Verbum Ultimum: Matching Words with Actions

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/26/12 10:00pm

Last Monday, copies of "pledge notes" were distributed anonymously throughout the Choates residence hall cluster. In part, the document served as a sobering reminder of the persistence of negative stereotypes and disrespectful attitudes toward women among certain members of the Dartmouth community.

On Wednesday, the president of the Panhellenic Council, along with the presidents of the eight Panhellenic sororities, criticized the content of this document for the disrespect it showed toward women and its perpetuation of harmful stereotypes ("A Crisis of Disrespect," April 25). We commend them for taking a strong stance on the issue, as such hurtful words have no place on this campus. This condemnation, however, cannot stop at the level of impassioned but ultimately empty words. Rather, there must be further investigation and substantive action taken in response to incidents such as these.

We fear that inaction on the part of the Dartmouth community in light of this event and others like it will give a free pass to those who continuously perpetuate a culture of disrespect on campus and allow this type of objectionable behavior to continue. Since the majority of female upperclassmen on this campus are members of sororities, the Panhellenic Council and its eight sororities have the potential to serve as a strong voice for Dartmouth women if they join together and act in response to this incident. In their response published in The Dartmouth, the sorority presidents stated that they intend to advocate for change, but their role as campus leaders is not to advocate, but to act.

Last spring, we saw an example of an active and unified response when sororities collectively agreed to boycott all events with a fraternity that failed to adequately address an incident of assault that occurred in its house ("Sororities announce new policy," May 12, 2011), an action that proved wildly successful in provoking a productive response.

Incidents should not have to escalate to the point of physical violence, however, before women take visible action. The Panhellenic Council has agreed that the pledge notes are emblematic of the prevailing hateful language and stereotyping present on campus, a problem they have pledged to root out. Now is the time for sororities to work collaboratively on behalf of women on this campus through meaningful actions that back up their words.

Too often, we fail to take action against disrespect, especially if doing so comes at the expense of social capital. Those who criticize negative elements of our social system often do so anonymously, giving less credence and power to their statements, and even those that do make public statements against a fraternity's actions often do not follow through on their criticisms, socializing at that fraternity the following weekend.

We recognize that not every member of an organization is responsible for the actions of a single individual. Any responsible organization, however, should take action to investigate a shameful incident such as this. If we do not see a sufficient investigation and an appropriate response from organizations involved in situations such as the pledge notes incident, women who have been elected to leadership positions on this campus need to join together and demand a response by taking tangible actions to back up their words. If they don't, they will have failed the same women they claim to represent.

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