November 17, 2014

THOMAS | IFC Criticism: Pushing Back on Passivity

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By DEON THOMAS

They could have done nothing. Sitting in their room shrinking in fear at the potential backlash they could face. Pushed up against a wall by the accusations brought about by the perception of their culture. With many perpetuating the image of them as rape culture-supporting, chauvinistic and misogynistic jerks through online comments and word-of-mouth it would be easy to respond with cowardly conduct. But they did not. They spoke out. They voiced their opinion that they would no longer stand up for this atrocious behavior. They took the first step toward discussing what has been ignored for far too long. Putting their names out in the open for potential criticism from those who refuse to accept that rape culture exists. However, to my bewilderment, they faced an opposition composed of the people that fight against rape culture tooth and nail. The ones I assumed would be among the biggest supporters disclosed that they were anything but. Is this opening paragraph a bit dramatic? Yes. But nonetheless, when putting yourself in the mind of the creators of the IFC video, it’s hard not to assume that this is the emotional process they were faced with. That is when I decided it was necessary to analyze the situation further.

One of the biggest issues I have with the criticism the IFC has faced is the complete and utter lack of possible proposals being presented. I’ve never quite understood the point of criticizing an initiative without presenting other more productive and realistic alternatives. Fraternities have been on campus for over a hundred years now, so when I read that a freshman on campus believes that “[fraternities] need to be gotten rid of,” I begin to question first his sincerity and then his sanity. To state that we need to get rid of fraternities because they have displayed “violence, sexism, racism, classism and queerphobia” is ridiculous when you realize that our educational system, police forces and military have demonstrated all of the above yet I sure as hell am thankful for my education and safety. It is entirely unreasonable to propose that because of certain flaws in an institution we must first dissolve it before other more rational approaches can be taken.

I completely respect, but do not agree with, the opinion that fraternities are so burdened by sexism and negative culture that the only way to fix them is to get rid of them altogether. However, when I think of the fact that the Voting Rights Act was not passed until 1965 — which fully allowed racial minorities to vote in America — and by 2008 the United States elected a racial minority as President, it is hard to believe that bigotry can be so institutionalized that it cannot be altered. We must accept that we live in a new age of awareness when it comes to sexual violence as well. The fact that Bill Cosby potentially raped up to 13 women throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s and it didn’t get widespread media attention until now is a testament to this change. With all this in mind, I strongly believe that with certain policies and further awareness we can make strong strides, even in the perceived cesspits of sexual violence.

Do not develop the notion that I am defending fraternities nor that I am supporting the video. I am, however, pleading the critics to alter their ways. Instead of calling for the improbable downfall of fraternal organizations, demand the far more likely, actionable steps that you believe could potentially promote institutional change. Feel free to be a critic, but be a realistic and helpful one. Another one of the criticisms was that there was not enough programming infiltrating the houses on campus. But when you realize that 75 percent of fraternity members are being forced to attend consent education training, you must accept that they are being tangibly reached. Training will hopefully change the behavior of fraternity members and at the very least help raise awareness. I agree that these trainings sessions will not be enough, so a fair criticism would be to make sure that this is only a first step of many to come for the IFC.

Another big issue with these criticisms is the negative change that it causes. A colossal issue that promotes rape culture is passivity. This strong backlash will only prove to IFC members that it is better to stay silent and receive far less press on the issue than to speak out against it and face strong opposition. We need to encourage this behavior, not combat it. In a negotiation, you never ask for the impossible and refuse to compromise. If you demand the end of fraternities and offer no substitute resolutions, then change will not occur. We need discussion panels, we need victim testimonies, we need mutual respect of opinions, then we need true negotiation before any of us will be satisfied with the way things are moving. If you are stuck in your ways and continue to act as an impediment in the course towards change I want you to know that it’s not me, it’s you.

Deon Thomas is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at dthomas@cornellsun.com. It’s Not Me, It’s You appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.