -- on your impressions (good, bad, anti-intellectual, intellectual, etc.). And please, please, think twice before listening to your record.