Ouellette: Challenging the System

by Torrese Ouellette | 2/13/12 11:00pm

I believe Sean Schultz when he says he does not knowingly objectify women ("A Brother's Perspective," Feb 7). I also believe that the majority of fraternity members do not engage in acts that deliberately harm and humiliate other students. Yet, we must all understand that it takes more than a few "idiots spouting misogyny" in order for sexual assault, intolerance and hazing to continue at Dartmouth. It is for this reason that I found the tone of Schultz's recent article to be petulant and short-sighted. By framing critics of the Greek system as overzealous, bro-hating malcontents, Schultz risks diverting the focus from the real problems that people like Dani Levin ("The Secondhand Effects of Hazing," Jan. 30) and Andrew Lohse ("Telling the Truth," Jan. 25) sought to discuss. Moreover, blaming recent allegations of wrongdoing within the Greek system on a mere "violent minority" oversimplifies the situation and ignores the undeniably social nature of Dartmouth's quandaries. Finally, Schultz's article overlooks the unique social power that fraternity members wield on campus and the oft-neglected responsibility that comes with that power.

Fraternities represent a dense concentration of social capital on this campus. Fraternity life does not so much operate within the parameters of college functions as the College revolves around fraternity life. For many new students, all other commitments take a back seat to the frenzied effort to gain membership into the exclusive social clubs that are the Greek houses. And we all know that when it comes to the drinking culture on campus, fraternities, which are the epicenter of student alcohol consumption, do not answer to College and municipal authorities, rather these authorities instead bend or ignore the rules for the fraternities. Whether convenient to admit or not, fraternity members possess unparalleled social power and privilege on campus. With all of this power must follow an equivalent burden of responsibility. A healthy community also necessitates individuals beyond this locus of influence to speak up when the current social organization is causing harm to others.

Thus, when people like Levin or Lohse criticize the ways in which the fraternity system operates, they are not being unfair. They are holding leaders accountable for the power they wield. Challenging a system, institution or social structure is not tantamount to "vilifying" every individual within it. Social structures can inflict harm to others beyond the intent of their leaders and beneficiaries. Nevertheless, leaders within these social structures must retain responsibility for the pain that is caused by the structures over which they wield influence and from which they gain privileges. Shakespeare was right when he wrote, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." What Schultz and others may feel is not vilification, but the unease that inevitably comes with power. Perhaps the problem is not the recent protests against the wrongdoings discovered within the Greek system, but instead that fraternities have long circumvented the responsibility that comes with power while the victims of their irresponsibility must face obstacle after obstacle in their attempts to prove they deserve the community's concern.

Schultz asks us to look at the Greek system at its "brightest moments." To me, this sounds like fair-weather leadership. The true mettle of a leader is how he or she reacts in times of scrutiny and adversity. Will Dartmouth's leaders respond to those injured by the system decisively and sensitively or try to compete with them for the label of "victim?" Will they respond to critics maturely, openly and honestly, or with resentment and self-righteous indignation? Dartmouth is an institution that has long defined itself by its traditions. Fraternity life has long been at the heart of this sense of "tradition." Dartmouth and its leaders must reconcile their sense of tradition with standards of safety, equality and inclusivity to preserve the best of both. The Dartmouth student population is willing to stand by its administration and student leaders during this time of challenge and change. Yet, it is also our right and obligation to ask of them: What type of leaders will you really be? And collectively, we must all ask ourselves: What type of community do we want Dartmouth to be?