Justifications

by Benjamin Herson | 3/2/01 6:00am

I must admit I've been surprised at some recent responses to the incident-of-the-term, Psi U's "Wah-Hoo-Wah!" cheers. What shocks me about these responses to which I refer are the repeated attempts to lessen the weight of the offense, justify the actions as reasonable, and make other claims that steer away from the issue itself. Let's examine some of these arguments.

First come those who argue that it's not so bad. They say the screams of the students were "silly" or "unpleasant," maybe even going so far as to try reducing the screaming of "Scalp those bitches!" to mere speaking of words. I don't think there's much argument to the fact that they were shouting something threatening and sexist in "scalp those bitches." I don't want to hear that this last part of their "cheer" was part of the football cheer. Which brings me to the next attempt at justification: saying that the cheer itself isn't racist. I've come across the claim that this cheer can't be racist in nature because the College was founded for Native Americans. Actually, I believe it was founded to "tame the savages." The College didn't respect Native Americans from the beginning; claiming that a cheer based upon a classic stereotype of Native Americans isn't racist is just plain ignorant. Finally, I found that someone actually had the audacity to suggest that racist charges are "typically overblown." If that isn't a desperate attempt to scale down the offense and outright dismiss others' all-too-valid opinions, I don't know what is.

Next I'd like to touch upon one of my favorite all-time responses to incidents such as these. You've heard it before: Oh, it was just a couple brothers on the lawn and only a couple more in the window. We just can't blame the Greek system. As much as I'd hate to bring academics into this discussion, I'm reminded of something strikingly similar I just recently read. Craig Haney, Curtis Banks and Philip Zimbardo had become curious about the repeated incidents that happen within the prison system. The individual perpetrator(s) of any given incident was/were punished, but these three researches wondered if it wasn't something more than the prisoners and guards being "bad seeds." They devised a simple experiment: randomly assign psychologically stable college students to be guards or prisoners, put them in the environment, and see what happens. If it was "just" the individuals, this model prison wouldn't have anywhere near the same level of problems as a real prison. As it turned out, however, the experiment had to be shut down early as the simulation intensified to extreme levels. Though I would certainly not argue that the individuals of Psi U involved in this incident aren't to be held responsible -- they absolutely should be -- I merely want to suggest that something inherent in the Greek system is quite probably part of what is perpetuating incidents such as these.

I now address what I consider to be definitively the worst thing I've come across since the Psi U incident. Someone suggested we should feel sorry for the individuals who are now out in the open while the person who brought this matter to our attention "cowers" in anonymity. Villainizing the victim, a common practice here. "Anonymous" happened to be walking by and, even putting aside that the chant changed to a more threateningly misogynistic one, heard something appalling and sad. This community owes her a debt of gratitude for her courage -- how many people repeatedly just look the other way? The responses I've addressed are all attempts to do just that, to look the other way even when this issue is directly in front of us here and now. How much easier would it have been to fall into the same pit of indifference (or in this case silent victimhood) like so many others? I'm insulted that anyone would pit her anonymity against the public knowledge of the names of the Psi U brothers who were involved. Witness/victim and perpetrator are not comparable in any such way.

Finally, I want to propose we look at the issue head on, instead of hiding behind free speech as if there were no middle ground between prevalent racism and 1984. Don't let anyone shrug off Dartmouth's Principle of Community as "cute." Let's try to figure out why we keep running into example after example of ignorance -- and worse -- in the forms of racism and sexism. Sadly, as much as I believe we could do something if the community tried hard enough, I believe I can already see the future. The ten-week term ends quickly, and we are all too busy to be concerned with such things. Next term this will be old news. After all, Psi U apologized, right? The Greeks get better at damage control each time -- this was the fastest apology yet, so why should we harp on things? Isn't that what we'll say? Well, isn't it?