What Do You Do With The Racist Frat House?

Arizona frat party

Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at the University of Arizona decided that hosting an African-American stereotype party on Martin Luther King Day was a cool idea, and soon thereafter posted photos of the bash on various social media, showing drunk students posing like rappers,wearing baggy pants around their knees and drinking liquor out of watermelon cups.  The college community was appropriately horrified, and many are calling for the fraternity to be expelled for the incident and the students who attended the party punished. The Detroit Free Press story about the incident is headlined, “Racism or Free Speech”? This is the equivalent of a headline saying “Stupidity or Freedom of the Press?” It’s both. That’s the conundrum.

Of course, there are a great many people who don’t think racist speech should be protected by the Bill of Rights, just as there are many who feel the same about sexist speech, homophobic speech, obscene speech, and speech telling the truth about Obamacare. The University is an institution of learning, allegedly, and thus has an obligation to at least behave in a way that uses this embarrassing incident to show how the First Amendment works. No, it cannot suspend students for attending a party with an intentionally offensive theme. No, it cannot throw out students for the photos they post on Twitter. And no, as some have suggested, it can’t trump up charges that have little to do with the outrage over the party to justify the punishment that will really be for activity a state school cannot punish. It appears that some at the school, one of the most notorious party schools in the country, were shocked-–shocked!—that alcoholic beverages were being served to underaged students on campus! The rule that only non-racists can drink themselves into oblivion illegally will not stand constitutional scrutiny.

Dan Pochoda, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, tried to find some way around his national organization’s official stance against campus speech codes, a.k.a. devices of thought control. “It does appear it was a conscious attempt to degrade an entire race, and anyone taking part in such action would know it increases the difficulty of students of color to participate in the educational community,” he said. The ACLU, especially in recent years, just hates itself in the morning after following its supposedly non-partisan mission sometimes, particularly when it means stopping liberals from engaging in censorship. A closed party devised by and attended by jerks and assholes increases the difficulty of students of color to participate in the educational community? That’s quite a stretch, and the slipperiest of slopes. The more accurate statement is that punishing students for the offensive content of their party theme increases the difficulty of students  expressing unpopular opinions, views and political positions on campus, which is what your organization is supposed to be concerned about, Mr. Pochoda.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the courageous free speech group that often has to rush in where the ACLU doesn’t have the integrity to tread, got it right: he explained that choosing a frat party theme is an expressive act, intended to communicate a message and  therefore protected by the Constitution. Local civil-rights leaders, in contrast, want the university to revoke the fraternity’s recognition, which means it couldn’t recruit members or hold meetings on campus, expel students who attended the party and take other steps to create a “more accepting environment” at the university, meaning thought and speech restrictions. The groups have threatened to boycott the university’s athletic events and to disrupt a fundraising campaign to rebuild Sun Devil Stadium unless their demands are met. Such civil rights advocates are hypocrites, wanting to ignore the same document’s protections upon which their own cause was built.

So what’s going on here?

Most rights can be abused by jerks and fools, and that’s what happened at the University of Arizona. College is a place where young, insufficiently socialized semi-adults can make mistakes and learn, and it is one of the jobs of a university to foster a culture where anti-social, obnoxious activities that make the campus a less unified, happy, education-friendly place are obviously unwelcome, and the basic values of respect, fairness, responsibility, equity, justice, kindness, citizenship and reciprocity—mustn’t forget the Golden Rule—are sufficiently infused in the community to make such incidents rare and self-policing.

The University of Arizona obviously hasn’t done created such an environment. Intimidating non-conforming students with threats and punishment based on official rules about what one may and may not say, write or believe is un-American, illegal and contrary to the principles of education. Building, teaching and reinforcing campus traditions and values that make students understand and accept that there are certain kinds of socially objectionable conduct that Arizona students cannot engage in and still be regarded as a credit to their school is the kind of thing American colleges used to do well, and do well no longer. I think that whatever the response of the University is, it needs to involve campus-wide measures, and to avoid punishing individual students. I suggest some or all of these options:

  • Use the incident to announce that the University and its student body has been embarrassed by the actions of the fraternity, and that the school will develop and implement additional programs and courses designed to emphasize and teach ethical values, and reinforce such values in the school’s culture. Then do it.
  • Make the party the topic of focused symposiums and forums, and require students who participated in the party, those who can be identified, to play a central role. If they are thoroughly embarrassed and shamed…good.
  • Punish the entire student body, and the university as well. Cancel a football game. Crack down on drinking. Make it clear that this was a campus-wide failure, because healthy university environments don’t experience these episodes. Give students a reason to care about how other students behave. [Update: This is a terrible idea, as I realized after trying to defend it against less rash Ethics Alarms readers.]
  • Get rid of fraternities and sororities, which are and have always been breeding pits of bad behavior and poor character, attracting like-minded bad seeds and giving the worst of them power to develop toxic fiefdoms that reinforce the worst values more often than the best ones.

The United States is a nation that provides its citizens with the freedom necessary to be daring, creative, productive, successful…and jerks. It has done its job. Universities exist in part to teach young citizens how to take full advantage of the first four, without indulging in the last. This university, at least, isn’t doing its job, and it is time for it to start.


Sources: Detroit Free Press 1, 2

51 thoughts on “What Do You Do With The Racist Frat House?

  1. With you, Jack…as usual…through the first two of your four bullets.

    “Punish the entire student body.” I’ll let someone else shred that more. How Red Dawn Soviet.

    “Get rid of fraternities and sororities.” Substitute “political parties.” ’Nuf said.

    • Fraternities and sororities, by necessity (space on campus) have limited and closed membership. political parties do not. Compare them to the Masons and you would be closer to the truth.

      • I apologize for being unclear earlier. I was not asserting that fraternities = political parties. I was asserting that political parties “…are and have always been breeding pits of bad behavior [etc].”

        Getting rid of fraternities and sororities – and really, just what DO you mean by “getting rid of?” – seems as contrary to honoring freedom of association as doing nothing about the AZ frat party honors opposition to racism. “Getting rid of” seems as disproportionate to fighting racism, as a ban on gun ownership nationwide (in reaction to one third grader in a Northeast public school who chewed a slice of pizza into the shape of a gun) would fight gun violence.

        I want college students to associate with each other as freely as possible, and to form groups amongst themselves freely, whether according to legacies of fraternities and sororities, or according to new motivations and modes of group-forming. For example…I don’t know; here’s a cranio-flatulent one, without any doubt that it isn’t original: a Flash Mob Theater – or “Flash Theater Mob” – a “mafia” of students dedicated to street-theater production, whose meetings and rehearsals are conducted largely through social media, and whose productions are “sprung” in various places and times, like the classical flash mobs. A wonderful opportunity to learn stealth, secrecy, and coordinated action, and to grow ethical positives such as trust, loyalty, discretion, and responsibility. I would have loved to have lived college with a “gang” that did challenging, constructive stuff like that, while upholding a “code of silence” – “Phantom Skywriters” or such.

        My bigger point is, college student groups are, or can be, wonderful “minor leagues” for seasoning and maturation of people into competent political individuals and groups, so that when they turn pro, they are actually graduates of something other than “breeding pits of bad behavior.” You’re not gonna get rid of political parties. So you may as well enable the young, energetic, motivated-to-learn and teachable college crowd to grow in the groups they can be expected to form naturally, so that group members might later join other, less partying-oriented parties with good, solid, built-in ethics alarms.

  2. Jack, I would disagree that fraternities and sororities are “breeding pits of bad behavior and poor character.” Some undoubtedly are but having been a pledge at the University of Arizona in one of the fraternities, I can remember attending a joint event with a Sorority of a different faith and all went well. On a large campus, it is easy for students to get lost in the shuffle and the fraternities and sororities make it easy to make new friends and have some fun on campus.

    • In the UK all clubs and societies on campus are open to everyone (by law). These means that people get together with other who are like minded (and thus not get lost in the crowd) but they also have less leeway to become breeding grounds of unpleasantness.
      In theory a raging atheist can go to any of the Christian clubs and make a menace of himself (as long as he doesn’t break the laws of civility etc.) and vice versa. (In fact the proselytizing of agnostics and atheists at club meetings occurs with far more frequency).

      Because they are societies and clubs they meet for discussions, parties or whatever, but people can be a member of any club, drop in at any time, and essentially be able to behave like … Well political parties. Instead of being committed to a single fraternity.
      It seems to me to be a better compromise that the fraternity model, we’re often people are forced to act in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily, simply to fit in(and eventually they start acting that way because they thinks it’s right)

      • Robert, you very well might have a good idea there, for mandating openness in the college clubs. But honestly, I would hate to see the needed openness have to come about as a result of some kind of state or federal law. Perhaps the U. of AZ could revise its policies and regulations, and that would be enough. But, we might both be thinking wishfully, what with alumni pressures, possible national-level organizational constraints, and claims of jurisdiction and control, on the various “chapters” and college campuses.

        I went to a fully government-owned and -operated military school for my college days. It was very much like one big frat, plus frats-within-frats (the military units within the overall organization of cadets). Naturally, there was already extensive law and regulation in place which did not allow the openness of membership and association like might be in order for the non-military schools. The units’ cultures were not obviously distinctive, but nevertheless in fact varied a great deal from one to another. It was a big deal for an individual cadet to change residence between units; units were not on a cafeteria menu for everyone. There was often a murmur or discrete “buzz” of controversy, mystery, wariness and suspicion (“WHY did X move?”). Typically – no, make that always, in my memory – the re-assigned cadet kept an extraordinarily low profile in his new unit: No “leadership” jobs assigned, no “out in front” representation of the unit. I felt sorry for the guys who switched. I avoided knowledge of backstories, which (unsurprisingly) thrust me into the middle of some memorable next stories.

        Mostly, though, I can’t go along with Jack’s idea of a ban. (That is the only way I can interpret what he has proposed.) I can envision and be open to full privatization – banishment from campus and dissociation with college administration, subsidy etc. But otherwise, like-minded college students ought to be as free as practicable to associate, organize themselves, and institute discipline and culture –stylish, distinctive, even “edgy” culture – unique to their organizations and their memberships. A ban would only lead to formation of underground groups, with resultant tensions, conflicts and scandals such as were dramatized in the movie, Dead Poets Society.

  3. While I understand rhetoric (and sly digs), I find comparing homophobia et al. (by implication) with “telling the truth about Obamacare” distasteful if not unethical. (Even if you wholeheartedly agree that Obamacare is a bad thing, or was passed in a terrible way)

    • Foul. Did you miss the post and recent comment exchange about MSNBC’s Harris-Perry referring to “Obamacare” as the new “N-word”? Nothing sly about it. In the dissent-averse, Obama-guarding far left, represented by elected representatives like Sheila Jackson Lee, celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Oprah, and too many columnists and talking heads to mention, criticism of the President, the Administration, the Attorney General and various policies is the equivalent of hate speech, and the comparison with racism and the rest is clear and unapologetic. How am I making an unethical comparison when I am simply stating that the comparison, which is, of course, absurd, not only exists but is common?

      And this comparison is valid: criticism of Obamacare AND homophobia, as well as gay marriage, gun control and illegal immigration—you know, the positions that the Governor of New York says disqualify you to live in the state?—are all protected expression. Traditional liberals would fight for that. Current liberals want to find ways around it.

      • But isn’t this blog meant to rise above such things?
        I mean if an ordinary person think wouldn’t equate the two (and thinks that people who think the stuff you mentioned are nuts) in other word NOT the far left but the great unwashed majority in the middle … then surely you shouldn’t either? Unless of course you were using it to point out how nuts the far left actually are (which you weren’t here – hence my confusion).

        Anyway, I was just saying I personally found it jarring and distasteful, and to a certain extent undermining of yourself. (Just registering and opinion!)
        (And I say this all in a jovial manner)

        • “Of course, there are a great many people who don’t think racist speech should be protected by the Bill of Rights, just as there are many who feel the same about sexist speech, homophobic speech, obscene speech, and speech telling the truth about Obamacare.”


          This is, in the case of the first group, undeniably true, and in the case of the last, maybe true, probably hyperbole, but not at all beyond the pale, and something to legitimately worry about. The standard should be, according to the ACLU rep, whether the activities expressed “increases the difficulty of students of color to participate in the educational community.” Every single say, I can read or hear someone claiming that opposing the First Black President on any matter is a per se denigration of his race and all of his supporters of the same race. To these commentators the kinds of opinions I mentioned and criticizing the President are one and the same: hate speech that should be censored.

          • I suppose then my complaint is really in the words “many who feel the same way”. I suppose that I think it’s a lot fewer than you do. most of my friends are definitely liberal – and despite my contrarian posts I am definitely considered to be on the right – and they certainly don’t have any problem with criticisms of Obamacare (as long as it’s not accompanied by ranting shouting).

            I think the other thing that was a bit of an irritation was the word “the truth”. The problem with using these words is that most of the stuff written about Obamacare is merely opinion (even some of the legal stuff – if it was truly unequivocally unconstitutional I’m sure the Supreme Court would have struck it down). Basically some people say “I think it infringes this that or the other” … “I think the president never should have passed it the way he did – etc.” there’s no “truth”.
            I personally hate it when someone says “the truth about…”, in general anyway – because when they do they’re almost always talking about something equivocal, and they do it in order to imply that there is only one way of looking at a situation. And since I am very big on objectivity (being a scientist and all), this really rubs me up the wrong way.

            On the other hand, homophobia or racism is a descriptive word with a specific definition that is unarguable. Now there are always lots of things where we can argue one way or another “the truth of the fraternity’s racism”‘ but nobody is arguing about what racism is (even if what constitutes racism cannot be totally defined) or indeed that it exists.
            So you have a list of specific descriptive terms (which have definitions) and then at the end you effectively have an action (which may or may not be racist), so … it doesn’t compute (if that makes sense)

            • Oh yeah, I forgot to add that nobody know what YOU mean by “the truth about …” You could be including all the far far right idiots who rant about Obamacare and are just as bad as the far far left idiots. And let’s face it, to many people (using many I the same way as you did) “the truth about Obamacare” is that it a wonderful program that is going to save money for the country in the long run, and is going to take care of millions of underinsured people in expensively.

              • When I say “the truth” I mean “the truth.” Not my opinion of truths that are legitimately debatable. There is such a thing, you know. I don’t agree that the word “truth,’ properly used, is ambiguous. You don’t know that I’m properly using it? I guess you don’t know that I’m properly using any word, either, and can be certain that when I say, the “frat house’s party was racist,’ what I really mean is,”My uncle’s pancreas was eaten by stoats.”

                There are truths about Obamacare, many of which are infuriating. Those who have staked their faith and reputation on the supposition that it will be a godsend don’t want to hear or accept them.

                • I don’t think there is any point in continuing this debate. Since I feel you’re willfully ignoring my points.

                  I will say
                  “the “frat house’s party was racist,’ what I really mean is,”My uncle’s pancreas was eaten by stoats.”

                  Is a great example of reductio ad absurdum. At least play by your own rules.

                  • Sorry, Robert—I actually was fascinated that a word like “truth” would be first considered ambiguous and to mean opinion, when I would think it would first be interpreted to mean unambiguous facts. And you are right, so I perhaps shouldn’t have been so flip about ridiculing the idea, though the fact that in this day and age the word truth has to be accompanied by “no, honestly, I mean real facts here, not spin.” I also think “how do I know you mean what you say you mean” is an existential conundrum, which was the motivation for the stoat gag. I wasn’t trying to annoy you.

            • No, I meant the truth, as in “the ACA website was unforgivably botched,” “the roll-out has been incompetent,” “the President did not the exercise required oversight, there has been a lack of accountability for the mismanagement, and “You can keep your health care plan” was a calculated lie. The tactic of labelling facts opinion is just as insidious as labeling opinion as facts. Sometimes there are facts, and the use of race-baiting to suppress and undermine them is part of the game. You are seeing the same thing in Texas as Wendy Davis is essentially arguing that to call her on intentional misrepresentations is sexist.

              The truth about Obamacare is, as a matter of fact, unarguable. Ihat which is legitimately arguable—it’s horribly constructed, doomed to fail, will cost too much, cannot be managed, etc.—cannot be called “truth,” and thus weren’t included in my statement.

              Stating the truth about Obamacare “may or may not” be racist????

  4. What I find mind boggling is that every time one of these pops up, people think it’s the most offensive thing that’s ever happened. Ever. I live in Canada, and there have been three similar occurences happen last year in Canadian institutions. Either our campuses are more offensive than American ones per capita, or with enough legwork, you could probably find 30 similar instances in the states. I’m not excusing the actions,parties like this…. obvious, deliberate racism, needs to feel garner a little shame. I just wish we were a little more intellectually honest with ourselves when these pop up.

  5. How do you square a commitment to free speech with punishing an entire student body for the actions of a small minory of students? A healthy university actually will occasionally have episodes like this, just like healthy people sometimes get sick. Embarrassing the participants is the immune system attempting to get rid of the fools. Collective punishment bothers me a lot more than idiots speaking. Would you suggest closing a city subway because the number of rapes is too high there?

    I fully support getting rid of all official university recognition of all student groups for completely separate reasons though. You want to get together in your off campus housing with a group of friends? Go ahead. Want funding for it? F*** off and pay for it yourself.

    If it were a private University, I actually think the the University should be free to expel them as well, or suspend them as long as it also refunded their tuition to date or for the current session. Freedom of association necessarily include freedom of disassociation. I’m not abandoning free speech, just noting that declining to further associate with someone is it’s own form of speech. OTOH, there is no freedom of either association or disassociation between a government and the people it governs, so actions of government sponsored universities like the one at hand need to be more restrained.

    • How do you square a commitment to free speech with punishing an entire student body for the actions of a small minority of students?

      1. The student body isn’t being punished for speech. The student body is being treated as a whole, not a collections of unrelated cliques, and the message is: police yourselves, hold yourselves to high standards, make the University proud, and more privileges will follow. The technique of treating a failure of a significant portion of the whole as a failure of the whole is fair, powerful, and effective. I see the objections to it. It’s an extreme measure. I think this sort of thing calls for extreme measures.

      2. A healthy university actually will occasionally have episodes like this, just like healthy people sometimes get sick.

      I don’t believe that. Arizona and this frat in particular have had other racial incidents.

      3. “Would you suggest closing a city subway because the number of rapes is too high there?” Depends how high.

      3. “I fully support getting rid of all official university recognition of all student groups for completely separate reasons though. You want to get together in your off campus housing with a group of friends? Go ahead. Want funding for it? F*** off and pay for it yourself.”

      ALL student groups? The best and most useful aspect of my education was student groups. Newspapers? Literary magazines? Chess clubs? Drama groups? Sound like a lousy educational experience to me.

      4. “If it were a private University, I actually think the the University should be free to expel them as well, or suspend them as long as it also refunded their tuition to date or for the current session.”

      Of course.

      • I never say never, but I’ve never *yet* found an instance where collective punishment passes the sniff test. You say that it’s just treating the student body as a whole, and punishing the whole for the failure of “a significant portion.” UA claims 39,236 undergraduates. For math purposes let’s call it 40K. If 500 people went to the party, you’re still looking at 1.25% of the student population. Even if you assume that 1,000 people crammed the house, you’ve got 2.5%. So number 1, you’re not looking at a very significant portion.

        Number 2, in what way do you expect the rest of the undergrads to stop the party? I’d lay dollars to doughnuts there were plenty of people complaining about it beforehand, and that the frat rats couldn’t have cared less. When you’re hosting a party this offensively stupid and stupidly offensive, no amount of people saying “Actually I find your ideas reprehensible and this party unacceptable” are going to matter much. Do you really support punishing students for things done by the people they already dislike, that they have no way to stop?

      • 1. It IS being punished for speech. You yourself stated that an offensive themed party is a form of speech. You also said “Punish the entire student body” What am I missing? Just because you think it serves a purpose and is effective does change it’s nature. You can say it’s justified, and although I disagree I can see the argument. You can’t say it’s not collective punishment for speech without engaging in a level of double think. I think it’s a sign that you find this sort of thing offensive enough to justify violating your general opposition to collective punishment, but that opposition is such a strong ethic that you’d rather talk around that fact than acknowledge it directly. I don’t see another explanation for it, but I ask again: What am I missing?

        #2: You sure you aren’t suffering from selection bias? The existence of other racist incidents does not prove that the university isn’t generally healthy. If these incidents happen say once a year, that would indicate the university is not generally racist. Once a month is a strong indicator that it has a problem, but not definitive proof. You have to include every frat party, not just the ones you hear about because they cause a negative reaction. You won’t see media articles about a toga party that doesn’t offend anyone. I’ll accept 10% as evidence of a general problem.

        First #3: Well, let’s say once per day, for a primary artery subway. I’d suggest that hiring guards, or even adding a surveillance system would be a reasonable alternative to closing a subway that a significant portion of the populace rely on. Closing it would be cutting off your leg to get rid of a big of gangrene on your little toe. Treatments ought to cause as little hardship as possible.

        Second #3 Yup, all student groups. I can see no reason my tuition should go to support a student newspaper I never read, a football team I never watch, the drama I’m not in and don’t watch (ticket prices aren’t sufficient to cover the cost of putting on your play? Why is that my problem?). The football teams in particular bug me, largely due to the scope. Supporters will crow about how much support it brings to the university… but if it really brought in that much support it wouldn’t be a net drain on university resources that necessitates raising my tuition to cover it’s costs of operating.

        That being said, I can see a reasonable argument that trying to tie costs to particular classes and activities is sufficiently difficult that it may be better to charge universal fees instead of spending even more money trying to make the system more fair. I’m also open to the argument that the second order effect of having such groups leads to increased enrollment, which provides sufficient economies of scale to save me money overall. The benefit to other individual students does not, in and of itself, justify charging the entire student body more.

        In general, charging a universal fee to make participation in groups “free” doesn’t strike me as particularly ethical, even though you personally may have benefitted from that system.

        • 1. Upon reflection, I agree that this would probably be found to be punishing for speech, though I would regard it as punishing the student body for not being responsible and upholding the standards of the university as well as bringing shame on the institution by disrespectful conduct.

          2. I think I am also persuaded that a group punishment would cause more problems than it solved. This technique is always unfair, and can only be justified, when it is justified, as a utiliratian maesure. That means it better work well, and I don’t think it is likely to. You are right; I was wrong.

          3. I think a racist incident involving more than one or two individuals can reliably be taken as symptomatic of a larger problem, yes. These incidents are not randomly distributed, after all. When was the last racist incident at Smith College, Princeton, or Stanford

          4. I agree that there are better responses than closing the subway. But your question was whether I’d consider it.

          5. You mean like charging more tuition to non-athletes to support athletic programs? I think students benefit from having options, and the value of the degree is enhanced by the reputation of a rich variety of educational and experiential opportunities and resources. Your approach would diminish the educational experience of everyone, but in different ways and different degrees. The whole student body benefits from cultural opportunities, whether they participate as audience or as artists, for example. Some read student publications, and some use them to develop marketable skills.

          • 1-2: I am glad you reconsidered. It seemed out of character for you before, so I blame Pazuzu personally. 🙂 I don’t think the idea of punishing a group for allowing X is a useful distinction, as the same form of argument can be used to justify any form of collective punishment. I can see where you were coming from with that distinction though, if that makes you feel any better about it.

            3. You can compare rates to other schools. That can tell you that as a group one is worse than the other. But saying “A has a perfect record, B does not, therefore B has a general problem with racism” doesn’t look like a legitimate syllogism to me.

            4. Actually, I asked if you would suggest it as a solution, which is a bit stronger than just considering. Given that the initial point was so poorly defined, it was a poor comparison to work with though. You were correct, it would absolutely depend on the frequency.

            5. I disagree in part. Only the actual participants directly benefit from those opportunities. or options I didn’t directly benefit from any of them when I was in college, as I neither viewed nor performed. Enhancing the overall prestige of the school could be indirectly beneficial in a few ways. If I had actually put my degree to direct use instead of settling into a job for which I’m vastly over qualified (MS in computer science, computer tech) the prestige of the school would have probably mattered more. I need to think about this a bit more.

            Oh, and I was mostly referring to the mandatory fees I paid which helped cover the Bobcats’ facilities. IIRC, I couldn’t opt out of paying for use of the athletic facilities even when I didn’t do so. Athletics isn’t the only field to benefit from uniform per credit tuition. I believe lab based science classes would also cost more if they charged by the cost of running the class instead of averaging it out. Maybe some schools do that.

      • 2. A healthy university actually will occasionally have episodes like this, just like healthy people sometimes get sick.

        I don’t believe that. Arizona and this frat in particular have had other racial incidents.

        Honestly, I don’t care if the fraternity is Kappa Kappa Kappa – speech is speech and I don’t care who it offends it must be protected.

        I don’t care if a group of idiots saying and doing racist things makes a group feel “uncomfortable” or “threatened”. So long as there are no actual threats, folks need to learn to cope. Period.

  6. As per usual the university acts as though they are shocked by the underage drinking at the party, and as though the drinking is the actual problem- as though there are not plenty of students who drink underage and do not even get a noise complaint, much less a… whatever you call this. Not that a blind eye should be turned to underage drinking, but it chafes me when a blind eye is turned right until something stupid happens, and then the administration tries to pretend that it was all the booze’s fault.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the university comes down hard on the frat because of the drinking, it’s a tactic I’ve seen used by my own alma mater. It’s also unjust- you write in nasty punishments for underage drinking, then choose to basically ignore them until someone does something like this. Then you bring the hammer down for the beer in an attempt to dodge the fact that you’re punishing students for their [obnoxious, racist, offensive] speech.

  7. If colleges and universities weren’t treated like a subsidized 4 year long post-high school party, this wouldn’t be a significant issue. The colleges and universities as well as the entire student loan (federal and private) system has itself to thank for this. The quality of student would be extremely limited to those who are at school with the serious intent to study if the money wasn’t so damned easy.

    Big Education and utopian idealists have pushed a gross myth that everyone NEEDS and DESERVES a college education. We don’t.

    Solve the big education problem, and these symptoms of the problem go away.

    But don’t worry, if we culturally won’t solve it, nature will solve it for us.

    • “Big Education and utopian idealists have pushed a gross myth that everyone NEEDS and DESERVES a college education. We don’t.”

      What often happens is that fewer actually get a college education as standards slip in an attempt to be more inclusive. You don’t create better runners by giving out more ribbons and trophies. My friend’s brother flunks a third of his class and the university no longer kicks them out for low grades as long as they continue to pay.

  8. “Give students a reason to care about how other students behave.”

    No argument from me. I have seen this work but on a much smaller scale which allowed students to have more of an impact on other students. There was also buy in and commitment by all students involved. In the instances that have seen this work, the “reason” students cared about how other students behaved was not to avoid punitive measures but to gain something important to them.

    Would such measures with a punitive element work with a large university population? Maybe it would depend on just how punitive the university wants to get with the student population in an effort to curb behavior. I’m sure that measures can be taken to eradicate any behavior. However, in cases such as this I’m not sure I would want to suffer a punitive measure because I didn’t have the mental strength, logical argument or even an illogical argument to get a little idiot to put down her ridiculous watermelon cup and act like a decent human being. Maybe the best punitive measure for racist idiots is to let them be themselves while everyone is watching.

  9. whew…lots of comments and perspectives here. My sense is that policing such things can even drive them underground and make them worse. I wouldnt want to be part of such a frat but I also don’t think their sins are that egregious. 1. Eating watermelon is a meme associated with rural southern blacks. I wouldn’t call it dehumanizing. 2. Gangster rap is aggressive, in your face and is anything but subtle. I don’t see why a segment of culture can beat their drums so loud and make such a spectacle of themselves and then cry about it when that is what some outsiders use as a mocking stereotype. Is what these whitebread country clubbers did that much different than ALI G or the scene where Dr Evil raps with Mini Me in the pen?

  10. Hello, Jack,

    Is this a case where you would support the administration saying “This is not who we are”? It is after all materially different from the Cuomo situation.


    So how far up the spectrum does speech have to go before it becomes an act? The frat twits were being stupid children from one point of view, and from another were shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater. There’s even an argument that America’s racial situation is still a pool of gasoline to this day and that they were starting a trash can fire in the middle of it. I’d hate that argument since it’s perilously close to the “fighting words” idea.

    (I like the thrust of your proposed action items. It’s a university. Make education the goal.)

    • I see no reason why a school can’t do that in this case: issue a general statement that the university supports equality, human dignity and mutual respect as well, as pride and respect for great men and women who have made this a better world, like Dr. King, that it has traditionally attempted to imbue its students with these values, and regrets that the fraternity appears to have momentarily forgotten what the university stands, and what they, by extension, should reflect in their lives and conduct. It wouldn’t have to mention race at all.

  11. The first and last suggested response bullet points are unexceptionable, in that they fall well within the proper sphere of activity of the university authorities. However, the authorities would be wise to consider whether the last might backfire, since such things were often originally regularised to bring covert activity within the fold and within limits.

    As to the other points… I consider the second point to be a covert form of what was already rejected, i.e. punishing people another way for what they cannot be properly punished for, in that they are to be forced to carry out actions to their disadvantage. The third point, I consider absolutely horrific; it is nothing less than collective punishment of all, including those never involved, under the flimsy cloak of seeking to impose a retrospective duty on all to have acted to prevent all this – a duty which would also be horrific, even if it were only being proposed openly and in respect of future occurrences, and which could only ever be effective if it let through repressive actions by the others that are forbidden to the authorities.

    • Late to the party on #2. I already rejected it myself.

      Asking disruptive members of a society to discuss and take responsibility for their actions isn’t state infringement of speech—the conduct threatens campus peace, and US courts have given the OK to reasonable measures.

      What’s your prescription?

  12. After further consideration…

    Again, I am not shocked that the ACLU is abdicating it’s duty to stand up for civil liberty simply because it is unpopular.

    A racist party is stupid, sure (first off, who the fuck admits to racism, huh? You are supposed to be one SECRETLY so you can more effective oppress the masses, you idiots!), but since they didn’t go burning crosses or lynching people (not even effigies which we all know are only ok when they are of Palin or Bush), I see only reasons to stand up and make sure they can keep saying and doing racist things.

    Because the second you stop defending with every ounce of your being speech you don’t like, you give up protected speech. The moment you give someone the power to say “these things are not OK to say”, you give them permission to take things you say and ban them. You protect speech you don’t like because you know that only a robust protection of speech ensures you of your own right to speak as you please.

    My speech on here is vulgar and profane. It is often needlessly so, and it so for a reason.

    By giving the power to censor to anyone who claims offense, we ruin the entire system this country was founded on. Free expression is the key stone that keeps the arch of democracy in place – without it all debate ceases as those in power forbid speech that supports the opposition.

    My speech here is indeed a form of performance art (that Jack has, in his great about boundless wisdom accepted as right and proper) – It is intended to shock and offend, because you have no right to not be shocked or offended. Your social moors don’t mean anything to anyone outside your own head, so your effort to impose them on others is an act – however small – or tyranny. It is thugish and oppressive and should cause feelings of shame in anyone who attempts it, even though it does nothing but make the censorious cretin feel good about themselves.

    Because they never see what they are doing as wrong, only righteous. It is the well-meaning tyrant we should all fear most, because they feel good about themselves as they crush your liberty.

    Go. Stand up for someone who is saying something you hate. Confront them with more speech, speech that counters their words.

    Go be a real fucking American for once in your fucking lives and put it on the line for something you don’t agree with.

    But if you try to use policy or force to silence them because they offend you or make you feel bad? Then I will come for you in the night with long knives, having long since spit upon my hands and raised my black flag.

      • And we would be free to label not only members of those frats, but also anyone who attended school at such a campus, as a racist and shun them from society.

        Such problems would become self-correcting.

    • I have real problems with this as I have said on another thread (rather coincidentally just after doing what you advocate – standing up for your approach – which I disagree with).

      While there are non-violent verbal options open it is never correct to instigate verbal violence. Even in defence of the 1st ammendment.

      Violent sensitiviity on free speech effectively commits the same error as violent calls to limit freedom of speech. That is, the violence shuts down those who disagree with you. The ones who disagree being those who are not so concerned about 1st ammendment rights and are more concerned for example about racism. The ones who judge the 1st ammendment to be secure enough to take a small risk with but freedom from prejudice still an aspiration and worth taking the risk for.

      Result being the only right way if you use verbal violence on others, is it must also hurt you proportionately. Otherwise it is a one way deal, bullying suppression. It is you as free speech enforcer that gets to feel good by smiting the wicked PC advocate. I’ve used the term a bullies charter, which I mean to be a permission to hurt people on the false rationalisation, i can’t think which but there must be one, that it is the victims job to toughen up and not be sensitive cissies.

  13. The socialist, clubby, sexually repressed, established church, elitist, class ridden, indoor cultured UK by contrast in its universities has no collectives called frats (or sexually separate sororities), strongly subsidised purely amateur sports (minus rowing blues), near manic free speech standards on campus dictated from authority, near zero tolerance constipated speech dictated socially by students, social culture that is race/woman/disabled/loser friendly, no established or low key religion and small distinctions between student status in a single institution (no inside cliques, or job for the boys backscratching clubs, formally). The US has a near opposite national culture and a near opposite opposite (if you follow) educational culture. What happened there?

    You need not accept the dodgy premise of course. More sensibly, does the development history of US educational institutions give us a clue about what’s going on and what to do?

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