An Informed Perspective

by Rebecca Meyers | 5/24/01 5:00am

I am writing as a woman who knows Zeta Psi fraternity and its members well enough to express my frustration with the manner in which the brothers have been portrayed this term and why their derecognition is shortsighted and entirely unwarranted. As a woman, Zeta Psi is one of the only fraternities on campus at which I feel comfortable. The loudest protesters against Zeta Psi are people who do not know members personally; too often we are guilty of judging people by one insignificant action taken out of proportion without even knowing them as people. Members of Zeta Psi have been made to look like misogynists, something that could not be further from the truth. We forget the common ground we share as human beings when we label people out of outrage. It is far easier to be outraged than to step back and try to examine the situation as a whole.

Perhaps people would not be outraged if they took time to gather perspective, think, talk to members of Zeta Psi or people who know them, and attempt to understand the situation. The papers that Zeta Psi wrote were intended for brothers to make fun of brothers, but the charges that were brought up incriminate the house in terms of public harassment. However, Zeta Psi does not harass anyone publicly or commit any action depicted in the papers. There is a difference between jokes and actions. They may be distasteful jokes, but they are only jokes; they have no real significance and were not meant to be read by the public. We often make jokes because they are so absurd they are funny. I have seen many episodes of Saturday Night Live that could be seen as equally offensive, but they are performed in a context so that the jokes are understood to be untrue, with no bearing to reality, except insofar as intending to contrast reality to the extreme. One prerequisite of comedy, according to a course I took here, is that a setting is established so people understand that what is taking place is a joke; we laugh because of the absurdity when comparing the humor to reality. This setting is assumed when we read the college-funded Jack O'Lantern or submit ourselves to being publicly called-out by a comedian who is sponsored by the College to come entertain us with offensive humor. The papers were intended for just such a setting as well, and, what's more, a private setting, but they are being held to an entirely different standard than that against which we hold other aspects of the College; interpreting them outside of the applicable setting inevitably leads to the wrong conclusions. Without knowing the setting or the people involved, we are making unfair judgments.

Members of Zeta Psi are not misogynists; most of them either have long term girlfriends or are shy and reserved. Other houses have a flirty atmosphere in which the desire for sex is almost palpable in the air. This is something that needs to change about the Greek system: the desire to dress to impress and to go to fraternities only to "hook up." When my mother was in college and went to fraternities there existed an environment in which people could just hang out and be friends. Zeta Psi is perhaps the only fraternity on campus that readily manifested that open, friendly behavior here and now, and I am saying that as a woman. That is what saddens me about Zeta Psi's derecognition. By derecognizing Zeta Psi, the whole Greek system becomes more of the type I mentioned by eliminating a place where all kinds of people feel comfortable. I feel comfortable going to Zeta Psi in sweats; I would not in any other house. I have a girlfriend who goes to Zeta Psi frequently to hang out ultra-casually dressed in pajama pants without worrying about how the brothers will treat her. I go to Zeta Psi to hang out, to watch baseball games, to talk and to play video games. Zeta Psi is an incredibly inclusive organization, to the point at which I often feel more included and more at home than I do in my own sorority.

My boyfriend is a member of Zeta Psi; he joined because it was a place where he felt comfortable and completely free from pressure. As he said, "How can I hate women: I have had a girlfriend whom I respect and admire for over a year, and most of my best friends are and always have been girls." He is not an exception; most of my best male friends are members of Zeta Psi and hold the same attitude. My comfort in Zeta Psi as a woman has little to do with the fact that my boyfriend is in the house: I have many close girlfriends who feel uncomfortable hanging out at their boyfriends' fraternities. I feel like Zeta Psi is my house when I go there; in that sense I feel like Zeta Psi is representative of what the Greek system should be: an environment that allows men and women to be friends and not just see each other as objects.

All this may seem completely contrary to what Zeta Psi's newsletters said. But the newsletters are not representative of the house in any way; I can say that with more authority than anyone who condemns the organization based on reading jokes it wrote without knowing the people who wrote them. I know these people, and that enables me to see beyond some silly paper that was not meant to be threatening and over which way too big a deal was made. As an anthropology major, I have learned to take into account the outsider and insider view. Without making the distinction, it is impossible to understand people; an outsider might mistake a "wink for a blink" without knowing a group of people and what they really believe and do. Do not judge a house on a private letter without knowing them.

If we are legitimately serious about improving gender relations on campus, we should give Zeta Psi the chance to implement the wonderful ideas they have instead of allowing the administration to make them the scapegoats and attempt to sweep the problem under the rug, a problem that you will find least of all in Zeta Psi. Members of Zeta Psi are wonderful people. Derecognizing them only makes the problem worse, alienating Greeks from non-Greeks and severing any attempt to work together to understand each other, not as members of a fraternity or sorority, but for who we are as people. We need to work together to improve our campus, rather than destroying organizations without understanding them or the root problem in gender relations as a whole. People are so ready to blame each other just to reinforce their preconceived notions because to actually change one's mind or alter opinion based on reasoned argument and dialogue is a rare phenomenon at Dartmouth. Where is that voice crying in the wilderness to talk some sense into us? We all have different perspectives, and that is what makes college interesting; that benefit of college is sacrificed when uninformed decrees are made attempting to paint a group of people in one light and attempting to silence opposing viewpoints. Judging before listening is very dangerous, especially at a reputable institution such as Dartmouth. Please listen and try to understand people before judging them based on something taken entirely out of context and in no way indicative of their beliefs or values.

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