A Do or Die Thing?

by Jeannine Murray-Roman | 11/18/99 6:00am

Since last February, people who care about Darmouth and its future have been voicing their opinions in order to defend their viewpoint as well as convince others of it. Naturally, part of that endeavor involves using rhetoric in a passionate way. However, it strikes me that the analogies that have been employed in order to illustrate the importance that the Greek system holds for some of its members and the role it plays at Dartmouth are, by and large, egregiously inappropriate.

Danica Lo structured her op-ed piece on November 16, "My Two Cents," on the comparison between the Greek system and Islam because both institutions have problematic aspects, yet nonetheless are vital in fostering a sense of community for their members. The citation of the particular difficulties that aspects of Islam present for some in terms of its treatment of women utterly minimizes the complexity of the role that Islam holds in some women's lives. For centuries, people have lived and died for Islam; as Danica points out, it provides communities with entire histories, cultures, and characters.

I would suggest that it is more than a social institution, it is a world view. Even if we allow that "in the same way the Greek system pervades social life at Dartmouth, Islam pervades every facet of life in Cairo," the difference in degree between the Greek system at Dartmouth and Islam in Cairo and all around the globe is so important that any kind of comparison between the two is hard to accept.

I find the little green ribbons that people pinned onto their vests and backpacks seriously disturbing: can it truly be as important to save the Greek system as it is to find a cure for AIDS or eradicate hunger and homelessness, two other causes for which one can demonstrate support by wearing similar ribbons? To reiterate one point that Rahsaan Sales made in his column on November 10, "Visionaries," do we honestly believe that the Greek system is a "do or die thing" -- but that racism is not?

The appropriation of these mechanisms of protest and/or support cheapen these very causes, which are, quite literally, a matter of life and death for many people. Furthermore, as students and educated citizens, we have a responsibility to remember and honor history in such a way that does not include recycling its symbols and meanings inappropriately. In so doing, we degrade that history, the memory of the millions whose lives were lost to AIDS and the effects of racism, and those who have to live with the daily reality of strife and killing in the name of religion.

I call attention to these specific analogies because I believe that language is not "just empty rhetoric." Even placing our debate about the future of our social structure in the same system of comparison as world religions, racism, or incurable diseases demonstrates a distressingly myopic perspective.

The "Initiative controversy" can not -- and moreover, should not -- be compared to any and every other difficult issue that people face in the world today merely on the grounds that both are difficult. To do so does not help communicate the depth of feeling that runs through some of us; it only minimizes and belittles the importance of such issues.